The 2019 marathon season gets underway in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday with a star-studded line-up including defending champions Hiroyuki Yamamoto and Manuela Schaer.
Home fans will be hoping for a third consecutive Japanese winner after the success of Sho Watanabe in 2017 then Yamamoto last year, but USA’s Daniel Romanchuk and Swiss racer Marcel Hug are among a strong men’s field more than capable of upsetting Japanese celebrations.
Of course, it will not be straightforward for Romanchuk or Hug, perhaps less familiar with the course than their Japanese rivals – although the route was altered in 2017 in a bid to make it flatter and faster.
Fight to the finish
Romanchuk makes his Tokyo Marathon debut – the last of the six majors he needs to complete in order to collect the coveted Abbott Marathon Majors ‘Six Star Finishers’ medal. Hug meanwhile missed last year’s race due to problems with his flight to Japan, having finished second on his debut in 2017.
Romanchuk’s recent form has however proved that what he lacks in experience, he certainly makes up for in strength, determination and natural prowess.
The 20-year-old won in Chicago and New York last year, seeing off Paralympic champion Hug in a sprint finish on both occasions, and the unassuming American has rapidly become a key contender in the T54 class.
Romanchuk and Hug sit first and second respectively in the Abbott World Marathon Majors series XII leaderboard and with vital points at stake, both racers can be expected to feature strongly.
Experienced racer Yamamoto – who, at 52 years old is the oldest elite athlete in the field - is joined on the start line by his compatriots Watanabe, Hiroki Nishida and Tomoki Susuki, who finished second in 2018.
Canada’s Brent Lakatos, who won in Berlin (Germany) last year, is also in the field, as is 10-time Boston Marathon winner Ernst van Dyk and South Korea’s Byunghoon Yoo, who finished third in the Oita Marathon last year. Unfortunately, eight-time London Marathon champion David Weir has withdrawn due to health reasons.
Four in a row for Schaer?
A second consecutive Tokyo Marathon victory for Schaer meanwhile would help extend her lead in Abbott WMM Series XII.
The 34-year-old has won the last three majors – Berlin, Chicago and New York - and set a new marathon world record in the German capital last year.
The USA’s formidable marathon racer Tatyana McFadden, who has been beset with problems with her racing chair since it broke ahead of the Berlin Marathon last year – will be hoping for a change in fortunes in 2019.
McFadden, her Illinois teammate Susannah Scaroni – who finished on the podium in Boston, London, Berlin and Chicago last year - Australia’s 2018 London Marathon champion Madison de Rozario and Dutch racer Margriet van den Broek are among those hoping to upset Schaer’s impressive run of form.