Friday, March 5, 2010

Hendrick "King of 1st Ave" Ramaala to race Lake Biwa this weekend!

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

With three runners in the field boasting times better than Antonio Peña’s 2:07:34 course mark set nine years ago, a record assault could be on the slate at the 65th edition of the Lake Biwa Marathon on Sunday (7), Japan’s oldest continuously held Marathon.

The Lake Biwa Marathon is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

This race, along with the previously held Fukuoka and Tokyo Marathons, is a selection race for the upcoming Asian Games’ marathon team. But the last time a Japanese runner won at Lake Biwa was eight years ago, and this year’s edition looks to be yet another in which a runner from abroad is likely to win.

Tsegay, Ramaala and Munyeki the favourites

Yemane Adhane Tsegay of Ethiopia has the best credential coming into the race: he has the personal best in the field as well as best global championships record. Yemane was fourth in the 2009 Paris Marathon with 2:06:30 and then finished fourth in the World Championships. Two month after Berlin, Yemane won the Gongju marathon with 2:08:52, his third straight sub-2:09 marathon, and thus is considered to be the favorite.

His main challengers are likely to be Kenyan Charles Munyeki and Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa. Ramaala, who has a personal best of 2:06:55 from the 2006 London Marathon, turned 38 last month, but he has not slowed down much. In London last year, Ramaala recorded 2:07:44, which was then the fastest Marathon by a 37-year-old, a mark since broken by William Kiplagat at the 2009 Frankfurt Marathon. Munyeki was fourth at the 2009 Chicago Marathon with 2:07:06, in effect his debut after running as a pacemaker in Rotterdam earlier that year. His half marathon personal best is 59:44, and is thus likely to have faster marathon within him.

Abraham Tadesse of Eritrea has improved his half marathon best from 1:03:34 to 1:01:25 in 2009. He also made his marathon debut last year, winning in Zurich in 2:10:09 and then finishing second in Seoul with 2:11:11. Adil Annani, who has a best of 2:10:15 recorded in the 2009 Beppu-Oita Marathon, and Yuriy Hychun, who has a best of 2:10:59 recorded from the 2009 Debno Marathon, round up the field of invited runners.

Battle for Asian Champs team spots

Although Masakazu Fujiwara won last week’s Tokyo Marathon, there was no notable performance in December’s Fukuoka Marathon, so a good performance in Lake Biwa is likely to clinch the team spot for the Asian Games in November.

Runners likely to contend for the team spot are Masaya Shimizu, Tomoya Shimizu, Tomoyuki Sato and Yukihiro Kitaoka, four invited domestic runners. Tomoya Shimizu, the third fastest marathon debutante in Japan, is the fastest Japanese in the field. In his debut marathon at Lake Biwa in 2008, he was fifth with 2:09:23, still his personal best. The problem is that he has run two more marathons since, and ran progressively slower in each race. On the other hand, his twin brother Masaya Shimizu started out as the slower marathoner of the two, but made a breakthrough here last year when he finished fourth with 2:10:50 to qualify for the World Championships where he finished 11th. Masaya has run Lake Biwa three times, improving his PB on each occasion. The brothers ran the same marathon once – in 2009 - where Masaya finished fourth and Tomoya sixth. Can Masaya improve his personal best again and become the faster of the twins on Sunday?

The third Japanese in the field is Tomoyuki Sato, who cracked the 2:10 barrier three times, most recently in Fukuoka 2008, the same year he finished seventh at Lake Biwa in 2:09:59. Although Sato was the best Japanese hope at the last December’s Fukuoka Marathon, he was a dismal 31st with 2:23:59 and needs to redeem himself on Sunday. The fourth invitee is Yukihiro Kitaoka, who will be making his marathon debut. He has a half marathon best of 1:02:17 from 2009. Kitaoka ran twice at the World Half Marathon Championships, finishing 32nd in 2008 and 21st in 2009.

Although not invited runners, Tomoo Tsubota and Takeshi Hamano could be factors. Tsubota has a 27:51.85 PB on the track and was 18th at 10,000m in the 2003 World Championships. But more importantly, he has recorded four straight stage bests at the New Year Ekiden from 2001 to 2004, which indicates that he is better runner on the roads than on the track. More recently, Tsubota was second fastest in the stage seven at the New Year Ekiden. Takeshi Hamano has a marathon best of 2:09:18 from Lake Biwa in 2002. More recently, Hamano was the second fastest in the stage three at the New Year Ekiden, and sixth fastest in the stage three at the Inter-Prefectural Ekiden. So they are both in shape.

Invited runners
Yemane Tsegay (ETH) 2:06:30 2009 Paris
Hendrick Ramaala (RSA) 2:06:55 2006 London
Charles Munyeki (KEN) 2:07:06 2009 Chicago
Abraham Tadesse (ERI) 2:10:09 2009 Zurich
Adil Annani (MAR) 2:10:15 2009 Beppu-Oita
Yuriy Hychun (UKR) 2:10:59 2008 Debno

Masaya Shimizu 2:10:50 2009 Lake Biwa
Tomoya Shimizu 2:09:23 2008 Lake Biwa
Tomoyuki Sato 2:09:43 2004 Tokyo
Yukihiro Kitaoka Debut 1:02:17 half 2009 All JPN Corporate team Half Marathon

Pace Maker
Jacob Yator (KEN) 2:09:02 2009 Enshede
Wilson Chebet (KEN) 59:15 half 2009 Rotterdam half
Stephen Mokoka (RSA) 1:01:26 2009 Port Elizabeth
Samuel Ndungu (KEN) 1:01:17 2008 Nagoya Half

Other notable runners
Tomoo Tsubota
Ken-ichiro Setoguchi
Takeshi Hamano