The Tokyo Marathon will make its debut as a World Marathon Majors race Sunday with a potential race record in store in the men’s competition.
Tokyo joins Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York in the six-legged series contested over a two-year period. The winner receives $500,000.
The men’s race on Sunday will feature four runners who own times of 2 hours, 4 minutes and will challenge the Tokyo Marathon record of 2:07:23, set by Viktor Rothlin in 2008. The fastest marathon ever run on Japanese soil is 2:05:18.
Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto holds the fastest time in the field at 2:04:16, a mark he set in Berlin in September in what was his marathon debut.
The world record holder in 25 km, Kimetto in Berlin came within a second of stunning Geoffrey Mutai, who won both Boston and New York two years ago in record time.
With an elite group also featuring defending champion Michael Kipyego and clear skies forecasted for the weekend, Rothlin’s record could finally come down this year.
“I am very prepared for this race,” Kimetto said Friday. “I don’t fear anything. I will try to see if I can run a 2:04 on this course.”
Added Kipyego, who won last year in 2:07:37, “My training went well. I am here to defend my title. The field is strong, and a 2:05 is possible.”
The women’s field will be led by the Ethiopian pair of Bezunesh Bekele and Aberu Kebede as well as the 2008-09 World Marathon Majors champion Irina Mikitenko of Germany. London Olympian Yoshimi Ozaki will headline the group of Japanese runners.
Bekele and Kebede both clocked 2:20:30 last season, tops among the field in Tokyo, and also have a good shot of rewriting the race record of 2:25:28 set by countrywoman Atsede Habtamu in 2012.
Ozaki, the silver medalist at the 2009 world championships, will run her first race since finishing 19th in London last summer.
“All the races I’ve been in up until now were qualifiers for something, and I just wanted to run with not as much pressure for once,” Ozaki said.
“I’ve been feeling good lately and like to think I’m in good enough shape to compete. There are some good runners from overseas and it should be a tough race, but I don’t plan on sitting back. I will try to take the race to them.”