Tokyo Marathon 2024: Benson Kipruto Owns Eliud Kipchoge, Sutume Kebede Downs A Loaded Field

By Owen Corbett

March 5, 2024

Although it may have been lost in the shadow of an incredible World Indoor Championships, this past weekend some of the best marathoners in the world gathered in Tokyo to throw down in the first World Marathon Major of the year. If you found a way to watch, you were treated to a pair of big name upsets, course record times, and plenty of results that will set the table for the season of marathoning to come. Here are five takeaways from Sunday morning’s race.

Benson Kipruto Back On Top

A wise man once said, “If Eliud Kipchoge has a kryptonite, his name is Benson Kipruto.” Kipruto, the only man to beat Kipchoge more than once in the marathon, is now 3-0 against the GOAT all-time.

Kipruto, the 2021 Boston and 2022 Chicago champion, has been knocking on the door of another major marathon win since then and finally broke through on Sunday in Tokyo. Kipruto has run six major marathons since the beginning of 2021 and has finished on the podium in each and every one of them – that’s double the amount of top three finishes of any other man in the world in that span. That consistency also led to a breakthrough time, moving the Kenyan up to fifth on the all-time list with nearly a two-minute personal best (2:02:16).

Kipruto, racing two weeks shy of his 33rd birthday, was among the lead pack that established a hot pace from the gun, including early splits on world record pace. Only a few men were able to keep that tempo throughout the first half of the race, with Timothy Kiplagat (2nd, 2:02:55) and Vincent Ngetich (3rd, 2:04:18) alongside Kipruto, Kipchoge and a few pacers. Kipchoge, distinguishable by his bright white cap, fell off the lead pack just around 20k, and trailed the other three men by 14 seconds as they went through the halfway point in a blistering 1:00:20. Kipruto ran a smart race, doing barely any leading before the last quarter of the race, and by 35k, it was down to two as Ngetich had fallen off the pace. In the end, it was Kipruto’s day as he strode to the finish line all alone, breaking Kipchoge’s course record from two years ago in the process.

Benson KiprutoBenson Kipruto

Adidas Running / @adidasrunning

The End of Kipchoge’s Reign?

After the lowest finish in the career of the greatest marathoner of all time, Eliud Kipchoge offered a very level-headed response to his disappointing performance. “Every day is not Christmas.

And while Kipchoge is not wrong – it’s a basic rule of the marathon that everyone has bad races – fans had gotten used to Kipchoge bringing them presents at least twice a year. Now the 39-year-old has delivered two marathon losses in the past 11 months, which equals the amount that he suffered in his first 10 years of marathoning.

In between those two races, Kipchoge did clock a sub-2:03 win in Berlin, but digging beyond the surface, that performance doesn’t inspire as much confidence as you may think. It was his slowest time in Berlin since 2017, and his smallest margin of victory in any of his five wins in the German capital. After opening both of his last two marathons in under 61 minutes for the first half, and subsequently failing to sustain the pace on the back end of the course, it is clear that regaining the world record, or running under two hours in a record-eligible race, is out of the question for the two-time Olympic champ.

Let’s make it clear that I am not calling for the end of Kipchoge’s career.

After he was swallowed up by the chase pack in Tokyo – he came through the 35k mark in 11th – he stopped the bleeding and actually moved up one spot over the rest of the race to finish 10th (only 25 seconds back of fifth place). And while his 2:06:50 clocking implies a bad day for Kipchoge, to put it in perspective, it’s a time that only three Americans in history have ever run under.

Kenyan Olympic Team Implications

All of this leads us to ask the question: Will Athletics Kenya offer Kipchoge a lifetime achievement spot for Paris? Kipchoge still has a very high floor, as pointed out by his ability to avoid a complete blowup in Tokyo, and it is also worth keeping in mind, there’s no way in the world that the Olympic marathon goes out anywhere near the paces that Kipchoge has struggled to hold lately. The course in Paris has some demanding topography, and the race won’t have any pacers, so while Kipchoge may not be able to hold on after going through halfway in 61 minutes, he might still have the chops to win a more conservative race (both of Kipchoge’s Olympic golds have been won with 2:08 performances). Additionally, Kipchoge has been the face of the marathon distance for over a decade, and his popularity has transcended the sport. The storyline of Kipchoge chasing his third Olympic marathon medal – something no one else in history has – is inarguably good marketing, and his absence would be a real hit to the field in Paris.

On the other hand, if he is given the spot, many will wonder if Kipchoge actually deserves it (although it wouldn’t be a first for Athletics Kenya to spark selection controversy). Kipchoge finished behind five other Kenyans in this race, including the top three finishers, who are all on AK’s shortlist for the Olympic team that they named back in December. Depending on when the final decision is made, those running in Boston and London in April may also get the chance to prove they are worth selection. With only three spots to give out, Athletics Kenya will have some tough decisions to make as always, but if there’s one man who should walk away from Tokyo feeling the best about booking a flight to Paris, his name is Benson Kipruto.

As for other Olympic team ramifications, the top Japanese finisher in Tokyo was Yusuke Nishiyama (9th, 2:06:31), who had a much* better day than his last marathon in Japan’s selection race back in October, but his time wasn’t quick enough to take the provisional third spot away from Suguru Osako, who is headed to his third Olympic Games.

The Tokyo Marathon has no implications for Japan’s Olympic squad on the women’s side, but keep an eye on the Nagoya Women’s Marathon this weekend where Ai Hosoda will try to reclaim her spot from Honami Maeda, who earned it in record-breaking fashion at the Osaka Women’s Marathon. Maeda’s 2:18:59 back in January broke the 19-year-old Japanese record, so Hosoda (2:21:42 PB) will have her work cut out for her, but the race has organized an elite field of pacers, including 2:17 woman Sheila Chepkirui.

Additionally, there is no change in Leonard Korir’s status for Paris. Each country that saw men finish under the 2:08:10 Olympic standard on Sunday (Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Japan, and Uganda), already had all three of their qualification spots opened up. As of now, Korir is still in a comfortable position to qualify for the Games with about two months to go before he’ll know for sure.

*Nishiyama, who has a 2:05:59 PB from the 2023 Tokyo Marathon, ran 2:17:49 at the Marathon Grand Championship for 46th place of 56 finishers.

Sutume KebedeSutume Kebede

Abbott World Marathon Majors / @wmmajors

Sutume Kebede Taking Down The World’s Best

While Sutume Kebede may have qualified as a “dark horse” before the race on Sunday, it's safe to say she has graduated from that title after her breakout performance in Tokyo. Kebede first made headlines earlier this year when she ran away from arguably the best marathoner in the world, Hellen Obiri, to win the Houston Half back in January. Now over the full 26.2 miles, she helped set a hot pace – 1:08:15 for the first half – that handed Sifan Hassan (4th, 2:18:05) the first loss of her marathon career, and broke last year’s champ Rosemary Wanjiru (2nd, 2:16:14), and reigning World Champion Amane Beriso (3rd, 2:16:58) – a 2:14 woman – over the last four miles of the race. In the process, Kebede also took down Brigid Kosgei’s course record from two years ago, and perhaps put herself into the crowded conversation for Ethiopia’s Olympic marathon team.

Kebede’s 2:15:55 clocking is the fastest in the world this year, and makes her the eighth woman in history to run under 2:16. She also has the second fastest half marathon of 2024, and is undefeated on the year. The 29-year-old is in the best shape of her career – her time in Tokyo was more than a two-minute personal best – and clearly not afraid of any woman that she lines up against. Kebede has won her last three races, each at a different distance, including a 25k win last December over 2022 London Marathon champion Yalemzerf Yehualaw. No matter when her next race is, whether in Paris or not, Kebede should not be ignored as one of the favorites no matter who else is in the field.

Betsy Saina Gets Redemption

Just 29 days after being forced to drop out of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, Betsy Saina showed that her fitness was never the issue. In early February, Saina was in contention for an Olympic spot with under five miles to go, but the marathon is a fragile beast, and Saina could not tame it in Orlando. While it won’t reverse her Olympic fortunes, Saina decided to capitalize on what she must have believed was an excellent training cycle, and returned to Tokyo, where she ran the fastest marathon by an American in 2023. The 35-year-old stayed off the lead pack, but was still on American record pace for the majority of the race. She ran alongside 2020 Tokyo champ Lonah Salpeter, until the former world bronze medalist dropped out between 25-30k. Unfortunately, most of this information comes solely from splits, as FloTrack’s “live preview” of the race – which showed only the first half – featured very little of the women’s competition.

In the end, Saina repeated her fifth place finish from last year, but against a much tougher field. The effort earned her a personal best by over two minutes, moving her up to third on the U.S. all-time list, just five seconds back of Keira D’Amato’s former American record (2:19:17). While she may not be headed to Paris, Betsy Saina has proved that she has no plans on slowing down any time soon, and her next steps will draw the attention of all U.S. marathoning fans.

Owen Corbett

Huge sports fan turned massive track nerd. Statistics major looking to work in sports research. University of Connecticut club runner (faster than Chris Chavez but slower than Kyle Merber).