A quartet of Kenyans will take on a handful of talented Japanese marathon runners on 19 April at the Nagano Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race.
Jairus Chanchima and Henry Chirchir lead the men’s entries, while former world record-holder Catherine Ndereba will be joined by compatriot Beatrice Jepkemoi in the women’s race.
Most of Chanchima’s marathons – including his three fastest ones – have been in Asia. His 2:07:43 PB from the 2012 Seoul Marathon makes him the fastest in the field.
Chirchir won the Hannover Marathon last year in 2:11:30, but his personal best was set on his debut at the distance, clocking 2:09:24 in Cologne three years ago.
Like Chirchir, Kiflom Sium set his marathon PB in his first race over the classic distance, running 2:11:09 in Padua in 2012. The 27-year-old represented Eritrea at the 2013 World Championships, 2012 World Half Marathon Championships and six editions of the World Cross Country Championships.
Having set national records on the track for all distances from 800m to 10,000m, Byron Piedra could now target the Ecuadorian marathon record in Nagano. The 32-year-old took six minutes off his PB last month, running 2:14:39 in Torreon.
Taiga Ito leads the Japanese entries. The 28-year-old won in Shizuoka last year and then went on to place third in Nagano, making him the top Japanese finisher. He has a PB of 2:11:15.
Takuya Fukatsu will be making his marathon debut. With personal bests of 13:33.34 for 5000m, 27:56.29 for 10,000m and 1:01:25 for the half marathon, he has all the tools for producing a fast time.
Ndereba's marathon comeback
One athlete’s CV on the women’s entry list stands out above all the rest.
Catherine Ndereba is the former world record-holder, two-time world champion and winner of six big city marathons. But, now 42, this will be her first marathon for more than three years. In her last race over the distance, she clocked 2:35:08 to finish 22nd in Nagoya.
Fellow Kenyan Beatrice Jepkemoi will also be in Nagano. Her best of 2:27:41 dates back to the 2012 Hamburg Marathon, while her fastest time last year was 2:33:16.
Of the 15 past editions of the Nagano Marathon, 10 of them have been won by Russian women. Nadezhda Leonteva could be the latest Russian name on the list of winners. The 30-year-old has a PB of 2:31:57 and competed at the 2013 World Championships and 2014 European Championships.
Kiyoko Shimihara is the fastest Japanese runner in the field, but her PB of 2:25:10 was set in 2009. The 38-year-old, who finished sixth at the 2007 World Championships, finished seventh in Nagano last year.
Now 45, Chihiro Tanaka will be making her 10th appearance in Nagano. Her best results was a second-place finish in 2001, but she finished fifth as recently as 2013.
Held to commemorate the 1998 Winter Olympics that where held in the same city, what makes the Nagano Marathon unique compared to other races in Japan is that a group of retired athletes take part as guests in the mass field every year.
This year’s race will welcome back the same four guest athletes who ran in Nagano last year: 2000 Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, double Olympic medallist Eric Wainaina of Kenya, 2009 world silver medallist Yoshimi Ozaki and 100km world record-holder Takahiro Sunada.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF
Elite field (with PBs)
Jairus Chanchima (KEN) 2:07:43
Henry Chirchir (KEN) 2:09:24
Kiflom Sium (ERI) 2:11:09
Taiga Ito (JPN) 2:11:15
Masanori Ishida (JPN) 2:13:07
Kouhei Ogino (JPN) 2:13:12
Sho Matsumoto (JPN) 2:13:38
Byron Piedra (ECU) 2:14:39
Takuya Fukatsu (JPN) debut
Catherine Ndereba (KEN) 2:18:47
Kiyoko Shimahara (JPN) 2:25:10
Eri Okubo (JPN) 2:26:08
Beatrice Jepkemboi (KEN) 2:27:41
Chihiro Tanaka (JPN) 2:29:30
Nadezhda Leonteyeva (RUS) 2:31:57
Syoko Mori (JPN) 2:34:28
Yumiko Kinoshita (JPN) 2:35:49
Akane Mutazaki (JPN) 2:37:14