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Rikuren, Sato and Akaba Discuss World Championships Marathon Goals

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Following the naming of Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) to the Berlin World Championships men's marathon team and Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) to the women's team on May 7, Rikuren officials and the newly-named athletes themselves discussed their goals. Rikuren director Keisuke Sawaki, 65, said that between the men's and women's team the big picture target for this year's World Championships is "One medal and two other top-eight finishes."

For the first time, the men's and women's marathon alternates will be included as full members of the national team. At the Beijing Olympics Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) withdrew with injuries shortly before their races. Rikuren and the JOC had failed to bring along or even officially register their substitutes Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) and Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), so neither was able to take their places. After a period of self-examination Rikuren now seeks to correct these errors by accepting its primary role in taking care not only of the main members of the team but also of the alternates. Sawaki commented, "Well, we had to admit that we have to do some things differently. From now on we want to consider the national marathon teams as having six members, not teams of five plus a substitute." Takahashi and Morimoto will train with the intent to run in Berlin as full members of the team. Rikuren plans to include the alternate members in its overseas training camps for the national marathon team and hopes the new measures will contribute to the rebuilding of Japanese marathoning.

At last month's London Marathon Sato stuck to the script, handily reaching his goal of a sub-2:10 to qualify for Berlin. He views the World Championships as a step toward the 2012 London Olympics, modestly saying, "I am targeting a top-eight finish at the World Championships."

Running only her second marathon, Akaba is more outspoken in her ambition. From her own mouth come the words, "I'm very, very happy. If I get a medal I'll be even happier." Akaba is now the first mother to be named to a Japanese national team in the marathon. Her daughter Yuna, who turns three in August, has been a special source of motivation. "Yuna learned how to say 'silver medal' somewhere, but I keep telling her, 'Gold is better, you know.'* I've gotten this far through support from her and from my family, and paying back what I owe them is what gives me my drive." Akaba also revealed an additional target, the greatest of the world's mama-san runners: "I'll be going after the defending champ, Ndereba."

Prior to the announcement of her securing the last place on the team, Akaba had considered the alternative of running on the track if she was not picked. But, she says, "I really, really wanted to run the marathon. All of my training has been geared to getting ready for the marathon." Sawaki was very positive about Akaba's prospects, commenting, "Akaba has plenty of room for development and improvement and she is in her prime." Akaba agreed, saying, "There are a lot of runners overseas still going strong in their 30's. I can too." One way or another, Akaba is sure to show her daughter that her mom is tough.

*Translator's note: The Japanese words for silver and gold, 'gin' and 'kin,' sound very similar.


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