Previews03 Mar 2023

Lemma and Bekere head Tokyo Marathon fields


Ashete Bekere finishes second in the 2022 Tokyo Marathon (© AFP / Getty Images)

Ethiopia’s Sisay Lemma and Ashete Bekere will seek more World Athletics Platinum Label road race success when they contest the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday (5).

Lemma heads a deep men’s line-up that stars six sub-2:05 athletes and 46 who have dipped under 2:10 so far in their careers, while Bekere forms part of a women’s field that features four others who have PBs under 2:19 and 14 who have gone sub-2:25.

Lemma clocked his PB of 2:03:36 when finishing third in Berlin in 2019 and since then he has become a Platinum Label race champion, winning the London Marathon in 2:04:01 in 2021 after being unable to finish the Olympic marathon in Sapporo a couple of months earlier. He also did not finish when contesting the Boston Marathon last April but returned to the UK capital in October to finish seventh.

It could take a performance near his top form to hold off competition that includes Uganda’s Stephen Kissa, Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Getachew and Kenya’s Titus Kipruto, who all dipped under 2:05 last year, plus Kenya’s Bernard Koech, who ran 2:04:09 for the runner-up spot in Amsterdam in 2021.

Getachew’s PB was set last October, when he ran 2:04:49 to win the Amsterdam Marathon ahead of Kipruto (2:04:54), while Kissa clocked 2:04:48 to finish second in Hamburg in the April.

Ethiopia’s Deso Gelmisa will also be a threat. The 25-year-old ran his PB of 2:04:53 in Valencia in 2020 and came close to that with 2:04:56 back at the same event in December after winning the Paris Marathon in 2:05:07 in April.

Olympic sixth-place finisher Suguru Osako leads the Japanese entries with the 2:05:29 PB he ran in Tokyo in 2020, and he’s joined by his fellow former national marathon record-holder Yuta Shitara (2:06:11).

Canada’s Cameron Levins, who finished fourth in the world marathon in Oregon in a 2:07:09 national record, is back in action after a half marathon PB of 1:00:18 last month.

In the women’s race, Bekere aims to go faster than the 2:17:58 PB she set to finish second in Tokyo last year.

“I have had a very good preparation and psychologically I’m much stronger than in the past,” she told her NN Running Team.

Bekere made her marathon debut back in 2011 and Sunday’s event will be her 25th race over 26.2 miles. She finished sixth in the London Marathon last October and did not finish the World Championships marathon in Oregon, but she placed third in London in 2021 and won the Berlin marathon in 2019.

She’s the fastest in the field but her compatriot Tigist Abayechew and Kenya’s Rosemary Wanjiru are not far behind her. Wanjiru ran 2:18:00 and Abayechew 2:18:03 to finish second and third respectively in Berlin in September.

Ethiopia’s Worknesh Edesa also ran her PB in Berlin last year, running 2:18:51 to finish fourth, and the trio clash again in Tokyo. Her compatriot Tsehay Gemechu is the other athlete on the entry list to have dipped under 2:19 with the 2:18:59 marathon debut she ran in Amsterdam last year.

Japan’s woman-only national record-holder Mao Ichiyama, who ran 2:20:29 in Nagoya in 2020, is back in action after finishing sixth in Tokyo last year. Mizuki Matsuda also races, having set her 2:20:52 PB in Osaka last year.

Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei ran Japanese all-comers' records to win in Tokyo last year, respectively clocking 2:02:40 and 2:16:02.

Coverage of the event is set to be shown in 157 overseas countries and territories, while fans can also follow the action on the live leaderboard.