by Brett Larner
The middle distances are where Japan falls the shortest at the international level, highlighting its runners' lack of pure speed in the gap between the elements of technique in the sprints and endurance in the longer events. Nevertheless, at the national level there have been some strong performances in recent years' championships.
No athletes hold World Championships qualifying marks in either the men's or women's 800 m. Student runner Masato Yokota (Keio Univ.) is by far the fastest in the men's 800 m and should pick up the national title, but his best of 1:47.16 comes up short of the B-standard. In the women's 800 m too no one is likely to challenge Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko), but with a best time of 2:03.42 she will be staying home with her national title come August.
The women's 1500 m may feature a good battle between defending national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) and national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) as both are on the entry list, but the chances of the duel becoming reality look slim. Although Kobayashi has broken the B-standard, neither she nor Yoshikawa hold marks valid for Berlin. Kobayashi is also entered in the 5000 m, in which she is the defending champion. She has been injured since April and pulled out of her only race attempt of the season. To qualify for the national team Kobayashi will almost definitely have to put everything into one race and that will be the 5000 m. This will leave the 1500 m up to Yoshikawa, who will need a 1-second PB to qualify for Berlin.
The men's 1500 m, on the other hand, will be the most competitive middle distance event of the Championships as three men hold elligible B-standard marks. Kazuya Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko), who memorably blacked out and fell just meters from the finish line while leading last year's National Championships 1500 m, has been on top all season and comes to this year's Nationals ranked ahead of national record holder and defending national champion Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN). Yasunori Murakami (Team Fujitsu) also has the B-standard and has been challenging Watanabe and Kobayashi throughout the spring. If he can stay on his feet this time Watanabe is the slight favorite, but any of the three could win and pick up the sole B-standard spot for Berlin. Also in contention are the perpetually unlucky Yasuhiro Tago (Chugoku Denryoku) and 5000 m runner Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B).
The men's and women's 3000 mSC will be relatively uncontested wins for national record holders Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu) and Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC), the only athletes in either event to hold World Championships qualifying marks. Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN) has shown significant improvement this spring and could conceivably hit the B-standard at Nationals, but it is hard to see him outrunning Iwamizu. Not in contention for even a qualifying mark but notable simply for her inexplicable presence in the women's 3000 mSC is 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze).
A complete timetable and entry lists for the middle distance events are 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
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