2022 Tokyo Marathon Women’s Preview: Brigid Kosgei Looks to Reassert Herself; How Fast Can Sara Hall Run?
By Jonathan Gault
March 4, 2022
The women’s race at the 2022 Tokyo Marathon has a little something for everyone. There’s Brigid Kosgei, the Kenyan world record holder attempting to reassert herself as the world’s best marathoner after Peres Jepchirchir claimed that title in 2021. There’s Angela Tanui, the breakout star who won three marathons last year, capped by a 2:17:57 course record in Amsterdam. And for American fans, there’s Sara Hall, fresh off setting a US half marathon record in Houston in January and ready to mix it up with the best in the world on a flat, fast course.
With the race slated to be streamed in the US in primetime on Saturday night (7:10 p.m. ET), it’s a rare chance for Americans to watch a major international marathon without setting an alarm for well before the crack of dawn. Let’s take a deeper look at the race below. (Men’s preview is here if you missed it).
What: 2022 Tokyo Marathon
When: Sunday, March 6 (race starts at 7:10 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 5 for US fans)
Where: Tokyo, Japan
How to watch:Full TV/streaming info here. It’s on Eurosport, ESPN International and Flotrack (US/Canada) depending on your IP.
Can Brigid Kosgei Return to the Top?
From the fall of 2018 through the fall of 2020 — four marathon cycles — Brigid Kosgei was the best marathoner in the world. By the end of that stretch, the gap between Kosgei and everyone else was not close. Her 2:14:04 in Chicago in 2019 was 81 seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe‘s previous world record and almost three minutes faster than any active marathoner had ever run. In her next race, 2020 London, she ran 2:18:58 in miserable conditions on a day when none of the rest of the world’s best marathoners could crack 2:22. She was in her own marathon galaxy.
Last year, however, Kosgei came back to Earth. That’s usually what happens when someone becomes World #1 in the fickle event that is the marathon (well, unless your name is Eliud Kipchoge). Kosgei was far from ordinary in 2021 — she still claimed second at the Olympics and fourth in London (in 2:18:40) just eight weeks later — but she was not the all-conquering giant of the previous three years. By the end of last year, the discussion about the world’s greatest female marathoner featured two women, and Kosgei wasn’t among them (right now it’s Olympic/NYC champ Peres Jepchirchir or London champ Joyciline Jepkosgei, who will race each other next month in Boston).
A win in Tokyo would nudge Kosgei back into that conversation, and she will start as the favorite on Sunday. Remember, after that dominant stretch from 2018-20, talk was starting to heat up that Kosgei could be the best marathoner the world has ever seen. That’s the trajectory she was on, and she only just turned 28 years old. If she can return to that sort of form, she’ll be your champion in Tokyo.
The Other Women Who Could Win
The top challenger to Kosgei in Tokyo is Angel Tanui, who emerged from relative obscurity to become one of the world’s top marathoners in 2021. Tanui, now 29, began last year as a serviceable road runner with pbs of 31:51/67:16/2:25:18 but wound up winning marathons in Dhaka (Bangladesh), Tuscany, and Amsterdam and finish as LetsRun’s third-ranked marathoner in the world. Tanui was only in Amsterdam because visa issues had prevented her from running Boston the previous week, but it certainly didn’t affect her race as she ran 2:17:57 to smash the course record. 2:17 doesn’t mean what it used to — these days, it’s barely fast enough to rank in the top 10 all-time — but it’s still plenty quick and signals Tanui as a major player.
Another woman to watch on Sunday is Ethiopia’s Ashete Bekere. She was only 7th in her last visit to Tokyo in 2016, but since then she’s won big-time races in Valencia (2018), Rotterdam (2019), and Berlin (2019). In her last marathon, she ran a pb of 2:18:18 to finish third in London, defeating Kosgei in the process (though Kosgei was just eight weeks removed from the Olympics). Clearly, Bekere has what it takes to win a major.
The other two notables in the field outside of Sara Hall — we’ll get to her in a minute — are the women who went 1-2 in Berlin last fall. Berlin was one of the weaker majors in 2021, but it was hard not to be impressed by Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase, who won the race convincingly in her debut in 2:20:09. Gebreslase is coached by the famed Haji Adilo, and he told Women’s Running he’s been impressed by what he’s seen recently:
“[Gebreslase] has even made big advancements in her training since Berlin,” Adilo says. “She set a personal best in the half marathon in December [1:05:36 in Bahrain], and if the weather and conditions are good in Tokyo, she could do something very special there.”
The runner-up behind Gebreslase in Berlin, Hiwot Gebrekidan, also had a good year in 2021 as she ran a pb of 2:19:35 to win Milan in May. But against this Tokyo field, 2:19 may not be good enough to challenge for the win.
Sara Hall Chases a Fast Time
Sara Hall running Tokyo is something we don’t get often: one of America’s top marathoners racing against the best in the world in a fast international marathon. Last month, Molly Seidel told Track & Field News that American pros “are gonna get our asses handed to us nine times outta ten, if the course is fast.” Do the numbers back that up? Here’s a recent sampling of how some of America’s top pros have fared in World Marathon Majors outside of the US.
|Athlete||Year||Race||Result||Time behind winner|
|Shalane Flanagan||2014||Berlin||3rd, 2:21:14||0:56|
|Amy Cragg||2018||Tokyo||3rd, 2:21:42||1:51|
|Emily Sisson||2019||London||6th, 2:23:08||4:48|
|Molly Huddle||2019||London||12th, 2:26:33||8:27|
|Sara Hall||2020||London||2nd, 2:22:01||3:03|
|Molly Seidel||2020||London||6th, 2:25:13||6:15|
Three podium appearances out of six is actually a solid record, though if you’re going by victories, Seidel is right: Flanagan is the only one who finished within a minute of the winner.
In terms of place, Hall was the most successful of the group with her 2nd in London two years ago, where she elected to hang back from the lead pack, which largely crumbled over the second half of the race in wet, raw conditions. She’ll get another crack against some of the world’s best on Sunday, the first of three marathons she will attempt to run in a five-month stretch.
Hall recovers better than most marathoners and has never been afraid of a quick turnaround. But even by her standards, her 2022 schedule is aggressive. Here’s what she has announced for the first seven months of the year (so far):
January 16: Houston Half Marathon (Hall ran an American record of 67:15)
March 6: Tokyo Marathon
March 20: NYC Half
April 18: Boston Marathon
July 18: World Championships marathon
I reached out to Sara’s coach and husband, US marathon legend Ryan Hall, to ask about how they choose Sara’s schedule and why they are choosing to race so much in 2022. His response, via email, was enlightening. I’ve quoted much of it at length below:
I believe the super-shoe technology has really changed the sport of marathoning tremendously and not just as a faster shoe on race day. Athletes can recover quicker from both training and racing marathons with significantly less trauma on the body due to the increased cushion in the shoe. Athletes can now do things that they couldn’t do before when it comes to recovery, which is hugely helpful in the marathon. As you know, a lot of racing marathons are out of athletes’ control. You can be in amazing shape and just catch the wrong day. Wrong weather, upset stomach, just an off day. Much of being successful in the marathon is capitalizing on the right moments and right opportunities when they arise. But if you are only racing two marathons a year you may very well just have bad luck and not catch the right opportunity. All that to say, the more you can put yourself out there, the more opportunity you create for yourself to catch a flyer so why not race more than twice a year if you can do so and be at your best because your recovery is so good coming out of races? What most people don’t see is that most marathoners will run 2-3 marathons in their buildup for the race so running a marathon is not that big of a deal as long as the body is able to not get trashed by it. Shoe technology coupled with Sara’s extraordinary ability to be able to recover due to her diligence, genetics, and experience creates a situation in which we can toe the starting line of a marathon more than twice per year.
As soon as Sara Hall was announced for Tokyo, many American fans probably started thinking: American record attempt. Ryan Hall won’t go quite that far. When I asked him whether Sara was targeting the AR in Tokyo, he said she is feeling “really good and is really fit” and that she is “looking to run fast” but did not cite Keira D’Amato‘s 2:19:12 AR, set in January in Houston, as a specific goal. He did note, however, that while there was some uncertainty as to whether Tokyo would allow international runners due to Japan’s COVID protocols, this race has been part of their plans since the fall and that they were proceeding in training as if it would happen, noting that Hall’s 67:15 half marathon AR in Houston came in the midst of her Tokyo buildup.
Ryan also offered a note of caution, mentioning that Sara fell in training after Houston and landed hard on her knee, which disrupted her training for a little while.
“She was really bruised up and things were touch and go for a few weeks there but she was able to stay in Phoenix and get worked on by John Ball, who did a fabulous job getting her back to 100%,” Ryan said. “She is totally good now (I believe she only missed one workout and then we had to alter some workouts to work around the knee) but we didn’t have the cleanest last month of training for Tokyo.”
Hall’s pb of 2:20:32 from the Marathon Project in 2020 ranks her #3 in the US all-time, and that could definitely go down on Sunday. If she’s at the same level of fitness as in Houston, D’Amato’s AR could be in danger as well, as Hall will have fast women to run with up front. As always, though, a number of things have to go right to run a fast marathon. In Tokyo’s case, the temperature 48-52 F during the race) will be great but lt looks a little windier than ideal, 7-10 mph with gusts potentially approaching 20mph, but those are much better conditions than what was predicted for Houston when D’Amato set her AR.
Either way, Hall has the opportunity to race some top marathoners on a fast, flat course and show the world just how big (or small) the gap is between America’s best and the best in the world right now.super-shoe technology has really changed
JG prediction: 1. Kosgei 2. Tanui 3. Gebreslase
Kosgei is one of the biggest marathon talents in history. Even if she wasn’t the absolute best in the world last year, she still earned an Olympic silver medal and ran 2:18. I’m not betting against her unless she’s facing Jepchirchir or Jepkosgei, and neither of those women are in this race. As for Hall, if the wind isn’t too bad, I’ll predict her to become the third American under 2:20 but I think D’Amato’s AR survives.