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Tokyo marathon limited to elite runners over coronavirus fears

Only a few hundred people out of the expected 38,000 were able to run in the marathon, an Olympic qualifier.

TOKYO, Japan — Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia won the Tokyo Marathon, a race that was scaled back as part of Japan's efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Legese crossed the finish line with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes and 15 seconds, 34 seconds ahead of compatriot Sisay Lemma.

The race was expected to have 38,000 participants but was limited to elite runners due to concerns over the outbreak of the virus in Japan. The Toyko Marathon Foundation announced that volunteers were limited and the spectator stands were canceled.

The race offered surgical masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizers for the event staff and people involved in the event to ensure safety.

Reuters reported that Japan has a record of more than 940 cases of the new virus, COVID-19, that includes 705 from the cruise ship that was quarantined earlier this month.

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Legese, 25, returned to Japan on Sunday to defend his Toyko Marathon title. He won in the 2019 race in two hours two minutes and 48 seconds. With that time, he became the third-fastest man in history, and the owner of the fastest time not to win a race.

"Last year, it was tough for the athletes with a drastic temperature drop from midway, but despite [that], Birhanu Legese kept the speed, finishing strong under 2:05," Tokyo race director Tad Hayano said.

Credit: AP
Ethiopia's Birhanu Legese crosses the finish line to win the Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo Sunday, March 1, 2020. The race was scaled back as part of Japan's efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus. (Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)

The Tokyo Marathon was a chance for runners to fill the final slot for the Japanese Olympic men's marathon team. The last ticket needed to be secured by beating the time of  2:05:49 set by the Japan Association of Athletics Federation.

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