Yuki Kawauchi at the 2012 Sydney Running Festival (© Getty Images)
Running his third top class Marathon in as many months, Japan’s Yuki Kawauchi won the 15th Olympic Commemorative Marathon in Nagano, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, in 2:14:27 on Sunday (21).
It was the slowest winning time in the history of the race but that can partially be explained by the harsh weather with snow and temperatures rarely getting above zero during the race.
Kawauchi will no doubt cherish the win on home soil but, after winning the 2013 Beppu-Oita Marathon with 2:08:15 on 3 February and then finishing fourth in the 2013 Seoul Marathon last month in a personal best of 2:08:14, his bid to become the first man to run under 2:09 three times in consecutive months failed in the freezing conditions.
He was with the leaders immediately from the start. At 5km, reached in 15:23, the lead pack was just four runners: Eritrea’s Isaias Beyn, Kenya’s Silas Sang, along with home hopes Kawauchi and Hirokatsu Kurosaki.
The quartet passed 10km in 30:58, with Alexey A. Sokolov nine seconds behind in fifth place. By 15km, reached in 46:24, Beyn broke away and took Kawauchi with him.
The pair stayed together through 20km in 1:02:16, halfway in 1:05:45, and 25km in 1:18:14; with Sokolov moving into third place just before 20km.
Sokolov caught up with the leaders just before 30km, as the conditions started to take their toll on the men at the front, which he and Kawauchi went through in 1:34:23 as Beyn started to lose contact with the leaders.
The race was decided just before 40km, when the clock read 2:07:3, when Kawauchi made his decisive surge.
Kawauchi quickly opened up a one-minute gap in the final two kilometres to the line, to eventually win in 2:14:27. Beyn, after featuring at the front for 30km, faded to sixth by 40km and then had a torrid last two kilometres to cross the line ninth.
Former Japanese record-holder Atsushi Fujita, sixth at the 1999 IAAF World Championships, was running the last race of his career.
Unfortunately, he could not finish his career with a bang and he was forced to drop out of the race around 30km. Sadly, Fujita also failed to complete the penultimate race of his career, having dropped out of Lake Biwa Marathon in March.
The women’s race was won by Russia’s 26-year-old Natalia Puchkova in 2:30:40, the second-fastest time of her career following her 2:30:17 best, set when winning the Hannover Marathon last year
The race started as a duel between Puchkova and Kenya’s Beatrice Jepkemboi, the latter being a 2:27 performer, but by 10km, reached in 35:35, Puchkova was in front and she ran the rest of the race on her own. She went through halfway in 1:15:16 before winning comfortably by more than six minutes.
The fastest woman in the field, Mika Okunaga, who recorded her personal best of 2:27:16 in the 2009 Osaka Ladies Marathon, had to settle for fourth in 2:44:21 on this occasion.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Yuki Kawauchi (JPN) 2:14:27
2 Alexey Sokolov (RUS) 2:15:31
3 Hirokatsu Kurosaki (JPN) 2:17:28
1 Natalia Puchkova (RUS) 2:30:40
2 Beatrice Jepkemboi (KEN) 2:36:51
3 Seika Iwamura (JPN) 2:41:19