by Brett Larner
On Feb. 23 the organizing committee of the Tokyo Marathon announced the elite athletes invited to the 2009 race to be held on Mar. 22. With the addition of substantial prize money and a women's field the Tokyo Marathon has taken on a new character this year, and its inclusion as a domestic men's World Championships selection race means that a large number of top Japanese men will also be lining up.
The women's race features 2008 Boston and Chicago Marathon runner-up Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia as the fastest foreign entrant. Alongside Biktimirova are two-time World Half Marathon bronze medalist Pamela Chepchumba of Kenya, two-time World Championships marathoner Shitaye Gemechu of Ethiopia, 2008 Vienna Marathon winner Luminita Talpos of Romania, and 2007 Beijing Marathon winner Rong Chen of China.
The Japanese women's field includes two greats running their final races, Harumi Hiroyama and Reiko Tosa. Hiroyama won the 2006 Nagoya International Women's Marathon at age 37 in an excellent 2:23:26, but since turning 40 last year she has been dealing with accumulating injury. Tosa, a two-time World Championships medalist, has likewise struggled with injury since winning her bronze at the 2007 World Championships, but her 1:10:58 half marathon earlier this month suggests she may not be treating Tokyo as simply a goodbye run. 2008 Honolulu Marathon winner Kiyoko Shimahara will be looking for a tiebreaking win over Biktimirova after finishing 3rd behind the Russian in Chicago last fall before beating her in Hawaii. Other noteworthy names in the field include 2007 Rotterdam Marathon winner Hiromi Ominami and 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner Yukari Sahaku, one of coach Yoshio Koide's protegees.
The men's race contains a mixed bag of aging champions and rising stars. Kenya's Sammy Korir is undoubtedly the biggest name among the foreign set, having been pacemaker for the first-ever 2:04 marathon back in 2003 but still going strong with a 2:07:32 win last year in Seoul. Korir ran the first Tokyo Marathon in 2007 but dropped out a third of the way through. Dmytro Baranovskyy may not be a household name, but the Ukrainian won the 2005 Fukuoka International Marathon and outkicked two-time World Champion and Beijing Olympics silver medalist Jaouad Gharib of Morocco to set his PB of 2:07:15 at the 2006 Fukuoka. Kenyan Salim Kipsang is the other main foreign contender, holding a PB of 2:07:29 from the 2007 Berlin Marathon.
Three Japan-resident Kenyans are also among the major talent. Daniel Njenga won the first Tokyo Marathon in 2007 and set his PB of 2:06:16 at Chicago in 2002, finishing just a step ahead of Toshinari Takaoka's Japanese national record run. Julius Gitahi won his marathon debut in Hokkaido 2007 before finishing 3rd at last year's Tokyo in 2:08:57. James Mwangi debuted in Vienna in 2007 where he was 2nd. His time of 2:10:27 suggests room for improvement.
As is to be expected with a World Championships team berth at stake, the Japanese men's contingent makes up the largest segment of the field. National record holder Toshinari Takaoka is up front, hoping to improve on his 2:11:21 comeback run in Paris last year. The previous national record holder Atsushi Fujita is also hoping for a comeback of sorts after undergoing a thorough re-evaluation of himself. 2005 World Championships bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata and his teammate Kurao Umeki will be trying to make this year's team, as will 2007 World Championships team member Tomoyuki Sato who as 3rd Japanese finisher in Fukuoka this past December is currently unlikely to be chosen for Berlin.
A surprise addition is last year's runner-up Arata Fujiwara. Fujiwara already stands a good chance of being selected for the Berlin team after his 3rd place and 2nd Japanese run in Fukuoka, but he evidently wants to solidify his chances. The other invited domestic runner, Yusei Nakao, holds a mediocre marathon PB but made significant improvement in the half marathon last year, including a 5th place finish at the World Half Marathon, and could be the best candidate for a breakthrough run. Another major candidate is 27-minute 10000 m runner Kazuhiro Maeda, making his marathon debut in Tokyo. With literally dozens of other Japanese corporate and university runners in the elite division, including many half marathon specialists making their marathon debuts, there is also a strong chance that we may again see something like Fujiwara's spectacular rise from obscurity last year.
A complete listing of the overseas and domestic men's and women's elite fields for the 2009 Tokyo Marathon is availble in PDF format here.
2009 Tokyo Marathon Elite Athletes
Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:22:46 (4th, London 2002)
Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido) - 2:22:56 (2nd, Osaka 2000)
Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:23:26 (2nd, Berlin 2004)
Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:25:12 (1st, Frankfurt 2005)
Pamela Chepchumba (Kenya) - 2:25:36 (1st, Milan 2007)
Shitaye Gemechu (Ethiopia) - 2:26:10 (4th, Paris 2008)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:26:14 (2nd, Hokkaido 2005)
Luminita Talpos (Romania) - 2:26:43 (1st, Vienna 2008)
Rong Chen (China) - 2:27:05 (1st, Beijing 2007)
Mina Ogawa (Amino Vital AC) - 2:28:47 (4th, Osaka 1998)
Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:29:49 (4th, Osaka 2004)
Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) - 2:31:50 (1st, Hokkaido 2008)
Sammy Korir (Kenya) - 2:04:56 (2nd, Berlin 2003)
Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) - 2:06:16 (2nd, Chicago 2002)
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) - 2:06:16 (3rd, Chicago 2002)
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:06:51 (1st, Fukuoka 2000)
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (2nd, Fukuoka 2006)
Salim Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:07:29 (3rd, Berlin 2007)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37 (6th, Fukuoka 2003)
Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:40 (2nd, Tokyo 2008)
Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:57 (3rd, Tokyo 2008)
Moges Taye (Ethiopia) - 2:09:21 (1st, Vienna 1998)
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (5th, Tokyo Int'l 2004)
Kurao Umeki (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:09:52 (7th, Berlin 2003)
Asnake Roro (Ethiopia) - 2:10:27 (4th, Treviso 2007)
James Mwangi (Team NTN) - 2:10:27 (2nd, Vienna 2007)
Justin Young (U.S.A.) - 2:13:54 (13th, Rotterdam 2008)
Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 2:23:29 (12th, Hokkaido 2007)
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - debut - 1:30:07 (30 km)
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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