A wet day for the first major of 2019
Editor's Note: All images appear courtesy of Pim Rinkes. Follow him for more amazing imagery.
In the capital city of a nation positively obsessed with road racing, a collection of the world’s best marathoners huddled together in anticipation outside the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office, eagerly awaiting 9:10am. Millions of viewers sat at home watching national record holder Suguru Osako complete the final elements of his warm-up, clad head-to-toe in ominously blacked out attire, a picture of concentration. Home to one of the strictest Olympic team selection procedures, the 2019 Tokyo Marathon provided one of the final opportunities to qualify for the Japanese Olympic marathon team trials, the “Marathon Grand Championship”.
A steady drizzle dampened tracksuits early in the morning, increasing in intensity as the race began, making light work of the paper-thin sponsored outfits of many athletes. The race began with temperatures hovering around 5 degrees Celsius, as a record field of 38,000 competitors endured the hypothermic consequences of strong winds, unrelenting rain and single digit temperatures.
In what has become a nationally iconic tactic, an illogically large pack of 65 athletes embraced sub-2:12 pace through halfway. Meanwhile, an audacious course record attempt saw a lead pack chartered by defending champion Dickson Chumba, Birhanu Legese and Gideon Kipketer joined by two of Japan’s finest, Suguro Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) in pursuit of Wilson Kipsang’s astonishing 2017 performance (2:03:58).
An unrelenting combination of strong headwinds and persistent rain saw the lead pack splinter, as Chumba, Legese and Japan-based Kenyan Bedan Karoki (DeNA) pulled away following the 20-kilometre turnaround.
Chuo University debutante Kensuke Horio drew significant media attention during the announcement of the elite field. Horio’s 1:01:57 half-marathon ability when combined with coaching from collegiate and national debut record holder Masakazu Fujiwara (2:08:12), the only Japanese man to win in Tokyo, set the nations imagination alight. Horio displayed zero hesitation in the early stages, in scenes reminiscent of Yuta Shitara’s near-half marathon personal best split on debut, the collegiate star clung to 2:07 pace as late as 30-kilometres. Horio faded slightly, yet continued to aggressively chase those feeling the debilitating effects of ambitious early pace commitments, placing fifth in 2:10:21 securing a position in the MGC trial race.
Having finished second in Tokyo in 2017, Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga ruthlessly tore the field apart, as pre-race pacing demands of 2:18:30 ultimately suited Aga alone, passing halfway in 1:09:45.
Aga faltered slightly in the final six kilometres, yet showed the resolve spectators have come to expect from the eighth-fastest women’s marathoner of all-time. Recording her maiden World Major Marathon victory in 2:20:40, Aga’s arduous early pace proved decisive.
In his third career marathon, Legese’s first victory over the distance marked the reiteration of the astonishing talent the world witnessed during his 2018 Dubai debut. No longer an obscure trivia response pertaining to Dubai Marathon depth, the 2:04:15 debutante proved his talents were replicable in some of the worst conditions in the young event’s history. A 2:04:48 victory on the rain-slicked streets of Shinjuku catapults the diminutive Ethiopian into the upper echelon of names whispered amongst World Major Marathon race directors.