translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
The first of the selection races for the Japanese men`s Beijing Olympics marathon team takes place Dec. 2 at the Fukuoka International Marathon. The elite field includes two runners from Team Chugoku Denryoku, Shigeru Aburaya and Atsushi Sato. The team`s coach Yasushi Sakaguchi says, "Whoever wins Fukuoka will probably be going on to the Olympics. Only one person can win, so I don`t want the two of them to have any bad blood." This will be a rare occasion to see two runners from Team Chugoku Denryoku facing each other in a world-class event.
Aburaya`s High-Mileage Preparation Going Well
To make the Olympic team, Aburaya has been training to win. "There is only one chance, if I lose that`s it. Whoever I find myself running against, I won`t lose." Aburaya decided to race Fukuoka after hearing that not only Sato but also national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and former national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) would be running.
Aburaya placed 5th in the 2001 and 2003 World Championships marathons as well as in the 2004 Athens Olympics marathon. In contrast to those dynamic years, the two years after Athens were not good. "The reason is clear," says Aburaya. "Injuries kept me from training consistently." This summer`s training was excellent, bringing Aburaya "...back to the kind of shape [he] was in before the (2003) Paris World Championships." He has regained his confidence and the spring in his step.
Aburaya acknowledges that Sato is "very strong, no doubt" but says, "I`m not going to let him beat me in the marathon. I left something at the Olympics and I still have to go pick it up." The medal he couldn`t score in Athens is waiting for him in Beijing.
Sato Fresh From Setting a New National Half-Marathon Record
Sato is running with new inspiration. A uniquely powerful ekiden runner, Sato has not yet been able to translate his ability into a good marathon. "There have been times before a marathon when I`ve felt like I`m going to die from anxiety." Too much pressure from himself and others has hurt his performances.
Recently Sato has been training to run flat-out from the beginning of the race. His almost tragic determination also changed recently. In July he married Japanese national women`s 800 m record holder Miho Sugimori. "The way she trains with great concentration and then doesn`t think about her running when the workout is over has taught me a great deal about how to relax. Above all, I don`t get too irritated now because I don`t have to suffer by myself." He said this with a natural smile unlike his previous forced smile.*
At October`s World Half Marathon Championships in Italy, Sato set a new Japanese national record of 1:00:25. With this kind of experience running against top foreign competitors behind him, Sato says, "Fukuoka is not really that big a race." The pressure is gone. Speaking about Aburaya he says, "I`ve always wanted a serious match against him." The Ekiden Man plans to become "The Japanese Marathon World`s Ace."
Japanese Elite Field at Fukuoka International Marathon
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo): 2:06:16 - 2002
Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu): 2:06:51 - 2000
Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku): 2:07:52 - 2001
Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryuko): 2:08:36 - 2004
Yuko Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta): 2:09:18 - 2005
Left: Half-marathon national record holder Sato goes for his first Olympics.
Right: Athens runner Aburaya tries to make his second straight Olympic team.
*Translator`s note: Sato is famous in Japan for trying anything that might help his running. A few years ago he read that smiling while running helps the body to relax, so he went through a phase of smiling the whole way through marathons.