Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yoko Shibui Defeats Akaba and Fukushi to Qualify for Beijing 10000 m

by Brett Larner



Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) staged a brilliant comeback on the track to defeat rivals Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and six-time defending champion Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) in an epic women`s 10000 m at the Japanese National Track and Field Championships in Kawasaki`s Todoroki Stadium on June 27. Shibui, along with second place finisher Akaba and third place finisher Fukushi, broke Athens World Championships marathon gold medalist Hiromi Suzuki`s twelve year-old meet record to record a 31:15.07 victory, the fastest time of her life next to her national record of 30:48.89. Shibui`s win qualifies her for the Beijing Olympics, the first time in her career the 10000 m national record holder and former marathon national record holder has made an Olympic team.

Under Japanese Olympic selection rules, the winner of the 10000 m would be guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympic team provided that she had recorded an Olympic A-standard time within the qualification window. Five women in the field of twenty held qualification times under the A-standard of 31:45, including Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi, Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) and Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Oki). Ten more women held Olympic B-standard qualification times, making for a highly competitive field.

Akaba took the lead from the start, passing through the first kilometer in 3:06 with Shibui, Fukushi, Kano and others lined up behind. At 1100 m Shibui passed by Akaba, taking the lead position and maintaining it until 8000 m. Little changed over the next few kilometers. Matsuoka, a relative unknown before clocking a sizeable PB of 31:31.45 earlier this month, moved up into fifth place around the 2500 m point around the time Fukushi took water from one of the water stations. Fukushi, coming to the Championships on one month of training following a period of injury, was the only athlete in the entire race to take water.

By 5000 m the pack had thinned to include six runners: Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi, Kano, Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Shibui led the group through a 5000 m split of 15:42.3, on pace for a brisk 10000 m time of 31:25. She then began to slowly apply pressure, increasing the pace from 3:10 to 3:08 per kilometer. The change was too much for Kano, who abruptly dropped back out of the leading pack. In the back stretch approaching 5400 m Fukushi again went wide to take water as the two Ozakis also fell off Shibui`s increased pace. Their departure left only the four fastest women running in order of their qualification times: Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi and Matsuoka.

The four leaders maintained their positions through the next two kilometers. Approaching 7400 m Fukushi once again moved out to take water. On the back curve following 7400 m Matsuoka began to drift back from the pack, leaving the three pre-race favorites to battle out the final two kilometers. Fukushi made a bold move at 8000 m, suddenly changing pace and gapping her two rivals. Shibui followed but Akaba dropped back three meters. She struggled to switch gears but was able to pick it up and by 8400 m had regained contact with the leaders.

In the lead while approaching 8500 m, Fukushi made the surprising move of going wide to take water a fourth time. This left Shibui in the lead, but as she stepped forward Akaba seized the opportunity and shot forward into the lead. A lap later Fukushi put on another spurt to retake the lead as the three passed the 8800 m point. Shibui tried to get past Akaba before the corner but was unsuccessful.

The group clocked a 3:03 split at 9000 m, the fastest so far in the race. From 9000 to 9600 m Akaba made four attempts to get past Fukushi, each time shadowed by Shibui but each time failing to take the lead. At the bell the three were locked tightly together. Entering the back straight Akaba squeezed between Fukushi and four runners being lapped to launch her definitive final attack, blazing past the seemingly flat Fukushi. Shibui was right behind. Entering the final corner Akaba had a lead of one meter over Shibui, with Fukushi three meters further back and unable to respond.

Coming into the home stretch Akaba tried to maintain her lead, but Shibui`s final kick was too strong and Akaba could only watch as Shibui edged past to take the win by a step. Both runners clocked 31:15, breaking Hiromi Suzuki`s 1996 National Championships record of 31:19.40. The two rivals, elated, were already hugging each other by the time Fukushi crossed the line in 31:18.79, also under the meet record. Matsuoka held on to also go under the Olympic A-standard, fourth in 31:41.90. The next five finishers all cleared the Olympic B-standard.

Shibui`s Olympic A-standard win guarantees her a spot for Beijing, her first time ever making a Japanese Olympic team. It is unusual to see a runner successfully return to the top of the track world after experiencing a decline in her marathoning career, but Shibui successfully defied the odds with her victory in the 10000 m. Akaba`s 31:15.34 PB was also a triumph after a stellar year following her recovery from childbirth. Fukushi`s 31:18.79 was likewise a good result, but the absence of her tremendous finishing speed showed that she was far from fully fit. The strength of Akaba`s and Fukushi`s performances make it likely that they will join Shibui in Beijing, but their fate will not be official until Rikuren`s announcement of the complete Olympic track and field team lineup on June 30.

Leader`s Splits
1 km: 3:06 2 km: 6:14 3 km: 9:23 4 km: 12:33 5 km: 15:42
6 km: 18:51 7 km: 22:00 8 km: 25:09 9 km: 28:12 10 km: 31:15.07

Top Finishers
1. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 31:15.07 (SB, meet record, selected for Olympic team)
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren): 31:15.34 (PB, meet record)
3. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 31:18.79 (SB, meet record)
4. Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki): 31:41.90
5. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei): 32:01.07 (PB)
6. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso): 32:02.15
7. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz): 32:03.17 (SB)
8. Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex): 32:04.79
9. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC): 32:10.93 (SB)
10. Akane Taira (Team Panasonic): 32:35.81

For complete results please click here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2 comments:

Roberto said...

Interesting, and as you say, surprising, that Fukushi felt she had to drink so often (or even once) during last night's race. I too found it strange.

Though as you say she will almost certainly gain Olympic selection, she can't have been happy with her result (and year to date). Sunday night's 5K will be interesting. I wonder if all three top finishers from the 10K will line up again.

Also, I wondered last night watching the last few laps whether or not all three ladies were struggling with two laps to go. You could have thrown a blanket over them, they were so close together, but it seemed to me that they had slowed from Fukushi's earlier pace. And yet, the final km was pretty quick.

Well run by Shibui, anyway. In the heat and pollution of Beijing, if she's willing to take on the pace as she did last night she might have a chance at a minor medal. The African women are not where the African men are (yet) ...

Roberto said...

Looking forward to you getting home and posting the vid of the men's 5K. Those idiots at NHK decided that they wouldn't bother with showing the men's 5K ... in favor of thorough coverage of various teenaged no-hopers in events such as the women's 100 hurdles ("... if only I was a half second faster, my national championship would earn me a ticket to Beijing") ...