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Tokyo Marathon serves as dress rehearsal ahead of Olympic Games

Last updated 5 months ago | By Jonathan Komen

10000m runner Bedan Karoki in training session ahead of Rio Olympics 2016 at Kipchoge Stadium in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County on July 21, 2016.[PHOTO:DENNIS OKEYO/STANDARD]

Despite confirmation of coronavirus in Japan, athletes insist they will still race on March 1.

Panic is steadily growing over the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Japan ahead of the 13th Tokyo Marathon set for March 1.

More than 400 cases have been confirmed in Japan -sending shock waves ahead of the World Marathon Majors race.

Yesterday, race organisers announced they will no longer be a mass participation event due to the disease. Only elite runners and wheelchair athletes will compete in the event which takes place on March 1.

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Around 38,000 runners were expected to take part in the marathon. “We cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated,” said organisers.

Bedan Karoki (2:06.48) and Dickson Chumba (2:08.44) will compete in men’s contest while Valary Jemeli (2:21.38) and Sally Chepyego fly the Kenyan flag.

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Lonah Chemtai Salpeter, a Kenyan turned Israeli, is also in the mix. There is also Ethiopia’s Tigist Girma, another sub 2:20 athlete. They will be up against Ethiopian champion Ruti Aga.

Aga and past winner Birhane Dibaba lead the Ethiopian lineup, which has nine runners keen to beat the course record out of the 12 elite women invited.

But news on the dreaded virus appears a no threat to Karoki, who lives and works with a software company Deala in Tokyo.

Karoki, a runner up at the 2019 Tokyo Marathon, said he is not disturbed by confirmation of the virus in Japan and gears up to strike his first marathon win.

“I have no worries over the coronavirus that has been recorded in Tokyo prompting the cancellation of the mass race to the 38,000 participants. It was prudent for the organisers to offer the elite the chance to run because Japan will use the event as part of the Olympic pre-qualification,” said Karoki.

Last year, Ethiopia’s Birhanu Legese won the men’s race under wet and windy conditions after beating Karoki and Chumba.

Karoki is currently in Kenya and will leave tomorrow for Tokyo ahead of the race.

“I know for them to allow the elite to run, they have put everything in perspective to safeguard all athletes against any health risks.

"I hope to get a podium finish and then wait see if I will make the Kenya team to Tokyo Olympics, having been named as a reserve,” said Karoki.

Last year's podium finishers will back in Tokyo to battle against Karoki and others in an effort to garner more points for the Majors.

On her part, Jemeli said: “Kenyans are waiting for the Tokyo Marathon results. My training is going on well and will know how good I am in Tokyo.”

On Monday, race organisers said they were looking at several options including allowing a smaller number of general entry runners, but after going “back and forth two or three times” they were ultimately swayed by the increasing number of infection cases.

“While implementing preventive safety measures, however, now that a case of COVID-19 has been confirmed within Tokyo, we cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated. We regret The Tokyo Marathon 2020 will be held only for the marathon elites and the wheelchair elites,” Race director Tadaaki Hayano said.