Wilson Kipsang leads strong Tokyo Marathon field

This year’s Tokyo Marathon, the eleventh edition, marks the start of a new decade.

The course is renewed and faster this year, and thus if the weather is right new and high-level records could be witnessed.

Recently, as the elite race of the Tokyo Marathon approaches the “world standard,” we have been hoping “to break the Japanese all-comers record of 2:05:18 on the Tokyo Marathon course for the last three years.”

This is the third year. Will the third year be a charm? Having said that, in the men’s elite field, Wilson Kipsang (KEN, personal best of 2:03:13), one of the best marathon runners in the world, has accepted an invitation from the Tokyo Marathon. Kipsang, who improved his marathon personal best in the last September’s BMW Berlin Marathon, said he will go after the world record over the faster Tokyo Marathon course.

His main competitions include Dickson Chumba (KEN, personal best 2:04:32), the 2014 Tokyo Marathon champion, and Tsegaye Kebede (ETH) another 2:04 runner (2:04:38 to be exact).

Kebede is excited about improving his own Japanese all-comers record of 2:05:18 from 2009. He is coming back with a vengeance. With a qualification for the 2017 World Championships marathon team on the line, the competition among the Japanese runners are expected to be fierce. First, Masato Imai, who showed his fitness in this year’s New Year Ekiden, may be ready for another 2:07 marathon. Yuma Hattori of Toyota, who also showed his fitness at the New Year Ekiden, may be the main challenger to Imai. It is hoped that Hattori, who ran the 30Km road race in quite impressive 1:28:52, will crack 2:07 at the marathon in Tokyo. Other runners who showed their fitness in the ekiden season and thus exciting runners to watch are Takashi Ichida of Asahi Kasei, Hiroyuki Yamamoto of Konica Minolta, Hiroaki Sano of Honda and Koji Gokaya of JR East Japan. Hiroto Inoue of MHPS may be the runner who might surprise us. It is hoped that not only the Japanese runners attempt to qualify for this year’s World Championships, but with the long term goal of the 2020 Olympics in mind, they will battle hard with world class runners from abroad and record 2:07 or even 2:06 marathon. From such a point of view, it is hoped that collegiate runners led by Yuta Shimoda of Aoyama Gakuin University, who excelled at Hakone Ekiden, give corporate runners a run for their money. On the other hand, the women’s field led by Lucy Kabuu, a 2:19 marathon runner, includes a 2:20 runner, a 2:21 runner and a 2:22 runner; in all the women’s field includes five sub-2:25 marathon runners. Kabuu is expected to battle with Amane Gobena, second last year and Birhane Dibaba, who ran the Tokyo Marathon for the last three years and won in 2015. The world class course record is expected over the new Tokyo Marathon course. Since the course was renewed, it is hard to guess how the race could possibly unfold. With the elimination of bridges such as Tsukudaohashi, the course is relatively flat, and thus at least one of the requirements of fast time has been fulfilled. Watch and cheer the runners at Tokyo Marathon 2017, which will be full of excitement.

The Tokyo Marathon elite wheelchair race turned international last year, and two men and two women athletes from the top echelon of wheelchair racing competed in Tokyo Marathon 2016. The domestic athletes raced for the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic team berth. On the men’s side, Kota Hokinoue finished third overall with 1:26:01, while on the women’s side Wakako Tsuchida won the women’s wheelchair division with 1:41:04 and thus they qualified for the Paralympic team berth. Both the men and women’s gold medalists at the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic wheelchair races have entered the 2017 edition of the Tokyo Marathon wheelchair race. On the men’s side invited athletes from abroad include Marcel Hug (SUI), the winner of the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics as well as Abbott World Marathon Majors races at Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York, Ernst Van Dyk (RSA), the second place finisher at the last year’s Tokyo Marathon, and Joshua George (USA), third in Chicago and New York City Marathon. On the women’s side the invited athletes from abroad include Zou Lihong (CHN), the Rio de Janeiro Paralympic wheelchair marathon gold medalist, Tatyana McFadden (USA), who was edged out for the gold in Rio by Zou, Amanda McGrory (USA), Rio de Janeiro Paralympic wheelchair marathon bronze medalist, Manuela Schar (SUI), the winner of the Berlin Marathon, and Susannah Scaroni (USA), who ranks sixth in the world.

The domestic men’s field includes Kota Hokinoue, national record holder and the first Japanese in the last year’s Tokyo Marathon, Tomoki Suzuki, who has been steadily improving both domestically and internationally, and Hiroki Nishida. As for the domestic women, it will be fascinating to see how Kazumi Nakayama will battle against the top athletes from abroad.

The course has been renewed this year. The up and down hills over the bridges in the closing stages of the marathon are eliminated this year. The course is now relatively flat. You can hardly take your eyes off the race, for someone can make the move at any point of the race along the 42.195km course. Please keep cheering the athletes from the start to the finish.