Domestic favorite Yuki Kawauchi declaring his readiness to go for a PB, at the Fukuoka pre-race press conference, Dec. 2.
The 65th annual Fukuoka International Marathon is set for this Sunday, Dec. 4, an all-important Olympic selection race for Japanese men and the last chance of the year for the small international field to set an Olympic-standard time. The race will be broadcast live and nationwide starting at noon Japan time on TV Asahi. If you're not in Japan to see it you should still be able to watch live online via Keyhole TV. Click here for more on getting and using the Keyhole player. Local broadcaster KBC should also have live splits available on its Fukuoka website.
What kind of race can we expect? In the last five years Fukuoka has followed a consistent pattern of one marquee athlete (Haile Gebrselassie, Samuel Wanjiru, Tsegay Kebede, Jaouad Gharib), a small padding of second-tier foreign competition, and the domestic elite. In a year that has seen the top end of the sport redefine itself, Fukuoka has gone the opposite direction and is absent even a single top-echelon runner. There's virtually zero chance of there being a high-speed bloodbath of the kind that has become commonplace everywhere else. And yet looking through this year's field it's clear that there are a number of interesting plot lines at work, different stories that could combine to produce a compelling, multi-layered race, one worth watching regardless of who wins and how fast. Key among them:
- The marathon debut of Japanese 10000 m all-comers' record holder Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.). In 2009 Ibaraki-based Ndambiri, 5th in the 10000 m at the '07 World Championships, became the first man to break 27 on Japanese soil. 13 days later he turned heads by doing it again. He's long been one of the best Japan-based Kenyans and seems to be at peak fitness after beating 10000 m world champ Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia/Team Honda) at last month's East Japan Corporate Ekiden, but he is short on experience at anything longer with a half PB of only 1:01:07. In choosing Fukuoka this year for his debut it looks as though Ndambiri wants to go the same route Samuel Wanjiru followed to the Olympics four years ago: a solid win in a debut at Fukuoka, then an outstanding performance in an overseas Major. He's the favorite for the win, but if his transition to the marathon goes badly there are also a half-dozen men who could easily take him.
- The Japanese men's Olympic selection. Every Olympic cycle Fukuoka is the first of the domestic selection races. The top Japanese man who runs a quality time will stand to be picked for the team after the three-race selection process ends in March. Before the last two Olympics the top Japanese man in Fukuoka ran 2:07, Atsushi Sato doing it in '07 and Tomoaki Kunichika, Toshinari Suwa and Toshinari Takaoka all clocking 2:07 in the legendary '03 race. This year's top-seeded Japanese man Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) has mentioned 2:07 as a possibility. He has run a 5000 m PB this fall but with two marathons also behind him this fall and another one on the schedule in just two weeks the jury is out on his chances. His best competition for the team should come from local boys Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) and Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu). Both are running their fourth marathons after 2:10 PBs in the spring, and both ran well in their final tune-up race, last week's Kyushu Corporate Ekiden. A large number of past-peak veterans are also on the list, but potentially the only one with a chance of turning things around and contending is 2007 World Championships team member Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei). Given Japanese depth a safer bet is to look for a breakthrough from a second-tier man. Keep an eye out for Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) in this category.
- A possible Russian national record. Dmitriy Safronov was one of the bigger surprises last year, coming through in a PB of 2:10:12 for 2nd. Safronov PB'd again in April in London, just 28 seconds off the national record in 2:09:35. With national record holder Aleksei Sokolov also in the field and the possibility of the race playing out at the 2:07-2:08 level it looks like the chances are good that the Russian men could cap a strong year with a new national record, something we're always happy to see.
- How far can Cragg go? Ireland's Alistair Cragg is one of his country's best, talented over distances from 1500 m all the way to the half-marathon, dominant in the NCAA during university and the European indoor 3000 m champion in 2005. A 1:00:49 half PB on the aided NYC course in March suggested good things were in store for his debut in Boston a month later, but that race ended in a DNF. Can he put it together in Fukuoka? If so a win may not be out of the question.
- Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) continuing to push boundaries. Every year 59+ world record holder Hosaka becomes the oldest man to have ever run Fukuoka. Now 62, he is on the edge of losing access to the elite race. Entry to Fukuoka's B-block requires a sub-2:42 within the prior 2 years. Hosaka's last time breaking 2:42 came in February, 2010 and his best this year was only 2:42:41, meaning that unless he does it this time he will no longer have a qualifying time on the books for next year. A 2:49:22 tuneup race two weeks ago in Kobe suggests he's in good shape, but only one man, Australia's John Gilmour, has ever achieved a sub-2:42 at age 62. 2:41:06 is the mark Hosaka needs to take Gilmour's world record.
2011 Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field
and top general division entrants
click here for official elite field listing
1. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (Fukuoka 2006)
2. Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:09:35 (London 2011)
3. Aleksei Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (Dublin 2007)
4. Ridouane Harroufi (Morocco) - 2:10:14 (Seoul 2008)
5. Franck de Almeida (Brazil) - 2:12:32 (Paris 2008)
6. Martin Dent (Australia) - 2:13:27 (Beppu-Oita 2010)
7. Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) - 2:13:40 (London 2010)
8. Alistair Cragg (Ireland) - 1:00:49 (NYC Half 2011)
22. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo 2011)
23. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka 2008)
24. Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
25. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:10:29 (Beppu-Oita 2011)
26. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:41 (Biwako 2011)
27. Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:44 (Biwako 2010)
28. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:44 (Fukuoka 2010)
41. Mamoru Hirano (Team Sagawa Express) - pacer
42. Isaac Macharia (Kenya) - pacer
43. Nicholas Kiprono (Uganda) - pacer
44. Boniface Kirui (Kenya) - pacer
61. Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37 (Fukuoka 2003)
62. Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:16 (Gold Coast 2011)
63. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:54 (Tokyo 2011)
66. Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako 2008)
68. Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo 2009)
69. Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) - 2:09:18 (Biwako 2002)
70. Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:07:55 (Fukuoka 2003)
71. Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:54 (Tokyo 2009)
73. Kurao Umeki (Hiroshima T&F Assoc.) - 2:09:52 (Berlin 2003)
75. Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - debut - 26:57.36 (Fukuroi 2009)
76. James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 2:10:27 (Vienna 2007)
208. Yuya Fukaura (Harriers AC) - national duathlon champion
233. Shinji Nakadai (Harriers AC) - 2010 world champion, 100 km
456. Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) - 59+ world record holder
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved