2007 Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship - Preview
by Sharon Ekstrom
The Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship will celebrate its sixty-first running on December 2, 2007 and will, as usual, set the stage for some incredible distance running. Notable for 2007 will be the debut marathon performance by Half-Marathon world record holder Sammy Wanjiru who will be competing against an international roster of elite marathoners as well as most of the top Japanese marathoners who will be attempting to qualify for the Japanese Olympic Team in this first race in Japan's Olympic selection process.
History of the Fukuoka Marathon
The Fukuoka Marathon is an all-male invitational race with a long, history that dates back to shortly after World War II. Originally called the Asahi Marathon, the first marathon was held in Kumomoto, hometown of Shizo Kanaguri, the godfather of marathon running in Japan and one of the first athletes to represent Japan, running in the 1912 Olympics. During the early years, this race was held at several different locations, but as the race had the same name and sponsorship, it was considered the same marathon. Th event found its permanent home in Fukuoka in 1963 when it was run on the proposed 1964 Tokyo Olympics course. In 1966, the race became the Fukuoka International Marathon Championships and was sanctioned by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and organizers adopted the concept of a year-end event which would invite the winners of all the major marathons around the world to crown the best marathon runner of the year.
Olympian Frank Shorter, who was the four-time winner of the Fukuoka Marathon (1971-1974), had this to say about the race:
"Before the big city marathons (pre 1978) Fukuoka was viewed by all the athletes as the de facto World Championships because it was the only race where the iron curtain countries would participate between Olympic Games. It fell off in prestige in the 80's and is now starting to come back. It's flat and fast and you are pampered. You get the feeling all they want you to do is run your best."
In many years, Fukuoka's elite roster outshone the Olympic Marathon field. Two world records were set at Fukuoka: Derek Clayton set the record of 2:09:36 in 1967 and became the first marathoner to break 2:10 and Rob de Castella set the world record of 2:08:18 in 1981. As another indication of its speed, Fukuoka has seen sub 2:10 winning times in each of the past 10 years.
The 2007 Elite Field
Headlining the race at the young age of 21 is Sammy Wanjiru (KEN) who holds the two fastest times in the Half Marathon Distance (world record of 58:33 at the 2007 Den Haag Half Marathon). Returning from a hamstring injury incurred at the IAAF World Road Running Championships in October 2007, Wanjiru will debut in the marathon distance and, as he has told the media, he intends to win in a 2:06. Wanjiru also has his sights on the 2008 London Marathon which is one of the two races designated by the Kenyan Federation for Kenyan Olympic team qualification. Wanjiru may also be at an advantage to other members of the elite field, as Fukuoka is home turf for Wanjiru who spends part of the year training in Japan under Barcelona Olympic silver medalist Koichi Morishita.
Japanese runners do not generally travel to the USA or Europe, so are less well-known to westerners, but they are held in high esteem in international running circles. Fukuoka will highlight the best of these, including: Toshinari Takaoka (37), the Japanese National Record Holder with a 2:06:16 best from the 2002 Chicago Marathon, winner of the 2005 Tokyo International Marathon, fourth at the 2006 World Championships in Helsinki; Atsushi Fujita (31), Course Record Holder with a 2:06:51 at the 2000 Fukuoka Marathon and winner of the 2007 Beppu-Oita Marathon; and Shigeru Aburaya (30)(pr-2:07:52 2001 Lake Biwa Marathon) who was 5th at the World Championships in 2001 and 2003 and 5th place finisher at the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon.
Other elite athletes registered in the field include Haile Negussie (ETH, 28)(PR=2:08:16) winner of the 2005 Boston Marathon, Daniel Yego (KEN, 28)(pr=2:08:16), winner of the 2007 Rock N Roll Marathon, Alberto Chaico (POR, 34)(pr - 2:09:25) 8th at the 204 Athens Olympics and Mark Carroll (IRE, 35) a 5,000 meter specialist who has participated in three Olympics in the past, his 2002 New York City Marathon debut earned him a 6th place, but he would like to run the marathon at the Beijing Olympics. Ireland is using Fukuoka as a marathon qualifier for the 2008 Olympic Games.