Ethiopian marathon runner Tadese Tola on his way to victory (© Getty Images)
With ideal running conditions predicted for the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday (23), hopes are high that the course records will be under threat at the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
The course records of 2:06:50 in the men’s race by Dennis Kimetto and 2:25:28 in the women’s race by Atsede Habtamu, set in 2013 and 2012 respectively, are the slowest course records among the World Marathon Majors races.
But with six men with personal bests faster than 2:06 and nine women with sub-2:24 PBs, both course records are likely to be improved. Instead, a more relevant question is: how much will they be improved by?
The Japanese all-comers’ records of 2:05:18 by Tsegaye Kebede and 2:21:18 by 2004 Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi are tougher records, but even they might not withstand the assault on Sunday.
The fastest man in the field is Ethiopia’s world bronze medallist Tadese Tola, who set a PB of 2:04:49 at the 2013 Dubai Marathon when finishing third. Tola’s four marathon performances last year averaged 2:07:15, the fastest season average for four marathons, while his three fastest performances averaged 2:06:13, also the fastest in history.
“I have been talking with my friends about breaking the course record and I am sure I can do it,” Tola said at the press conference. “In the future, I would like to break the world record. The secret of my marathon success is in training. It is important to set a goal and train with that goal in mind.”
The second-fastest man in the field is two-time world champion Abel Kirui. At the press conference on Friday, Kirui emphasised that discipline is the secret of his success. “I wanted it (success) and I did it,” he said.
An ultimate championship runner, Kirui won the 2009 and 2011 world titles before finishing second at the 2012 Olympic Games. His gold-medal-winning performances at the World Championships are the top two fastest times in World Championships history.
However, Kirui has only won one non-championship race, the 2008 Vienna Marathon. In Tokyo he will be out to prove that he is more than just a championship performer.
Sammy Kitwara and Geoffrey Kipsang are both accomplished half-marathon runners and with their exceptional speed over that distance, they might spring a surprise on Sunday morning.
Kitwara has the fastest half marathon best (58:48) of the field and has cracked the one-hour barrier five times in his career. The 2010 world half-marathon bronze medallist has a marathon PB of 2:05:16, set when finishing third in Chicago last year.
Kipsang, the 2011 world junior cross-country champion, has a half-marathon best of 58:54 and has twice finished third at the Berlin Marathon, his PB of 2:06:12 coming at the 2012 edition of that race.
In the seven-year history of this race, nobody has won the Tokyo Marathon twice. But on the men’s side, Michael Kipyego, who won in 2012 and finished second in 2013, will attempt to win again on the streets of the Japanese capital.
“I want to break the course record,” said Kipyego at the press conference when asked about the possibility of another victory.
Other top runners in the field are 2013 Paris Marathon winner Peter Some, 2012 world half marathon silver medallist Deressa Chimsa and 2012 Eindhoven winner Dickson Chumba.
Also in the field are Eritrean record-holder Yared Asmerom and Morocco’s Abderrahime Bouramdane, who finished fourth at the 2011 World Championships.
Several big-name Japanese runners have pulled out at the last minute, leaving Arata Fujiwara as the fastest domestic runner with his PB of 2:07:48 from the 2012 edition of this race.
“The reason I chose to run at the Tokyo Marathon is because of high calibre field,” said Fujiwara at the press conference.
But Chihiro Miyawaki, who will be making his marathon debut, may attract more of the local attention. “It is my first marathon, so I have nothing to lose,” said Miyawaki, who has PBs of 27:41.57 for 10,000m and 1:00:53 for the half-marathon. “My goal is to break 2:09.”
Kabuu the big favourite
The fastest runner on the women’s side is Kenya’s Lucy Kabuu, whose 2:19:34 performance at the 2012 Dubai Marathon was the second-fastest marathon debut in history.
Kabuu, whose 1:06:09 half-marathon PB makes her the third-fastest in history over that distance, used to run for the Suzuki track team in Japan, so at the pre-race press conference she answered the questions in fluent Japanese.
“Before I came here, I was thinking of a time around 2:23, but since I heard the weather will be nice, I will go with 2:20 pace,” she said.
Tirfi Tsegaye, the 2012 Paris and 2013 Dubai Marathon winner, is the second-fastest in the field with her best of 2:21:19, while fellow Ethiopian Atsede Baysa, the 2010 Paris and 2012 Chicago Marathon champion, is the third-fastest in the field with her best of 2:22:03.
“How I will run depends on the weather, but I want to run at least 2:25:30 on Sunday,” said Baysa. “In the future if possible I would like to go under 2:22.”
Tsegaye was also concerned about the weather. “If the weather is nice on Sunday, I would like to run under 2:25. Eventually in the future, I would like to run 2:19 or 2:20.”
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
ELITE FIELD (with PBs)
Tadese Tola (ETH) 2:04:49
Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:05:04
Sammy Kitwara (KEN) 2:05:16
Peter Some (KEN) 2:05:38
Deressa Chimsa (ETH) 2:05:42
Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:05:46
Geoffrey Kipsang (KEN) 2:06:12
Michael Kipyego (KEN) 2:06:48
Yared Asmerom (ERI) 2:07:27
Abderrahime Bouramdane (MAR) 2:07:33
Arata Fujiwara (JPN) 2:07:48
Suehiro Ishikawa (JPN) 2:09:10
Cyrus Njui (KEN) 2:09:10
Kohei Matsumura (JPN) 2:10:12
Tomoya Adachi (JPN) 2:10:22
Mekubo Mogusu (JPN) 2:11:02
Benjamin Gandu (KEN) debut
Chihiro Miyawaki (JPN) debut
Lucy Kabuu (KEN) 2:19:34
Yoko Shibui (JPN) 2:19:41
Tirfi Tsegaye (ETH) 2:21:19
Atsede Baysa (ETH) 2:22:03
Birhane Dibaba (ETH) 2:23:01
Merima Mohamed Hasen (ETH) 2:23:06
Caroline Rotich (KEN) 2:23:22
Olena Shurkhno (UKR) 2:23:32
Albina Mayorova (RUS) 2:23:52
Azusa Nojiri (JPN) 2:24:57
Mai Ito (JPN) 2:25:26
Yoshiko Fujinaga (JPN) 2:25:40
Janet Rono (KEN) 2:28:36