The inaugural Marathon Grand Championship gets underway with tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the line.
The Olympic trial concept in Japan will kick off on Sunday for both men and women, starting at 8:50 a.m. and 9:10 a.m., respectively.
The top two finishers in each race will book spots to next year’s Summer Games. The Japan Association of Athletics Federations will host three other qualification competitions for men and women in the MGC Final Challenge series at later dates. The fastest runners in those races who exceed the marks set by the national governing body (2 hours, 5 minutes, 49 seconds for the men and 2:22:22 for the women) will earn Japan’s third and final spots for the Olympics. If no one meets those standards, the bronze medalists in Sunday’s MGC will head to the 2020 Games.
The athletes, consisting of 30 men and 10 women, will compete on a virtual Olympic course, with just the start and finish sites being different. While the start and finish points are placed at the new National Stadium, which is currently under construction, at the Olympics, the MGC runners will start and finish at Icho Namiki Avenue in Meiji Jingu Gaien Park.
In the men’s race, national-record holder Suguru Osako and Yuta Shitara are the gold- medal favorites, followed by some other top runners, including Asian Games gold medalist Hiroto Inoue.
In the women’s competition, veterans such as Yuka Ando and 2013 world championship bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi are among the most notable names.
Because they will run without pacesetters and the top-two finishers will automatically go to the Olympics regardless of their marks, the races are expected to be contested at a slower pace.
Top female runner Mizuki Matsuda said at a news conference on Friday that the participants would “form a flock” for much of the race before someone takes off toward the end of it.
“The race’s going to go like that,” said the 24-year-old, who finished fifth with a 2:22:23 mark at last year’s Berlin Marathon. “I can assure you.”
Osako, who finished third in the 2018 Chicago Marathon with a national-record time of 2:05:50, said that it would be important to be ready for any possible race patterns.
“What matters is to win in the end,” he said. “So I’ll concentrate on making it happen.”