Friday, February 3, 2017

Beppu-Oita, Marugame and More - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

Japan's short post-ekiden road season gets up to full speed this weekend.  The second of four selection races for the three spots on the London World Championships men's marathon team happens at the Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon.  Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is the leading contender for the team after a 2:09:11 for 3rd at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, a time that puts a bullseye on his back for the best men in Beppu-Oita and the other races to come.

It's rare to see someone make a national team from Beppu-Oita, but a win there in a time better than Kawauchi's would probably put someone ahead of him in priority for the team.  With a 2:09:39 debut last year at Lake Biwa the talented but injury-prone Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) is the favorite to do just that, but Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki), Ryo Kiname (Team MHPS), Kento Otsu (Team Toyota Kyushu) and debuting Toyota teammates Minato Oishi and Tsubasa Hayakawa all have the potential to do the same.  For his part, after an ekiden last weekend Kawauchi told reporters, "I'm training based on the assumption that I'm going to be chosen for the team, but if other athletes surpass me in terms of their results it would be a good thing."  Internationals in Beppu-Oita include Felix Keny (Kenya), Dereje Debele (Ethiopia) and Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A.).  Try mov3.co for live streaming of TBS' broadcast starting at 11:50 local time on Sunday.

Earlier Sunday morning, the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon promises an incredible men's race and almost as good a women's race.  The women's race features three of the top ten in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics marathon, silver medalist and defending champion Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain), 6th-placer Shalane Flanagan (U.S.A.) and 9th-placer Amy Cragg (U.S.A.). 2016 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Miho Shimizu (Team Hokuren) leads Japanese hopes.

The men's race features five international men with recent sub-61 performances led by Kenneth Kipkemoi (Kenya) with a 59:01 at the 2014 Valencia Half Marathon.  But for Japanese fans it's all about the domestic race where a solid attempt at the 1:00:25 Japanese national record is in the works. On the entry list are 5000 m national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project), 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), 1:00:53 man Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), sub-62 twins Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Team Honda), Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage star Daichi Kamino (Team Konica Minolta), 2017 New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage winner Takashi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei) and many, many more.  Rain is forecast for Sunday afternoon, and if it holds off this may be the day Japan finally gets its first sub-60.

Also Sunday, the Kanagawa Half Marathon and Moriya Half Marathon feature large numbers of Hakone Ekiden universities every year.  Three-time Hakone champ Aoyama Gakuin University in particular has made Kanagawa a priority in recent years, and you can expect to see some of the better people on its roster racing top men from Waseda University and Komazawa University among others.  Local Nittai University tends to send its runners further north to Moriya.

After running Saitama's Okumusashi Ekiden last weekend with a cold, Kawauchi will be back in action Sunday in another local ekiden, the Saitama Ekiden where he will again run as part of the Saitama Prefectural Government team.  Kawauchi has run the Third Stage at the Saitama Ekiden every year since 2013 and in 2014 set its course record of 36:13 for 11.9 km.  It has since been lengthened to 12.1 km, but chances are good he'll be on Third again this year.

© 2017 Brett Larner
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