OTSU, SHIGA PREF. – Ryo Yamamoto is used to taking the express lane. The 27-year-old proved it on Sunday, placing fourth in the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon for the top finish among Japanese runners to all but secure his spot in his first-ever Summer Olympics at this year’s London Games.
Yamamoto, who works for major logistics company Sagawa Express Co., maintained a steady pace in rainy and cold conditions to cross the line at Ojiyama stadium in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 44 seconds in the race won by first-time marathon runner Samuel Ndungu of Kenya in a time of 2:07:04.
Poland’s Henryk Szost and Moroccan Abdellah Taghrafet placed second and third, respectively, in 2:07:39 and 2:08:37. Ndungu ran uncontested from the 31-km mark en route to victory.
“I am happy I could win in my first marathon,” Ndungu said. “I would like to run for the Kenyan national team in the Olympics some day.”
Yamamoto, who improved his personal best by 3 minutes, 26 seconds, trailed when Kentaro Nakamoto overtook Hiroyuki Horibata at the 38-km point, but the Kobe native won the foot race on the track against Nakamoto once the pair entered the stadium.
“Japanese runners faded in the latter part of the race, so I just kept praying ‘Olympics, Olympics’ as I ran,” said Yamamoto. “I knew that if I utilized my training I had a chance to aim for a spot in the Olympics. I was determined not to give up until the end.”
Nakamoto was fifth in 2:08:53 while Horibata, who came seventh in last year’s world athletics championships, faded badly down the stretch and finished in 11th place.
Aoyama Gakuin University student Takehiro Deki, winner of the second leg of this year’s Tokyo-Hakone collegiate Ekiden road relay, came ninth.