By Jonathan Gault
February 25, 2018
History will show that Kenya’s Dickson Chumba (2:05:30) and Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba (2:19:51) won the men’s and women’s races at the 2018 Tokyo Marathon. But financially, the biggest winner by far — and one of the biggest in the history of the sport of running — was 26-year-old Yuta Shitara of Japan, who took home a whopping 100 million yen ($936,000) for setting a new Japanese national record of 2:06:11 to finish second. American Amy Cragg also ran a massive PR of 2:21:42 (previous PR: 2:27:03) to finish third in the women’s race.
The men’s race really got going after the final pacemakers dropped out after the 30k mark, which the lead group hit at 1:29:20 (2:05:38 pace). At that point, Chumba began to push the pace and by 32 kilometers, Shitara had fallen off the pack. Six men remained: Chumba, 2016 Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa, Kenyans Amos Kipruto, Gideon Kipketer, and Simon Kariuki (making his debut), and Japan’s Hiroto Inoue who, like Shitara, was vying for the 100-million-yen bonus offered through the Japanese Corporate Track and Field Federation’s “Project Exceed” for anyone who could break the national record of 2:06:16 set by Toshinari Takaoka at the 2002 Chicago Marathon.
Chumba whittled the pack away one by one before dropping his two remaining challengers, Kipruto and Kipketer, with a strong move just over 5k from the finish, pulling away to win comfortably in 2:05:30, adding a second Tokyo crown to the one he earned in 2014. But the real intrigue lay behind him. Shitara, the Japanese half marathon record holder who had been outside the top six and left for dead with 10 kilometers to go, was closing like a man possessed. Just after 38k, he passed countryman Inoue to move into fourth place and Shitara was now chasing three things: the Kenyans in front of him, the national record, and the bank-breaking payday that would accompany it.
Just before 40k, he moved past Kipketer into third, and 800 meters later he stormed past Kipruto into second. Chumba was untouchable, but the national record was very much in reach. And despite looking back half a dozen times after moving into second, by the time he made the final turn toward the finish, it was clear Shitara was about to make history, with the crowd chanting “YU-TA! YU-TA!” for their new hero. He raised his first in celebration, broke the tape in 2:06:11 — five seconds under the old record, and a PR of almost three minutes — and collapsed to the ground, completely spent from a history marathon effort.
It was sweet redemption for Shitara, who a year earlier had come through halfway in his debut marathon in Tokyo in 61:55 — world record pace, and just seven seconds slower than his half marathon PR. Shitara eventually faded to 11th overall in 2:09:27, but came back last fall to set the Japanese half marathon record of 60:17 on September 16, followed a week later by a marathon PR of 2:09:03 in Berlin. Today, he came through halfway in Tokyo in a more sensible 62:43, propelling him to an incredible performance.
Kipruto (2:06:33) and Kipketer (2:06:47) took third and fourth, while Inoue ran a brilliant race behind him for fifth in 2:06:57 — a PR by 1:25 and #4 on the all-time Japanese list. Though Shitara earned the biggest prize, Inoue did okay for himself as well — he earned 10 million yen ($93,600) through “Project Exceed” for breaking 2:07. In all, six Japanese men broke 2:09 on a historic day. For perspective, eight American men have broken 2:09. Ever.
In the women’s race, Cragg hung with eventual champion Dibaba and pre-race favorite Ruti Aga of Ethiopia through 33k but could not respond when Dibaba dropped the hammer. Dibaba went on to narrowly miss the course record of 2:19:47 but still set a PR of 2:19:51 (previous PR: 2:21:19) to earn her second Tokyo victory (she also won in 2015). Aga took second in 2:21:19 to repeat her place from September’s Berlin Marathon, while Cragg gamely hung on to run 2:21:42 for third to match her finish from August’s World Championships.
Just as in London, Cragg had to dig incredibly deep late in the late stages of the race as she had come through 30k on 2:20:27 pace before starting to struggle over the final 10 kilometers. But, with a grimace on her face, Cragg was able to stem the bleeding enough to stop the clock at 2:21:42, making her only the fifth American woman to break 2:22 in the marathon.
US women’s all-time marathon list
2:19:36 Deena Kastor 2006 London
2:20:57 Jordan Hasay 2017 Chicago
2:21:14 Shalane Flanagan 2014 Berlin
2:21:21 Joan Benoit Samuelson 1985 Chicago
2:21:42 Amy Cragg 2018 Tokyo
Top men’s results
— David Monti (@d9monti) February 25, 2018
Top women’s results
— David Monti (@d9monti) February 25, 2018
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