by Brett Larner
This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of one of Japan's oldest and most respected marathons, the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, usually abbreviated to Betsudai in Japanese. Betsudai has been the site of many historic performances, including Toru Terasawa's 2:15:16 world record in 1963, Shigeru Soh's 2:09:06 world record near-miss in 1978, Kodo drummer Kiyoko Obata's 2:48:52 in 1979 to become the first recorded Japanese woman to complete a marathon in Japan, American Dick Beardsley's 1981 battle against the Soh twins, future Barcelona Olympic silver medalist and Samuel Wanjiru coach Koichi Morishita's 2:08:53 debut marathon national record in 1991, Yoshihisa Hosaka's pair of 60+ world records in 2009 and 2010, and more.
Last year on a new, purportedly faster, course, Australian debutant Jeff Hunt turned what would have been a garden-variety 2:10-2:11 pack race into something unforgettable with a thrilling charge up from the second pack to challenge and ultimately finish 3rd against 2:07 and 2:06 Kenyans Jonathan Kipkorir and Daniel Njenga in an Australian debut marathon national record 2:11:00. This year both the Japan-based Njenga and Hunt return to face a particularly strong field. 2007 Betsudai winner and former national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) and 2003 Betsudai winner Samson Ramadhani (Tanzania) will line up again, Fujita in his first marathon since the 2009 Berlin Marathon and Ramadhani after beating Hunt in last fall's Commonwealth Games marathon. All things considered, the strongest man in the field is likely to be Ethiopian Abiyote Guta, who ran his PB of 2:09:03 just over a year ago at the 2010 Dubai Marathon. Moroccan Ahmed Baday also has potential, having set his PB of 2:10:58 at the 2010 Marrakech Marathon. Not to be overlooked is Japan-based Kenyan Harun Njoroge (Team Komori Corp.), whose half marathon PB suggests sub-2:10 capability.
Alongside the veteran Fujita, the top Japanese contender is local boy Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), who debuted at the windy 2009 Tokyo Marathon with a 2:11:01 for 2nd only to blow up at the 2009 World Championships. Fujita, Maeda, and fellow Japanese contenders Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei), with a 2:11:44 debut at the 2010 Biwako Mainichi Marathon, and Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta), who won the 2010 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon in 2:12:18, will be trying for a spot on this year's World Championships, a goal which will likely require a sub-2:09:30 win. At the pre-race press conference Fujita said he was planning to break 2:10 in going for the win, while Maeda said he plans to run "2 hours plus a single digit."
Potentially competitive first-timers include Yuki Nakamura (Team Kanebo), coached by national record holder Toshinari Takaoka, and Maeda's teammate Akiyuki Iwanaga (Team Kyudenko). 2008 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon winner Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio), whose bizarre running form reminiscent of a boxer or handcyclist has become an Internet legend, will be lining up with 2009 Hofu Yomiuri winner Akinori Shibutani (Team Kurosaki Harima). Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) will also be in the field, seeking to become the first 62 year old to break 2:40.
Along with last year's course change, Betsudai has this year made other changes to its format, tightening its elite standards but introducing a new entry secondary standard with easier qualifying times to make it a larger race. This year Betsudai will also allow qualified women to run for the first time since 1981. 17 women have taken up the challenge, led by locally-based pro runners Yuka Ezaki (Team Kyudenko) and Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) and 2010 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon winner Hiroko Yoshitomi (Saga T&F Assoc.).
The Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon will be broadcast live on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. Japan time on Feb. 6. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV, available here. JRN will once again be doing live English commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.
2011 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing
1. Samson Ramadhani (Tanzania) - 2:08:01 (London, 2003)
2. Abiyote Guta (Ethiopia) - 2:09:03 (Dubai, 2010)
3. Ahmed Baday (Morocco) - 2:10:58 (Marrakech, 2010)
4. Jeff Hunt (Australia) - 2:11:00 (Beppu-Oita, 2010)
5. Andrew Letherby (Australia) - 2:11:42 (Berlin, 2005)
11. Daniel Njenga (Kenya/Team Yakult) - 2:06:16 (Chicago, 2002)
12. Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:06:51 (Fukuoka, 2000)
13. Shigeru Aburuya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:52 (Biwako, 2001)
14. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:11:01 (Tokyo, 2009)
15. Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:44 (Biwako, 2010)
16. Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:18 (Nobeoka, 2010)
17. Tomonori Onitsuka (Team Kyudenko) - 2:12:48 (Beppu-Oita, 2005)
18. Harun Njoroge (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - 2:13:04 (Hokkaido, 2010)
21. Akinori Shibutani (Team Kurosaki Harima) - 2:13:51 (Beppu-Oita, 2000)
22. Fumihiro Watanabe (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:52 (Nobeoka, 2010)
102. Kentaro Ito (Team Hyako Kyowa Bio) - 2:13:44 (Hofu, 2001)
106. Akiyuki Iwanaga (Team Kyudenko) - debut - 1:31:08 (30 km)
108. Yuki Nakamura (Team Kanebo) - debut - 1:02:32 (Marugame Half, 2009)
click here for complete entry list
2001. Yuka Ezaki (Team Kyudenko) - 2:31:35 (Osaka Int'l, 2007)
2002. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Saga T&F Assoc.) - 2:38:01 (Hofu, 2010)
2003. Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:44:51 (Nagano, 2010)
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved