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Norway's Moen Blasts 2:05:48 European Record to Win Fukuoka

More than living up to the promise of his 59:48 Norwegian half marathon record at October's Valencia Half, Sondre Nordtad Moen took down all comers to win the 2017 Fukuoka International Marathon in a European record 2:05:48.

Superb pacing work took the lead group through 30 km with almost perfect 3:00/km splits along the way, a race of attrition that shaved down the field to a core group of five real contenders. Defending champ Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) was the first big name to go, with 2:06 man Lani Rutto (Kenya), the debuting Keita Shitara (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) and last year's 3rd-placer Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) among the other big names to lose touch in the first half, leaving Moen, favorite Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA), London Olympics gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda), last year's 5th-placer Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) and Boston Marathon 3rd-placer Suguru Osako (Japan/NOP) to make up the perfectly international front group.

Before the race Karoki had said that he planned to stay on 3:00/km through 30 km and then take it from there. When the pacers stepped off he did just that, but right there with him was Moen. Mesel couldn't handle the gear change and disappeared, while Kiprotich and Osako struggled to hang on, and after the turnaround point near 31.7 km they were left behind too. Karoki and Moen traded the lead, Karoki not seeming to want Moen on his heels, as their pace accelerated. After a 14:37 split from 30 to 35 km Karoki abruptly looked spent, and in a flash Moen had a 5 second lead.

Behind them, Osako tried to close the gap but fell steadily behind as he opened on Kiprotich and set up the potential to become Japan's first man under 2:07 in 15 years. Behind them, the field was split into pairs and trios all the way back to Kawauchi, who pushed on alone near 20th place at his worst. Two surprises came from unknowns Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) and Daisuke Uekado (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku), both near 2:13 in their previous marathons but running at 2:08 pace in the top two Japanese positions behind Osako.

With Karoki gone it was a race against the clock for Moen. With his 35 km split projecting to 2:06:17 Moen kept pushing the envelope with a 14:38 from 35 to 40 km that put him on track to crack 2:06. Pushing up the last uphill to the track he crossed the finish line in 2:05:48, only the second man ever to go under 2:06 in Fukuoka and a new European record, the fastest record-legal time ever by an athlete born outside Africa. His 6:25 split from 40 km to the finish equated to a 14:37 5 km split, the same as his previous two 5 km splits, meaning that after running almost exactly 3:00/km for the first 30 km Moen ran a fraction over 2:55/km from there to the end with almost zero variation in his pace once he got going. It was a true masterclass.

Once dropped Karoki was in survival mode. Kiprotich caught up to Osako, and together they worked to reel Karoki back in, surging when they passed him at 39 km to make sure he didn't get any ideas about joining them. Seconds later Kiprotich surged again to kill off Osako, pushing on alone to take 2nd in 2:07:10, the second-best time of his career. Osako couldn't hang on to sub-2:07 pace but with a 2:07:19 PB for 3rd he became the 5th-fastest Japanese man in history, the first Japanese man under 2:07:30 in ten years, and, most notably, the fastest marathoner the Nike Oregon Project has ever produced. Following his 3rd-place debut in Boston it confirmed his position as the brightest hope for the next generation of Japanese marathoning.

Karoki shuffled in for 4th in 2:08:44, with Mesel repeating his 5th-place finish in 2:09:22. Behind him, the 23-year-old Uekado and 27-year-old Takenouchi unexpectedly added their names to the list of Japan's current best. Uekado, whose coaching staff includes 2:06:57 former national record holder Takayuki Inubushi, ran a PB of over 3 1/2 minutes to take 6th in 2:09:27, passing Takenouchi late in the race. Takenouchi was dead on his feet on the last lap of the track, the clock ticking down agonizingly as he flailed down the home straight trying to muster up a sub-2:10. Coming up just short, he staggered across the line in 2:10:01, like Uekado a PB by 3 1/2 minutes in just his second marathon. The pair represented one of the best things about Japanese running, how the incredible depth means that talents like them can emerge from nowhere at any time.

Japan-based Kenyan Michael Githae (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) followed up the promise of his 2:11:40 win at last spring's Shizuoka Marathon with a 2:10:46 PB for 8th. Right behind him, Kawauchi powered home in 2:10:53 after slashing his way through the detrius over the second half of the race, characteristically clocking the fastest split past 40 km in the field after Moen. Although he missed his goal of a sub-2:10 after falling off early, the result was his best performance since August's London World Championships and 19th career sub-2:11, just shy of Fukuoka course record holder Tsegaye Kebede's world record of 21. His younger brother Yoshiki Kawauchi (Jaybird) ran a PB of 2:18:47 for 29th, his first time breaking 2:20. The elder Kawauchi will repeat his usual December double, running the Dec. 17 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. Post-race, hundreds of fans lined up to get autographs and selfies with him, Kawauchi generously taking the time to talk to each of them.

Sub-2:10 man Takuya Fukatsu (Japan/Asahi Kasei) ran down one of the stars of last year's Fukuoka, Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) in the home straight to round out the top ten in 2:12:04. Thanks to Osako and Uekado, Japan ends the year with ten or more sub-2:10 performances for the seventh time in its history, something only Kenya and Ethiopia have also achieved. Osako may be its best hope for Tokyo 2020, but it's clear that the main task facing ahead is translating this power into A-game performances when they count the most. Until then, Moen joins the roster of people they'll have to overcome in the heat of the Tokyo Olympic marathon. Even for Osako, that looks like a tough mountain to scale.

71st Fukuoka International Marathon

Fukuoka, 12/3/17
click here for complete results and splits

1. Sondre Nordstad Moen (Norway) - 2:05:48 - AR
2. Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:07:10
3. Suguru Osako (Japan/NOP) - 2:07:19 - PB
4. Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) - 2:08:44
5. Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) - 2:09:22
6. Daisuke Uekado (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:09:27 - PB
7. Yoshiki Takenouchi (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:10:01 - PB
8. Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:10:46 - PB
9. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:10:53
10. Takuya Fukatsu (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:04
11. Hayato Sonoda (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:12:04
12. Satoru Sasaki (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:40
13. Daichi Kamino (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:12:50 - debut
14. Tadashi Suzuki (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:11
15. Kazuhiro Maeda (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:13:18
16. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/NTN) - 2:13:22
17. Melaku Abera (Ethiopia/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:13:25
18. Paulo Roberto Paula (Brazil) - 2:13:37
19. Thomas do Canto (Australia) - 2:14:59 - PB
20. Tyler Pennel (U.S.A.) - 2:15:02
21. Yuki Munakata (Japan/Kanebo) - 2:15:31
22. Nao Kazami (Japan/Aichi T&F Assoc.) - 2:17:23
23. Keisuke Kusaka (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:17:24
24. Kazuya Ishida (Japan/Nishitetsu) - 2:17:39
25. Chihiro Takada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:17:43
26. Yemane Tsegaye (Ethiopia) - 2:18:05
27. Pardon Ndhlovu (Zimbabwe) - 2:18:11
28. Samuel Gebremichael (Ethiopia) - 2:18:45
29. Yoshiki Kawauchi (Japan/Jaybird) - 2:18:47 - PB
32. Yusuke Tobimatsu (Japan/Hioki City Hall) - 2:21:08
41. Kohei Ogino (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:24:55
79. Keita Shitara (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:28:29
284. Taiga Ito (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:41:21
DNF - Yuki Sato (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin)
DNF - Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/JFE Steel)
DNF - Kazuya Deguchi (Japan/Asahi Kasei)
DNF - Lani Rutto (Kenya)

text © 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


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