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By David Monti
(c) 2009 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
March 17, 2009

With the frenetic indoor track season now concluded, the Spring marathon season kicks off in Rome and Tokyo on Sunday with big fields and high quality races.

In the Italian capital the 15th edition of the Maratona di Roma AceaElectrabel, Italy's largest marathon, will have about 15,000 runners from 78 countries, according to elite runners coordinator Max Monteforte.  The starting line is on the Via del Fori Imperiali adjacent to the Roman Coliseum.  Interestingly, The total participant number swells to nearly 100,000 because over 80,000 are expected to take part in the non-competitive Roma Fun Run of 4.2 km which begins right after the marathon.  This makes the Rome race festival the largest participation sporting event in Italy.

  Twenty-four men with personal best times under 2:12 are entered in the race, Monteforte said.  The fastest is 29 year-old Kenyan Paul Kirui, the 2004 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships gold medalist.  He clocked a personal best 2:06:44 when he finished second in Rotterdam in 2006.  Last year, Kirui was the ING Amsterdam Marathon champion.

His key challengers will be two Kenyan compatriots, Hosea Rotich and Philip Manyim, who have run 2:07:24 and 2:07:41, respectively.  Ethiopian Tariku Jufar, third at Hamburg last year in a personal best 2:08:10, and Chinese Han Gang, who has a 2:08:56 career best time, also hope to get on the podium.

In the women's race in Rome, all eyes will be on rising Italian star Anna Incerti.  The 29 year-old athlete, who won the Samsung Milano Marathon last November in a personal best 2:27:42, is in excellent form.  She won the Roma-Ostia Half-Marathon earlier this month in a personal best 1:09:24.

To win, Incerti will have to beat a strong international field of challengers, including China's Sun Weiwei (2:25:15 personal best), Kenya's Linah Cheruiyot (2:26:00), Ethiopia's Eyerusalem Kuma (2:26:51), Russia's Larisa Zousko (2:26:26) and Albina Ivanova (2:27:25), and Ukraine's Tetyana Filonyuk (2:27:25).

A total prize and bonus pool of 1 million Euros is available, including generous bonuses for world, all-comer and Italian records.  Regardless of time, the men's and women's winners will win at least 18,000 Euros.

Half a world away, the 30th edition of the Tokyo Marathon (but only its third as a mass participation race), will start at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building with as many as 30,000 runners (the race's entry limit), and finish at the Tokyo Big Sight near the water.  There will also be a companion 10-K with 5,000 runners.

At the front of the race, Kenyan Sammy Korir is the fastest man entered with a 2:04:56 personal best.  Other top Kenyans include two-time Tokyo champion Daniel Njenga (2:06:16 PB), Salim Kipsang (2:07:29), and Julius Gitahi (2:08:57).  Ukraine's Dmytro Baranovsky is the top European entrant (2:07:15), and Justin Young is the top North American (2:13:54).  The home team includes Tsuyoshi Ogata (Chugoku Electric Power, 2:08:37 PB), Arata Fujiwara (JR East, 2:08:40), Tomoyuki Sato (Asahi Kasei, 2:09:43), Kurao Umeki (Chugoku Electric Power, 2:09:52), and of course national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Kanebo, 2:06:16), who will be running his farewell race before retiring.

For the first time at Tokyo, an elite women's field will also take to the streets within a mass race.  Last year's Boston Marathon runner-up, Alevtina Biktimirova of Russia (2:25:12 PB), is the top overseas runner.  Also invited were Kenya's Pamela Chepchumba (2:25:36), Ethiopia's Shitaye Gemeshu (2:26:10), Romania's Luminita Talpos (2:26:43) and China's Chen Rong (2:27:05).  Two-time world championships medalist Reiko Tosa of Mitsui Sumitomo leads the Japanese team (2:22:46 PB).  Forty year-old Harumi Hiroyama (Shiseido, 2:22:56), Hiromi Ominami (Toyota Auto Body, 2:23:26), Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC, 2:26:14), Mizuho Nasukawa (Aruze, 2:29:49) are also entered.  Hiroyama could challenge Ludmila Petrova's world masters record of 2:25:43.

For the first time, the Tokyo Marathon will feature publicly-reported prize money and time bonuses, totaling 108,400,000 yen (=USD 1,097,688).  The male and female race winners will receive 8,000,000 yen (=USD 81,010) and prize money will be paid ten-deep.

About on month later, the spring marathon season will reach its crescendo with the two World Marathon Majors events in Boston (April 20) and London (April 26), before the attention of athletics fans begins to turn back to track.



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