World Record Holders Eliud Kipchoge, Brigid Kosgei Headline 2022 Tokyo Marathon Field
By Jonathan Gault
February 18, 2022
Eliud Kipchoge is headed back to Japan. Seven months after winning his second Olympic marathon title in Sapporo, Kipchoge announced today he will run the Tokyo Marathon for the first time on March 6 as part of his quest to become the first runner in history to win all six World Marathon Majors. Kipchoge has already claimed wins in Chicago, London, and Berlin, and needs victories in Tokyo, Boston, and New York to complete the sweep.
Though there had long been rumors that Kipchoge would run Tokyo this year, race organizers had held off on announcing an international field until this week as Japanese border rules had allowed only Japanese nationals and foreigners with residency permits to enter Japan from overseas. But those rules are set to be relaxed on March 1, five days before the race, paving the way for Kipchoge and the rest of the international field to compete in Tokyo.
Though Kipchoge is the biggest star in the field, he is hardly the only one. Birhanu Legese (2:02:48 pb) and Mosinet Geremew (2:02:55 pb), the third- and fourth-fastest marathoners in history, are set to compete, as is 2016 Olympic 10k bronze medalist Tamirat Tola, whose 2:03:39 victory in Amsterdam in October was the third-fastest marathon of 2021. Shura Kitata, who won the 2020 London Marathon – Kipchoge’s only marathon defeat in the past eight years – is also entered, as is Japanese record holder Kengo Suzuki (2:04:56 pb), who had previously been announced as part of the domestic field.
The women’s field also features a world record holder as Brigid Kosgei, previously a winner in Chicago and London, will race Tokyo for the first time. After winning four straight majors from 2018-20, Kosgei took the silver at the Olympics last summer and ran 2:18:40 in London eight weeks later to finish fourth. She will start as the favorite but will face stiff competition. Fellow Kenyan Angela Tanui emerged as a marathon star in 2021, winning in Dhaka, Tuscany, and Amsterdam, including a 2:17:57 course record in the latter race that pushed her into the top 10 all-time. Ashete Bekere (2019 Berlin champ, 2:18:18 pb in London in October) should also contend, as will Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase, who won Berlin in her debut last fall.
Sara Hall is the lone American in the professional field and may have her eye on Keira D’Amato’s newly-established American record of 2:19:12. Hall is coming off an American half marathon record of 67:15 in Houston in January.
The Japanese women field is led by Mao Ichiyama – Japan’s top finisher at last year’s Olympic marathon in 8th – and Hitomi Niiya. Niiya, 33, owns the Japanese half marathon record at 66:38 but hasn’t raced a marathon since 2009, when she was 21 years old.
The full elite field can be found here.
Quick Take: This race is going to be great for American marathon fans
American marathon fans are used to waking up early to watch the big races, but not Tokyo: with a 9:10 a.m. local start time and a 14-hour time difference between Tokyo and New York, the race will be held during primetime in the US with a 7:10 p.m. ET start on Saturday, March 5. With no big indoor meets that weekend (it’s the week between USA Indoors and NCAA Indoors), the timing could not be better.
Quick Take: Kipchoge’s quest for all six majors begins in earnest
Kipchoge has long spoken of his desire to run and win all six World Marathon Majors. He knocked off the first three no problem, winning Chicago, London, and Berlin within the span of 12 months from 2014-15. Since then, he has piled up five more WMM victories (plus two Olympic crowns), but they’ve all come in either London or Berlin. In recent years, it has been tough for Kipchoge to add to those numbers. There were no WMM events for two full marathon seasons (fall 2020 & spring 2021) save for London in 2020, a race Kipchoge had already run. Kipchoge didn’t run a marathon last fall, either, choosing to recover after his Olympic victory in Sapporo.
Thankfully, Japan is allowing some more foreigners in the country beginning in March, which means has a chance to expand his resume in Tokyo. If he’s serious about winning all six – and if he can win on March 6 – the natural plan would seem to be New York in the fall of 2022 and Boston in the spring of 2023. But if Kipchoge is interested in winning the World Championship marathon title as well, perhaps he runs that race in Eugene in July and attempts the Boston/NYC double in 2023.
Kipchoge is clearly excited about running Tokyo and has been brushing up on his Japanese:
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Quick Take: The 2022 spring marathon season will be the opposite of the fall of 2021
Last year, the World Marathon Major fields were the most watered-down they’d ever been. Between the Olympics in Sapporo, the COVID-enforced moves of Boston and London to October, and the rise of high-quality non-WMM events like Amsterdam and Valencia, a number of the WMM races proved underwhelming.
That shouldn’t be the case this spring. London is staying in the fall for 2022 and there isn’t a big-time non-WMM like Valencia to steal away talent. That leaves Tokyo and Boston as the only serious destinations for the world’s top-tier marathoners, and the results are the best Boston field ever and a loaded Tokyo race featuring the two world record holders.
In the past, LetsRun’s Robert Johnson has suggested that if the majors coordinate* and concentrate their elite athletes in the same race each season – e.g. in the fall, everyone agrees the top men will go to Chicago and the top women will go to New York, with races cycling through on a rotating schedule. Seeing the elite fields this spring has made us more convinced of that idea, or something like it. It’s much more exciting as fans to have two star-studded marathons this spring instead of three middling ones (or as is more often the case in the spring, one loaded race in London and two middling ones in Tokyo and Boston).
*Note from Rojo: That’s not exactly what I’ve said. I’m not sure if collusion is legal. But I think it’s hard for fans to follow two races at once so if the number of majors continue to increase, I’d like them to focus on a single sex for a given year so you have super men’s races in Chicago, a super women’s race in New York, etc. One compelling heavyweight fight is much more memorable than two weak ones.
Quick Take: Keira D’Amato’s American record could be in jeopardy already
Deena Kastor set the American record in the marathon in April 2003 and held it for almost 19 years until Keira D’Amato ran 2:19:12 in Houston last month to take it down. But it’s possible D’Amato’s record lasts less than two months if Sara Hall has her way.
Remember, Hall wanted to take a shot at the American record in Chicago last fall but hot weather on race day scuppered that opportunity. But she’s clearly in monster shape right now (she’s coming off a 67:15 AR in the half last month) and with three sub-2:19 women in Tokyo, she should have competitors to chase if she is committed to getting the time.
Though it’s a natural goal, Hall hasn’t publicly announced that she is chasing the American record. For real confirmation, we need to know what she has written on her bathroom mirror right now.
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