58:56 course record for Martin Mathathi at the Great North Run (© Mark Shearman)
The third annual Naoko Takahashi Cup Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon has only ever had one men’s winner in the short history of the IAAF Bronze Label Road Race – Kenya’s Martin Mathathi. But the two-time champion will this Sunday (19) be up against World record-holder Zersenay Tadese.
Mathathi set the course record of 1:00:47 at the inaugural event in 2011, then returned in 2012 to win in 1:01:29. But his title defence will be made more difficult by the presence of Tadese.
Tadese’s World record of 58:23, set in 2010, is more than 30 seconds quicker than Mathathi’s 58:56 PB. But in terms of head-to-heads between the pair, Mathathi has the advantage 3-2, having beaten Tadese at the 2006 World Cross and the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, winning the 10,000m bronze medal in the latter. But this Sunday’s clash will be the first time they have met in a Half-marathon.
Others in the field include Kenya’s Jacob Wanjuki, a former winner in Nagoya with a PB of 60:32, and compatriots Cyrus Njui (61:03) and Micah Njeru (61:33). All three live in Japan and run for corporate-sponsored track teams and have contested this race at least once before.
Yuki Kawauchi, on the other hand, does not run for corporate sponsored track team. He was, until recently, the ultimate amateur runner, working in a high school as an administrator, training and racing in his spare time. One of his claims to fame is his two consecutive 2:08 Marathons within six weeks – 2:08:15 on 3 February in Oita and 2:08:14 in Seoul on 17 March.
Kawauchi’s Half-marathon best is 62:18 from Marugame last year. He finished tenth at last Sunday’s Sendai Half Marathon with 1:03:30, so the Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon will be his second Half-marathon within a week and he hopes to run at least another 63-minute Half-marathon on Sunday.
Ethiopia’s Abayneh Ayele could be the surprise package. This will be his Half-marathon debut, but he boasts a 5000m PB of 13:11.01, so could be capable of running a fast time.
Tufa vs Jepkirui in women’s race
The women’s race is likely to be between 2008 World cross-country silver medallist Mestawet Tufa, and Kenya’s 2:21 marathon runner Eunice Kirwa Jepkirui.
Tufa made her Marathon debut earlier this year in Nagoya, clocking a respectable 2:26:20. She has not contested a Half-marathon since setting her 68:48 PB in Delhi 2010, but is clearly in form if her performance in Nagoya is anything to go by.
Jepkirui owns the faster PBs of the pair, with 2:21:41 in the Marathon and 68:38 in the Half-marathon, and she recently finished third at the Paris Marathon with 2:23:34.
Whoever wins, the women’s course record of 1:13:02, set by Rene Kalmer in 2012, is very likely to be broken.
Although former Marathon World record-holder Catherine Ndereba has the fastest PB of all the women’s entrants with 67:54, she has not broken 70 minutes for the Half-marathon since 2009, so the 40-year-old is not expected to challenge for the victory.
The race starts and finishes at the Gifu Memorial Centre where the statue of Naoko Takahashi, the 2000 Olympic Marathon champion, is standing, and runs along Nagara River. The course, which goes through her hometown of Gifu, was designed under the supervision of Takahashi, honorary race director.
In addition to 9000 runners in the Half-marathon, a 3km road race with 1000 runners is also scheduled to be held.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Zersenay Tadese (ERI) 58:23
Martin Mathathi (KEN) 58:56
Jacob Wanjuki (KEN) 60:32
Cyrus Njui (KEN) 61:03
Micah Njeru (KEN) 61:33
Ryan Vail (USA) 62:04
Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 62:18
Dmytro Baranovskyy (UKR) 63:14
Ayele Abayneh (ETH) debut
Catherine Ndereba (KEN) 67:54
Eunice Kirwa Jepkirui (KEN) 68:39
Mestawet Tufa (ETH) 68:48
Lara Tamsett (AUS) 72:19