TOKYO (Reuters) – Ethiopian Birhanu Legese won the Tokyo Marathon for the second year in a row on Sunday, racing to victory in two hours, four minutes and 15 seconds along often empty streets in the Japanese capital.
Locals were strongly discouraged from lining the route because of the coronavirus outbreak, and the race was restricted to a few hundred elite athletes, without the usual retinue of more than 30,000 amateur runners to limit the risk of infection.
Japan has recorded more than 940 cases of coronavirus, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise liner which was quarantined near Tokyo this month. There have been 11 deaths, including six from the cruise ship.
Legese, wearing Nike’s much-discussed carbon-plated shoes, hit the front before the 40 kilometre mark, winning by more than half a minute but missing out on Wilson Kipsang’s 2017 record of 2:03.58.
Somali-born Belgian Bashir Abdi (2:04.49) pipped Ethiopian Sisay Lemma (2:04.51) to second place in a race for the line.
Japan’s Suguru Osako finished fourth in 2:05.29, improving his own national record by 21 seconds and locking up Japan’s third and final spot in the men’s field for the Tokyo Olympics later this year.
Lonah Korlima Chemtai Salpeter, who runs for Israel, won the women’s race in a record time of 2:17.45, 50 seconds ahead of Birhane Dibaba with her fellow Ethiopian Sutume Asefa Kebede a distant third two minutes back.
Sarah Chepchirchir owned the previous women’s record of 2:19:47 from the 2017 race.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Saturday that the country was still planning to go ahead with hosting the Olympics in Tokyo in July and August despite the coronavirus outbreak.
In addition to cancelling the mass race on Sunday, organizers said they had restricted the number of volunteers and provided surgical masks and hand sanitizers for event staff and competitors.
The Olympic marathons have been moved to the northern island of Hokkaido to avoid the searing heat of the Tokyo summer.
Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell