Atsushi Fujita at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton (© Getty Images)
Two Japanese runners, Atsushi Fujita and Yuki Kawauchi, are in the spotlight ahead of the 15th Nagano Olympic Commemorative Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, on Sunday.
Fujita, former national Marathon record holder, will have the final Marathon of his 14-year career in the event. He made his debut over the classic distance in 1999 Lake Biwa Marathon and set a collegiate marathon record of 2:10:07, which qualified him for the 1999 World Championships team going to Sevilla, Spain, where he finished in a very respectable sixth place.
However, his next Marathon was the one many Japanese athletics fans remember.
In the 2000 Fukuoka Marathon, Fujita recorded a national record of 2:06:51, which qualified him for the 2001 World Championships; but although he was one of the medal favourites in Edmonton, Fujita was only able to finish 12th.
Sadly, because of persistent injury problems over the years, Fujita failed to fulfil his early potential and he broke 2:10 only once more after 2000 and after failing to finish at the 2013 Lake Biwa Marathon last month, the 36-year-old Fujita decided to retire after the Nagano Marathon.
Kawauchi is one of the most prolific marathon runner of our time, and will be running his fourth marathon of the year in Nagano, a race inaugurated in 1999 to commemorate the Winter Olympics hosted by the city the year before.
He also ran a remarkable nine marathons last year. After winning the 2013 Beppu-Oita Marathon with 2:08:15 on 3 February, Kawauchi then finished fourth in the 2013 Seoul Marathon last month in a personal best of 2:08:14.
The obvious question is, can he run another 2:08 Marathon in Nagano? Many top runners have go under 2:09 on three consecutive occasions but no one has yet done it in three consecutive months!
The fastest Marathon runner in the field is actually Kenya’s William Kiplagat, who recorded personal best of 2:06:50 but back in 1999. Now 40, he has not broken 2:10 since 2009, when he was third in Frankfurt Marathon with 2:07:05. Another Kenyan, Silas Sang, returns to Nagano after finishing in the city 12 months ago when he recorded a personal best of 2:09:10.
Other potential contenders are Russia’s Aleksey A. Sokolov, who was fourth in the 2012 Nagano Marathon with personal best of 2:10:59, and Japan’s Yukihiro Kitaoka, the 2010 Asian Games silver medallist with the best of 2:10:51 from the recorded in 2010 Lake Biwa Marathon.
The Japanese pair of Chiharu Takada and Kazuya Ishida, as well as Eritrea’s Isaias Beyn Habtemicael, all ran personal bests when posting 2:11 performances in 2012 and will also be looking to improve further.
The course is certainly suitable for good times. It is quite flat, with the start at 349m above sea level and the finish at 354m. The highest point is 383m above sea level while the lowest point is 339m.
In the women’s race, the fastest in the field is Mika Okunaga, who recorded the personal best of 2:27:16 in 2009 Osaka Ladies Marathon. However, she could be challenged by Kenya’s Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich, who improved to 2:27:41 when finishing third at the 2012 Hamburg Marathon.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF