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06 May 2021, 11am

Course ‘faster than expected’ say runners

Sapporo test event for Olympics

by Brett Larner

The test event for the Tokyo Olympics Marathon went off as planned on 5 May in Sapporo on a course mirroring the first half of this summer's Olympic course.

Strong winds from the south meant a slow start over the first 8km, super fast splits from the turn to the north just before 10km until after 15km, and a technical finish into the wind over the narrow and winding last few km through the Hokkaido University campus.

After a slow start Olympic marathon women’s team members Ayuko Suzuki and Mao Ichiyama plus alternate Mizuki Matsuda took it out hard with pacing courtesy of one of Ichiyama’s male coaches. They stayed together on 1:08 pace until almost 18km before Suzuki slipped behind, Ichiyama kicking to win in a 1:08:28 PB and Matsuda closing hard in 1:08:32 for second, likewise a PB. Ichiyama’s time moved her up to 6th all-time Japanese with Matsuda picking up the seventh spot and knocking her coach Miwako Yamanaka out of the top ten in the process. Suzuki, already all-time number four, hung on for third in 1:08:53, almost a minute off her best but a huge sigh of relief after over a year of injuries.

Olympic trials winner Honami Maeda spent most of the race alone in fourth before getting caught just before the finish by Germany’s Katharina Steinruck. Steinruck ran a PB 1:10:43, impressive considering she ran a marathon PB just two weeks ago in Enschede and had to deal with international travel and COVID-era immigration restrictions in between. Maeda took fifth in 1:10:50.

Fresh off a 27:35 road 10km best last month, Kenyan Hillary Kipkoech had no trouble pulling away over the second half after taking advantage of the course’s main uphill at 8km to break free. Kipkoech ran most of the race solo to win in 1:00:46, with Japan-based Kenyan Simon Kariuki also mostly alone for second in 1:01:11. Shin Kimura emerged from a Japanese chase group of eight to take third in 1:01:46, 10 seconds up on Olympic marathon team alternate Shohei Otsuka.

The only member of the Tokyo Olympics men’s marathon team to run, Yuma Hattori (Toyota) was pleased with a 1:02:59 for 24th after saying pre-race he planned to run in the 1:04 to 1:05 range. “The course was faster than I expected, so I was able to run faster than planned,” he said post-race. “This gave me a lot of confidence.”

The top women also said that the course was faster than expected and that it meant speed would be more of an issue at the Olympics than on the original course in Tokyo. The hill at 8km is early enough that it shouldn’t be much of an issue, but the series of sharp turns on narrow paths through Hokkaido University near the end of the main loop and two following short loops could end up being one of the key tactical parts of the Olympic course.

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