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Sapporo International Half Marathon - Preview

by Brett Larner

After an earlier preliminary announcement of its invited elites, the Sapporo International Half Marathon has released the complete field for this year`s 51st running on Sunday, June 15. Normally held in July, this year`s competition was moved to June due to the upcoming G-8 summit in Toyako, near Sapporo. Considering the dramatic difference in Japan`s weather between mid-June and mid-July, the date change will probably help to put the course records up for grabs. The Japanese runners in the field have the added motivation that the top domestic man and woman will be selected for the Japanese team at this fall`s World Half Marathon Championships.

By far the favorite in the men`s race is defending champion Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.). Mogusu ran a solo 59:54 to win last year`s race in course record time. This year he comes fresh from setting a sizeable PB in the 10000 m and breaking his own course record in the half marathon at last month`s Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. He has promised to run Sapporo much faster this year. It is no secret that Mogusu wants Samuel Wanjiru`s Japanese-soil record of 59:43 and it will be pretty surprising if he doesn`t do it this time.

It is unlikely that anyone in the field will be able to go with Mogusu, but if someone challenges the Kenyan it will be half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku). At last year`s Sapporo Sato was the only runner to attack Mogusu in the early stages of the race. Since then he has stepped up in quality, with a 1:00:25 national record last October, an Olympic-qualifying 2:07:13 full marathon in December, and a series of late-spring track races in which he aggressively front-ran against Kenyan competitors. Sato`s fitness and focus on this race are questionable given his somewhat checkered spring training and current Olympic preparations, but if he is in one piece it will not be surprising either to see him stay with Mogusu or to become the first Asian to break the one hour mark.

Another contender is Harun Njoroge (Team Komori), who won both February`s Marugame Half Marathon and May`s Sendai Half Marathon in sub-62 minute times. A win would require a significant leap in Njoroge`s performance, but the Kenyan is young and has not yet been truly tested against superior competitors.

Also worth watching is Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.). Kihara, now a senior, ran the student half marathon all-time #2 mark of 1:01:50 as a sophomore. He has significantly improved since then and will be looking to take the #1 spot on the student record book. Several other top university runners along with large squads from Kihara`s Chuo Gakuin University and the strong Nittai University will also be facing off against the large number of jitsugyodan entrants, including marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and Sato`s Olympic marathon teammates Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon). Top contenders in the field are listed below.

The women`s field in this year`s Sapporo is somewhat more limited but features several top international and domestic names. Reigining marathon world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya leads the way, along with countrywoman Julia Mombi who finished 2nd in Sendai last month, and Korean Jeon Eyun. Domestic contenders include 2007 World Road Running Championships competitor Chisato Osaki and her teammate Miki Ohira (both Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Kiyoko Shimahara, Yuri Kano and Kaori Yoshida (all Second Wind AC), Yoko Yagi (Team Suzuki) and Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai).

Like the men`s race, several top university runners are also scheduled to appear. Most worth watching is Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.), who comes to Sapporo after dominating wins in the 5000 m and 10000 m at the Kanto University Championships. Sapporo may well be another breakthrough performance for the talented Sakai. Yukie Okidomari (Ritsumeikan Univ.) and Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.) are also likely to be factors. Top entrants in the women`s field are listed below.

Complete listings of the Sapporo field are available here and here.

Top Male Entrants
Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), PB: 59:48 (2007)
Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:00:25 (2007)
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), PB: 1:01:07 (2003)
Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko), PB: 1:01:30 (2001)
Harun Njoroge (Team Komori), PB: 1:01:35 (2008)
Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo), PB: 1:01:36 (2000)
Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica-Minolta), PB: 1:01:39 (2008)
Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.), PB: 1:01:50 (2006)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:01:50 (2002)
Shigeru Aburuya (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:01:54 (2002)
Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:02:08 (2004)
Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland), PB: 1:02:16 (2006)
Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon), PB: 1:02:24 (2007)
Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express), PB: 1:02:28 (2007)
Erick Wainaina (Lights AC), PB: 1:02:36 (2000)

Top Female Entrants
Catherine Ndereba (Kenya), PB: 1:07:54 (2001)
Julia Mombi (Team Aruze), PB: 1:08:31 (2008)
Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:08:56 (2007)
Yoko Yagi (Team Suzuki), PB: 1:10:06 (2006)
Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:10:13 (2004)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:16 (2006)
Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:18 (2001)
Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai), PB: 1:10:21 (2000)
Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:28 (2003)
Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:10:53 (2007)
Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.), PB: 1:11:05 (2008)
Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.), PB: 1:12:03 (2008)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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