Skip to main content

Kawauchi Breaks Mekonnen's Sub-2:12 World Record


For the last few years Ethiopia's Tsegaye Kebede and Japan's Yuki Kawauchi have been in a race to erase serial marathoner great Abebe Mekonnen from the record books. At one point Mekennon held a controlling share of the sub-x marathon world records, the number of times an athlete ran under 2:** in their career. Kebede has been taking Mekonnen's records away from the faster end and Kawauchi from the slower, finally meeting each other at the sub-2:12 level. Kawauchi got there first, tying Mekonnen's record of 22 at May's Prague Marathon. With his 2:09:18 at Sunday's Gold Coast Airport Marathon Kawauchi took away Mekonnen's last record as he marked his 23rd career sub-2:12, the first man in history to run such depth at quality.

His Gold Coast performance extended Kawauchi's range to every record from sub-2:12 to sub-2:19. Looking ahead, he is now 8 races away from tying American Doug Kurtis' record of 76 career sub-2:20 marks. With 6 more marathons on his schedule this year he should get that record early next spring. His Gold Coast time also brought Kawauchi within 3 races of tying Kebede's record of 21 sub-2:11 marathons. It has been just over 6 years since Kawauchi first went sub-2:11, meaning that at his usual rate Kawauchi should get that record by the fall of 2018 assuming Kebede doesn't take it much further before he gets there.

Kawauchi is also now 5 races away from tying Kebede's record of 17 sub-2:10s. It has taken him 70 marathons to run his 12 sub-2:10s to date, 2 per year in the 6 years since he first did it at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon. Kawauchi hopes to run 100 marathons sub-2:20 by the time of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just over 3 years away. At the same average rate of progress, which included a year lost to dealing with injury in 2015, he'll be set to run his 18th sub-2:10 at the 2020 Gold Coast Airport Marathon just before the Olympics. If he's able to pull it off and nobody else gets there first Kawauchi will then hold every record from sub-2:10 to sub-2:20.

And not just that.



This spring Kawauchi also broke Kenyan Philemon Metto's world record for sub-1:06 half marathons, running his 72nd career sub-1:06, and with just 7 more races to go to Metto's sub-1:05 record of 56 that one seems likely to fall next year too. At 24 career sub-1:04 half marathons he's also 10 races away from Metto's record of 34. It's taken Kawauchi 10 years to run 24 of them, meaning that with a bit of luck he could take that record before Tokyo 2020 as well. And with a 2:47:35 at last month's Okinoshima 50 km, an annual fixture on his calendar, Kawauchi now holds the records for most sub-2:50, sub-2:49 and sub-2:48 marks for 50 km. With a 2:44:07 best he co-holds the next 3 records, and at just 30 seconds from a new world record and 3 more attempts to go before Tokyo 2020 he could well get it.

The most common question Kawauchi gets from media and fans outside Japan is some variation on "I love what you're doing and all, but don't you think if you just focused on one race like everyone else you could run faster?" or "Don't you think if you just focused on one race you could win a Major?" I come from a music background, so to put it in those terms, they're asking him, "Your music is great and all, but don't you think if you focused you could write a hit single?" There's nothing wrong with writing hits and I'm sure he wouldn't object if he scored one, but is that the only reason people play music? Maybe he knows he's not fast enough to be Taylor Swift. Maybe he's not out to write the summer's hot track or something people will be dancing to at their high school reunions ten years down the road. Maybe he's out to write something larger, a life's work, a symphony that will still move people generations from now. Something nobody will ever surpass.

It has only been this spring that what Kawauchi is really up to has started to come into focus, the connections between the different themes in his work, where he's going with what has seemed like arbitrary craziness up to now, how it's all going to reach resolution. With every new race, every new measure and phrase, that resolution he's envisioning is drawing closer. Something with depth, quality and range like nobody has ever attempted before. It's ambitious and dangerous and could all be cut short at any time, but if he pulls it off, if he makes it to that final chord, that final note, what a work of profound beauty Kawauchi will be gifting the world.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Kariuki Cracks Course Record at 30th Anniversary Ageo City Half Marathon

2017 Kanto Regionals 10000 m and half marathon D2 champion Simon Kariuki (Nihon Yakka Univ.)  overcame windy conditions at the 30th edition of the Ageo City Half Marathon to shave one second off the course record, winning in a PB 1:01:25.

Kariuki and 2017 Kanto Regionals D1 5000 m and 10000 m champ Patrick Mathenge Wambui (Nihon Univ.) took it out in the first km, setting up a fascinating duel between Kanto's top two collegiate men on the track.


Led by Hayato Seki, star runner of this year's Izumo Ekiden champ Tokai University in his half marathon debut, the main body of the Japanese pack gradually relinquished the lead to the Kenyan pair, down 50 seconds by 10 km and continuing to drift back from then. Ageo has typically seen its lead Japanese collegiate men running between high-61 and mid-62, but nobody in the field seemed willing to go ahead of Seki and the runner on his shoulder, 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa Univ.).


Near …

Kosimbei, Kwemoi and Shitara Lead Hachioji 10000 m Field

Nestled deep in the misty foothills of the western Tokyo mountains, Hosei University's late November Hachioji Long Distance meet has quietly turned into one of the world's premier track 10000 m, its A-heat never quite dipping under 27 minutes yet but still producing record-setting depth and the two fastest Japanese men's 10000 m in history.
This year's entry list is another monster, with 27:02.59 man Nicholas Kosimbei (Toyota) leading 17 men with recent times under 28 minutes, twelve of them Kenyan, three Japanese and two Ethiopian. Fresh off a 27:22.73 win at last weekend's Nittai University Time Trials, two-time steeplechase junior world champion Jonathan Ndiku (Hitachi Butsuryu) is slated to pace what is scheduled to be a sub-28 race, but with Kosimbei, sub-27:30 men John Maina (Fujitsu) and Rodgers Chumo Kwemoi (Aisan Kogyo) and five others under 27:45 including last year's winnerRonald Kwemoi (Komori Corp.) on the list the front end should go faster. 
Rig…

Krifchin and Lemciyeh Win Kobe Marathon

The Kobe Marathon held its 7th running on Nov. 19.  19,709 runners took part in this year's race, with 600,000 people cheering them on along the course between the start at Kobe City Hall and the finish in the Kobe Harbor area which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary. American Maegan Krifchin, 29, won the women's race in a course record time of 2:33:14. Khalil Lemciyeh of Morocco also broke the men's course record, winning in 2:12:49.

The Kobe Marathon is organized by the Hyogo Prefectural Government and the City of Kobe. 7,500 volunteers helped runners over the course of the three days of race weekend. This year the turnaround point moved 1.25 km to the west, taking runners under Akashi Kaikyo Bridge for the first time. The final section of the course on Port Island was shortened to make up the distance. At noon at the finish area temperatures were 12 degrees with 65% humidity. 18,949 people finished the race.

At the starting ceremony in front of City Hall, a mom…