translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
On Dec. 18, the organizers of the Beijing Olympics-qualifying Osaka International Women`s Marathon announced the field for next`s month`s competition. The biggest news is the inclusion of 15 km world record and Japanese 3000 m, 5000 m, and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal). Fukushi will be running her debut marathon not as part of the invited field but as an independent runner. The word `finally` is the first to come to mind. Until now Fukushi has avoided speaking directly about her marathon plans, only making vague comments such as, "There are many options to go to the Olympics," which sounded as though she had the marathon tucked away in the back of her mind.
The person with the most complicated reaction to this news is probably Mizuki Noguchi. Fukushi and Noguchi first raced each other on the road at last year`s Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon. Fukushi executed a stellar debut in the half, defeating Noguchi soundly and breaking Noguchi`s half marathon national record with a 1:07:26. This race forced Noguchi to admit that Fukushi`s speed and strength are on a different level. If Fukushi earns a ticket to Beijing in the marathon it is entirely possible that we will see two Japanese runners battling for the gold medal. Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi likely chose to attempt to qualify for Beijing at the Nagoya International Women`s Marathon after hearing rumors that Fukushi would run Osaka.
Fukushi decided on Osaka because it is a fast course on which she can demonstrate her speed. To qualify for the Beijing Olympic team it will probably be necessary for the Osaka and Nagoya winners to aim for the course records as Noguchi did in the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon last month. However, if Fukushi goes out at an aggressive pace there is the ever-present danger that she will slow dramatically in the race`s later stages. Fukushi has a long-lasting knee injury which renders her chances somewhat unpredictable, so it will be interesting to see what strategy Team Wacoal coach Tadayuki Nagayama has devised. How she will run after the 30 km point remains to be seen.
Fukushi herself commented, "Looking at the Beijing Olympics, I decided to run my debut marathon. I haven`t trained properly yet, so while I`m kind of looking forward to it I`m pretty nervous too." Nagayama added, "We decided to tackle this the same way we have approached Fukushi`s challenges on the track. We entered as an independent runner rather than as an elite to show that she is aware that she is new to the marathon and is not resting upon her past achievements. This is also our team`s will."
By contrast, Japanese 10000 m national record and former marathon national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) has abandoned her plans to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in the wake of her disastrous run at last month`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. Shibui`s coach Hideo Suzuki commented to reporters, "Even if she runs again [in Osaka or Nagoya] she won`t be selected. There`s no chance she will try to qualify in the 10000 m either." Shibui`s Beijing Olympic quest is thus over. This was her third time to attempt to qualify for the Olympics and World Championships but she was once again unable to run well.
At the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon, Shibui was so upset by her 7th place finish that she left the stadium without saying anything to reporters or others. Suzuki reprimanded her, telling her that it is more important to be gracious in loss than in victory. Shibui returned to the stadium for the award ceremony and admitted her loss. "Coach Suzuki said it was too hot today but this had nothing to do with the heat. I lost because I wasn`t good enough."