Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships - Long Distance Preview

by Brett Larner

Japan's long distance track runners may not be in contention for championship medals, but next to the marathon it is where the country has the greatest depth. It's interesting and informative, particularly in the 10000 m, to compare the long distance event entry lists for the Japanese and American National Championships, which are happening simultaneously.

The long distance events begin at 5:40 p.m. on June 25 with the men's 5000 m. Only two Japanese men have currently cracked the World Championships B-standard and one of them, Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) is running the World Championships marathon and will not compete in the 5000 m. National record holder and three-time 5000 m and 10000 m double champion Takayuki Matsumiya will sit the 5000 m out this year, meaning that Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) comes to this year's National Championships as the favorite both for the win and for a World Championships spot.

It won't be easy, though. All eyes will be on Ueno's new junior teammate, Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B). Takezawa ran an A-standard 13:19.00 two years ago and made the Beijing Olympics last summer in both 5000 m and 10000 m. Perpetually injured as a university runner, Takezawa's pro debut earlier this month was a modest 13:38.25 win. Takezawa needs not only to break the B-standard of 13:29.00 and Ueno's current national-leading 13:26.31 but also to take down Ueno himself in order to make his second-straight World Championships team.

This year a small number of foreign athletes are being allowed to compete in the Japanese nationals. Ethiopian Nahom Mesfin (Team Kanebo) will be sure to challenge the two favorites, while high school sensation Bitan Karoki (Sera H.S.) of Kenya, rumored to be joining the Ueno and Takezawa at S&B following his graduation next spring, will also be in the ring.

The women's 5000 m will be a much more open-ended affair. The top three women in the field, defending champion Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshoki), Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), and national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) were Japan's Beijing Olympics 5000 m team, but Kobayashi and Fukushi are in questionable condition following injuries and Akaba will run the marathon at the World Championships. This means the next set of three women, Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso), Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) and Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), all of whom hold the B-standard, have a chance of squeezing onto the team for Berlin. Akaba must be considered the favorite for the win but beyond her it's impossible to call.

Three Kenyans holding the B-standard are also in the field, namely Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi), Ann Karindi (Team Suzuki) and Felista Wanjugu (Team Aruze). Given their recent performances the trio will most likely be competing against the group containing Sugihara, Niiya and Nakamura.

In both the men's and women's 5000 m, a second pack of top university runners will make for interesting sub-races. Komazawa University's Takuya Fukatsu and Tsuyoshi Ugachi will face off against Josai University's Yuta Takahashi and Waseda University star Yuki Yagi in the men's race. All but Takahashi have run PBs this season and only 0.48 seconds separate the four's best marks of the year. The women's 5000 m features something of a dream matchup, with the ascendant Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.) taking on reigning national champion Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan) and rivals Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.) and Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.). Kojima is virtually undefeated in university competition, but this spring Nishihara broke Kojima's 5000 m PB by 3 seconds and Nishikawa and Sakai likewise came within 3 seconds of Kojima's best mark, so the competition will be fierce. Only Sakai is showing weakness, having been in extremely poor condition at last month's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships.

At last year's Nationals the women's 10000 m was the highlight of the meet. This year the men's 10000 m may prove to be the same, with the best entry list in recent memory. Two Japanese men hold the World Championships A-standard and a full ten the B-standard, including three under 28 minutes. The main battle will be between rookie Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and three-time defending 5000 m and 10000 m double champion Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta). In April Sato ran 27:38.25 in California, 3 seconds off the national record and the third-best time ever by a Japanese runner. It was a shock performance as Sato was coming back from a year of injury and gave no indication he had been in such excellent condition. Matsumiya planned his own attempt on the national record this spring but apparent injury problems have kept him down. Sato appears to be at a low point again, so it is unclear who is in a better position. Adding to the complexity is the presence of Ethiopian Yakob Jarso (Team Honda).

Jarso, who set the Ethiopian national record in the 3000 mSC while finishing 4th in the Beijing Olympics, is running as a desperate man. Throughout the spring he beat rivals Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.) and Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) at almost every turn, but in each case poor weather kept him from setting the kind of times he needs to make the Ethiopian national team. In meets where Jarso was not present Ndambiri became the first man to break 27 minutes in Japan and Ngatuny within a second of doing likewise, then at the start of the month Jarso blew his European debut at the FBK Games 5000 m. The Japanese Nationals 10000 m is virtually his last chance to make his claim to represent Ethiopia, and to do it he will need to approach a sub-27 minute mark. The extent to which Sato, Matsumiya or any of the six other men who could conceivably manage the feat attempt to go with him will set the tone of the race.

Of the ten Japanese men holding the B-standard, the best bets for the third spot on the Berlin team behind Sato and Matsumiya are Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei). Both have been on improvement curves the last year and set their first sub-28 marks this spring. Athens Olympians Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) and Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku) are also in the field but in questionable condition. Making his pro debut, Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo), the man who led the first 8000 m of last year's Nationals 10000 m, is another contender. A distant longshot but a potential legend should he pull off the impossible is university star Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.), the only university runner in the field. World Championships marathoner Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) will also be in the race as part of his tune-up.

Defending national champion and national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) is sitting this year's National Championships women's 10000 m out as she prepares for the marathon, but last year's 2nd and 3rd place finishers Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) and Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) are on the list. Both are scheduled to double in the 5000 m, but considering Fukushi's injury problems and Akaba's marathon preparations it's doubtful whether either will actually run both distances. Third on the list is national junior record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno), but she has been seriously injured this spring and looks very unlikely to perform adequately.

This means last year's 4th place finisher Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) comes to the Championships this year with a good chance of making the World Championships team, as does Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya). Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) rounds out the list of domestic women with the A-standard but it would be a surprise to see her contend for the national team. Instead she will probably be racing against Kenyan Julia Mombi (Team Aruze) who likewise holds a slim A-standard best.

Six more women including World Championships marathon squad member Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) hold the B-standard but are unlikely to make the team with so many A-standard women in the field. Another marathon team member, Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) is also on the entry list. As in the men's 10000 m, a single outstanding university runner, Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.), is entered. In an excellent performance Nishihara will crack the World Championships B-standard. Coincidentally, both Nishihara and men's 10000 m university runner Kashiwabara were the overall winners at March's Kyoto Half Marathon.

A complete timetable and start lists for the long-distance events is available here. JRN will be on-hand to provide video coverage of the 2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships. Click here to make a donation to help cover the costs of providing this coverage.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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