by Brett Larner
The 22nd running of the Hokkaido Marathon takes place on Aug. 31 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Historically a hot race, this year's event comes just a week after the Beijing Olympics and features a relatively limited field.
In the men's race, last year's champion Julius Gitahi of Team Nissin Shokuhin will return to defend his title. Gitahi, a track Olympian for his native Kenya, won last year's race in his marathon debut, running 2:17:26 in conditions of extreme heat and humidity. He went on to run 2:08:57 and take 3rd in the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. Gitahi's biggest challenger will be his Nissin teammate Yuzo Onishi, who set a personal best of 2:08:54 at the 2008 Biwako Mainichi Marathon. With the nearly identical times run by both athletes this year, the potential is there for a major duel between the two teammates.
Other contenders in the field include 2005 Brecia Marathon winner Richard Maiyo (Kenya), 2006 Warsaw Marathon winner Vitaliy Shafar (Ukraine), and domestic runners Yukinobu Nakazaki (Team Toyota Kyushu), Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota Jidosha) and 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon team member Mitsuru Kubota (Team Asahi Kasei).
The women's race will most likely be dominated by Kenya's Alice Chelangat, the 2001 Milan Marathon winner who finished 4th in both the Dubai and Rotterdam Marathons this year. Chelangat's best time of 2:26:36 is almost three minutes superior to that of the next-fastest woman in the field, 1997 Hokkaido Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka, but with Tanaka long past her best days it will be a race for 2nd behind Chelangat.
In contention for probable runner-up will be 2006 Hokkaido Marathon winner Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC), 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), 2007 Hokkaido Marathon 4th place finisher Mika Hikichi (Team Tenmaya) and Portugal's Fatima Cabral.
2008 Hokkaido Marathon Top Contenders
Yuzo Onishi, Team Nissin Shokuhin - PB: 2:08:54 (2008)
Julius Gitahi, Team Nissin Shokuhin - PB: 2:08:57 (2008)
Yukinobu Nakazaki, Team Toyota Kyushu - PB: 2:09:28 (2004)
Richard Maiyo, Kenya - PB: 2:09:47 (2004)
Kensuke Takahashi, Team Toyota Jidosha - PB: 2:11:52 (2007)
Vitaliy Shafar, Ukraine - PB: 2:12:07 (2007)
Yusuke Kataoka, Team Otsuka Seiyaku - PB: 2:12:28 (2007)
Tomoya Shimizu, Team Asahi Kasei - PB: 2:12:31 (2006)
Mitsuru Kubota, Team Asahi Kasei - PB: 2:12:50 (2007)
Masaru Takamisawa, Saku Chosei H.S. Teachers' Club - PB: 2:14:57 (2008)
Kenichiro Kawazu, Team NTN - PB: 2:17:16 (2008)
Alice Chelangat, Kenya - PB: 2:26:36 (2001)
Chihiro Tanaka, Team Daitsu - PB: 2:29:30 (2002)
Kaori Yoshida, Second Wind AC - PB: 2:30:58 (2008)
Hitomi Niiya, Team Toyota Jidoshokki - PB: 2:31:01 (2007)
Mika Hikichi, Team Tenmaya - PB: 2:31:03 (2006)
Fatima Cabral, Portugal - PB: 2:33:02 (2003)
Shigeko Yanagita, Team Nanchiku - PB: 2:39:20 (2007)
A complete listing of the elite field for the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon can be found here.
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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