Friday, November 30, 2007

Quotes From the Fukuoka International Marathon Pre-Race Press Conference

Video interviews with Samuel Wanjiru, Toshinari Takaoka, Atsushi Fujita, Shigeru Aburaya and Atsushi Fujita are available at:

http://www.kbc.co.jp/sports/f-marathon2007/

Click on each line of text in the central box to the right of the five pictures to see the videos. Japanese language only. A separate text article:

http://www.jiji.com/jc/c?g=spo_30&k=2007113000760

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

The invited elite runners for Sunday`s Olympic qualifying Fukuoka International Marathon gathered on Nov. 30 for the event`s pre-race press conference. Some quotes from the conference:

"I am going for a 2:06. I am quite confident about it." -Samuel Wanjiru, 1/2 marathon world record holder and marathon debutant

"When I lost four years ago at the selection race for Athens I thought I wouldn`t have another one. I am happy to be here to have a chance to compete." -Toshinari Takaoka, Japanese national marathon record holder

"I have good karma in Fukuoka [having marked a Japanese record here seven years ago]. I will try not to get too nervous and just race as usual." -Atsushi Fujita, course record holder

"I haven`t scored a good result since Athens. I want a good result this time." -Shigeru Aburaya, fifth place finisher in Athens Olympics, 2001 and 2003 World Championships

"I want to know what I can do among these strong runners. I am looking forward to it." -Atsushi Sato, Japanese national 1/2 marathon record holder

IAAF preview of Fukuoka

On to Beijing! Atsushi Sato Ready for Fukuoka International Marathon

http://www.sanspo.com/tohoku/top/th200711/th2007112805.html

translated by Brett Larner

A major talent looks set to finally bloom. Having set a new Japanese national half-marathon record of 1:00:25 in October, Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) of Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, says, "Doing something like that gives me a lot of confidence, but at the same time it puts a lot of expectation on me. If I don`t do well [in Fukuoka] a lot of people are going to criticize me. I have to do well." With this delicate balance of confidence and pressure, Sato heads into the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 2.

During his days at Waseda University Sato set the then Japanese student marathon record of 2:09:50 in his debut marathon. Since that time he has made a name as a star corporate ekiden runner but has not lived up to the same potential in the marathon, finishing only 10th in the 2003 Paris World Championships.

Sato trained for last year`s Biwako Marathon at a high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China. He had felt that altitude was the one thing missing from his training but was disappointed with the results, having to drop out of Biwako. "I was pretty depressed. I felt like no matter what I did I couldn`t improve, that I was finished."

Sato`s coach Yasushi Sakaguchi found the light while Sato was struggling. "Sato has very high standards for himself, higher ideals than other runners. He didn`t race well because he punished himself so hard in training. His body just couldn`t match the level he was trying for. It wasn`t until right around Biwako that it finally started to catch up to his mind. Now he is ready."

In the Beppu-Oita Marathon this year Sato finished 2nd. Afterward he said, "I want to break through the wall." His training after Beppu-Oita focused on running flat out from the very start. In July`s Sapporo International Marathon Sato ran well against the foreign runners, finishing 3rd. "When I went out hard from the start my body responded well. In fact it was easier than before. I`ve found a way through the wall."

Sato is famous for the intensity of his personality and, in his words, for thinking too much. In July Sato married Japanese 800m record holder Miho Sugimori (Team Natureal), an event which has changed his outlook. "Being together, we can relax more," says Sato. And together they can prepare for the Beijing Olympics.

Translator`s note: Sato was scheduled to run in this year`s London Marathon but withdrew shortly before the race with a minor injury.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Team Chugoku Denryoku`s Aces Aburaya and Sato Face Off in Fukuoka in Bid for Beijing Ticket

http://www.chugoku-np.co.jp/sports/Sp200711280135.html

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

Photo Details
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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Overseas Elites Arrive in Fukuoka One By One

http://www.asahi.com/sports/update/1128/SEB200711280012.html

translated by Brett Larner

One by one, invited athletes from overseas are arriving in Fukuoka for the Dec. 2nd running of the 61st Fukuoka International Marathon sponsored by Rikuren, The Asahi Newspaper Group and others. On Nov. 28th, Athens Olympics eighth place finisher Alberto Chaica (Portugal) arrived. He is the third of the four invited overseas elite runners to arrive in Fukuoka`s Athlete Village.

Chaica arrived at Fukuoka Airport today at approximately 4:25 p.m. It is his second time in Japan and his first time to run the Fukuoka International Marathon. He told reporters, "I`m well-rested, injury-free and feeling good. I want to win."

The field in the all-male race includes Japanese national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), course record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) and four other domestic elites. All invited runners are scheduled to arrive in the Athlete Village by Nov. 29th.

`Radcliffe Predicts Noguchi Tussle`

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/athletics/7117025.stm

A couple of Japanese articles saying essentially the same thing:

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/p-sp-tp0-20071127-288305.html
http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/article/sports/news/CK2007112602067442.html

Tergat Withdraws From Fukuoka Due to `Special Military Training` Requirement

http://www.asahi.com/sports/update/1127/SEB200711270019.html?ref=rss

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

The Fukuoka International Marathon announced today that former world record holder Paul Tergat (Kenya) has withdrawn from this Sunday`s race. His agent told race organizers that the Kenyan Army, of which Tergat is a member, called him up unexpectedly for special training and that he will not be able to come to Japan.

Tergat set the world record of 2:04:55 in Berlin `03. In September this year at Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) broke the 4-year old record. Japanese fans were eagerly anticipating Tergat`s appearance in Fukuoka which was to be his first marathon in Japan.

Tergat said, "Unfortunately I cannot make it due to the Army`s program. I hope I will be invited again next year and I intend to win then."

Translator`s note: The Japanese source article specifies `rikugun` which translates as `ground forces` or `army` rather than `air force.`

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Japanese Men`s Marathon Olympic Selection Race Preview

by Brett Larner

The Japanese men`s Olympic marathon team selection process continues this Sunday with the Fukuoka International Marathon. This article, the second in a series, will preview the Japanese Olympic selection process, the selection races, and the main contenders.

The Selection Process
In theory the top Japanese finisher in each of the selection races will be named to the Beijing Olympic team, with an overall win in one of the selection races guaranteeing a spot. In reality, Rikuren takes into account factors including finish time, conditions, and the presence of foreign competition in making their decisions on national team membership, often with surprising and controversial results. Unlike the women`s team, no Japanese man earned a slot on the team by medaling at the 2007 Osaka World Championships. This leaves three races to determine the three slots, the Fukuoka International Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, and the Biwako Mainichi Marathon. As a result there is slightly less pressure on the men to produce very fast times in the remaining selection races than on the women who ran the Tokyo International Marathon; rather, the emphasis is on winning the races or at least being the top Japanese finisher. At the same time the male contenders are closer in ability than the women and so the potential results are less predictable.

Osaka World Championships Marathon – 8/25/07
The men`s selection process began in August with the 2007 IAAF World Championships Marathon. The top Japanese man in that race was guaranteed a spot on the Beijing team provided he finished in the medals. 2005 Helsinki World Championships bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata put on a gutsy race from far behind to catch Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland) and Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) and put himself in position to defend his bronze medal. Unfortunately he was unable to match the other runners` final kicks and finished in fifth place with visible disappointment. While not guaranteed a spot on the Beijing team, Ogata`s high-placing finish in hot conditions, the aggressive quality of his race in Osaka, and his solid history in international championship events make him a likely choice for the team. He will nevertheless probably run either Tokyo or Biwako to earn a guaranteed spot.

Fukuoka International Marathon – 12/2/07
Fukuoka has a long history as one of the world`s great races. Traditionally all the big names in Japanese men`s marathoning run it as their fall-season marathon. This year is no exception, with four of Japan`s main Olympic contenders and several dark horses appearing in the lineup. An outright win in Fukuoka would guarantee a Japanese runner a spot on the Beijing team but will be made difficult by the presence of quality foreign competition. Competitors include:

Toshinari Takaoka: 2:06:16, Chicago `02, national record; 4th, 2005 Helsinki World Championships
Takaoka set the national record in a memorable performance in Chicago, leading most of the race at world-record pace before fading at the end and placing third to Khalid Khannouchi (USA) and Daniel Njenga (Kenya), just ahead of Paul Tergat (Kenya). He has not performed well in championship marathons, has been injured for most of 2007, and is nearing the end of his competitive career. This will be his last chance for the Olympics.

Atsushi Fujita: 2:06:51, Fukuoka `00, course record and former national record; winner, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon `07
Fujita is the course record holder and only Japanese man to have run 2:06 within Japan. To Fujita`s credit, Haile Gebrselassie failed to break Fujita`s course record at last year`s Fukuoka. Fujita did not run well at Fukuoka last year and ran February`s Beppu-Oita Marathon in a last-ditch attempt to make the Osaka World Championships team. He was not selected despite winning Beppu-Oita.

Shigeru Aburaya: 2:07:52, Biwako `01; 5th, Athens Olympics
Aburaya was the top Japanese finisher in the Athens Olympics, landing just outside the medals. He ran this year`s inaugural Tokyo Marathon in an attempt to make the Osaka World Championships team but the freezing rain and wind in Tokyo were too much and he did not finish. He is reportedly in excellent shape and is one of the favorites.

Atsushi Sato: 2:08:36, Biwako `04; 1:00:25, World Road Running Championships `07, national and Asian 1/2 marathon record
Sato is the main hope for the future among current Japanese marathoners. He is widely respected for his aggressive running in shorter races and the legendary Toshihiko Seko has said he thinks Sato can run 2:05. Despite having twice run 2:08 Sato has not yet lived up to this potential. He comes to Fukuoka fresh from setting the Japanese national record and Asian 1/2 marathon record at this year`s World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy.

Other possible Japanese contenders in Fukuoka include Yuko Matsumiya, twin brother of 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya, and twins Tadayuki Ojima and Muneyuki Ojima, both of whom have run 2:08 marathons.

Foreign competition in Fukuoka will be tough. The field includes:

Paul Tergat: 2:04:55, Berlin `03, former world record; 5th, London Marathon `07
Tergat is aging and may be past his peak, but his London Marathon performance this spring was his fastest since setting the world record and his fifth-fastest ever, demonstrating that he is still a contender.

Samuel Wanjiru: 58:33, Den Haag `07, 1/2 marathon world record
Wanjiru has broken the 1/2 marathon world record three times, twice this year. This will be his debut marathon. He says he will run conservatively and `only` shoot for a 2:06. A knee injury which resulted in a poor showing at October`s World Road Running Championships is a potential cause of worry, but last week`s stage-record 34:40 over a 12.5 km ekiden stage shows Wanjiru is back to form.

Rock `n` Roll Marathon winner Daniel Yego (Kenya) and past Boston Marathon winner Haile Negussie (Ethiopia) are also in the field and could stage an upset.

Tokyo Marathon – 2/17/08
The Tokyo Marathon began in 2007 and is Japan`s largest open marathon. It absorbed the Tokyo International Marathon, a long-standing elite race on the same date. The Tokyo Marathon course is easier than that of the former Tokyo International Marathon but has not yet seen fast times due to horrible conditions of wind and freezing rain at the first running. Daniel Njenga (Kenya) won the first edition of the race in 2:09:45 with Tomoyuki Sato the runner-up and top Japanese finisher in 2:11:22. Sato was chosen for the 2007 Osaka World Championships on the strength of this performance.

As of this writing, no elite competitors have been confirmed for next year`s Tokyo. Several of the main contenders who are not running in Fukuoka have stated that they will run either Tokyo or Biwako. It is likely that some names will be announced soon after Fukuoka. The Tokyo International Marathon usually featured smaller fields than either Fukuoka or Biwako and this trend is likely to continue in the newer version of the race.

Biwako Mainichi Marathon – 3/2/08
Biwako is the main spring marathon for most Japanese professional runners. The course is flat and many fast times have been run there, but the weather is sometimes warmer than runners can withstand after the winter season. The last of the Olympic selection races, it will feature some desperate racing as runners who avoided the battle royale in Fukuoka will face those who did not perform well in Fukuoka.

So far only one Japanese elite has confirmed he will run Biwako.

Toshinari Suwa: 2:07:55, Fukuoka `03; 6th, Athens Olympics; 7th, Osaka World Championships `07
The charismatic Suwa is one of the most popular marathoners in Japan. He has a solid history in international championships and had a memorable battle with Wataru Okutani at last year`s Fukuoka, running 2:08:52 to qualify for the Osaka World Championships.

Undeclared Runners
Many of Japan`s top marathoners, particularly those who ran in the Osaka World Championships in August, have not yet declared which marathon they will run. The depth of the Japanese male marathoner world makes it entirely possible that an unknown runner will move up and make the team, but several of the runners to watch in either Tokyo or Biwako include:

Tsuyoshi Ogata: 2:08:37; bronze medal, Helsinki World Championships `05; 5th, Osaka World Championships `07
As discussed above, Ogata has a good chance of being selected for the Beijing team based on his performance in Osaka and his solid international racing credentials but is unlikely to rest on these results.

Satoshi Osaki: 2:08:46, Tokyo `04; bronze medal, Asian Games `06; 6th place, Osaka World Championships `07
Like Kiyoko Shimahara in the women`s field, Osaki has run well in international championship races in hot weather and is a strong possibility for making the team if he runs well in either Tokyo or Biwako.

Wataru Okutani: 2:08:49, Fukuoka International Marathon `06; 14th, Helsinki World Championships
Okutani has improved dramatically in the last few years and had the fastest qualifying time of any member of Japan`s marathon team at the Osaka World Championships. Unfortunately he had severe abdominal problems during the summer and surgery prevented him from competing in Osaka. It remains to be seen if he will recover in time to be a factor in the Beijing Olympic team selection process.

Tomoyuki Sato: 2:09:45; 2nd place, Tokyo Marathon `07; 13th, Osaka World Championships `07
Sato is the quintessential Japanese professional marathoner, a steady, reliable runner who does not excel but rarely runs poorly. He has performed well in almost all his marathons during the last few years and could make the Beijing team if he runs as he did in Tokyo this year when he qualified for the Osaka team.

Satoshi Irifune: 2:09:58, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon `05; 20th, Helsinki World Championships `05
A teammate of Toshinari Takaoka, Irifune is another solid journeyman marathoner. He made the Helsinki World Championships team with an impressive win in Beppu-Oita but struggled in the poor conditions at the Tokyo Marathon and did not make the team for the Osaka World Championships.

Kazuyoshi Tokumoto: 2:15:54, Tokyo `07
Tokumoto was a superstar university runner, setting many track records and famously DNFing on the second stage of the Hakone Ekiden, eliminating Hosei University from the race. He has long said he would become a marathoner but a series of injuries prevented him from debuting until this year`s Tokyo Marathon. Like many others he was bested by the freezing rain and wind and finished in a disappointing time. Nevertheless, he is still regarded as a major hope for the future of Japanese marathoning.

Scenarios

The men`s Beijing Olympic marathon team is still wide open. Ogata stands a good chance of making the team based on his Osaka World Championships performance but must run again to be assured a spot. Of the three remaining selection races, Fukuoka has historically produced the fastest times and is thus likely to be the crucial race. The top Japanese finisher will be selected for the team unless he runs a truly slow time. As with last year`s race, when both Okutani and Suwa were selected for Osaka after finishing as the top two Japanese in 4th and 5th, it is possible that more than one person will be selected. This will be important given the number of major contenders in the field at this year`s race. Tokyo and Biwako will likely be scrambles to pick up the remaining space or spaces but are unlikely to be as important as Fukuoka.

The next article in this series will look at the history of the Japanese Olympic marathon team selection process.


© 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

`Mombi Wins Kobe Women`s Half Marathon`

http://www.iaaf.org/news/Kind=2/newsId=42485.html

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Simon 1st, Shimahara 2nd, Nagata 5th at Toray Shanghai Marathon

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20071125i5z2.htm?from=main5

translated by Brett Larner

This summer`s Osaka World Championships women`s marathon 6th place finisher Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) finished 2nd in 2:35:41 at the Nov. 25 Toray Shanghai Marathon. The marathon course started from Shanghai`s Nanjing Road Century Plaza. 2000 Sydney Olympics silver medalist Lidia Simon (Romania) won the race in a course record time of 2:29:28.

In the men`s race, Sammy Kipkoech (Kenya) won in 2:13:01, while Japan`s Koichiro Nagata (F.R.A.) ran 2:16:22 to finish 5th in his debut marathon.

Translator`s note: Lidia Simon also beat Shimahara in the Osaka World Championships, finishing in 5th place only 14 seconds ahead of Shimahara.

Sekiya Sets Asian 24-Hour Record at Togo International Ultramarathon

http://www.nikkei.co.jp/news/main/20071125STXKA005625112007.html

translated by Brett Larner

Asia`s most prestigious 24-hour ultramarathon, the Togo International Ultramarathon in Taipei, took place from Nov. 24 to 25 on Togo University`s 400 m track. Ryoichi Sekiya of Kanagawa Prefecture won the men`s race, while Sumie Inagaki of Aichi Prefecture and Yuko Okiyama of Tokyo took first and third in the women`s race.

Sekiya shattered the Asian record by 3 km, setting a new mark of 275.684 km. Inagaki ran a total of 232.920 km.

Wanjiru Sets Stage Record to Lead Team Toyota Kyushu to Ekiden Victory

http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nsp/local/20071124/20071124_002.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

After two years of losses, Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu won the 44th running of the Kyushu Jitsugyodan Mainichi Ekiden on Nov. 23. Team Toyota covered the seven-stage, 79.7 km course from Fukuoka to Kita-Kyushu in a time of 3:53:37 to seal its victory. Team Toyota`s ace runner Samuel Wanjiru set a new stage record on the fourth leg, and former Juntendo Unversity and Hakone Ekiden `God of the Mountains` Masato Imai made his Team Toyota debut by scoring the stage best on the anchor leg. Team Kyudenko were 52 seconds behind, with Team Yasukawa Denki finishing third. Team Asahi Kasei came a disappointing fourth, the lowest placing in their history. The top seven teams qualified for the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden on Jan. 1 in Gunma Prefecture.

Imai broke the goal tape with his right hand raised hesitantly. The real celebration came 57 seconds later. Second place finishers Team Kyudenko had been stopped at a railroad crossing for 57 seconds and Imai was forced to wait until the same pulse-pounding 57 seconds had elapsed in loss time before raising both hands for real and exploding with the joy of his victory.

Team Toyota`s stage-winning trio made the game. On the first leg, Yu Mitsuya ran his first race since the Osaka World Championships, putting on a last spurt to beat Team Yasukawa Denki`s Toru Okada by 1 second and win the stage. Afterward Mitsuya said, "I haven`t been able to practice like I wanted to, so I only tried to do my best to win the stage this time."

The team fell to third place over the next few legs, but on the 12.5 km fourth stage Samuel Wanjiru put on a stunning display of front running. Wanjiru will make his full marathon debut at the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 2. "My body felt great and I had a lot of fun. This was good speed practice, " smiled Wanjiru. Taking the lead after 4 km, Wanjiru became the first person to break 35 minutes on the stage since the course was changed in the 24th edition of the ekiden. Wanjiru ran 34:40 to set the new stage record.

Imai received the tasuki with a `72 second` lead, but the actual difference was only 15 seconds due to Team Kyudenko`s time lost at the train crossing. Imai said, "I was lucky that they couldn`t see me. It must have been hard for them to chase me with the extra 57 second gap." Throughout the entire stage and right to the goal Imai showed stunning speed. "It was a nerve-wracking experience because I wasn`t sure if I had won or not when I finished."

Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu coach Koichi Morishita counted down during the loss time while looking at a stopwatch. "The race went according to plan, but those 57 seconds were scary." Despite the pressure of being the pre-race favorites, Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu won the overall race, showing its unshaken strength despite the delayed victory.

Translator`s note: Masato Imai is widely known in Japan for his three consecutive stunning stage-record victories on the fifth stage of the Hakone Ekiden, a 23.4 km leg run from sea level into the mountains with 864 m of elevation gain. Imai won the fifth stage from `05 - `07, graduated from Juntendo University in `07, and joined Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu. This ekiden was his professional debut. He is the first of a current crop of eight extremely talented university runners to move into the professional scene and is likely to make a strong impact at the world level. Remember his name.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Akaba: From Besting Ndereba to the Olympics

http://www.daily.co.jp/general/2007/11/24/0000749007.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

Japan won the first mixed male and female team edition of the International Chiba Ekiden on Nov. 23 in a time of 2:05:56. Osaka World Championships participant Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) ran the second-fastest time on the 5 km second stage of the ekiden, covering the course in 15:34. Anchor Yukiko Akaba (28, Team Hokuren), received the tasuki on the 7.195 km final stage just 4 seconds back from Osaka World Championships women`s marathon gold medallist Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) but passed her well before the goal. Akaba, who gave birth to daughter Yuna in August last year, is planning to run the 10000 m in the Beijing Olympics.

The `running mama` took a big step toward the gold medal in Beijing. Starting 4 seconds behind, Akaba pulled even with Catherine the Great after only 760 m and quickly pulled away to run alone to the finish. "When I got the tasuki with no real gap behind Ndereba I thought, `Oh yeah, this is going to be tasty.`" At the finish line she waved her left hand proudly to her coach and husband Shuhei who held little Yuna in his arms.

This was Akaba`s second time to take down a big name in less than a month. In the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden on Nov. 3 she broke Sydney Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi`s 9 year-old stage record on the 11.1 km fifth stage by 14 seconds with a time of 34:37. She has gained great confidence for the Beijing Olympics 10000 m from these performances.

It has only been just over a year since she gave birth, her weight having dropped during that time from 56 kg to 42 kg. After giving birth on Aug. 20 last year, her attitude toward the sport has changed. She offers an unambiguous, "I am aiming at the world. I want Yuna to see how well I can run." She is also grateful to Shuhei for supporting her and Yuna while she is training, joking that her only domestic responsibility is doing the laundry.

Akaba has her eye on the marathon as well. She wants to compete in the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon and plans to run either the Osaka or Nagoya International Women`s Marathon the same year to qualify. After making such an impressive comeback from childbirth, this running mama will be more and more in the public eye.

`Noguchi To Wear "Magic" Rice-Husk Shoes at Olympics`

http://au.sports.yahoo.com/071123/3/1hzng.html

The original Japanese article is here:

http://jp.reuters.com/article/sportsNews/idJPJAPAN-29028820071123

Friday, November 23, 2007

Japan Wins 2007 International Chiba Ekiden

by Brett Larner - photography by Jason Lawrence - video by Mika Tokairin (click stage headers for video)

Host nation Japan won the 19th edition of the International Chiba Ekiden in its first running with mixed male and female teams. Thirteen national teams, a Chiba Prefectural team and a Japanese university all-star team competed over the six-stage 42.195 km course in cloudless, cold and windy conditions.

Ed Moran (USA) took the lead from the start in Chiba Prefectural Sogo Stadium, followed closely by Japanese university star runner Yuichiro Ueno. After just a few hundred meters Moses Masai (Kenya) moved up to the lead, opening a slight gap on the pack with only Ueno and Moran following. Ueno moved next to Masai at the exit from the stadium and the two continued to duel for the next 2 km, with Moran and Sergey Ivanov (Russia) just steps behind. Masai made his move at the 3 km point, dropping Ueno and steadily pulling away. Moran likewise dropped Ivanov and ran with Ueno, attacking several times in the final km but fading in the home stretch. Ueno reported being very happy to be within 10 seconds of his Kenyan rival. He also indicated that after his graduation from Chuo University next spring he will join the S&B jitsugyodan team which includes marathon great Toshihiko Seko on its coaching staff.

1. Moses Masai (Kenya) - 13:22
2. Yuichiro Ueno (Japan) - 13:29
3. Ed Moran (USA) - 13:32

Emily Chebet (Kenya) ran a solid leg pursued by world 15 km record holder and Japanese national 5000 m and 1/2 marathon record holder Kayoko Fukushi. Fukushi tried but was unable to make up the gap, picking up only 4 seconds to finish the stage 3 seconds behind Chebet. Elena Zadorozhnaya (Russia) moved into third and Kate Reed (GBR) ran a strong leg to take fourth. American Desiree Davila faded into seventh. In her post-race interview Fukushi dodged questions about her Olympic marathon trial plans, denying interviewer Toshihiko Seko`s statement that her form clearly showed she had been doing marathon training.

1. Emily Chebet (Kenya) - 15:38 / 29:00
2. Kayoko Fukushi (Japan) - 15:34 (stage best) / 29:03
3. Elena Zadorozhnaya (Russia) - 15:37 / 29:13

With only a 3-second lead, Barnaba Sigei (Kenya) went out hard, immediately widening his lead over Kenji Noguchi (Japan). Evgeny Rybakov came from behind to catch Noguchi after 2.5 km and the two continued together for more than 5 km. Scott Bauhs (USA) put on a fantastic performance, making up a 41-second deficit to catch Noguchi and Rybakov at the 7.75 km point. Rybakov accelerated to stay with Bauhs but Noguchi could not match Bauhs` speed and dropped back. Rybakov outkicked Bauhs in the final stretch but the American had the fastest time on the stage, beating Sigei`s time by 1 second. Noguchi, who ran a 1/2 marathon PB recently at the World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy, said afterwards that the wind was a major factor in his sub-par performance.

1. Barnaba Sigei (Kenya) - 28:32 / 57:32
2. Evgeny Rybakov (Russia) - 29:00 / 58:13
3. Scott Bauhs (USA) - 28:31 (stage best) / 58:15

18-year old high school sensation Megumi Kinukawa (Japan) started the fourth stage 53 seconds down on leader Catherine Kirui (Kenya) and over 10 seconds behind Olesya Syreva (Russia) and Melissa White (USA). She quickly overtook Syreva and White, pressing on and rapidly cutting down the struggling Kirui`s lead on the extremely windy waterfront fourth stage. Kinukawa finished 36 seconds behind Kirui, earning stage best performance honors and putting ace fifth stage runner Kensuke Takezawa into an excellent position. Syreta held on for third, opening up slightly to finish 4 seconds ahead of White.

1. Catherine Kirui (Kenya) - 16:20 / 1:13:52
2. Megumi Kinukawa (Japan) - 16:03 (stage best) / 1:14:28
3. Olesya Syreva (Russia) - 16:38 / 1:14:51

Despite his 36-second lead at the start of the fifth stage, Joseph Birech (Kenya) was rapidly hunted down by the other star university runner on the Japanese team, Kensuke Takezawa of Waseda University. Takezawa was impassive as he steadily gained on Birech but was unable to completely close the gap, finishing the stage 4 seconds behind the Kenyan and picking up the stage best performance. Ryan Sheehan (USA) quickly caught up to Anatoly Rybakov (Russia), twin brother of third stage runner Evgeny Rybakov. In this case it was the American who outkicked the Russian runner to move the USA team into third place.

1. Joseph Birech (Kenya) - 29:21 / 1:43:13
2. Kensuke Takezawa (Japan) - 28:49 (stage best) / 1:43:17
3. Ryan Sheehan (USA) - 29:31 / 1:44:26

Sixth Stage - Women, 7.195 km
Japanese anchor and ekiden specialist Yukiko Akaba, who recently broke a long-standing stage record held by Naoko Takahashi in a separate ekiden, immediately made up the distance between herself and Kenyan anchor Catherine Ndereba, passing the legendary marathoner after only 800 m. Ndereba uncharacteristically took off her sunglasses just before Akaba`s arrival and was unable to respond in any way as Akaba went by. Akaba continued strongly to the finish, while Ndereba visibly struggled on to the end, finishing almost 400 m behind. Afterwards Ndereba happily played with Akaba`s young baby. Lilia Shobukhova, holder of the fastest 5000 m PB in the anchor field, passed Stephanie Rothstein (USA) to bring the Russian team home in third place. Further back in the pack, Sarah Salmon (Australia) ran a rousing final lap to outkick Chika Horie of the host Chiba Prefectural team. Also notable as an anchor was Romanian Adriana Pirtea, infamous for her recent loss in Chicago while prematurely celebrating victory.

1. Yukiko Akaba (Japan) - 22:39 (stage best) / 2:05:56
2. Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 23:53 / 2:07:06
3. Lilia Shobukhova (Russia) - 23:15 / 2:08:00
1. Japan - 2:05:56
2. Kenya - 2:07:06
3. Russia - 2:08:00
4. USA - 2:09:05
5. Japan University All-Stars - 2:09:22
6. Great Britain - 2:10:11
7. Australia - 2:11:56
8. Chiba Prefecture - 2:11:57
9. Romania - 2:12:17
10. China - 2:13:59
11. Belarus - 2:14:32
12. Poland - 2:15:10
13. Sweden - 2:17:14
14. Italy - 2:17:30
15. Korea - 2:23:26
The new mixed-team format of the International Chiba Ekiden seemed popular with both spectators and runners and bodes well for its future. At the same time this ekiden`s health seems to be in doubt. Even with the size of the event cut in half, only Japan fielded an A-class team despite Kenya having aces such as Martin Mathathi, Mekubo Mogusu and Ngatuny Gideon, all of whom ran Chiba last year, residing in Japan. It would be a shame to see this event continue to dwindle in significance or disappear. Hopefully the new format will bring the International Chiba Ekiden back to the level seen in the last few years.
Postscript: 1 and 1/2 hours after the ekiden, members of the Romanian and Great Britain teams were spotted in the Nike and Adidas shops at a nearby outlet mall stocking up on bargains before heading home.




text (c) 2007 Brett Larner - photos (c) 2007 Jason Lawrence - video (c) 2007 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

`Ndereba Leads Kenya Team to Chiba Race`

http://allafrica.com/stories/200711230588.html

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Noguchi Begins Preparation for Beijing Olympic Gold

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/top/sp200711/sp2007112002.html

translated by Brett Larner

The morning after winning the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon in a course record time of 2:21:37, Mizuki Noguchi (29, Team Sysmex), was still in Tokyo for interviews about her plans for becoming the first woman to repeat as Olympic gold medallist.

Noguchi achieved victory in large part thanks to the strength of her muscular thighs. The day before, Noguchi became the first woman to break 17 minutes on the course`s severe uphill from 35 km to 40 km, running 16:56. She showed the strength and spirit which will be necessary for a win in Beijing. She said, "I want to do the kind of training that will help me find a new level."

The night before winning her first full marathon after 2 years away from the event, Noguchi was in a bar drinking champagne with her coach Nobuyuki Fujita. Noguchi doesn`t drink much, but said, "This alcohol reminds me of the feeling I had after [setting the Japanese national record in Sept. `05 at] the Berlin Marathon. Next up is my ticket to Beijing." The champagne is by way of an early celebration of her impending Olympic trip.

Noguchi intends to stay outside the Athlete Village in Beijing in her own `gold medal territory.` Noguchi`s staff are planning to visit Beijing in December to scout for a place for Noguchi to stay. Fujita explained, "At the Athens Olympics we spent around 12,000,000 yen ($120,000 U.S.) on private accomodations. It`s probably going to be the same in Beijing."

Noguchi believes in keeping things the same throughout her training. Even this morning, the day after the marathon, Noguchi woke up at 6:00 to run for 50 minutes around the Imperial Palace, saying "Today I`m going to a famous onsen with my own bath in my room. It`s pretty amazing so I want to get going early."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

397 Under 70 Minutes: The 20th Ageo City Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

While the NCAA XC Championships were taking place an ocean away, the final qualification race for the de facto Japanese university championships was happening northwest of Tokyo at the Ageo City Half Marathon in Ageo, Saitama.

The Japanese university running world revolves around the legendary Hakone Ekiden, a ten-stage relay race held every year on Jan. 2 and 3rd. The top nineteen university teams in eastern Japan plus a compilation team of ace runners from schools which do not make the top nineteen race from downtown Tokyo to the mountaintop lakeside resort town of Hakone and back in front of hundreds of thousands of courseside spectators and the largest television audience of any event or program in Japan. If you are a young male runner in Japan then getting to run in Hakone is the absolute highlight of your life and something which anyone in Japan, runner or non-runner, will respect for the rest of your life.

The fall university season in Japan is built up of ekidens and qualification races geared to selecting teams and team members for Hakone. The final race in the series is the Ageo City Half Marathon, held each year on the third Sunday of November. Most universities which will be competing in Hakone send squads of ten to fifty runners to Ageo to make final selection for their Hakone A-squads. Ace runners usually don`t participate as they run for one of the Japanese national teams in the Chiba International Ekiden on Nov. 23 and are already assured a space on their schools` Hakone teams, but for the remaining runners it is a make or break situation. Their coaches will use the Ageo results to select the fittest runners for Hakone, so they have to run all-out against teammates and other schools alike. A professional jitsugyodan team or two usually show up, and the race is also open to the general public.

The course is flat and fast. Last year the top two went under 62 minutes, with second place finisher Masato Kihara, a sophomore at Chuo Gakuin University, running the all-time second Japanese university mark of 1:01:50. Team Honda`s Gebretsadik Bekele won in 1:01:26. This year Bekele repeated in a relatively slow 1:02:43. Second place was Shoji Akutsu of Nihon University in 1:03:06. Twenty-one universities sent full squads and another dozen-odd schools sent smaller numbers. The depth of the field was staggering:

10th place: 1:03:36
25th place: 1:04:08
50th place: 1:04:41
100th place: 1:05:23
200th place: 1:06:37
300th place: 1:08:13
400th place: 1:10:06
500th place: 1:14:49

Is there another half-marathon anywhere in the world with this depth?

My training partners and I had decided in the spring to run Ageo so that we could get pulled along to PBs. I came down with a bad cold three days before the race and only ran 1:14:58, good for 501st place. My friend Jason Lawrence ran under 68 for the first time and came in 286th. Full results are here. From the pull-down menu select the entry second from the top, above the 10 km option. Put in how many results you want to see and then click the grey box.

Some videos of this year`s race are also up. Witness the sight of hundreds and hundreds of young guys running around 3 min/km pace:

3 km point --- 10 km point --- 17 km point

The Ageo City Half Marathon is a recommended event for anyone who would like to experience what elite Japanese distance running is about and to run a fast time while doing it. Next month I will post a roundup of the fall university season and a more detailed history and preview of Hakone.


(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Top Runners Ogata and Fukushi Coming Together for First Mixed-Team Chiba International Ekiden

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/top/sp200711/sp2007111405.html

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

On Nov. 13, the JAAF announced the runners for the Nov. 23 Chiba International Ekiden, an event which will see the top runners in the world handing off the tasuki. This year the ekiden will feature mixed teams of male and female runners for the first time. Men will be running odd-numbered legs. The Japanese team will include Osaka World Championships marathon 5th place finisher Tsuyoshi Ogata (34, Team Chugoku Denryoku; pictured top right) and university star runners Kensuke Takezawa (21, Waseda University) and Yuichiro Ueno (22, Chuo University). Women will run even-numbered legs, with stars like Osaka World Championships 10000 m representative Kayoko Fukushi (25, Team Wacoal) appearing as team members.

The Chiba International Ekiden is a historic event which is changing format this year. Elite runners whom Japan will proudly present are gathering in Chiba for the race. With this elite unit Japan is aiming to become the `first king` of the new format.

Ogata is leading the men`s half of the team as their ace runner. Three months after the very harsh World Championships marathon, he will be demonstrating his capabilities as the favourite for the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon team.

The team will also feature talented young runners Takezawa and Ueno who will battle each other as rivals at the Hakone Ekiden in early January. Waseda`s Takezawa (pictured middle right) was the only Japanese university distance runner in the Osaka World Championships where he ran the 10000 m. Ueno, one of the `four college kings,` set a new stage record on the first stage of October`s Izumo Ekiden and passed 7 runners on the 4th stage of November`s All-Japan University Ekiden. These two young men intend to become world-class runners. To Hakone and on to the Olympics, their dreams begin in Chiba.

The female members of the team are all highly idiosyncratic runners. Top Japanese female distance runner Fukushi (pictured right) is running Chiba for the 5th time after a 4-year absence from the event. Megumi Kinukawa (18, Sendai Ikuei High School) ran in the Osaka World Championships as a high school student. Fukushi and Kinukawa are popular for both their talent and their unique personalities. The 3rd female member, Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), is a member of the "running mother" demographic. Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex), who is a teammate of Mizuki Noguchi and expected to be her successor, is also on the Japanese team. Playing tag with the men, they will dominate Chiba.

2-year male and female champions Kenya will field a strong team including Osaka World Championships marathon winner Catherine Ndereba (35).

The Chiba International Ekiden is one of the biggest international ekiden events. From this year the format has been changed to a mixed male and female format for the first time in the event`s history. Since the first running in 1988, which was Toshihiko Seko`s retirement race, the event has received international attention as a race which brings in world-class runners. This year is the 19th edition. Japan has won the men`s division 4 times and the women`s division 10 times. Kenya has won both the men`s and women`s divisions for the last two years.

Start time: November 23, 1:07 p.m.
Course info: 42.195 km course with 6 stages, 3 male and 3 female starting and finishing at the Chiba Prefectural Sogo Stadium
Entrants: 15 teams from 13 countries
Broadcast info: To be broadcast on Fuji Television Nov. 23 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:25 p.m.

Men:
Tsuyoshi Ogata (34, Team Chugoku Denryoku)
Kenji Noguchi (32, Team Shikoku Denryoku)
Kensuke Takezawa (21, Waseda University)
Yuichiro Ueno (22, Chuo University)

Women:
Kayoko Fukushi (25, Team Wacoal)
Megumi Kinukawa (18, Sendai Ikuei High School)
Yukiko Akaba (28, Team Hokuren)
Megumi Seike (20, Team Sysmex)

Other Chiba International Ekiden Previews:

IAAF (The IAAF mistakenly states that four of Japan`s runners ran on the World Championships marathon team. Only one member of the Chiba Int`l Ekiden team, Tsuyoshi Ogata, ran the marathon in Osaka. The other three members listed, Kayoko Fukushi, Megumi Kinukawa and Kensuke Takezawa, ran the 10000 m at the World Championships. Fukushi doubled in the 5000 m.)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Noguchi Wins Tokyo in Course Record 2:21:37 (updated)

by Brett Larner

Defending Olympic marathon gold medalist and Japanese national record holder Mizuki Noguchi staged a major comeback on an unexpectedly hot, sunny and windy day after two injury-plagued years away from the marathon, winning the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon in 2:21:37, breaking the eight year-old course record by 35 seconds and marking the second-fastest time in the world so far this year.

Noguchi took the lead from the starting gun and controlled the race over the entire distance. Other runners tried to take turns in front but apart from brief attacks by Yoko Shibui at the 7, 10, 15 and 20 km water stations and by Salina Kosgei of Kenya at the 22.8 and 26 km points, Noguchi never allowed anybody to step in front of her. A lead pack of eight runners quickly dwindled and by the 15 km water station only Shibui and Kosgei remained with Noguchi, running into a moderate headwind.

The three passed halfway in 1:11:16 and ran together until the 30 km point when Noguchi dropped a 3:15 km and Shibui abruptly fell off the pace. Two kilometers later, at precisely the 32.2 km point Noguchi attacked and pulled away from Kosgei. Kosgei reeled Noguchi back in over the next kilometer, only to have Noguchi attack and pull away again at the 34 km point. Once more Kosgei caught up, but at the 37 km point in the middle of Tokyo`s notorious long, uphill finish, Noguchi unleashed her final spurt and dropped Kosgei for good. At the 35 km point Noguchi was running two minutes slower than course record pace (2:22:12, Eri Yamaguchi, 1999) but on the uphill she turned on several sub-3:20 kilometers, becoming the first woman to run sub-17 for the 35-40 km segment of the course. Noguchi continued to push hard to an ecstatic finish in Tokyo`s Olympic Stadium, smashing Yamaguchi`s record and running a 55-second negative split despite the downhill first half and uphill second half.

Kosgei hung on for a solid second-place finish in 2:23:31, only eight seconds off her personal best time. Italian former winner Bruna Genovese overtook Shibui on the hill to finish third. Shibui slowed painfully and shuffled into the stadium over ten minutes behind Noguchi. Newcomer Mika Hikichi put on an impressive final lap to catch Shibui just meters before the line, sending Shibui down to a disappointing seventh-place finish.

Noguchi`s win almost certainly secures her a spot on the Beijing Olympic marathon team and is second this year only to Chunxiu Zhou`s 2:20:38 win on the far faster London course. In a post-race interview Noguchi said, "When I saw the `1 km To Go` sign I got a little bit sad because I wanted to keep running." The quality of her performance, especially the strength of her finish, sends a clear message that Noguchi intends to defend her gold medal in Beijing.

Results

Video links:
Mizuki Noguchi Winning
Salina Kosgei Finish
Genovese, Ozaki and Ominami Finishes (w/Noguchi`s Victory Interview)
Ozaki, Shibui and Balciunaite Finishes
Ruthe and Okubo Finishes

Links to other Tokyo reports:
IAAF
AFP

International Herald Tribune


(c) 2007 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Other Tokyo International Women`s Marathon Previews

From the Daily Yomiuri:

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/sports/20071117TDY24304.htm

From the IAAF:

http://iaaf.org/news/kind=2/newsid=42394.html#noguchi+vs+shibui+tokyo+international+womens+marathon+preview

A Preview of the Japanese Women`s Olympic Marathon Team Selection Race Series

by Brett Larner

The second phase of the qualification process for Japan`s Beijing Olympic marathon team gets underway this Sunday with the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. Unlike the American one race, one chance selection system, the Japanese selection process includes four races to determine the three team members and alternates. In this, the first of a series of articles to appear over the next four months, we will preview the selection process, events, and major contenders for the women`s Olympic marathon team.

The Selection Process
In theory the top Japanese finisher in each of the selection races will be named to the team, with an overall win in one of the selection races almost guaranteeing a spot. In reality, however, the JAAF takes into account factors including finish time, conditions, and the presence of foreign competition in making their decisions on national team membership, often with surprising and controversial results. Expectations for the team are extremely high with the pressure brought by Japanese women marathoners holding two consecutive Olympic gold medals, many World Championships medals, the first ever sub-2:20 women`s marathon, and three of the eight women to have run sub-2:20.

Osaka World Championships Marathon – Sept. 2, 2007
The women`s selection process began in September with the 2007 IAAF World Championships Marathon. The top Japanese woman in that race was guaranteed a spot on the Beijing team provided she finished in the medals. 2003 Edmonton World Championships Marathon silver medalist, Athens Olympic Marathon fifth-place finisher and 2006 Tokyo International Women`s Marathon winer Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) came through in the heat, winning a bronze medal and securing one of the three team positions. This left two places to be decided between three races, the Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya International Women`s Marathons.

Tokyo International Women`s Marathon – Nov. 18, 2007
Tokyo will be perhaps the highest-pressure race of the three. With two selection races following Tokyo, its leaders cannot afford to run just for the win but must also target a fast time. This is tough given the challenging Tokyo course which includes a long uphill from the 36 to 40 km points. The field includes the two all-time fastest Japanese women; unless both run astounding times the runner-up will probably have to run again in Osaka or Nagoya to make the Olympic team. Contenders for the win include:

Mizuki Noguchi: 2:19:12, Berlin `05, national record; gold medalist, Athens Olympics
The favorite to win the race, Noguchi is returning from a two-year absence after repeated accidents and injuries. Noguchi plans to save her attack for the 40 km point.
Yoko Shibui: 2:19:41, Berlin `04 (former national record)
Shibui is widely known for her aggressive early stage running but has struggled in the final stages in recent marathons. She will probably be the one pushing the pace.
Hiromi Ominami: 2:23:26, Berlin `04; winner, Rotterdam `07
Another aggressive starter, Ominami was runner-up in Berlin during Shibui`s national record run. She is strong enough to stage an upset if the two favorites struggle.
Selina Kosgei - Kenya: 2:23:22, Berlin `06
Runner-up in last year`s Berlin, Kosgei could steal the win if Noguchi and Shibui falter. A win by Kosgei or another non-Japanese entrant such as Lithuania`s Zivile Balciunaite or Italy`s Bruna Genovese would reduce the top Japanese woman`s chances of making the Olympic team.

Osaka International Women`s Marathon – Jan. 27, 2008
Osaka will likely feature second-tier runners who did not want to run against Noguchi and Shibui but still have the ability to run times in the low 2:20`s. The 2007 edition of Osaka produced the three fastest Japanese qualifying times for the Osaka World Championships; the top two finishers were selected for the team and the third was named alternate. The course is less hilly than Tokyo but has many twists and turns. Runners who have declared their intention to run so far include:

Naoko Sakamoto: 2:21:51, Osaka `03; 7th, Athens Olympics
The fifth-fastest Japanese woman of all time, Sakamoto has solid international credentials and is considered a major contender for the team.
Yuri Kano: 2:24:23, Osaka `07; winner, Hokkaido `07
Kano`s debut at age 28 at this year`s Osaka makes her a latecomer to marathoning by Japanese standards. She missed making the Osaka World Championships team by only four seconds, won the Hokkaido marathon instead, and is considered on the rise.

Applications for Osaka close Dec. 12, so some of the uncommitted runners listed below may sign on.

Nagoya International Women`s Marathon – Mar. 9, 2008
The fastest of the three courses, Nagoya is also likely to be the most desperate of the races as it the last opportunity to make the team and all competitors will know exactly what time they will need to run to stand a chance. Major contenders who ran poorly in Tokyo or Osaka will likely be back for a second try. Declared runners at this time include:

Kiyoko Shimahara: 2:26:14, Hokkaido `05; silver medal, Asian Games `06; 6th place, Osaka World Championships
Shimahara does not have the fast times of many of her competitors but has a proven record in international championship races during hot conditions and would be a likely pick for the team if she finished well in Nagoya.
Yasuko Hashimoto: 2:25:21, Nagoya `05; winner, Berlin `03
Hashimoto is a fixture in the Japanese distance running scene. She struggled in the Osaka World Championships and finished 23rd.
Hitomi Niiya: 2:31:01, Tokyo `07
The winner of the women`s division of the inaugural Tokyo Marathon (no connection to the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon), Niiya is notable in that she is only 18, Tokyo was her debut marathon, and she is coached by Yoshio Koide whose former star pupil was Naoko Takahashi.

Undeclared Runners
Several other major contenders have not yet declared whether they will run Osaka or Nagoya. The most notable among these include:
Naoko Takahashi: 2:19:46 (former world record), Berlin `01; gold medalist, Sydney Olympics
Takahashi, or Q-chan, is a beloved figure in Japan. She is in the last stages of her career but has pulled off several comebacks in the past. Choosing to avoid facing Noguchi and Shibui in Tokyo gives her a realistic chance of making the team if she runs well in either Osaka or, more likely, Nagoya.
Kayoko Fukushi: 15 km world record holder; 5000 m and 1/2 marathon national record holder
Fukushi is by far the greatest wildcard in the Beijing Olympic selection race series. She is widely considered the next sub-2:20 Japanese woman but has expressed a lack of interest in moving up to the full marathon. She has committed to running her debut marathon in the spring but will delay announcing which race until after the All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Marathon on Dec. 16.
Yumiko Hara and Mari Ozaki, who finished 1-2 in the `07 Osaka International Women`s Marathon in the fastest times by a Japanese woman so far this year but performed poorly in the Osaka World Championships, have not yet announced their intentions. Veteran Harumi Hiroyama has also been silent concerning her plans.

Scenarios
A wide range of scenarios for the Olympic team selection is possible. If Noguchi and Shibui both run under Eri Yamaguchi`s 1999 course record of 2:22:12 and the winning times in Osaka and Nagoya are unremarkable then it is possible they would be selected over the winners of the other races. Conversely, if Kosgei beats both Noguchi and Shibui and Japanese runners win Osaka and Nagoya then it is possible neither Tokyo runner will be selected regardless of time. History has shown that the JAAF rarely play favorites in selecting the Olympic marathon teams, particularly when it comes to the women marathoners. Results are the main consideration, so it remains a wait and see situation until March.

The next article in this series will preview the men`s Olympic selection race series. Future articles will trace the history of the Japanese selection process through the last four Olympic Games.



(c) 2007 Brett Larner
All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 16, 2007

Team Tenmaya`s Mika Hikichi Shoots for PB at Tokyo International Women`s Marathon

http://www.sanyo.oni.co.jp/sanyonews/2007/11/16/2007111608312197005.html

Team Tenmaya`s Mika Hikichi is scheduled to run in the 1st of the qualification races for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon on Nov. 18. Athens Olympics gold medallist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and former Japanese national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) are the heavy favorites and expected to lead the way, but Hikichi is unconcerned. "I want to run my own race under my own power." At age 25, Hikichi is the youngest of the 5 elite domestic women scheduled to run.

Hikichi`s preparation for this, her 3rd full marathon, has been steady and solid. She ran the Hokkaido Marathon on Sept. 9 as a training run for Tokyo, finishing 4th and running a tough 2:36:15 despite temperatures in the 30`s. Hikichi felt her time in Hokkaido was irrelevant. "The important thing I gained from that race was experience and confidence from running well in such hot conditions." Since Hokkaido, Hikichi has been training exclusively within Japan. On Nov. 3 she ran the 5.5 km 4th stage of the Awajishima Women`s Ekiden, finishing with the 2nd fastest time on her stage. Hikichi`s coach Futoshi Shinohara said, "She`s in great condition and ready to go."

It has been 8 years since Hikichi left her native Saga Prefecture to join Team Tenmaya. She has suffered repeatedly from injuries, including one which kept her out of last year`s Tokyo International, but is positive and enthusiastic about finally getting a chance to do Tokyo. "I`ve always wanted to run this race and am feeling different this year than before." At last year`s Nagoya International Women`s Marathon she ran her PB of 2:31:03. When she steps to the starting line on Sunday, Hikichi will be looking for her breakthrough performance.

Translator`s note: Team Tenmaya includes Beijing contender Naoko Sakamoto and Tokyo International Women`s Marathon Course Record Holder Eri Yamaguchi.

Ekiden Runner Tosa Leaves for Kunming Training Camp and Wishes Teammate Shibui Good Luck

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/top/sp200711/sp2007111607.html

Beijing Olympic marathon team member Reiko Tosa (31, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) left Japan on November 15 to train at altitude in Kunming, China for December`s All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden.

Since winning the bronze medal in the Osaka World Championships Tosa has been suffering from fatigue and low blood pressure, perhaps lingering effects of the hot and humid conditions at the Championships. Interviewed at Narita Airport, Tosa said, "My body has been so tired lately and I just can`t run well. I want to run as a member of the ekiden team but I need to get through this bad state first."

Tosa`s teammate Yoko Shibui will be running the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon on November 18 in an attempt to join her on the Olympic team. Tosa described Shibui as "...in incredibly good shape, and I think she`s also in the right state of mind to win."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

At Age 29, Going for a Comeback and Talking to Her Body, Mizuki Noguchi Ready for the 2007 Tokyo International Women`s Marathon

http://www.asahi.com/sports/spo/TKY200711130086.html

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

The golden singlet Mizuki Noguchi wears is fading into the sunset in the mountains of Kunming, China. A 40 km run at the end of October. Her training is almost at completion.

At last April`s London Marathon, race organizers presented defending Olympic gold medalists Stefano Baldini of Italy and Mizuki Noguchi of Japan with golden singlets. Baldini wore his singlet during the race but Noguchi was not able to compete due to an injury to her left Achilles tendon which she suffered in January. She missed the opportunity to display this gift in a race and it became part of her training wear.

Noguchi was also unable to run Berlin last year because of an unrelated injury to her left leg. This weekend`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon will be her first marathon in 2 years, her first since setting the Japanese national record of 2:19:12 at the `05 Berlin. "I was shocked because I have never been injured twice in such a short period. But after getting over those injuries I found that I truly love running."

Since her debut marathon at Nagoya in `02, Noguchi has won 4 of her 5 marathons. She was 2nd at the `03 Paris World Championships, won the `04 Athens Olympics, then set the Japanese national record, climbing up a tall ladder in a short time. Where is this 29 year-old woman going after her long absence from competition?

"The applause I received at Panathinaiko Stadium in the Athens Olympics is the most precious moment in my life and my treasure." Looking for another taste of the `forbidden fruit,` Noguchi started running again.

Hisakazu Hirose, who has been part of Noguchi`s coaching staff since she joined Team Wacoal in `97 said, "We don`t think that the gold medal in Athens is the peak. We can go for a better time, and there`s no guarantee of getting into the Beijing Olympics so Noguchi must keep working. No matter whether the race is big or small, we want her to achieve her goals one by one."

The issue facing Noguchi is to build up a body that never gets injured. Noguchi`s body tends to lean to the left, causing more stress and fatigue in her left leg. This summer she did serious weight training on her left leg and spent weeks trail running in St. Moritz, Switerland and the consensus now is that she has become much more well-balanced.

Most importantly, Noguchi has spent more time talking to her body. Her masseuse Miho Takahashi, who has been taking care of Noguchi`s body since the `03 World Championships, says, "Noguchi used to often fell asleep while she was getting a massage, but recently she has been talking to me during our massage sessions, saying things like, `My muscle strain is better than yesterday.` She tries to feel the condition of her body by herself."

"I don`t want to be beaten by anybody," says Noguchi, "and of course, I cannot let myself lose to Shibui." She mentions that there are only two tickets left for Beijing. "I almost predicted this situation and it makes me more excited for the race." To make sure of her place as an Olympic representative, she is looking not only at winning but also at the Eri Yamaguchi (Team Tenmaya) course record of 2:22:12.

"It`s like a fine vintage; the flavor of the marathon gets better with age." As if she is enjoying the taste of well-aged wine, Noguchi is looking forward to her 6th marathon.

Translator`s note: Noguchi began her jitsugyodan career with Team Wacoal, then ran as an independent followed by a long period with Team Globary which included the Athens Olympics. She now runs for Team Sysmex.

Co-translator Mika Tokairin is also running Tokyo. がんばって!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Chiba International Ekiden to Become Mixed Event for First Time

http://sankei.jp.msn.com/sports/other/071113/oth0711131823002-n1.htm

translated by Brett Larner

The JAAF today released the team entry lists for this year`s Chiba International Ekiden, to be held November 23rd at the Chiba Prefectural Sogo Sport Center Stadium. The strong Japanese team includes Osaka World Championships marathon 5th place finisher Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), the great young hopes of the Japanese distance running world Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda University) and Yuichiro Ueno (Chuo University), and Japanese national 5000 m and half-marathon record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal).

The format of this race has been revised in its 19th edition to feature mixed teams of men and women running together for the first time. The sight of leaders such as Ogata and Fukushi running together on the same team and passing the tasuki [sash] to each other will be a first in the Japanese distance running scene.

Last year`s men`s and women`s winners Kenya will be returning again this year. Osaka World Championships women`s marathon medallist Catherine Ndereba will lead the combined team in its attempt for a 3rd straight national victory.

The race consists of 6 stages, 3 male and 3 female, totalling 42.195 km. Men passing to women and women passing to men within the same race will help to make this "The World`s Greatest Ekiden."

IAAF Error: Takayuki Matsumiya Not Scheduled to Run Fukuoka

http://iaaf.org/news/kind=2/newsid=42368.html#tergat+wanjiru+fukuoka+marathon

-----This IAAF article incorrectly reports that 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya, who this summer set the Japanese national 5000 m record and holds the fastest marathon performance of the year so far by a Japanese man with his 2nd place 2:10:04 finish at Rotterdam, will be running next month`s Fukuoka International Marathon. Japanese media, such as this article:

http://www.jiji.com/jc/zc?key=&k=200711/2007111100088&rel=j&g=spo

are reporting that Takayuki Matsumiya is aiming for the 10,000 m in Beijing and thus will not run in Fukuoka or any of the other Japanese Olympic marathon team selection races. His identical twin brother Yuko Matsumiya, who holds a PB of 2:09:18, will be running Fukuoka.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wanjiru to Debut at Fukuoka International Marathon on December 2nd

http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nsp/local/20071113/20071113_001.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

The elite field for the first of the Beijing Olympic marathon qualifying races, December`s Fukuoka International Marathon, was announced yesterday. Domestic contenders include the 2:06:16 Japanese national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), the 2000 Fukuoka winner Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) who set the then-national and still course record of 2:06:51, Atsushi Sato and Shigeru Aburaya (both of Team Chugoku Denryoku) and 6 other invited runners. Identical twins Takayuki and Muneyuki Kojima and Masaya Shimizu (all of Team Asahi Kasei) are also slated to run. Overseas entrants include Paul Tergat of Kenya, the all-time second-fastest marathoner with a personal best of 2:04:55. Japanese resident Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru (Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu) will be running his first marathon. Although this will be Wanjiru`s first time covering the 42.195 km distance, the half-marathon world record holder intends to win.

Moving up from being the fastest man in the world over the half-marathon to his first 42.195 km might suggest that Wanjiru will go out hard. Wanjiru says otherwise; he chose Fukuoka for his debut because it is an area he knows well and it will help him to gain confidence for his future career in the marathon. "This will be the foundation. I want to run the marathon in the Olympics and so I want to take a good first step toward making that a reality." Next April`s London Marathon will be the Kenyan Olympic selection race and Wanjiru intends to compete. "This time I only plan to win in a 2:06. With the experience I gain in Fukuoka I will go much harder next time."

Wanjiru first set the half-marathon world record at age 18. In February this year Wanjiru took back the world record from "Emperor" Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, then the next month lowered it again to the current mark of 58:33. Popular speculation is that he will next target Gebrselassie`s marathon world record of 2:04:26. Wanjiru`s own words on the subject were a cautious, "A record? I can`t know without trying first," but the idea seems to be there nevertheless. When asked how he felt about fellow Kenyan Fukuoka competitor Tergat losing his marathon world record, Wanjiru grinned and said only, "It will be coming back to Kenya soon."

Barcelona Olympic silver medallist Koichi Morishita, who is coaching 6 Fukuoka athletes, has disciplined Wanjiru to go no faster than 3 minute per km pace. "This isn`t just a half times 2," Morishita cautioned. To give Wanjiru a sense of the marathon`s impact Morishita had him run 2 separate 40 km training runs.

"I want to race with the patience of a Japanese runner," says Wanjiru. From his days as a student at Sendai Ikuei High School in Miyagi Prefecture to being coached by Morishita, the marathon represents the culmination of the 3 years since Wanjiru moved to Fukuoka. It may also prove to be the first step toward the Olympic marathon.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tergat, Wanjiru, Takaoka, Fujita and Aburaya Headline Fukuoka Field

http://mainichi.jp/enta/sports/news/20071113k0000m050056000c.html

translated by Brett Larner

The JAAF today announced the 11-member elite field for the 61st Fukuoka International Marathon to be held December 2nd. Fukuoka is the first of the selection races for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Japanese men`s marathon team. Japanese national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), course record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), Athens Olympic marathon 5th place finisher Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and others will try to book their Olympic ticket.

Takaoka ran the Nagano Marathon in April as a comeback following injury, placing 7th in 2:15:00. 4 years ago he failed to make the Athens Olympic team when he finished 3rd in his qualifying race. Considering his age, 37, this is Takaoka`s last chance to make an Olympic team. Fujita won the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in February. In the 10 months since then he has focused all his training on Fukuoka. Aburaya did not make the team for this year`s World Championships after dropping out during the inaugural Tokyo Marathon in February. He is determined to make up for it by qualifying for Beijing. Aburaya`s teammate Atsushi Sato, who set the Japanese half-marathon national record of 1:00:25 in October, will also run. The Kojima twins Takayuki and Muneyuki (Team Asahi Kasei), both 2:08 runners, were not selected to the elite field but are entered as individuals.

Standouts among the invited foreign runners include former world record holder Paul Tergat of Kenya who will be running his first marathon in Japan. In April`s London Marathon Tergat ran 2:08:06, his best time since setting the then-world record of 2:04:55 in the 2003 Berlin Marathon. Half-marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru (Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu) will be running his debut marathon.

Three slots are available for the Beijing Olympic team. The top Japanese finishers from Fukuoka, August`s World Championships, next February`s Tokyo Marathon and next March`s Biwako Mainichi Marathon have a chance to be selected.

Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field (times are personal bests; * indicates half-marathon best)

Foreign Runners:
Paul Tergat (38, Kenya), 2:04:55
Haile Negussie (28, Ethiopia), 2:08:16
Daniel Yego (28, Kenya), 2:08:16
Alberto Chaiqua (34, Portugal), 2:09:25
Mark Carroll (35, Ireland), 2:10:54

Domestic Runners:
Toshinari Takaoka (37, Team Kanebo), 2:06:16 (national record)
Atsushi Fujita (31, Team Fujitsu), 2:06:51 (course record)
Shigeru Aburaya (30, Team Chugoku Denryoku), 2:07:52
Atsushi Sato (29, Team Chugoku Denryoku), 2:08:36
Yuko Matsumiya (27, Team Konica Minolta), 2:09:18
Samuel Wanjiru (21, Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu), 58:33* (world record)

Translator`s note: I will also be running Fukuoka.

Naoko Takahashi Back From "Q`s Boot Camp"

http://www.daily.co.jp/general/2007/11/11/0000735850.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

Sydney Olympic marathon gold medallist and Beijing Olympic hopeful Naoko Takahashi returned to Japan yesterday after 6 months of altitude training at her base camp in Boulder, Colorado. Inspired by the popular "Billy`s Boot Camp" series of exercise videos, Takahashi (known in Japan as Q-chan) joked that her recent training could be called "Q`s Boot Camp" due to its heavy emphasis on cross-training exercises and weight training. Takahashi will attempt to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics at either January`s Osaka International Women`s Marathon or March`s Nagoya International Women`s Marathon. The deadline for entering Osaka is December 12. Takahashi will spend a short time in Japan before heading to Kunming, China for further altitude training.

Touching her abs while talking, Q-chan described "Q`s Boot Camp" as consisting of a customized, daily 80-minute regimen of exercises accompanied by original music. Her Japan-based management staff brought a copy of "Billy`s Boot Camp," which went through a period of maniacal popularity in Japan over the summer, to her training camp in Boulder. When Takahashi watched the workout video she thought, "Oh, this is easy."

Up until now, Q-chan has always just done what she loves, running, but lately she has found that it isn`t enough. Weak areas of the body not strengthened by running have become more of an issue. Q-chan explained, "(Q`s) Boot Camp, kick boxing, aerobics.....These things are essential parts of my training now because they help to strengthen my whole body." As she focused on developing these weaker areas during this training camp, Q-chan found that her running improved as well. "I was advised to change my arm swing but had trouble doing it. Now that I`ve developed more upper-body strength I`m able to make these improvements to my form."

All of this preparation is targeted toward making the Beijing Olympic team. She has only one month left in which to decide which race she will run as her qualifier. "My motto has always been `never give up on your dreams and they will come true.` That`s the kind of running I want to show everybody." Whether in Osaka, where she ran one of her greatest speed races, or in Nagoya, where she won to qualify for the Sydney Olympics, Q-chan will only be racing herself. "I haven`t decided which race to run, but I`m not concerned with who else will be running in either race. The most important point for me is to run how I feel and to make it the best run I can."

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mizuki Noguchi Returns From Kunming "Very Excited" for Tokyo International Women`s Marathon

http://www.tokyo-np.co.jp/s/tochu/article/2007110801000640.html

translated by Brett Larner

Athens Olympic marathon gold medallist Mizuki Noguchi returned to Japan today, arriving at Kansai International Airport in Osaka after spending several weeks at a training camp in Kunming, China in preparation for her Beijing Olympic bid at next week`s Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. Asked about her condition, Noguchi replied "I am very excited and 100% prepared for this race."

In Tokyo, Noguchi will face former Japanese national record holder Yoko Shibui and Hiromi Ominami, who was on the same flight from Kunming as Noguchi. Noguchi set the Japanese national record of 2:19:12 at the 2005 Berlin Marathon but has not run a marathon since then due to a series of accidents. She says that her comeback race will not be a guaranteed victory. "With rivals like these running it`s not going to be an easy race. Shibui and Ominami both look like they are in great shape so I expect the pace to be very high. I`m really looking forward to it."

`Distance Star Scott Bauhs Represents Team USA in Marathon Relay in Japan`

http://media.www.theorion.com/media/storage/paper889/news/2007/11/07/Sports/Distance.Star.Scott.Bauhs.Represents.Team.Usa.In.Marathon.Relay.In.Japan-3082930.shtml

A good profile of the relatively unknown American who ran a 10 km PB to take the stage best for the third leg of the 2007 International Chiba Ekiden.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yoko Shibui Breaks 7-Year Old 10 km Ekiden Stage Record in Final Tune-Up Before Tokyo International Women`s Marathon

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/p-sp-tp0-20071104-278688.html

translated by Brett Larner

Yoko Shibui displayed peak form before her attempt to make the Beijing Olympic team at the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. On the 10 km 3rd stage of the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden Shibui broke her personal stage best by 3 seconds, running 31:06 to take the top spot away from rivals Dai-Ichi Seimei and lead Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo to its 8th straight East Japan victory.

Shibui showed both the strength and speed she will need to beat Athens Olympic gold medallist, and current Japanese national record holder Mizuki Noguchi in Tokyo to make the Olympic team. She started the stage in 2nd place, passed Dai-Ichi Seimei`s Ozaki near the 5 km point, and finished the stage 0:44 ahead of Ozaki. Shibui`s previous best mark on the 3rd stage was set in `00; her new best is just 0:05 short of the stage record of 31:01 (Phyllis, Hokuren). After her run Shibui said "I didn`t do any ekiden training but it went pretty well. I`m looking forward to the race in 2 weeks. When there`s someone else fast running it`s more of a challenge and I can push harder."

After setting her previous stage record 7 years ago Shibui went on to her debut marathon at the `01 Osaka International Women`s Marathon. Recently she has struggled in the marathon, consistently slowing down in the later stages and failing to qualify for Olympic and World Championship teams. Her coach Hideo Suzuki said that this time they have tried to bring back the feeling and training that Shibui had in her most successful races, the `02 Chicago Marathon and `04 Berlin Marathon where she set the then-Japanese national record of 2:19:41. He said that Shibui has been running the workouts at the same level as in her peak days and that with the experience she has gained since that era she is an even match for Noguchi.

With a great run by their ace, Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo was able to pull off a victory. Based on today`s run in looks likely that they will take back the winner`s title from Shiseido at December`s All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden. Shibui`s teammate Reiko Tosa, already guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympic team thanks to her bronze medal performance at the Osaka World Championships, did not run today but is scheduled to run the anchor leg at All-Japan. If Shibui joins Tosa on the team by beating Noguchi, Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo will have one more reason to celebrate.