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Japanese Men's World Championships Marathon Team Announced

by Brett Larner

Japan's athletics federation Rikuren announced the official lineups for its 2009 World Championships marathon teams at a press conference on May 7. The federation, its athletes and the country are determined to make up for the national team's ruinous showing at last summer's Olympic games. Both the men's and women's teams include a fair number of young up-and-comers, with two of the men and all but one of the women having debuted within the last two years and three runners total having qualified for the World Championships team in their debut marathons.

Click here for a preview of the women's World Championships team.

Berlin World Championships Marathon Team Members - Men
click photos for detailed profiles

There is no question that the Japanese men will have a harder time, to say the least, keeping up with the advances made worldwide within the last year. Realistically, only team leader Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) has a chance of being among the medalists. It's a slim chance, but although it would require Sato to have fully recovered from the psychological damage of finishing last in the Beijing Olympics marathon and to be ready to deliver the run of his life it is a possibility and cannot be discounted. Sato himself says his goal for Berlin is a top-eight finish.

Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku)
Qualification Mark:
2:09:16 (8th, London 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:07:13 - PB (3rd, Fukuoka 2007)
2:08:36 (4th, Biwako 2004)
2:08:50 (5th, Biwako 2003)
2:09:50 (4th, Biwako 2000 - former university NR)
2:10:38 (10th, World Championships 2003)


Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) is a teammate of now-retired national record holder Toshinari Takaoka. With a PB of 27:53.92 he was expected to run strong times in the marathon but has been unable to progress past the 2:09 range. Although he has been marathoning since 2002, both of his marathons last year were PBs and with this progression in mind it is conceivable the World Championships could be his best run yet. However, Irifune's performances this spring have been lackluster and he would need to turn things around for this to happen.

Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo)
Qualification Mark:
2:09:23 - PB (2nd, Fukuoka 2008)
Other Major Results:
2:09:40 (5th, Tokyo 2008)
2:09:58 (1st, Beppu-Oita 2005)
2:17:22 (20th, World Championships 2005)


Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) may be the wildcard of the team. In three of his four marathons to date he has either been on, as in his out-of-nowhere 2:08:40 PB at last year's Tokyo Marathon to make the Beijing Olympics team as alternate, or completely, utterly off, as in his 2:38:37 debut in 2007 or his 2:23:10 at the 2008 Chicago Marathon. Fujiwara's qualifying race in Fukuoka last year showed both poles as he struggled after 30 km but came back with a great finish. He is too unstable to predict, but if the good Fujiwara shows up in Berlin he could once again be the surprise of the race.

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


The remaining two men on the team qualified in windy conditions which gave them deceptively slow marks. Masaya Shimizu (Team Asahi Kasei) frontran the second half of this year's Biwako Mainichi Marathon to qualify for Berlin, showing a lot of bravado against Paul Tergat (Kenya), Jose Rios (Spain) and Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) but ultimately unable to keep up when it came down to a track race finish. Shimizu said afterwards that his main motivation had been to beat his faster identical twin brother Tomoya, not to make the World Championships, so you have to wonder how he will handle being on his own in the main event.

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


Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) had even tougher conditions to handle than Shimizu as he debuted in Tokyo this spring, facing a withering headwind which slowed the field by about three minutes in the final stages. Although he fell behind the leaders after 30 km he had by far the strongest finish in the field as he came back to take 2nd. The same strategy won't work in Berlin, but Maeda, a 27:55.17 10000 m runner, gave the impression that he has the physical and psychological resources to go much further. Along with Fujiwara he may be a big surprise in Berlin.

Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko)
Qualification Mark:
2:11:01 - debut (2nd, Tokyo 2009)
Other Major Results:
10000 m PB: 27:55.17 (2007)
10000 m, World Championships 2007


Alternate

Coming into this year's Tokyo Marathon with only a handful of marathons and a modest PB of 2:11:52 behind him, Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) made the race with an aggressive breakaway at 30 km into the headwind, killing off all but sub-2:08 Kenyans Salim Kipsang and Sammy Korir. Although Kipsang got away and he was overtaken by Kazuhiro Maeda late in the race, Takahashi never really faded and actually shook off the great Korir to take 3rd. His selection as alternate comes at the expense of a brilliant run by veteran Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) at this year's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, but Takahashi earned the spot through assertive, competitive racing. Like Maeda, his time was likely three minutes slow due to the headwind late in the race.

Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota)
Qualification Mark:
2:11:25 - PB (3rd, Tokyo 2009)
Other Major Results:
2:11:52 (6th, Fukuoka 2007)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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