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Defending champions Birhanu Legese and Ruti Aga lead Tokyo Marathon elite fields
Birhanu Legese

Defending champions Birhanu Legese and Ruti Aga lead Tokyo Marathon elite fields

Defending Tokyo Marathon champions Birhanu Legese and Ruti Aga will face stiff opposition at the World Athletics Platinum Label road race on 1 March.

Ruti Aga
Ruti Aga

 

Birhanu, who won in Tokyo last year in 2:04:48, went on to improve his PB to 2:02:48 when finishing second at the Berlin Marathon eight months later. But the 25-year-old Ethiopian is one of eight men in the field to have bettered 2:05 for the classic distance.

He will face Getaneh Molla, who ran 2:03:34 on his marathon debut to win in Dubai last year, and Sisay Lemma, who finished third behind Birhanu in Berlin last year in a PB of 2:03:36, both of whom have PBs faster than Tokyo’s 2:03:58 course record.

Fellow Ethiopians Asefa Mengstu and Hayle Lemi, Kenya’s two-time Tokyo winner Dickson Chumba and Bahrain’s El Hassan El Abbassi are the other sub-2:05 performers in the field. World bronze medallist Amos Kipruto and 2016 world half marathon silver medallist Bedan Karoki are also set to compete in Tokyo.

For Japanese athletes, the race represents one final opportunity to make it on to the national marathon team for the Olympic Games. If a Japanese athlete breaks the national record (2:05:50), then they will claim the third and final spot on the team, bumping off national record-holder Suguru Osako, who finished third at the Marathon Grand Championship last year.

Osako is also entered for the Tokyo Marathon in a bid to hold on to his provisional spot on the team. His biggest domestic opposition appears to be former Asian record-holder Yuta Shitara, who led for much of the Marathon Grand Championship before fading in the latter stages and finishing 14th.

“At the moment, I am planning to implement two different paces,” said race director Tadaaki Hayano. “The first group will be led at a pace to finish under 2:03. The second group will be led with a target finish time between 2:04:40-2:05:30. With the ambition to win the last ticket to Tokyo 2020, we can expect the majority of Japanese athletes to keep up.”

Like fellow defending champion Birhanu, Ruti is the fastest entrant in the women’s field. She set her PB of 2:18:34 when finishing second in Berlin in 2018, then went on to win in Tokyo six months later in 2:20:40.

But the Ethiopian will line up against two other former winners of the Tokyo Marathon as 2015 and 2018 champion Birhane Dibaba and 2014 victor Tirfi Tsegaye are also entered.

Birhane, who has made it on to the podium in four of her five Tokyo appearances, reduced her PB to 2:18:46 when finishing third in Valencia last month. Tirfi set her PB of 2:19:41 when winning the 2016 Dubai Marathon but was then out of action for three years before returning to racing last year with a third-place finish in Hengshui.

Frankfurt Marathon champion Valary Aiyabei and European 10,000m champion Lonah Chemtai Salpeter are the other sub-2:20 performers in the field. Ethiopian half marathon record-holder Senbere Teferi is also entered. (IAAF)