With label races in Nagoya and Otsu, the weekend's road racing spotlight falls on Japan.
Rionoripo, Tola and Johanness the favourites in Nagoya
A quintet of sub-2:23 runners will be gunning for the course record at the Nagoya Women's Marathon, a World Athletics Platinum Label road race, on Sunday (8).
Traditionally, the Nagoya race is the largest women's-only marathon in the world, with 24,000 runners entered to run this year. But due to concerns over the outbreak of Coronavirus cases in Japan, organisers restricted entry to this year's race to elite athletes only.
Among those are five sub-2:23 runners who set their career bests in 2019 who will be eying the 2:21:17 course record set by Eunice Kirwa in 2017.
Purity Rionoripo is the fastest in the field at 2:20:39 from the 2019 Valencia Marathon, but also has a 2:20:55 to her credit from the Paris Marathon in 2017.
Helen Tola was second in the 2019 Tokyo Marathon with 2:21:01 and also ran 2:21:36 in Berlin later in the year. Tola also has two additional 2:22 performances under her belt, both from Berlin.
Helalia Johanness is the defending champion, clocking a personal best of 2:22:25 last year. Shen has a strong championships records having won the 2018 Commonwealth Games title and taking bronze at last year's World Championships.
If the favourites falters, then Nancy Kiprop, Stella Barsosio, Betsy Saina, Birke Debele and Hirut Tiberu could emerge.
Kiprop ran 2:22:46 in Frankfurt in 2018 and then ran a personal best of 2:22:12 in Vienna the following year. Barsosio clocked 2:23:43 in Paris two years ago and 2:23:36 in Rotterdam last year. Saina won the 2018 Paris Marathon with 2:22:56 and ran 2:22:43 in Toronto last May. Debele ran 2:23:19 in that Toronto race while Tiberu has a best of 2:23:35. Tiberu has run 2:25 or faster in all her completed marathons since 2017.
The race also provides the final chance for Japanese women to make the Olympic Marathon team. They'll have to faster than 2:21:47, the winning time at the Osaka Women’s Marathon, which may prove to be a tall order.
Yuka Ando is the fastest among Japanese with a 2:21:36 personal best set in this race in 2017. The best she's run since is 2:26:47.
Kayoko Fukushi is vying to make a fifth Olympic team. The 37-year-old, who has a 2:22:17 personal best which dates to 2016, started but dropped out of January's Osaka Marathon to focus on Nagoya.
Others to watch include Mao Kiyota, who comes armed with a 2:23:47 best; Reia Iwade, who's clocked 2:23:52; and Mao Ichiyama, with a best of 2:24:33.
Ken Nakamura for World Athletics
Invited Runners -
Purity Rionoripo (KEN), 2:20:39, 2019 Valencia
Helen Tola (ETH), 2:21:01, 2019 Tokyo
Nancy Kiprop (KEN), 2:22:12, 2019 Wien
Helalia Johannes (NAM), 2:22:25, 2019 Nagoya
Betsy Saina (KEN), 2:22:43, 2019 Toronto
Birke Debele (ETH), 2:23:19, 2019 Toronto
Hirut Tibebu Damte (ETH), 2:23:35, 2017 Shanghai
Stellah Barsosio (KEN), 2:23:36, 2019 Rotterdam
Truphena Chepchirchir (KEN)2:27:52, 2019 Dongying
Yuka Ando, 2:21:36, 2017 Nagoya
Kayoko Fukushi, 2:22:17, 2016 Osaka
Mao Kiyota, 2:23:47, 2017 Nagoya
Reia Iwade, 2:23:52, 2019 Nagoya
Mao Ichiyama, 2:24:33, 2019 Tokyo
Ayano Ikemitsu, 2:26:07, 2019 Nagoya
Keiko Nogami, 2:26:33, 2018 Nagoya
Kipsang’s course record the target at Lake Biwa
An assault of Wilson Kipsang's 2:06:13 course record from 2011 is on tap at the 75th edition of the Lake Biwa Marathon, a World Athletics Gold Label road race, in Otsu, Japan, on Sunday (8).
Three sub-2:06 and two sub-2:07 runners are in the line-up. Four of those have career bests faster than Kipsang's nine-year-old record. All of those performances came in 2019, suggesting that quartet is on top of their game.
The fastest in the field is Evan Chebet who clocked 2:05:00 in winning last year's Buenos Aires Marathon. Chebet has also produced sub-2:06 runs in Valencia, Berlin and Seoul and also finished fourth in the Tokyo Marathon with 2:06:42.
The next fastest is Filex Chemonges who broke the Ugandan national record with a 2:05:12 performance in Toronto last year. He has run three marathons and each time improved his personal best.
Felix Kiprotich, the third fastest in the field, won the 2019 Daegu Marathon with 2:05:33, and also has three more sub-2:07 runs to his credit. Samuel Ndungu, the Lake Biwa winner in 2015, improved his personal best to 2:06:02 in Lisbon last year. The final sub-2:07 man in the field is Dutch national record holder Abdi Nageeye who improved clocked 2:06:17 in Rotterdam, also last year.
Former winners joining Ndungu are 2018 champion Joseph Ndirangu and 2019 winner Salah Bounasar. Other contenders include Stephen Mokoka who was third in 2019 in 2:07:58, the second-best time of his career.
The race also serves as the final chance for Japanese men to win a spot on the Olympic Marathon team. To secure their spot, a runner must run faster than the 2:05:29 national record set last week by Suguru Osako.
The fastest among the five invited Japanese runners is Yuki Kawauchi, with a lifetime best of 2:08:14. Other high-profile Japanese include Takuya Noguchi, with a 2:08:59 best; Kohei Ogino, who's clocked 2:09:36; Shohei Otsuka, a 2:10:12 man; and Kengo Suzuki, who has a 2:10:21 best.
Ken Nakamura for World Athletics
Evans Chebet (KEN), 2:05:00, 2019 Buenos Aires
Filex Chemonges (UGA), 2:05:12, 2019 Toronto
Filex Kiprotich (KEN), 2:05:33, 2019 Deagu
Samuel Ndungu (KEN), 2:06:02 2019 Lisboa, 2015 Champion
Abdi Nageeye (NED), 2:06:17, 2019 Rotterdam
Stephen Mokoka (RSA), 2:07:40, 2015 Shanghai
Salah-Eddine Bounasr (MAR), 2:07:52, 2019 Lake Biwa (Defending Champion)
Alphonce Felix Simbu (TAN), 2:08:27, 2019 Lake Biwa
Derlys Ayala (PAR), 2:10:27, 2019 Buenos Aires
Macharia Ndirangu (KEN), 2:07:53, 2018 Lake Biwa (2018 Champion)
Michael Githae (KEN), 2:09:21, 2018 Lake Biwa
Yuki Kawauchi, 2:08:14, 2013 Seoul
Kohei Ogino, 2:09:36, 2018 Tokyo
Shohei Otsuka, 2:10:12, 2018 Beppu-Oita
Takuya Noguchi, 2:08:59, 2017 Gold Coast
Kengo Suzuki, 2:10:21, 2018 Tokyo