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Birhanu wins for second year running at virus-hit Tokyo marathon

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Tokyo (AFP)

Birhanu Legese of Ethiopia won the virus-hit Tokyo marathon reduced from a mass participation event of 38,000 runners to just elite athletes on Sunday because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The race, which doubled up as an trial for Japanese athletes hoping to run in their home Tokyo Olympics later this year, was limited to 200 participants including wheelchair racers.

Legese won his second successive Tokyo marathon in 2hr 4min 15sec with Lonah Chemtai Salpeter of Israel winning the women's event in 2:17.45.

The Tokyo marathon is one of the biggest sporting events to be affected by the coronavirus in Japan, with the Olympic Games opening ceremony less than five months away.

Last week, the International Tennis Federation said Japan's home Davis Cup tie against Ecuador in Miki next weekend will be played behind closed doors.

The Japanese Football Association has postponed all top-flight J-League matches until March 15.

The International Olympic Committee said last week it was "fully committed" to holding the 2020 Games in Tokyo as planned, despite the widening new coronavirus outbreak.

The viral outbreak across Japan and dozens of other countries has fuelled concerns about the Summer Games, which open on July 24, after sports events were postponed or cancelled.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped up national measures to contain the virus, calling on organisers of large events to consider cancelling or delaying them.

Disruption caused by the virus has affected Olympic qualifying in several sports, including football, boxing, badminton, handball and wrestling and sailing.

Tokyo's Olympic organisers have repeatedly said they are focused on holding a safe Olympics and Paralympics with the IOC's full backing.

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