by Brett Larner
Japan wouldn't exactly make anyone's list of sprinting powerhouses, but in the last few years it has been on an upswing which led to its men's 4x100 m relay team winning the bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics last summer, Japan's first Olympic track medal in 80 years and the first ever for its men. The success has led to major popularity for sprinting and momentum for its younger athletes.
One member of the 4x100 m team, defending national champion Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu), was the only athlete of non-African ancestry to make the Beijing semifinal in the men's 100 m. After Beijing he reportedly joined a Jamaican training group to work on his form and technique, and he has been full of confidence ever since. His stated goals for this year are to make the final in Berlin and to become the first Japanese runner to break 10.0. Although Tsukahara is qualified in the 200 m, he will only run the 100 m at Nationals and it's likely his PB of 10.13 will fall.
His Beijing relay teammate Shinji Takahira (Team Fujitsu) is also on the entry list for the 100 m but will probably choose only to defend his national title in the men's 200 m. While nobody else is likely to challenge Tsukahara in the 100 m, Takahira will have to fight off A-standard holders Mitsuhiro Abiko (Tsukuba Univ.) and Kenji Fujimitsu (Team Seren) as well as B-standard holder Hitoshi Saito (Tsukuba Univ.) to retain his title and guarantee himself a place in Berlin.
In the men's 400 m, university champion Yuzo Kanemaru (Hosei Univ.) holds the A-standard and looks set to pick up the national title. Although three other runners in the field have PBs better than the B-standard time, none of them hold times valid for Berlin and will have to have an outstanding day to make the team.
Turning to the women's sprints, it's been an interesting year. Last year Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) made headlines by making the Beijing Olympics women's 100 m, the first Japanese woman in 56 years to do so. This year Fukushima has continued to improve, setting national records at both 100 m and 200 m. She hasn't been alone, though. A hair behind her in almost every race this spring was her high school era foe Momoko Takahashi (Heisei Kokusai Univ.). Takahashi never lost a race to Fukushima when the pair were competing in high school, but every time they faced each other during the spring season she came up 0.01 seconds short. She wants to put this trend to a stop. Both women are scheduled to double in 100 m and 200 m and both hold World Championships qualifying marks at each distance, so their rivalry may continue on to Berlin.
As in the men's 400 m, only one athlete in the women's 400 m is currently qualified for the World Championships. Defending national champion Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) holds the B-standard and with her nearest domestic competitor over a second behind will be heading to Berlin alone.
Looking at the hurdle events, only two men in the 110 mH hold valid World Championships B-standard marks, although four have broken the A-standard. The race will likely be a showdown between the qualified pair, Masato Naito (Team Mizuno) and Tasuku Tanonaka (Team Fujitsu).
With the absence of defending national champion and two-time World Championships medalist Dai Tamesue from the men's 400 mH, it's up to A-standard holder Kenji Narisako (Team Mizuno) to pick up the national title and assured Berlin spot. B-standard holders Masahira Yoshikata (Kitakyushu AC), Kazuaki Yoshida (Juntendo Univ.), Takayuki Koike (Team Mizuno) and Hiroaki Masuoka (Team STC) will be trying to pick up the second spot on the team behind Narisako.
Japanese women's hurdling lacks the number of contenders seen on the men's side. Only one woman in the 100 mH, Mami Ishino (Team Hasegawa) holds a PB under the World Championships B-standard, but although she is likely to win she needs to clock another valid time to make the national team.
Satomi Kubokura (Niigata Albirex RC) holds the A-standard in the women's 400 mH and is the favorite for the national title. Former university star Sayaka Aoki (Team Natureal), in her first season as a pro, holds the B-standard and presents the only realistic challenge to Kubokura.
A complete timetable and entry lists for sprints and hurdles 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
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