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Who can steal the early advantage in Tokyo?

The absence of Marcel Hug from this year’s Tokyo Marathon presents one of his rivals with the chance to steal a march in the early stages of the men’s AbbottWMM Wheelchair series XVI.

Chief among them is Daniel Romanchuk. The American won the series in 2019 before Hug reasserted himself at the top of the pile in 2021. He has been hard to budge since then, winning all six races in 2023.

Now, it’s Romanchuk who starts as favorite in a race he has yet to add to his list of victories.

He faces Great Britain’s Johnboy Smith, Australia’s Jake Lappin and Canadian Josh Cassidy as the other overseas racers, with a strong Japanese phalanx of competitors also challenging for honors.

It has been a lean spell for Romanchuk, who last tasted victory on a Majors finish line in Boston in 2022.

Since then, the closest anyone had come to dethroning Hug was in London last year when the pair battled around the final turn before the Swiss came out on top.

With Hug missing from the men’s race and his fellow series champion Catherine Debrunner absent from the women’s field, it falls to Manuela Schär to maintain the streak of a Swiss champion in either the men’s or women’s race in a Major.

A Swiss name has not been missing from the winner's column since the 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, when Romanchuk and Tatyana McFadden triumphed.

Schär won here in 2023 but could not press her advantage home in the next two spring races, as Susannah Scaroni and Madison de Rozario claimed Boston and London respectively.

Debrunner then took control, sweeping all three fall races to surge to the series title, setting a new world record in Berlin along the way.

The Paralympics looms later this year, which means each racer’s best five results will count towards their series total at the end of the season.

An additional eight bonus points is also on the line in each Major, and in Tokyo they will go to the quickest athlete through the 10km point.

Tokyo have also offered bonus prize money to the competitors if they can reach the 10km point in under 18 minutes and nine seconds for the men, and 21 minutes 48 seconds for the women, with the top three set to claim 150,000 JPY, 100,000 JPY and 50,000 JPY respectively.

It all sets the stage for an aggressive start when the gun goes in Shinjuku this Sunday.

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