Mao Ichiyama wins the Olympic test event in Sapporo (© AFP / Getty Images)
Japan’s Mao Ichiyama and Kenya’s Hillary Kipkoech cruised to half marathon PBs on the grounds of Hokkaido University in Sapporo on Wednesday (5) at the official test event for the Tokyo Olympics road races.
The course is similar to the first half of the marathon route that will be used for this year’s Olympic Games, and the race attracted a small elite field comprising some of Japan’s leading marathon contenders along with a handful of international athletes who were keen to get a feel for the streets of Sapporo.
Ichiyama, who booked her spot on Japan’s Olympic marathon team after winning in Nagoya at the end of 2020, fellow Olympic team member Ayuko Suzuki and team reserve Matsuda Mizuki set off at a swift pace alongside three male pace makers, passing through the first 5km in 16:10.
Their pace eased slightly approaching the half-way point, having reached 10km in 32:39, but they picked it up again at the start of the second half and covered the next five-kilometre section in 15:48.
Suzuki stuck with her compatriots until the final few kilometres and, unable to match their pace, started to drift behind. With about two kilometres to go, Ichiyama opened up a gap of about 25 metres on Mizuki and still looked extremely comfortable. The gap didn’t grow significantly in the closing stages, but Ichiyama did just enough to keep her opponent at bay.
Ichiyama crossed the line in a PB of 1:08:28 with Mizuki following close behind in 1:08:32. Suzuki finished third in 1:08:53.
Honami Maeda, who won Japan’s Marathon Grand Championship race in 2019 to secure her Olympic spot, ran solo for much of the race, in between the lead trio and the main chase pack. She was overtaken by Germany’s Katharina Steinruck in the final kilometre as Steinruck finished fourth in 1:10:43, seven seconds ahead of Maeda.
Kipkoech, who clocked a world-leading 27:35 for 10km just 11 days prior, broke away from the rest of the men’s field just before the half-way point. He passed through 5km in 14:35 as part of the lead pack but then opened up some distance a few kilometres later, reaching 10km in 28:59 with a four-second lead over fellow Kenyan Simon Kariuki.
By the time Kipkoech reached 15km in 42:49, his lead over Kariuki had grown to 12 seconds, while the main chase pack was a further 44 seconds adrift.
Kipkoech went on to win in a personal best of 1:00:46 with Kariuki taking second place in 1:01:11. Shin Kimura was the top Japanese finisher, placing third in 1:01:46. Olympic team member Yuma Hattori, opting not to race flat-out and to use the event as a dress rehearsal, finished 24th in 1:02:59.
1 Mao Ichiyama (JPN) 1:08:28
2 Mizuki Matsuda (JPN) 1:08:32
3 Ayuko Suzuki (JPN) 1:08:53
4 Katharina Steinruck (GER) 1:10:43
5 Honami Maeda (JPN) 1:10:50
6 Reia Iwade (JPN) 1:10:59
1 Hillary Kipkoech (KEN) 1:00:46
2 Simon Kariuki (KEN) 1:01:11
3 Shin Kimura (JPN) 1:01:46
4 Daisuke Uekado (JPN) 1:01:49
5 Shun Yuzawa (JPN) 1:01:51
6 Naoki Okamoto (JPN) 1:01:55