Birhanu Legese wins the Tokyo Marathon (© AFP / Getty Images)
An assault on both the men's and women's records is expected at the Tokyo Marathon, a World Athletics Platinum level, on Sunday (1).
The best fields ever assembled for this race in the Japanese capital will be targeting Wilson Kipsang's 2:03:58 and Sarah Chepchirchir's 2:19:47, both set in 2017.
Three entrants with lifetime bests faster than Kipsang's mark head the men's field, all three from Ethiopia. Birhanu Legese is the fastest at 2:02:48, Getaneh Molla next at 2:03:34 with Sisay Lemma just a couple ticks behind with 2:03:36. All three set their bests in 2019 - Legese and Lemma in Berlin and Molla in Dubai - so should be near top form now.
Five more runners - Asefa Mengstu, Dickson Chumba, Hayle Lemi, El Hassan El Abbassi, and Titus Ekiru – come armed with sub-2:05 bests. The favourite may be Legese, the defending Tokyo Marathon champion, who recorded his personal best behind Kenenisa Bekele's world record attack in the German capital.
Although Molla stated his time goal as 2:03:55, he may be ready to run faster given his PB was set in his debut over the distance. The most ambitious runner may be Lemma who said he's gunning for a 2:02:00 performance.
Dickson Chumba, who won this race in 2014 and 2018, is going for a record third victory. He has run in every Tokyo Marathon since 2014 and never finished further back than third.
Aga and Dibaba head deep women's field
Four runners with personal bests faster than Chepchirchir's course record time will start the women’s race: Ruti Aga, who clocked 2:18:34 in Berlin in 2018; Birhane Dibaba who ran 2:18:46 in last year's quality Valencia race; Kenyan Valary Aiyabei, who clocked 2:19:10 in Frankfurt last year; and Israel's Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, who has a 2:19:46 best set in Prague last year.
With 2:19:52 credentials, Tigist Girma rounds out the sub-2:20 field. Four others have dipped under 2:22.
Dibaba, who has run in Tokyo five times, is the only multiple winner, collecting victories in 2015 and 2018. She said she's targeting a 2:18:30 performance and a third victory. Aga, the defending Tokyo champion, is aiming for a lifetime best. Although her marathon best is only 2:24:11, Senbere Teferi, with a 1:05:32 career best one of the fastest half marathon runners in history and the Ethiopian record holder, should also be capable of running with the field's sub-2:20 runners.
Another Olympic qualification opportunity for the locals
For Japanese men, Tokyo is important because a third spot on the Japanese Olympic marathon team is on the line. But it won't be easy. Only a successful assault on the 2:05:50 national record would clinch the team berth.
The race is thought to be between Suguru Osako, Yuta Shitara and Hiroto Inoue, the three fastest active marathoners in Japan. Osako, who trained in Kenya for his Tokyo build-up, is reportedly in greap shape. Inoue, who has been training in New Zealand, said his target time is 2:04:30.
Last year, Kensuke Horio, came from nowhere to finish first among Japanese. Will a similar scenario repeat?
Due to concerns over the outbreak of Coronavirus cases in Japan, organisers restricted entry to this year's race elite athletes only.
"We have been preparing for the Tokyo Marathon 2020 while implementing preventive safety measures, however, now that case of COVID-19 has been confirmed within Tokyo, we cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated," organisers said.
Ken Nakamura for World Athletics
Birhanu Legese (ETH), 2:02:48, 2019 Berlin
Getaneh Molla (ETH), 2:03:34, 2019 Dubai
Sisay Lemma (ETH), 2:03:36, 2019 Berlin
Asefa Mengstu (ETH), 2:04:06, 2018
Dubai Dickson Chumba (KEN), 2:04:32, 2014 Chicago
Hayle Lemi (ETH), 2:04:33, 2016 Dubai
El Hassan El Abbassi (BRN), 2:04:43, 2018 Valencia
Titus Ekiru (KEN), 2:04:46, 2019 Milano
Amos Kipruto (KEN), 2:05:43, 2017 Amsterdam
Bedan Karoki (KEN), 2:05:53, 2019 Chicago
Bashir Abdi (BEL), 2:06:14, 2019 Chicago
Suguru Osako, 2:05:50, 2018 Chicago
Yuta Shitara, 2:06:11, 2018 Tokyo
Hiroto Inoue, 2:06:54, 2018 Tokyo
Kenji Yamamoto, 2:08:42, 2019 Lake Biwa
Kenta Murayama, 2:08:56, 2019 Berlin
Yuki Sato, 2:08:58, 2018 Tokyo
Hayato Sonoda, 2:09:34, 2018 Beppu-Oita
Daichi Kamino, 2:10:18, 2018 Tokyo
Kensuke Horio, 2:10:21, 2019 Tokyo
Daiji Kawai, 2:10:50, 2019 Lake Biwa
Shuho Dairokuno, 2:21:47, 2019 Beppu-Oita (27:46.55 10,000m)
Ruti Aga (ETH), 2:18:34, 2018 Berlin
Birhane Dibaba (ETH), 2:18:46, 2019 Valencia
Valary Aiyabei (KEN), 2:19:10, 2019 Frankfurt
Lonah Chemtai Salpeter (ISR), 2:19:46, 2019 Praha
Tigist Girma (ETH), 2:19:52, 2019 Amsterdam
Azmera Gebru (ETH), 2:20:48, 2019 Amsterdam
Shure Demise (ETH), 2:20:59, 2015 Dubai
Selly Kaptich Chepyego (KEN), 2:21:06, 2019 Berlin
Shitaye Eshete (BRN), 2:21:33, 2019 Ljubljana
Marta Lema (ETH), 2:22:35, 2018 Toronto
Asefa Sutume Kebede (ETH), 2:23:31, 2019 Beijing
Senbere Teferi (ETH), 2:24:11, 2018 Dubai
Andrea Deelstra (NED), 2:26:46, 2015 Berlin