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Defending champ Ruti Aga and last year's winner Birhanu Legese will be back for 2020 Tokyo Marathon

Ethiopia is pretty far down the road to overtaking Kenya as the world's leading marathon nation, and its presence is heavy in both the women's and men's fields for the Olympic year 2020 Tokyo Marathon. Lacking London's star power the Tokyo fields won't win many nominations for best of 2020, but with loads of World Marathon Majors top three finishers and winners of next-tier gold label marathons they're still fields at a level most other races would love to be able to pull off.

On the women's side, with PBs of 2:18:34 and 2:18:46 defending champ Ruti Aga and past winner Birhane Dibaba lead a main of twelve top-tier invited elites, of which nine were born in Ethiopia. The other three, Valary Jemeli Aiyabei, nationality transfer Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, and Selly Chepyego Kaptich, were all born in Kenya.

With Tokyo not counting in last-chance Olympic qualification for Japanese women the top entrant from outside those two countries is Japan's Haruka Yamaguchi, an amateur who took 7th in this past weekend's Osaka International Women's Marathon in 2:26:35. Former Canadian national record holder Rachel Cliff and locals Kaori Yoshida, Risa Noguchi, Shiho Kaneshige and Yurie Doi fill out the rest of the sub-2:30 set.

On the men's side Ethiopians make up five of the eleven invited internationals including the top four, with last year's winner Birhanu Legese leading the way in 2:02:48. Things are heavily stacked in the 2:04 to low-2:05 range, perfectly designed to set it up for the Japanese men. Their task and its payoff are simple: be the top Japanese guy in 2:05:49 or better and replace national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike) on the Sapporo 2020 Olympic marathon team.

Osako's there to stop them, fresh off a 25 km tempo in Dubai. His main competition is previous national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda), who said last week that 2:05 isn't good enough and that if he doesn't run 2:04 in what he's calling his final marathon in Japan then he'll turn down the Olympic team spot.

Shitara's got that crazy edge working, which can count for a lot, but the biggest danger to Osako is probably going to be the ultra-disciplined Hiroto Inoue (MHPS), who ran 2:06:54 in Asics behind Shitara's NR two years ago, then made the switch to the Next% this season and promptly crushed the course record on the New Year Ekiden's longest stage. Put him in the same shoes as Osako and Shitara and they'd better watch out.

Kenta Murayama has the goods to be the other three's equal, but with his sponsor team Asahi Kasei having lost the plot when it comes to marathoning it would be a surprise to see him go much below 2:08. With twelve current sub-2:10 Japanese men in the field it's one of the best domestic races ever assembled, but apart from Murayama and possibly his talented teammate Shuho Dairokuno it's hard to see any darkhorses breaking through to the level of Osako, Shitara and Inoue. 

Mizuki Matsuda's 2:21:47 win in Osaka last weekend bumped her up into the 3rd Olympic women's spot but left her vulnerable to others in Nagoya, but with all the main men in Tokyo it's even harder to see anyone in Lake Biwa a week later going better than what they might do here.

(01/28/2020) ⚡AMP
by Brett Larner
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Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon is an annual marathon sporting event in Tokyo, the capital of Japan. It is an IAAF Gold Label marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors. (2020) The Tokyo Marathon Foundation said it will cancel the running event for non-professional runners as the coronavirus outbreak pressures cities and institutions to scrap large events. Sponsored by Tokyo...

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Can Japan’s Suguru Osako Win the Tokyo Marathon on home soil? Yes it is possible but there are five Africans in the field with faster times

Japan’s national record holder Suguru Osako, is running Japan’s biggest marathon, Tokyo. And that’s exciting. Because as great as Japan has been at the marathon in recent years, Kenya and Ethiopia have still been way better.

Prior to last year, no Japanese man had broken 2:07 since 2002, which is almost a prerequisite to win a WMM these days: since 2013, 89% of men’s WMM champs have entered the race with a sub-2:07 PR. 23 Kenyans had broken 2:07 in 2018 alone.

But Japan is narrowing the gap to the East Africans. Last year, after going 15 years without a sub-2:07 marathoner, Japan produced three: Osako (2:05:50), Yuta Shitara (2:06:11), and Hirohito Inoue (2:06:54). And both Osako (3rd in Chicago) and Shitara (2nd in Tokyo) were in the mix for the win at majors.

This weekend kicks off an incredible 18 months of marathoning in Japan. It begins with the Tokyo Marathon on Sunday, the first WMM of 2019, and continues in September with the Japanese Olympic Trials, also in Tokyo.  Then there’s the 2020 Tokyo Marathon and, of course, the Olympic marathon in August 2020.

The biggest reason to be excited about this year’s Tokyo Marathon is Osako, who is based in the US and trains under Nike Oregon Project coach Pete Julian.

A win by Japan’s best marathoner on home soil just 17 months before they host the Olympics would be a huge story, and it could actually happen. That doesn’t mean it will happen — there are five guys entered with faster PRs than Osako, including four under 2:05 — but it certainly can happen!

(02/28/2019) ⚡AMP
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Tokyo Marathon

Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon is an annual marathon sporting event in Tokyo, the capital of Japan. It is an IAAF Gold Label marathon and one of the six World Marathon Majors. (2020) The Tokyo Marathon Foundation said it will cancel the running event for non-professional runners as the coronavirus outbreak pressures cities and institutions to scrap large events. Sponsored by Tokyo...

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Fast Times at 42nd Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler

Yuta Shitara (Honda) ended 2017 on a high note, beating three-time defending champion Jeremiah Thuku Karemi (Toyota Kyushu) to win the 42nd Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler on Sunday (Dec 3). Shitara broke the tape in 45:58, only the fourth Japanese man to go under 45 minutes. Karemi was well under last year's winning time but nowhere close to catching Shitara, finishing 2nd in 46:10 and Inoue only 2 seconds behind him. 11 runners finished under 47 minutes. Time for 88th place was 49:18. (12/05/2017) ⚡AMP
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