The 67th annual Lake Biwa Marathon, Japan, the IAAF Gold Label Race, is scheduled to start on Sunday 4 March. The race is the last of the four Olympic marathon team qualifying races for Japanese men.
The three fastest times recorded in the previous Olympic qualifying races – 2011 World Championships in Daegu, 2011 Fukuoka Marathon and 2012 Tokyo Marathon - are 2:07:48 by Arata Fujiwara, 2:08:38 by Kazuhiro Maeda and 2:09:28 by Takayuki Matsumiya, all recorded in Tokyo Marathon. Besides those three runners, Hiroyuki Horibata, seventh in the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and Yuki Kawauchi, the top Japanese finisher in December’s Fukuoka Marathon, also have the possibility of making the team for London. However, Kawauchi who finished a disappointing 14th in Tokyo Marathon believes “I don’t think I will be able to make the team. Along with Arata Fujiwara (who won in Tokyo), first and second place finishers in Lake Biwa will make the team.”
It is a general consensus that one spot of the Olympic team is likely to go to Fujiwara who was the first Japanese in the Tokyo Marathon with 2:07:48, unless of course, three Japanese run 2:07:30 or faster in Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday. The most likely scenario is that top two Japanese in the Lake Biwa Marathon will make the team, unless their times are slow, in which case Kazuhiro Maeda who was the second Japanese in the Tokyo Marathon with 2:08:38 will have a chance to make the team.
Among the nine invited domestic runners to Lake Biwa, the favorites to make the team are Hiroyuki Horibata, Kentaro Nakamoto, and Masato Imai.
Horibata could have sat tight and waited for the good news on the strength of his seventh place finish in Daegu but even before three runners broke 2:10 in the Tokyo Marathon, Horibata decided to go after the Olympic team berth in the venue of his first sub-2:10 marathon, Lake Biwa marathon. Perhaps the tallest (189cm) elite marathon runner in the world, Horibata is rounding into shape. He recorded the fastest stage in three of the five Ekiden races this past winter.
Like Horibata, Nakamoto, who finished three places behind Horibata in Daegu, will return to the Lake Biwa Marathon, the venue of his first sub-2:10 marathon. Like all Japanese Nakamoto ran ekiden races this winter. His performances are good, but are not as good as those of Horibata.
Masato Imai made his first attempt to make the Olympic team in December’s Fukuoka Marathon, but was only second Japanese in the race. Twenty years ago, his coach Koichi Morishita won the silver medal in the Barcelona Olympics.
Atsushi Sato, national half marathon record holder, is coming back from an injury and probably not in the shape he hopes to be for the Olympic qualifying race. However, Sato who finished dead last in the Beijing Olympic Games and has 2:07:13 marathon best would like to return to the Olympics.
Other contenders for Olympic team berth are Tomoyuki Sato with 2:09:43 marathon best, Satoshi Yoshii with 2:10:45 marathon best, Yukihiro Kitaoka with 2:10:51 marathon best, Naoto Yoneda with marathon best of 2:11:00 and Masashi Hayashi with the marathon best of 2:11:17. Kitaoka recorded his personal best in 2010 Lake Biwa Marathon and made the Asian Games marathon team. In the Asian Games, Kitaoka won the silver medal. Yoshii and Yoneda also recorded their personal bests in the Lake Biwa Marathon.
Foreign challenge for Lake Biwa title
Since this is an Olympic qualifying race for Japanese, much of the attention will focus on who would be the first Japanese in the race. However, the list of invited runners from abroad is not weak. Seven runners with the personal best under 2:10 are invited from overseas. The fastest of them all is Nicholas Manza Kamakya who recorded the personal best of 2:06:34 in 2011 Amsterdam Marathon. However, Bekana Daba with the personal best of 2:07:04 recorded in Houston Marathon last year, may be better runner than Manza, for Daba has recorded three consecutive sub-2:09 marathons last year.
Two intriguing runners in the field are Ernest Kebenei and Abdellah Tagharrafet. Kebenei recorded 2:10:55 marathon in the high altitude of Nairobi, so at sea level, Kebenei should be able to run much faster marathon, perhaps in 2:08 range. Both Tagharrafet and Kebenei have run only one marathon in their career, so their second marathon is awaited with much anticipation.
Like the Fukuoka and Tokyo marathons contested earlier, the pace makers will lead the lead pack in 3 minutes for each Km until 25Km. (Note: In Tokyo marathon, there were two set of pace makers – 2:58 per Km for Haile and other fast runners from abroad and 3 min per Km for the Japanese.) The pace is designed for 2:06 marathon in mind, for that is the world class standard now.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Ed. Note: A statistical reference on the race (PDF, 1 MB), prepared by Nakamura, is attached in the ‘Related Items’ section at right. Nakamura is solely responsible for all content.
Nicholas Manza Kamakya (KEN) 2:06:34 2011 Amsterdam
Bekana Daba (ETH) 2:07:04 2011 Houston
Abdellah Taghrafet (MAR) 2:08:21 2011 Bilbao
Henryk Szost (POL) 2:09:39 2011 Frankfurt
Abdellatif Meftah (FRA) 2:09:46 2011 Frankfurt
Lee Troop (AUS) 2:09:49 2003 Lake Biwa
Ruggero Pertile (ITA) 2:09:53 2009 Torino
Ernest Kebenei (KEN) 2:10:55 2011 Nairobi
Hiroyuki Horibata 2:09:25 2011 Lake Biwa
Kentaro Nakamoto 2:09:31 2011 Lake Biwa
Tomoyuki Sato 2:09:43 2004 Tokyo
Masato Imai 2:10:32 2011 Fukuoka
Satoshi Yoshii 2:10:45 2011 Lake Biwa
Yukihiro Kitaoka 2:10:51 2010 Lake Biwa
Naoto Yoneda 2:11:00 2010 Lake Biwa
Masashi Hayashi 2:11:17 2010 Beppu-Oita
Atsushi Sato 2:07:13 2007 Fukuoka
Isaac Macharia (KEN)
Boniface Kirui (KEN)
James Mwangi (KEN)