The inaugural Japanese Marathon Grand Championship offered the top two finishers in the men’s and women’s races qualification places for the Games. It served as a test event for the marathon at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and several top Japanese athletes secured places for a shot at gold-medal glory next summer.
Thirty men and 10 women took part on the same course that will be used next summer, with the exception of the start and finish lines. At the Games, the marathon will begin and end at the new National Stadium, which is still under construction.The organisers used Icho Namiki Avenue in Meiji Jingu Gaien Park.
The men’s race was won by Shogo Nakamura, who finished in 2:11:28, eight seconds ahead of Yuma Hattori, who also booked his place at the Games. Only 28 seconds separated the top seven men with just 2km remaining, but Nakamura pulled away at the end. Yuta Shitara, who broke the Japanese half-marathon record in 2017, kept his pre-race promise of setting a fast pace, but was caught in the second half.
“I felt pressured because this is a one-shot thing, but I was focused only on delivering my best possible performance. I’m really happy now,” said Nakamura afterwards.
Honami Maeda was the women’s champion, splitting from the pack before the halfway point and never looking in danger of being caught. Maeda continued to pull away from Ayuko Suzuki over the final quarter of the race, and won in a time of 2:25:15.
“I was aiming for the win so I’m really happy,” Maeda said. “The time wasn't as good as I hoped it would be, but I was able to earn my ticket to the Olympics.”
Run in temperatures between 24C and 28C and with 75 per cent humidity, the event helped the organisers assess some of the problems that might be posed by the conditions at the Games next year. The start time for next summer’s marathon has been moved to 6 a.m. to avoid the hottest part of the day.
The course takes runners through the heart of Tokyo and past some of the capital’s key landmarks, including the Thunder Gate, Imperial Palace, Zojoji temple and Nihonbashi bridge. Mainly flat, next summer it will conclude with a gruelling 3km uphill section towards the National Stadium.
Sebastian Coe, President of the International Association of Athletics Federations, has praised the route.
“The marathon is a growing highlight of the athletics programme, with imaginative courses that show off the best of cities and are challenging for athletes and fan-friendly,” he said. “This marathon course highlights the essence of Tokyo – a blend of tradition and modernity.”
The crowds certainly seemed to enjoy the test event, coming out onto the streets in force, with every part of the course lined with spectators. Three other qualification competitions for Japanese marathon runners will be held before the Games, to finalise the line-up of the home team.