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The Race for Berlin Continues

by Brett Larner

The Men's Team
Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei) has joined Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) on the men's team for this summer's World Championships marathon in Berlin. Shimizu and Irifune earned their places by taking the top Japanese finisher spot in the two official selection races which have been run so far, December's Fukuoka International Marathon and this past Sunday's Biwako Mainichi Marathon. One more selection race remains, the March 22 Tokyo Marathon, where the top domestic runner will likewise receive a guaranteed place on the Berlin team.

The two remaining team members will be chosen by Rikuren officials. For this year's World Championships athletes have three options for picking up one of these wildcard places. Domestic runners-up in the three selection races will be considered, along with the top Japanese finisher in February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon and, in a new development this year, any athletes placing well in major overseas marathons.

In the first category, Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) has the best chance thus far of being selected thanks to his 3rd place finish in 2:09:47 in Fukuoka. Rikuren director Keisuke Sawaki said at the time that Fujiwara had "no chance" of being picked for the team based on this performance, but with the relatively slow times run in Beppu-Oita and Biwako he currently stands at least even chances. Nevertheless, Fujiwara has chosen the risky route of running Tokyo to strengthen his position. He must be the top Japanese finisher in Tokyo to succeed. Barring a spectacular time, anything else will cause him to be omitted. Shimizu's twin brother Tomoya (Team Sagawa Express) was the 2nd Japanese finisher in Biwako, but with his 2:12:30 clocking in 6th place overall he is behind Fujiwara in line for the Berlin team and is very unlikely to be selected.

In the second category, Seiji Kobayashi was the top Japanese finisher in Beppu-Oita, 2nd overall in a PB of 2:10:38. His time fell short of the sub-2:10 mark he needed to be picked up, but with the slow times in Biwako he has something less than a fifty-fifty chance of being selected over Fujiwara. Slow times in Tokyo would help his standing.

Kobayashi's fate will not be decided until the end of April, the deadline for athletes wishing to qualify in a major overseas race. So far only one runner has announced plans to go this route, Olympian Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), who intends to run the April 26 London Marathon. Coincidentally, Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi became head of Rikuren's men's marathon division shortly before this new selection method was announced. The exact criteria for what would constitute a selection-worthy performance have not been clearly iterated, but in any case Fujiwara, Kobayashi and whoever ends up as the second domestic runner in Tokyo will have to wait another five weeks post-Tokyo to see what Sato can do before their fate is decided.

Regrettably, the man with the most impressive performance will not be on the team. Although the women's competition at last September's Hokkaido Marathon offered a chance to be considered for the Berlin team, the men's race was not included among the selection opportunities. Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.), a high school assistant coach, frontran Hokkaido from start to finish, outrunning 2:08 marathoners Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and winning by over 3 minutes. His time of 2:12:10 was a large PB and just seconds off the course record despite temperatures of 30 degrees, but unfortunately his name will not be on the list.

The Women's Team
Like the men, Japanese women can earn guaranteed Berlin World Championships team positions by being the top Japanese finisher in one of three selection races, the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya International Women's Marathons. Runners-up in these races will be considered, along with the top Japanese runner in the Hokkaido Marathon and women with good results from major overseas races.

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) and former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) both took spots by winning in Tokyo International and Osaka International, respectively. The domestic winner of this week's Nagoya International will join them on the team.

Tokyo International runner-up Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) is in good standing to be chosen for the team, having run a PB 2:24:27 there. Osaka runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) is in a more precarious position, being currently fifth in line for the team. If the second Japanese runner in Nagoya breaks Akaba's time of 2:25:40, an entirely possible outcome, Akaba will stay home in August.

In terms of results from other major races, March's Tokyo Marathon, which boasts a relatively strong field both domestic and foreign, apparently does not count in the women's selection process, but if a Japanese woman should turn in a strong performance in Boston or London then again Akaba will be cut. Tomoe Yokoyama (Team Toto) is planning to run Boston, but with a PB of only 2:34:37 she would need a significant leap in quality to factor into the selection process.

Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) is the only runner who currently has a chance of being selected based on overseas results. Shimahara was 3rd in last fall's Chicago Marathon, then won the Honolulu Marathon two months later. Her best results have all come in hot races, a fact which together with her Chicago and Honolulu performances could put her into consideration. Shimahara is also running the Tokyo Marathon. In light of the uncertainty regarding this selection category, like Fujiwara and Kobayashi on the men's side Akaba won't know if she is in until the end of April.

The final contender for the team is Hokkaido winner Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze). Sahaku's time of 2:31:50 in her marathon debut was slow but run in the conditions of extreme heat and humidity typical in the Hokkaido race. Previous Hokkaido winner Yuri Kano's time there was 4-6 minutes slower than her other marks, so Sahaku may well have the capacity to go faster. However, in light of the strong performances in the main selection races she has close to no chance of being chosen. Along with Shimahara, Sahaku is running the Tokyo Marathon this month, but it is unclear what effect, if any, a win there would have in swaying the selection committee in her favor.

The women's selection process continues this Sunday, Mar. 8, at the Nagoya International Women's Marathon. The race will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji T.V. beginning at 12:00 noon. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the links listed here.

Berlin Team Members - Men - click photos for detailed profiles

Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo)
Qualification Mark: 2:09:23 - PB (2nd, Fukuoka 2008)
Other Major Results: 2:09:58 (1st, Beppu-Oita 2005)
2:17:22 (20th, Helsinki World Champs 2005)

Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei)
Qualification Mark: 2:10:50 - PB (4th, Biwako 2009)
Other Major Results: 2:13:06 (1st, Nobeoka 2008)

In Contention

Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon)
Qualification Mark: 2:09:47 (3rd, Fukuoka 2008)
Other Major Results: 2:08:40 - PB (2nd, Tokyo 2008)

Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki)
Qualification Mark:
2:10:38 - PB (2nd, Beppu-Oita 2009)
Other Major Results: 2:12:07 (1st, Nobeoka 1999)

Berlin Team Members - Women - click photos for detailed profiles

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Qualification Mark: 2:23:30 - PB (1st, Tokyo Int'l 2008)
Other Major Results: 2:26:19 (2nd, Nagoya 2008)

Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo)
Qualification Mark: 2:23:42 (1st, Osaka 2009)
Other Major Results: 2:19:41 - PB (1st, Berlin 2004, former NR)
2:21:22 (3rd, Chicago 2002)
2:23:11 (1st, Osaka 2001, former debut marathon WR)
2:26:33 (4th, Edmonton World Championships 2001)

In Contention

Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC)
Qualification Mark: 2:24:27 - PB (2nd, Tokyo Int'l 2008)
Other Major Results: 2:24:43 (3rd, Osaka 2007)
2:26:39 (3rd, Nagoya 2008)
2:30:43 (1st, Hokkaido 2007)

Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren)
Qualification Mark:
2:25:40 - debut (2nd, Osaka 2009)
Other Major Results: 1:08:11 - CR (1st, National Corporate Half Marathon 2008)
1:11:39 (10th, World Half Marathon 2008)

Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze)
Qualification Mark: 2:31:50 - debut (1st, Hokkaido 2008)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


dennis said…
I don't think Rikuren should any of the runners in Nagoya. I've never even heard of these runners before and they've never come close to winning last year. Takami Ominami finished outside the top 10. Yumi Hirata was only 7th.These runners sucks and they don't deserve to get picked.
dennis said…
Why won't they picked Ohira and Hara? .I think Rikuren should pick Hara and Ohira if the winning time is slower than Hara's.
Brett Larner said…

I agree that the Nagoya field looks weak on paper, but most of the runners are relatively young and could improve. At least two of them have the potential for a breakthrough run in Nagoya. Let's wait and see how they do.

For better or worse, Rikuren rarely picks the 3rd Japanese runner, such as Hara in Osaka, for a national team over someone who is the top in another selection race. It's not a perfect system but that's how it works.

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