Mao Ichiyama wins the Nagoya Women's Marathon (Agence SHOT) © Copyright

Weekend road round-up: Ichiyama clinches final spot on Japan’s Olympic marathon team in Nagoya, Chebet wins at Lake Biwa

Going into the Nagoya Women’s Marathon on Sunday (8), the goal for Japan’s leading distance runners was clear: run faster than 2:21:47 at the World Athletics Platinum Label road race and secure a spot on the national Olympic team.

Mao Ichiyama, who had finished sixth at last year’s Marathon Grand Championship, Japan’s main trial race, broke away from the two fastest runners in the field at 30km to go on to win in 2:20:29, claiming the third and final spot on Japan’s Olympic marathon squad.

Before this race, Mizuki Matsuda – who had won the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January in 2:21:47 – was in line to take the third place on the team, but she will now be entered as a reserve after being supplanted by Ichiyama.

The pacemakers, aiming for a finishing time of 2:20:30, led a huge pack through 5km in 16:41 and 10km in 33:19. Nancy Kiprop was the first big name to drop out, stopping at 11km. Betsy Saina, who finished fifth in the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympic Games, did likewise one kilometre later.

After 15km, reached in 50:12, Olympic team contenders Reia Iwade and Kayoko Fukushi started to falter. 11 runners passed 20km in 1:06:50 and only Ai Hosoda had drifted out of the group by 25km (1:23:30). After passing 30km in 1:40:31, Ichiyama made a decisive move, covering the next five-kilometre segment alone in 16:14.

By 35km Ichiyama was 25 seconds ahead of Rionoripo. By the time she reached the finish line in 2:20:29, a PB by four minutes, the 22-year-old was more than two minutes ahead of the next finisher.  

Yuka Ando, who passed four runners in the final seven kilometres, finished second in 2:22:41, the second-fastest time of her career. Rionoripo, who was in second at 40km, finished third in 2:22:56, while Ethiopia’s Hirut Tiberu was fourth in a PB of 2:23:17. Marathon debutante Sayaka Sato was fifth in 2:23:27.

Ichiyama is now the fourth-fastest Japanese woman in history, behind Mizuki Noguchi, Yoko Shibui and Naoko Takahashi, all legendary runners in Japan. Her winning performance is also the fastest time by a Japanese woman on home soil, replacing Noguchi’s 2:21:18 from Osaka in 2003.

“I had been dreaming of a day like this,” said Ichiyama. “The weather was bad, so I thought it would look great if I ran fast today. My goal was to run under 2:21:47, so I am very happy to run much faster.

“I trained to run alone from 30km on, so I am happy that the race went as planned. However, my time is still not world class, so I am going to train at a higher level for the Olympics and produce a great performance at the Games for my country.

“Last year at the Tokyo Marathon the weather was even worse, but that was a good rehearsal for today,” she added. “My only concern today was my time, so I was not worried about my overseas opponents. The race went exactly as I imagined. At about 37km, I was sure I could run under 2:21. But after 40km, it was starting to get tough.”

Ken Nakamura for World Athletics

Leading results

1 Mao Ichiyama (JPN) 2:20:29
2 Yuka Ando (JPN) 2:22:41
3 Purity Rionoripo (KEN) 2:22:56
4 Hirut Tiberu Damte (ETH) 2:23:17
5 Sayaka Sato (JPN) 2:23:27
6 Helen Tola (ETH) 2:23:52
7 Birke Debele (ETH) 2:25:08
8 Ai Hosoda (JPN) 2:26:34
9 Reia Iwade (JPN) 2:28:39
10 Natsuki Omori (JPN) 2:29:29

Chebet scores runaway victory at Lake Biwa Marathon

Less than six months after his triumph in Buenos Aires, Evans Chebet put together back-to-back marathon victories when winning at the Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday (8), clocking 2:07:29 at the World Athletics Gold Label road race.

The 31-year-old Kenyan made his break just before the 36-kilometre point and went on to win by 36 seconds. The race also doubled as the final Olympic qualifying opportunity for Japanese men – provided they could break the national record of 2:05:29 – but the wet and windy conditions were not conducive to fast times, so no changes were made to the host nation’s provisional marathon line-up for Tokyo 2020.

After a slower-than-expected opening 5km of 15:21, the pace then started to pick up and the leaders passed 10km in 30:19. Defending champion Salah Bounasr and 2018 Boston Marathon champion Yuki Kawauchi started to drift back after 10km. After covering 15km in 45:09 and 20km in 1:00:12, about 28 runners passed the half way point in 1:03:32.

Ugandan record-holder Felix Chemonges drifted in and out the lead pack between 24 and 31 kilometres. Chebet, Felix Kiprotich and Stephen Mokoka then picked up the pace and formed a lead trio. Behind them, Japan’s Naoya Sakuda and Shoya Okuno broke away from the chase pack to move into fourth and fifth.

After the leaders passed 35km in 1:45:43, Chebet covered the next kilometre in 2:57 to break away from his last two opponents. He covered the final 6.5km alone and went on to win in 2:07:29.

“Today I ran 2:07 but it was not an easy race because of the rain and wind,” said Chebet, who set a PB of 2:05:00 when winning in Buenos Aires last year. “I want to come back to run again next year.”

Mokoka, who was third last year, finished second this time in 2:08:05 while Kiprotich was further behind in third with 2:08:48.

As was the case at last week’s Tokyo Marathon, several unheralded Japanese runners made big improvements while many of the top invited domestic runners didn’t fare well. Fourth-place finisher Sakuda, the first Japanese across the line, clocked 2:08:50 to take two-and-a-half minutes off his PB. Marathon debutant Shoma Yamamoto finished fifth in 2:09:18, while Okuno took 10 minutes off his PB with 2:09:28 in seventh place.

Ken Nakamura for World Athletics

Leading results

1 Evans Chebet (KEN) 2:07:29
2 Steven Mokoka (RSA) 2:08:05
3 Felix Kiprotich (KEN) 2:08:48
4 Naoya Sakuda (JPN) 2:08:50
5 Shoma Yamamoto (JPN) 2:09:18
6 Alphonce Simbu (TAN) 2:09:23
7 Shoya Okuno (JPN) 2:09:28
8 Kenya Sonota (JPN) 2:09:50
9 Felix Chemonges (UGA) 2:10:08
10 Koki Yoshioka (JPN) 2:10:13