Dickson Chumba winning the 2018 Tokyo Marathon (© AFP)
Defending champion Dickson Chumba (marathon world rank: 13) will aim to become the first three-time winner of the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday (3), while both the men’s and women’s course records could be threatened at the IAAF Gold Label road race in the Japanese capital.
The only two-time winner of the men’s race at the Tokyo Marathon, Chumba is aiming to become the first back-to-back champion and three-time winner following his victories in 2014 and 2018.
“I will go after the course record (2:03:58),” said Chumba, who set his PB of 2:04:32 at the 2014 Chicago Marathon.
The men’s field contains three other runners with PBs faster than 2:05, including Birhanu Legese (marathon world rank: 55), who recorded 2:04:15 on his debut at the 2018 Dubai Marathon, El Hassan El Abbassi (marathon world rank: 26), who set an Asian record of 2:04:43 in Valencia last year, and Seifu Tura (marathon world rank: 26), who clocked 2:04:44 at the 2018 Dubai Marathon.
“My time goal is 2:04,” said El Abbassi, the Asian Games silver medallist. “61:45 half marathon pace would be good. After 34km is where the marathon begins.”
Suguru Osako (marathon world rank: 22), who finished second to El Abbassi in the 10,000m at the 2014 Asian Games, clocked a PB of 2:05:50 in Chicago last year, which stood as an Asian record for two months until El Abbassi bettered it in Valencia.
The Japanese runner declined to declare his time goal for Sunday’s race, but if he breaks the Asian record again, he will earn a bonus of 100million yen.
Kenya’s Nobert Kigen (marathon world rank: 14) and Gideon Kipketer (marathon world rank: 31) have both bettered 2:06, but compatriot Bedan Karoki (marathon world rank: 65) has the more impressive CV, having finished second at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships and the 2015 World Cross Country Championships. Despite his PBs of 58:42 for the half marathon and 26:52.12 for the 10,000m, he is yet to crack 2:07 for the marathon.
Other leading Japanese runners in the field include Ryo Kiname, Shogo Nakamura (marathon world rank: 99) and Yuki Sato. Kiname clocked a PB of 2:08:08 in Tokyo last year and is aiming to better 2:08 on Sunday. Sato, who was Japan’s leading 10,000m runner before Osako came along, cracked 2:10 last year and is targeting 2:06:30 this weekend.
Aga seeking first marathon victory
With four women in the field boasting sub-2:20 PBs, the course record of 2:19:47 could be under threat on Sunday.
Ruti Aga (marathon world rank: 10) has the unenviable honour of being the fastest woman in history never to have won a marathon. Despite a lifetime best of 2:18:34, set last year in Berlin, the 25-year-old Ethiopian is yet to win a race over the classic distance.
“Of course, I am going after the win,” said Aga, who finished second in Tokyo last year. “I also hope to improve my personal best. 2:18:30 pace would be good for me. My endurance is good, but my speed is my strength.”
Of the three other women in the field with sub-2:20 PBs, two of them – Feyse Tadese and Yebrgual Melese (marathon world rank: 8) – produced those times just last year. The third, Florence Kiplagat, hasn’t cracked 2:22 since October 2016.
World and Asian champion Rose Chelimo of Bahrain is also in the field, but her PB of 2:22:51 makes her just the ninth fastest woman in the field. Sunday’s race will be an ideal opportunity to be carried to a fast time.
Joan Chelimo Melly, the fourth fastest half marathon runner in history with a best of 1:05:04, is making her marathon debut and could be a danger.
Ababel Yeshaneh won the Abu Dhabi Marathon last December in 2:20:16, but the course has not yet been verified so the Ethiopian half marathon record-holder will be motivated to reproduce that kind of performance on a record-eligible course.
Of the four Japanese women in the field, three of them – Honami Maeda (marathon world rank: 50), Yuka Takashima, and debutante Mao Ichiyama – are aiming to run somewhere in the region of 2:21.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Birhanu Legese (ETH) 2:04:15
Dickson Chumba (KEN) 2:04:32
El Hassan El Abbassi (BRN) 2:04:43
Seifu Tura (ETH) 2:04:44
Nobert Kigen (KEN) 2:05:13
Suguru Osako (JPN) 2:05:50
Gideon Kipketer (KEN) 2:05:51
Deme Tadu Abate (ETH) 2:06:47
Bedan Karoki (KEN) 2:07:41
Ryo Kiname (JPN) 2:08:08
Shogo Nakamura (JPN) 2:08:16
Yuki Sato (JPN) 2:08:58
Jo Fukuda (JPN) 2:09:52
Shohei Otsuka (JPN) 2:10:12
Daichi Kamino (JPN) 2:10:18
Ruti Aga (ETH) 2:18:34
Feyse Boru Tadese (ETH) 2:19:30
Yebrgual Melese (ETH) 2:19:36
Florence Kiplagat (KEN) 2:19:44
Shure Demise (ETH) 2:20:59
Bedatu Hirpa (ETH) 2:21:32
Mimi Belete (BRN) 2:22:29
Helen Tola (ETH) 2:22:48
Rose Chelimo (BRN) 2:22:51
Ruth Chebitok (KEN) 2:23:29
Honami Maeda (JPN) 2:23:48
Yuka Takashima (JPN) 2:26:13
Keiko Nogami (JPN) 2:26:33
Ababel Yeshaneh (ETH) 2:33:10
Joan Chelimo Melly (KEN) debut
Mao Ichiyama (JPN) debut