translated and edited by Brett Larner
Beijing Olympics men's marathoner Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) left from Tokyo's Narita Airport on Apr. 21 to travel to London ahead of the Apr. 26 London Marathon. Looking toward Sunday's race and his goals, Sato told reporters, "I'm feeling pretty so-so. The marathon has turned into a speed race recently and I'm sure this is going to be a fast one too. I want to see how big the difference really is."
After earning a place on the Beijing Olympic team with a 2:07:13 finish at the 2007 Fukuoka International Marathon Sato finished 76th in Beijing, last place in the Olympic marathon. London will be his first marathon since then. It will count as a selection race for the national team for this summer's Berlin World Championships, but Sato feels no pressure. "More than making the World Championships team I want measure the gap between my abilities right now and those of the best in the world."
Of achieving his dream of running in the Olympics Sato says flatly, "I didn't enjoy it at all." Nothing went according to plan in his preparations, and he was stiff and uncomfortable during the race. The experience left him with nothing but bitter memories. "I get angry every time I see that 'last place' written next to my name, but my only regret is that I can't do anything to make up for it." The physical and psychological damage from his Olympic run left a lasting mark on Sato and he has had a hard time recovering. In setting his goals for 2009 at the end of last year, Sato decided, "I needed to spend a year steadily coming back bit by bit."
In March Sato was the top Japanese finisher and 2nd overall at both the Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet and the National Jitsugyodan Half Marathon Championships. "I thought [my mind] was about back to normal," he says, "but not yet. In my heart I'm just not feeling it incredibly strongly."
The 2012 London Olympics are still Sato's long-term goal, and to prepare himself he wants to race a lot. In the past he has focused too much on the Olympic and World Championships selection races and as a result been unable to give it 100% in the main events themselves. Up until now, his only overseas marathon experience outside the Beijing Olympics and the 2003 World Championships was the 2005 Chicago Marathon, but Sato hopes the experience of racing overseas more will help him change this trait and build up the confidence that he can run with the world's best.
Sato's three-year road to 2012 begins this Sunday in London. His first step is admittedly modest: "I want to start by breaking 2:10. I think that's about what I can do." A small step for this talented runner, but one which will help to renew his faith in himself and his abilities.
Translator's note: In December Atsushi Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi became head of the Men's Marathoning Divison of Rikuren's Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee. Shortly afterwards Rikuren announced a rule change which would allow results from major overseas marathons to be counted in the selection process for the World Championships team, followed by news that Sato would run the London Marathon. Soon after March's Tokyo Marathon Rikuren announced that Sato will be named to the team if he merely breaks 2:10 in London.
Atsushi Sato set the then-national student marathon record of 2:09:50 in his debut at the 2000 Biwako Mainichi Marathon as a student at Waseda University. He ran 2:08:50 at the 2003 Biwako to make the 2003 World Championships where he placed 10th in 2:10:38. The next year he ran 2:08:36 in Biwako but missed making the Athens Olympic team. After disappointing seasons in 2005 and 2006 he ran 2:07:13 at the 2007 Fukuoka International Marathon to become the all-time 4th-fastest Japanese man. Several commentators including Toshihiko Seko and Atsushi Sato himself have said they believe him capable of becoming the first non-African to run 2:05. Sato is also the Asian half-marathon record holder, with a best of 1:00:25 from the 2007 World Half Marathon Championships.
Japanese-coached Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya) is also in London's elite field. Click here for complete details on the London elite men's lineup.