Friday, February 10, 2017

Nobeoka, Kawauchi's 2017 Marathon Debut, National Corporate Half and More - Weekend Preview

by Brett Larner

This time of year there are multiple high-level races in Japan every weekend, this one being no exception.  Sunday's Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon is one of the main developmental races for Japanese men, the place where future Olympic marathoners including Hisanori Kitajima, Kentaro Nakamoto, Shinji Kawajima and Shigeru Soh made their marathon debuts. Last year's winner Ryoichi Matsuo (Team Asahi Kasei) returns to face debuting 1:01:25 half marathoner Shota Hattori (Team Honda) and teammates Kenta Matsumoto and Kenta Matsubara (Team Toyota), training partners of Minato Oishi whose successful debut at last Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon saw him land 4th in 2:10:39.

In parallel to Nobeoka, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) will run his first marathon of 2017 at the Ehime Marathon.  Kawauchi's goal is to run 2:13, three minutes under the current Ehime course record.  His main competition is Waseda University fourth-year Yohei Suzuki, a 1:02:16 half marathoner making his marathon debut in his final race before graduating.  With ten marathons currently planned for 2017 Ehime is likely to be Kawauchi's only domestic Japanese marathon until December.

Much of the top-level corporate half marathon talent ran last weekend's Marugame Half, but the entry lists for the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships are still deep as always.  The women's field is split between the 10 km and half marathon distance.  At 32:13.55 Akane Yabushita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) fronts a group of five women in the 10 km with recent 10000 m times under 33 minutes.  10000 m collegiate national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto (Team Daihatsu) hasn't run well since coming back from premature retirement, but with a 31:30.92 best she always has the potential for a return.

Yoshimoto's former Bukkyo University and Yamada Denki corporate teammate Kasumi Nishihara is the most interesting name in the women's half marathon, the winner of the final Kyoto City Half Marathon back in 2009 but with no half marathons on her resume since.  Japan-based Kenyan Felista Wanjugu (Team Universal Entertainment) has the best recent time in the field at 1:10:02, with six women with recent 1:11 times behind her including 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo).

On the men's side, sub-61 Kenyans Charles Ndirangu (Team JFE Steel) and Macharia Ndirangu (Team Aichi Seiko) lead the way ahead of sun-62 Japanese men Taku Fujimoto (Team Toyota) and Ken Yokote (Team Fujitsu).  61-minute men Shuho Dairokuno (Team Asahi Kasei) and Shogo Nakamura (Team Fujitsu) are on the entry list but unlikely to start after recent injury issues.  Ikuto Yufu (Team Fujitsu), winner of last year's Karatsu 10-Miler, is set to make a return to the half marathon distance for the first time since outkicking 2014 Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi (U.S.A.) for 9th at the 2014 NYC Half.  Potentially heavy snow may be a factor, but the National Corporate Half will be broadcast on TBS Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Japan time.  Try mov3.co for streaming.

Yufu may have opted out of a title defense, but the Karatsu 10-Miler will still be going on in his absence.  It's an unusually good field this year.  All-time Japanese #2 for both 5000 m and 10000 m at 13:12.63 and 27:29.74, Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) will be running his first-ever non-ekiden road race.  He will be facing 2:08:00 marathoner Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), 2009 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km winner Akinobu Murasawa (59:08, Team Nissin Shokuhin), 2016 Ageo City Half Marathon 3rd-placer Shota Onizuka (1:02:03, Tokai Univ.), 2013 Ageo runner-up Kazuto Nishiike (1:02:36, Team Konica Minolta), 2009 Ageo winner Shota Hiraga (1:02:08, Team Sumitomo Denko) and Suzuki's Waseda teammates Kazuma Taira and Yuichi Yasui, both sub-63 for the half marathon win Suzuki running 1:02:14 for 7th behind Onizuka in Ageo last year.  Masanari Shintaku's 45:40 national record from the 1984 Karatsu 10-Miler is no joke, but with any luck, especially with the forecast of snow, it'll be on this talented crew's agenda. Yuika Takaki (Fukuoka Univ.) leads the women's 10 km.

© 2017 Brett Larner
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