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2012 Fukuoka International Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner
click here for quotes from the Fukuoka pre-race press conference



The Fukuoka International Marathon has been in the news a lot this fall, hosting the Japanese men's first stab at the Federation's ambitious sub-2:08 World Championships standard, a duel between popular individualists Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) and the marathon debut of the mighty Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), bringing back 2006 winner Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and taking in a half-dozen transplants from the cancelled New York City Marathon.  It looks like an exciting, multi-layered race, but despite international interest the IAAF gold-label Fukuoka remains characteristically closed to the world at large.  The race will be broadcast live nationwide on TV Asahi beginning at 12:00 p.m. on TV Asahi.  The best bet for trying to watch online at this stage is still Keyhole TV despite an erratic channel selection since an update earlier this month.  JRN will once again cover Fukuoka live via Twitter @JRNLive, but with both of us running the Naha Marathon earlier the same day it is likely that we will not be able to cover the early stages of the race.  Another option for following the race is local broadcaster KBC's website, which is scheduled to have live 5k splits on the tab second from the bottom on the left-hand menu.  There is a possibility of rain later in the day, but the current forecast is for ideal temperatures around 10 degrees during the race.  It could be a big day.

Much of the overseas buzz about Fukuoka has been about Gebrselassie, back for both his second Fukuoka and his second marathon in Japan this year.  He won with ease one second from the course record in 2:06:52 six years ago in Fukuoka but struggled in Tokyo in February as he finished 4th in 2:08:17, among the slowest times of his career.  Gebrselassie has talked about 2:05 or 2:06 in Fukuoka, but with few recent results it's hard to assess his current fitness.  And even such a strong time may not be enough for the win.  2007 World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Mathathi, one of the most accomplished 10-mile runners in history, is finally making a marathon debut.  Having quietly cleaned up on the domestic Japanese half-marathon circuit over the last two years, punctuated by a 58:56 course record at the 2011 Great North Run, in April Mathathi announced his plans for a debut in Fukuoka, saying, "Since it will be my marathon debut I am not setting a time goal and will only go for the win."  Since then things have progressed, and Mathathi's Japanese colleagues have told JRN that he has trained for at worst a 2:05.  Hopefully better.  Kenyan Martin Lel's brief appearance on the Fukuoka entry list after New York's cancellation promised to shake things up further, but with his withdrawal yesterday it looks like a duel between the veteran and the debutant for the win.

The other big duel may not be far behind.  Fan favorite Kawauchi, the highlight of last year's Fukuoka, has said for months that he would go for 2:07 this time and has tailored most of the year to achieving that goal.  Earlier this fall he won three straight marathons, ran 1500 m and 5000 m PBs on back-to-back days a week after the second marathon win, and was the top Japanese man at the World Half Marathon Championships.  Displaying an uncharacteristic lack of confidence at the Ageo City Half Marathon two weeks ago he still ran 1:03:02 for 3rd, one of the best times of his career on a windy day.  Days before Fukuoka he was more confident.  "2:07," he told JRN.  "I can do it."  Fujiwara, the only Japanese man in the field to have run sub-2:08, took two months off after the Olympics but in mid-October abruptly decided to jump into Fukuoka for a showdown with Kawauchi.  On an express training menu since then, he sounds confident and motivated for a head-to-head bout in recent interviews.  Asked about his race plan earlier this week, Fujiwara told JRN, "In the first half I'm going to float like a butterfly, and in the second half my surge is going to sting like a bee."  In Tokyo his surge took down Haile.  Maybe it'll happen again.

The other major Japanese contenders on paper are 2011 World Championships marathon 7th-placer Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and his World Champs teammate Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota).  Coached by the great Takeshi Soh, the giant Horibata has worked his way down to a 2:09:25 best and after solid ekiden performances throughout November has hopes of a major breakthrough in Fukuoka.  Oda, with an outstanding 2:09:03 debut as part of the now-famous tableau of Kawauchi's 39k surge at last year's Tokyo Marathon, has had injury issues since the Daegu World Championships and has been largely absent from media coverage of Fukuoka so far, usually a sign that an invited athlete is in a bad way.  Earlier this season he ran only 1:04:18 for 4th at the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon in the Czech Republic.

The dark horse among the Japanese runners is Mathathi's training partner and Fujiwara's former JR Higashi Nihon teammate, general division entrant Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC).  The son of a former Japanese national record holder in the marathon, Nakao was strong throughout 2008-2009, with marks including a sub-27:50 10000 m and a 5th place finish at the World Half Marathon Championships.  "In 2009 I thought he was going to become #1 in Japan," Fujiwara told JRN about Nakao.  A longterm injury and coaching change have kept him out of the public eye since then, but a solid 4th-place finish at October's Great Birmingham Run followed a week later by a 2:18:55 win in the Oikawa Marathon as a training run for Fukuoka suggest Nakao is back to 100% fitness and ready to improve on his comparatively weak 2:14:43 best.  "I'm not feeling bad," he told JRN.  "I'm strong enough to drop the rest of the Japanese runners."

If even two of the five main Japanese contenders break 2:10, 2012 will mark the fourth time Japan has had ten or more sub-2:10 performances in one year. Only Kenya, Ethiopia and Japan have ever achieved ten sub-2:10's in a year, Kenya sixteen times and Ethiopia five times. There should be no shortage of competition for the Japanese runners shooting for that time goal in the lead pack. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) and Isaac Macharia (Kenya) both have run sub-2:07:30, while Henryk Szost (Poland) was just off that mark in a Polish national record 2:07:39 at March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon to displace Fujiwara as the fastest non-African marathoner in the world this year. Japan-based Kenyans James Mwangi (Team NTN), the 2011 runner-up in Fukuoka, Cyrus Njui, (Team Hitachi Butsuryu), the 2010 Hokkaido Marathon winner and the third player in Kawauchi's Tokyo surge, and Harun Njoroge (Team Komori Corp.), the 2012 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner, all hold sub-2:10 bests.  Three other Japanese runners, Takeshi Hamano (ex-Team Toyota), Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) and Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express), have run under 2:09:30, but none has approached that kind of fitness in years and of them Shimizu is the only one who seems capable of a return to form at this stage.

Further back is a deep group of hopefuls including the five remaining New York transferees.  Scott Overall (GBR) is the best of them with a 2:10:55 mark from the 2011 Berlin Marathon, but there is no shortage of people between 2:12 and 2:15 hoping to make the jump.  Of particular note are Canadian 10000 m national record holder Simon Bairu and American Mohamed Trafeh, both high-potential athletes looking to get the marathon right after two failed attempts apiece, and 2009 National Corporate Half Marathon Champion Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel), who was only 25 seconds behind Mathathi in 3rd at July's Sapporo International Half Marathon.  Interesting wildcards include American Brent Vaughan, whose 1:02:04 half-marathon best suggests potential around the 2:10 level, and Sho Matsumoto (Dream AC), an amateur on a mission to beat Kawauchi.

Fukuoka is not the only major race in Japan this weekend.  Also on Sunday are the world's #1 10 mile road race, the Kumamoto Kosa 10-miler, and, until the rise of the big city marathon over the last five years Japan's largest mass-participation marathon, the Naha Marathon.  Going on throughout the weekend in Yokohama in its final iteration of the year is an exceptionally deep Nittai University Time Trials meet.  Look for JRN's coverage of all four events in the days to come.

2012 Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field
Fukuoka, 12/2/12
field listing includes bib numbers, PB marks and select general division entrants
click here for complete field listing

1. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) - 2:03:59 (Berlin, 2008)
2. Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (Fukuoka, 2006)
3. Isaac Macharia (Kenya) - 2:07:16 (Dubai, 2008)
4. Henryk Szost (Poland) - 2:07:39 (Lake Biwa, 2012)
28. Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) - 2:07:48 (Tokyo, 2012)
21. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo, 2011)
22. James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 2:08:38 (Fukuoka, 2011)
23. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 2:09:03 (Tokyo, 2011)
24. Cyrus Njui (Kenya/Team Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:09:10 (Tokyo, 2011)
71. Takeshi Hamano (ex-Team Toyota) - 2:09:18 (Lake Biwa, 2002)
63. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka, 2008)
65. Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:09:23 (Lake Biwa, 2008)
25. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:25 (Lake Biwa, 2011)
26. Harun Njoroge (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - 2:09:38 (Beppu-Oita, 2012)
32. Scott Overall (GBR) - 2:10:55 (Berlin, 2011)
5. Frank de Almeida (Brazil) - 2:12:03 (Milan, 2012)
6. Cuthbert Nyasango (Zimbabwe) - 2:12:08 (London Olympics, 2012)
61. Bunta Kuroki (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:12:10 (Tokyo, 2012)
62. Kota Noguchi (Team Toyota) - 2:12:28 (Nobeoka, 2012)
33. Ryan Vail (U.S.A.) - 2:12:43 (Houston, 2012)
64. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:44 (Fukuoka, 2010)
55. Andrew Lemoncello (GBR) - 2:13:40 (London, 2010)
66. Yasuyuki Yamamoto (Team JFE Steel) - 2:14:21 (Beppu-Oita, 2012)
67. Takeshi Makabe (Team Kurosaki Harima) - 2:14:34 (Lake Biwa, 2009)
70. Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:14:43 (Tokyo, 2009)
34. Tim Nelson (U.S.A.) - 2:15:06 (New York, 2010)
52. Ryan Bak (U.S.A.) - 2:15:12 (Houston, 2012)
53. Seung-ho Baek (South Korea) - 2:15:20 (Hofu, 2011)
68. Tomoyuki Kawakami (Team Hitachi Logistics) - 2:15:53 (Lake Biwa, 2012)
69. Takuro Nakanishi (Fukuoka Univ.) - 2:16:19 (Rotterdam, 2012)
54. Jesse Cherry (U.S.A.) - 2:16:31 (Houston, 2012)
73. Akiyuki Iwanaga (Team Kyudenko) - 2:17:13 (Lake Biwa, 2012)
74. Kenji Sakata (Team Kurosaki Harima) - 2:18:19 (Nobeoka, 2011)
127. Sho Matsumoto (Dream AC) - 2:19:26 (Oikawa, 2012)
35. Simon Bairu (Canada) - 2:19:52 (Houston, 2012)
27. Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - debut - 58:56 half marathon
7. Mohamed Trafeh (U.S.A.) - 1:00:39 half marathon
75. Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 1:01:19
36. Brent Vaughan (U.S.A.) - 1:02:04 half marathon
76. Mahoro Ikeda (Team Aichi Seiko) - 1:03:56 half marathon

Pacers
48. Daniel Chebii (Kenya)
51. Reid Coolsaet (Canada)
45. Bitan Karoki (Kenya)
49. Boniface Kirui (Kenya)
45. Yuki Oshikawa (Japan)
46. Yuichiro Ueno (Japan)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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