Kokugakuin University junior Kiyoto Hirabayashi won the Osaka Marathon in his marathon debut Sunday with the seventh-fastest time in history for a Japanese runner.

Hirabayashi crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 6 minutes, 18 seconds at Osaka Castle Park, 4 seconds ahead of Ugandan runner-up Stephen Kissa, in the second-to-last race of Japan's Olympic team selection series.

Marathon debutant Kiyoto Hirabayashi wins the Osaka Marathon on Feb. 25, 2024. (Kyodo)

"I'm just happy," said the 21-year-old known as a collegiate ekiden road relay star. "I thought things were going better than I expected. My focus was to win, and I'm glad about the time, too."

The leading pack was reduced to about 10 runners after Paris Olympics-bound Naoki Koyama upped his pace past the 29-kilometer mark.

Hirabayashi bided his time before hitting the front with around 10 kilometers to go.

Kissa stayed close to the university runner, but Hirabayashi pulled away in the final 800 meters.

"I don't think this is my highest point. I want to train more and improve," Hirabayashi said.

Japan has three spots in this summer's Olympic men's marathon. Koyama and Akira Akasaki have already earned their berths by placing first and second, respectively, in last October's Marathon Grand Championship in Tokyo.

Koyama was third in Sunday's race in 2:06:33 as part of his Olympic preparations.

Suguru Osako, who was third in the MGC, will take the final spot for the Olympics if no runner in the March 3 Tokyo Marathon clocks 2:05:50 or faster, the time set by Japan's athletics governing body.

"Koyama ran as part of his tune-up, and he broke 2:07 as he aimed to," said Toshihiko Seko, who is in charge of athlete development at the Japan Association of Athletics Federations.

"Hirabayashi had an amazing run," the former Olympic marathoner said. "The way he ran has made me think he'll be our marathon superstar at the Los Angeles Olympics (in 2028)."

Marathon debutant Kiyoto Hirabayashi wins the Osaka Marathon on Feb. 25, 2024, with Uganda's Stephen Kissa (back) approaching the finish line for second place. (Kyodo)

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