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History Comes Calling - Kipsang and Chepchirchir Run Japanese Soil Records at Tokyo Marathon

by Brett Larner


The Tokyo Marathon's investment in a new course and top-class field to match paid off with the greatest race in Japanese marathoning history as Kenyans Wilson Kipsang and Sarah Chepchirchir delivered the fastest men's and women's marathons ever run on Japanese soil.  But not just them. Young Japanese runners rose to the challenge in both races, with 24-year-old Hiroto Inoue (Team MHPS) and 19-year-old Ayaka Fujimoto (Team Kyocera) making huge breakthroughs to take top Japanese honors.

Conditions were cool enough that the race went out hot, the men's front group going through the first km around 2:46 and splitting 14:14 on the downhill first 5 km, 2:00:07 pace.  But it wasn't just them.  A small chase group including debuting Japanese men Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) and Takashi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei), and second-time marathoner Inoue was close behind on WR pace with the main Japanese pack under NR pace, everyone keying into the vibe of the day and letting it flow.

By 10 km things settled down, Kipsang staying at the helm behind the pacers, flanked by Tokyo event record holder Dickson Chumba (Kenya), the up-and-coming Evans Chebet (Kenya), relative unknowns Gideon Kipketer (Kenya) and Solomon Deksisa (Ethiopia) and others, holding steady on world record pace through the hilly new middle section of the course until 25 km.  Behind him Shitara threw off the other Japanese men with an almost nihilistic fearlessness he hasn't shown since his 1:01:48 at the 2012 NYC Half and tried to close on the lead group, running 10 seconds faster than them between 10 and 15 km.  A Japanese man, debuting, on world record pace. well into the race.  Miracles and wonders.  But unable to get there before the hills began.

The last of the hills, the return trip over Kuramae Bridge, had the expected impact on the lead pack, shaking it down to just Kipsang, Chumba and Deksisa, and when 30 km came the projected finish had slipped to 2:03:00.  Kipsang and Chumba worked together to try to keep it together, but by the final turnaround point just past 35 km Kipsang was all alone and the record was out of reach.  Bearing down after 40 km he rounded the final corner right on the edge of 2:04, kicking in to deliver the first 2:03 ever run on Japanese soil in 2:03:58.  In one bound he took Tokyo and the Japanese all-comers record, from 2:05 to the 2:03 level, putting it among the very top events in the sport.  And he wasn't the only one.

Kipketer came back late to haul up to 2nd in a PB of 2:05:51, previous CR holder Chumba 3rd in 2:06:25.  Another 2:06.  A 2:07, then a 2:08.  And an aggressive battle over the last three 3 km as Yohanes Ghebregergish (Eritrea) and Inoue retook a fading Shitara.  Ghebregergish took 7th in 2:08:14, then Inoue in a more than 4 1/2 minute PB of 2:08:22 for 8th.  Three more Japanese men, all graduates of Hakone Ekiden powerhouse Toyo University, came through under 2:10, all for the first time, New York 4th placer Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) 10th in a 2:09:12 PB, Shitara becoming the tenth Japanese man to debut sub-2:10 with a 2:09:27 for 11th, and 30 km collegiate national record holder Yuma Hattori (Team Toyota) running a 2 minute PB 2:09:46 for 13th.  But again, they weren't the only ones.

The women's race in Tokyo has always felt like an afterthought to Tokyo's legacy as an elite men's race.  This year the television coverage of the women's race was a big step up even if the field was still small and missing elite domestic women.  Deep in the middle of a massive pack of high-level amateur men and pacers, 2016 Lisbon Marathon winner Chepchirchir was in control the entire way, never relenting her position ahead of the Ethiopian quartet of Amane Beriso, Amane Gobena, Birhane Dibaba and Marta Lema and of debuting compatriot Betsy Saina.  Like the men's race they were out fast, on 2:20:31 pace at 5 km and staying under Mizuki Noguchi's 2:21:18 Japanese all-comers record pace all the way to 30 km.

There Chepchirchir said goodbye, dropping a 15:46 split from 30 to 35 km that took her projected finish down to the edge of sub-2:20 and sailing on uninterrupted to win in a new all-comers record of 2:19:47, a new PB by 5 minutes.  Like Kipsang, she skipped right over the 2:20 range to put Tokyo among the world's fastest courses.  Runner-up Dibaba ran a 1-minute PB to break the old course record for 2nd in 2:21:19, last year's runner-up Gobena taking 3rd in 2:23:09.  The biggest surprise of the day came in 4th, as the unknown teenager Fujimoto, coached by half marathon men's national record holder Atsushi Sato, ran a more than 20 minute PB of 2:27:08.  Running with three Japanese male pacers, American Sara Hall also delivered a PB, going under 2:30 for the first time in 2:28:26 for 6th.

All told the day was a major step for Tokyo's credibility as a world-event, the combination of 2:03 and 2:19 course record putting it among a small handful of races that can boast both.  Kipsang marked what may have been his last serious marathon with a return to his unstoppable winning ways of days five years gone, winning hearts in his post-race interview when he expressed his hope that Japan's marathoners would take it to the next level in the leadup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

And if Tokyo showed one thing on the home front it was that they are trying.  Inoue, Shitara and Ichida going out on world record pace with no fear, 1:01:55 through halfway for Shitara, 1:02:58 for Inoue, both hanging on for quality times.  Fujimoto going from nobody to the top level of the domestic game.  A clear generational change as runners age 25 and under mopped the road with the likes of greats Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko).  All adding momentum to an event tipped to greatness by a totally unexpected and totally brilliant run by Chepchirchir.  Long the minor major to its five elder siblings, in its eleventh running the Tokyo Marathon has finally come into its own as one of the world's leading marathons.  With three years until the Tokyo Olympics its stature can only grow.

11th Tokyo Marathon
Tokyo, 2/26/17
click here for super-detailed results

Men
1. Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:03:58 - ACR
2. Gideon Kipketer (Kenya) - 2:05:51 - PB
3. Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 2:06:25
4. Evans Chebet (Kenya) - 2:06:42
5. Alfers Lagat (Kenya) - 2:07:39
6. Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:08:10
7. Yohanes Ghebregergish (Eritrea) - 2:08:14 - PB
8. Hiroto Inoue (Japan/MHPS) - 2:08:22 - PB
9. Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:08:45
10. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:09:12 - PB
11. Yuta Shitara (Japan/Honda) - 2:09:27 - debut
12. Solomon Deksisa (Ethiopia) - 2:09:31
13. Yuma Hattori (Japan/Toyota) - 2:09:46 - PB
14. Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:11:02
15. Takuya Noguchi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:11:04 - PB
16. Yuki Takamiya (Japan/Yakult) - 2:11:05
17. Geoffrey Ronoh (Kenya) - 2:11:20
18. Yuki Nakamura (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:12:58 - debut
19. Akihiko Tsumurai (Japan/Mazda) - 2:13:27 - debut
20. Ryo Hashimoto (Japan/GMO) - 2:13:29
21. Naoki Okamoto (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:33
22. Koji Gokaya (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:13:52
23. Marius Kipserem (Kenya) - 2:13:53
24. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:13:57
25. Andrew Bumbalough (U.S.A.) - 2:13:58 - debut
-----
DNF - Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza)
DNF - Bernard Koech (Kenya)
DNF - Tadese Tola (Ethiopia)
DNF - Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House)

Women
1. Sarah Chepchirchir (Kenya) - 2:19:47 - ACR, PB
2. Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:21:19 - PB
3. Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:23:09
4. Ayaka Fujimoto (Japan) - 2:27:08 - PB
5. Marta Lema (Ethiopia) - 2:27:37
6. Sara Hall (U.S.A.) - 2:28:26 - PB
7. Madoka Nakano (Japan/Noritz) - 2:33:00 - PB
8. Kotomi Takayama (Japan/Sysmex) - 2:34:44 - debut
9. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/Memolead) - 2:35:11
10. Mitsuko Ino (Japan/CR2 Nishi Nihon) - 2:39:33 - PB
11. Kana Unno (Japan/Noritz) - 2:40:32
12. Dawn Grunnagle (U.S.A.) - 2:41:04 - PB
13. Mitsuko Hirose (Japan/Tokyo Wings) - 2:41:51
14. Kumiko Tanno (Japan/Nitori) - 2:41:57 - PB
15. Mayumi Uchiyama (Japan/Nitori) - 2:42:54
-----
DNF - Betsy Saina (Kenya)
DNF - Amane Beriso (Ethiopia)
DNF - Kaori Yoshida (Japan/Team RxL
DNF - Kaoru Nagao (Japan/Urayasu T&F Assoc.)

© 2017 Brett Larner
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