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World Champion Florence Kiplagat vs. Kinukawa and Chepyego, Past Winners Njui and Ngatuny Lead Sapporo International Half Marathon - Preview (updated)

by Brett Larner

Update 7/2: Defending women's champion Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) has withdrawn from tomorrow's Sapporo International Half Marathon with an unspecified leg injury according to a tweet by her coach Manabu Kawagoe. 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) and 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) have also withdrawn.

With most of the spring half marathon season cancelled in the wake of the Mar. 11 disasters, this year's Sapporo International Half Marathon will mark a return to the distance for many of Japan's top athletes. Scheduled to be run again with the 1:30 p.m. start time put in place last year times are unlikely to be fast in the peak of the summer heat, but both the women's and men's races should be thickly competitive. Sapporo will be broadcast live by Nihon TV on July 3. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online via Keyhole TV. JRN will be doing live English commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.

2010 World Half Marathon and 2009 World Cross-Country champion Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) leads the way in the women's race, her 1:07:40 PB more than a minute faster than the next best runner in the field, defending champion Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC). With Kano out of form for most of the last year and sub-70 women Yumiko Hara (Team Univ. Ent.) and Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) likewise off their best of late, the biggest challenge to Kiplagat should come from a pair of talented debutantes, Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) and Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko). Neither Kinukawa nor Chepyego are on the invited athlete list, but a source connected with Kinukawa confirmed to JRN that she is running in the general division and Chepyego's team page also lists her as running. Both women are fresh off World Championships A-standard 10000 m PBs, 31:10.12 for Kinukawa and 31:27.98 for Chepyego, and with similar performances should be key players in Sapporo. All Japanese eyes will be on Kinukawa, who made the all-time Japanese top four at 10000 m and top six at 5000 m in June. A 1:08:56 would be enough for her to make the all-time Japanese top ten, but whether that would be feasible in the predicted heat or enough to beat Kiplagat or Chepyego remains to be seen.

The last two Sapporo men's winners, Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) and Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) return to face 2:07 marathoner Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda), 2010 Asian Games marathon gold medalist Youngjun Ji (Korea) and invited elite Andrew Lemoncello (U.K.). Three of Japan's World Championships marathoners are entered, Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) leading Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) with a 1:01:41 PB. Also on the list are a number of top domestic men who have been out of competition with injury over the last year and are looking to make strong comebacks, among them national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), half marathon ace Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo), Ottawa Marathon course record holder Arata Fujiwara (Remo System AC), Hakone Ekiden legend Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) and track star Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu). With at least 20 Japanese men in the field holding PBs under dozens more at the next tier it is tough to predict who will hold up in the heat, but Sapporo will serve as a good preview of who is on top for the upcoming fall road season.

2011 Sapporo International Half Marathon Elite Field Highlights
Women
Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) - debut - 10000 m: 31:10.12
Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - debut - 10000 m: 31:27.98
Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) - debut - 5000 m: 15:50.11
Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) - 1:07:40
Yumiko Hara (Team Univ. Ent.) - 1:09:28
Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) - 1:09:57
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 1:10:16
Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 1:10:51
Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) - 1:11:29
Aki Odagiri (Meijo Univ.) - 1:11:43

Men
Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - debut - 10000 m: 27:58.03
Akiyuki Iwanaga (Team Kyudenko) - debut - 10000 m: 28:41.36
Youngjun Ji (Korea) - debut - 10000 m: 29:42.38
Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 59:50
Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:00:25
Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable) - 1:01:03
Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 1:01:41
Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - 1:01:50
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 1:02:08
Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:13
Naoto Yoneda (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:14
Arata Fujiwara (Remo System AC) - 1:02:17
Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 1:02:26
Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 1:02:29
Hiroshi Yamada (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:31
Kazuki Ikenaga (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:33
Masaki Shimoju (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:02:35
Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 1:02:37
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 1:02:40
Shuji Yoshikawa (Team Kyudenko) - 1:02:42
Akira Okada (Team Hitachi Cable) - 1:02:52
Masayuko Obata (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 1:02:53
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:53
Takeshi Makabe (Team Kanebo) - 1:02:58
Andrew Lemoncello (U.K.) - 1:03:00
Yuichi Shinoda (Team Hitachi Cable) - 1:03:05
Mamoru Hirano (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 1:03:12
Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:03:41
Kenta Chiba (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:42
Hiroki Kubota (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 1:04:47
Daichi Motomura (Tokai Univ.) - 1:05:36
Daiki Nomoto (Takushoku Univ.) - 1:06:14

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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