Tokyo is the scene for the first major marathon of 2018, with more than 30 elite wheelchair racers from around the world - including defending champions Sho Watanabe and Amanda McGrory - set to line up in the Japanese capital on Sunday 25 February.
Home grown talent Watanabe saw off Swiss Marcel Hug in a sprint finish last year, bringing the Paralympic champion’s phenomenal winning streak to an end – Hug won six major marathons in 2016 – and both return to the Tokyo roads again this year.
The 2017 women’s race also ended in a sprint finish, with three racers in contention in the closing stages. Swiss Manuela Schaer led the way round the final bend ahead of US duo McGrory and Susannah Scaroni, but it was McGrory who pipped Schaer on the line in 1:43.27.
Last year saw an alteration to the course which was hoped would lead to faster times - race organisers had hoped the new route would increase the likelihood of new world records, but it was not to be.
Watanabe clocked 1:28.01, eight minutes outside the men’s marathon T54 world record set by Swiss racer Heinz Frei in Oita, Japan, back in 1999, while McGrory’s winning time was five minutes outside the women’s record mark.
However, Race Director Masazumi Soejima still hopes history can be made this year.
“It is hoped that athletes, who competed last year as well as those who [are] making the Tokyo Marathon debut, will employ new race plan to go after the world record,” stated Soejima.
“This is the second year with the new course, and invited athletes were selected in hope that someone will make a big move during the race to make the race more exciting,” he added.
Alongside Watanabe and Hug, the men’s elite field includes South Africa’s 10-time Boston Marathon winner Ernst van Dyk, Australia’s Paralympic silver medallist Kurt Fearnley – winner in Tokyo in 2016 – and the USA’s 2015 World marathon champion Josh George.
The host nation’s top stars are also out in force – including two-time Tokyo marathon champion Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Tomoki Suzuki – third in Tokyo last year just one second behind Hug - and Ryota Yoshida, who finished third in Berlin (Germany) last year.
McGrory returns to Tokyo hoping to notch up her second consecutive victory in Japan; she will have to get past the likes of fellow US racers Tatyana McFadden and Scaroni as well as Schaer, who was in terrific form last year, setting new course records in Boston (USA) and London (Great Britain). Schaer also claimed wins in Berlin and New York.
McFadden Tweeted earlier this month that she was ‘excited to get a fresh start on a new track and marathon season’ having suffered severe blood clots in her legs last year.
The 28-year-old still made it to London 2017 where she claimed no fewer than four gold medals on the track at the World Championships. She then returned to marathon racing in Chicago, where she finished first. However, unlike Schaer, McGrory and Scaroni, she has not yet raced the new Tokyo course.
The 26.2-mile race is the fifth of seven in the Abbott World Marathon Majors Series XI, with Hug and Schaer currently leading the men’s and women’s standings. A win this week for McFadden, who has 17 marathon titles to her name, will keep alive her hopes of defending the AWMM title she won last year. Series XI finishes in London in April.