(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
TOKYO -- Battling cold and windy conditions, Kenya's Dennis Kimetto and Ethiopia's Aberu Kebede emerged as winners of Sunday's Tokyo Marathon. Kimetto, who was the runner-up at last September's BMW Berlin Marathon and is the world 25K record holder, ran a superb second half to set a course record of 2:06:50. Kebede struggled with the wind in the second half, but her winning time of 2:25:34 fell only six seconds short of a course record. A record 36,201 runners entered the race, now part of the World Marathon Majors series.
The men's contest started conservatively with the pacemakers running the first 5 kilometers in a restrained 15:15 and halfway in 1:04:22. Although skies were bright, athletes were feeling the strong winds combined with the 45-degree temperatures and were holding back.
"I tried to conserve energy to 30K and go with whoever was there," said Japan's Kazuhiro Maeda, who stayed tucked in the big lead pack of 25 runners.
The pack stayed together until the 29th kilometer. when diminutive Kenyan James Kwambai broke the race open with a 2:55-kilometer, followed by a 2:48. Kimetto, Michael and Bernard Kipyego, and Gilbert Kirwa followed. Kwambai continued to push the pace, but later said that breaking the wind sapped his strength.
"My body is very light, so I can't resist [the wind]," the 105-pounder told Race Results Weekly.
Kimetto saw his chance to try for the victory and pushed ahead. Running with his left arm awkwardly angling away from his body, Kimetto put the hammer down, running 14:20 from 30 to 35K. That gave him a 5-second lead over defending champion Michael Kipyego, his nearest challenger who soon realized that he was running for second. Kimetto's lead only grew on his way to the blustery waterfront finish at Tokyo Big Sight, where he completed his second half in a swift 62:28. Michael Kipyego clocked a personal-best 2:06:58 to finish second, and Bernard Kipyego got third in 2:07:53.
Behind the top three, Maeda was giving the huge Japanese television audience something to cheer about. Unlike his compatriots who wilted in the second half, Maeda got stronger. He was in seventh position at 35K, managed to increase his pace and started passing people.
"I was quite surprised I could move up to my position late in the race," he told reporters.
He would ultimately move up to fourth place by the finish line, and was timed in 2:08-flat, one second short of the required time by the Japanese federation for automatic selection for the world championships team. However, he is likely to be selected because three men would have to run faster than him at next Sunday's Lake Biwa Marathon, the third and final selection race.
The women's race started more aggressively than the men's. Japan’s Azusa Nojiri was the early leader, hitting 15-K in 50:21 with only Kebede and 2011 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Kilel for company. Nojiri would fall back by the halfway point, where only Kebede and Kilel were in the lead running a solid 1:11:50.
The second half of the race was not kind to Kilel. She slowed badly, eventually finishing 21st in 2:47:08.
Ethiopia's Yeshi Esayias, who was 16 seconds back at the midway point, had a great second half. She moved up steadily, and by the 25K mark had caught Kebede. The final break came for Kebede between 35 and 40-K, when she used a very tall male runner, Junichi Sugiyama, as a windshield to get her through the final kilometers. Esayias had to settle for second in 2:26:01, while 40 seconds back Germany's Irina Mikitenko set a world masters (40+) record in third (2:26:41). Albina Mayorova, last year's Nagoya Marathon champion, finished fourth in 2:26:51.
For Japan’s Yoshimi Ozaki, the 2009 IAAF World Championships silver medalist, the race was bittersweet. She said Friday that she would take a break from competition after this race and that it would likely be her retirement race. She ran a credible 2:28:30 to finish fifth, and when asked if this would be her last high level marathon, the 31-year-old athlete said: "Maybe."