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Akaba, Karoki, Iwamizu and Kondo Take Day One of Japanese Nationals (updated)

by Brett Larner

Berlin World Championships marathoner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) scored her first national track title on June 25, winning the women's 10000 m in 31:57.44 on the first day of the 2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships. With Japan-based foreigners allowed to run in Nationals for the first time in eight years, Kenyan high school sensation Bitan Karoki (Sera H.S.) wiped the track with the field of top professional and university runners to win the men's 5000 m in 13:35.39, while national record holder and seven-time national champion Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu) added another notch to his belt with an 8:36.17 win in the men's 3000 m steeplechase. Runners-up Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) and Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) also scored headlines by gaining places on the World Championships team in the women's 10000 m and men's 5000 m, while aces Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) and Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) fell flat. In field events, the lone noteworthy result came in the women's pole vault. Takayo Kondo (Team Hasegawa) cleared 4.35 m to break the World Championships B-standard and set a new meet record.

Click here for the full-length women's 10000 m video.

Six A-standard and six B-standard women in the field of nineteen starters meant serious competition for the guaranteed World Championships team spot at the top of the women's 10000 m. With the recent injury troubles of six-time national champion Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) and junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno), Berlin World Championships marathoner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) came into the race as the favorite. She didn't disappoint.

Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and Akaba's marathon teammate Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) alternated the lead through the first 4000 m, but at that point Akaba asserted herself and the pack immediately spread out. Akaba led for the next 3000 m, pushing the pace and breaking the lead pack into a group of six. Tiny Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) came up from further back in the pack to join the rear of the leader group.

Fukushi surged into the lead at 7000 m in a bid to make a long push to the finish. Although Fukushi quickly opened a gap, Akaba correctly assessed Fukushi's move as an indication of poor fitness and took her time reeling the leader back in. Veteran Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and Sahaku tagged along, and by 8000 m Fukushi was now at the head of a pack of four. When Fukushi broke wide on the back straight to take water Sahaku made a surprise attack and went to the lead. Akaba stayed right on her shoulder, but Fukushi and Ozaki dropped permanently behind. From there to the finish it was a two-woman race, but there was little doubt of the outcome.

Akaba handily dropped Sahaku with 200 m to go, coming in alone to win her first national title in 31:57.44. In post-race comments Akaba said, "I ran this in the middle of marathon training for the World Championships and just wanted to see what I could do. I'm really, really happy with breaking 32. I think I'm ready for a marathon medal."

Sahaku held off Fukushi for 2nd in 32:01.80, a PB by 36 seconds and clearing the World Championships B-standard. Although she missed the A-standard mark, the fact that she beat five of the six A-standard women and all six of the B-standard women in the field means Sahaku will almost definitely pick up one of the three spots on the women's 10000 m team. A-standard women Fukushi in 3rd and Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) in 5th will most likely join her on the team, with B-standard woman Ozaki, in 4th, handling alternate status.

Further back in the field, Nakamura had a disappointing run as she faded to 6th. World Championships marathoners Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Fujinaga likewise had weak showings, 8th and 14th respectively. The lone university runner in the field, Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.) had a good day, only 10th place but breaking 33 minutes and beating professional women holding the A and B-standard. Kinukawa dropped out after 11 laps, lying on the infield until carried away on a stretcher.

Click here for the full-length men's 5000 m video.

The men's 5000 m evolved as pretty much as expected, with Kenyan high school student Bitan Karoki (Sera H.S.) leading the way and S&B teammates Yuichiro Ueno and Kensuke Takezawa trading 2nd with Ethiopian Nahon Mesfin (Team Kanebo). The two Africans were the first foreign runners allowed to compete in the Championships in eight years, but their results were not included in the official results.

Karoki took the race out with a 2:39 first kilometer, Ueno tailing close behind before surrendering 2nd to Mesfin and then Takezawa. Ueno, the only man in the field holding a World Championships qualifying mark, only needed to beat Takezawa to take his spot on his first national team, whereas the talented Takezawa needed to break the B-standard mark of 13:29.00.

Takezawa was aggressive, closing the gap to Karoki even as Karoki extended his lead over the main body of the chase pack. Takezawa looked as though he had made a comeback from his most recent round of injuries, but approaching 3000 m he abruptly lost contact with the leader and in the course of a lap was overtaken by Ueno and then Mesfin. Ueno made up significant ground on Karoki over the last kilometer, while Takezawa and Mesfin stayed together and were joined by Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin).

Karoki's lead shrank to less than 6 seconds, but he was never in danger of losing the race as he came home in 13:35.39. Ueno, 2nd overall was the 'official' winner in 13:41.04, taking his place on the Berlin team after missing out on the Beijing Olympics and 2007 World Championships with injuries. He was ecstatic in post-race interviews. Mesfin shook off his two Japanese rivals for an unofficial 3rd, while Takezawa showed just a shadow of his trademark last kick in dropping Kitamura for 3rd. Takezawa's time of 13:43.77 fell fall short of the B-standard, meaning he must try again next month if he is to make his third-straight national team.

In the men's 3000 m steeplechase, seven-time national champion and national record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu), already in possession of a valid B-standard mark, only needed to win to finalize his spot on the World Championships team, while the rest of the field had to push a fast pace to have a chance of scoring a B-standard time. It didn't happen.

The relatively slow early pace kept the pack together until Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN), the man with the best chance of scoring the B-standard mark, took over in the 2nd kilometer to push the pace, but a sloppy jump twisted one of Umegae's knees and he soon dropped out of the top ten.

Iwamizu sat comfortably near the lead, not exerting himself until 600 m to go when he sped away to the win, claiming his eighth national steeplechase title and his World Championships spot in 8:36.17. "I wanted to break the B-standard today," Iwamizu said during his victory interview, "but when I saw that the pace was kind of slow overall I decided to just sit and wait. This was a good step toward peaking at the World Championships." Despite the slow pace, five of the runners in the top ten clocked PB times, showing that the steeplechase is a sport still in the development phase in Japan.

2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships - Top Finishers
click event headers for complete results
Women's 10000 m
1. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 31:57.44
2. Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) - 32:01.80 - PB
3. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 32:04.06
4. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 32:04.26
5. Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) - 32:13.04
6. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) - 32:21.07
7. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 32:24.69
8. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 32:34.87
9. Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 32:54.93
10. Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.) - 32:57.13
DNF - Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno)

Men's 5000 m
(1.) Bitan Karoki (Sera H.S.) - 13:35.39
2. Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) - 13:41.04
(3.) Nahom Mesfin (Team Kanebo) - 13:43.07
4. Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) - 13:43.77
5. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 13:45.25
6. Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 13:53.43
7. Naoki Shibata (Team JAL Ground Service) - 13:57.23
8. Kazuyoshi Tokumoto (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 13:58.12
9. Takeshi Makabe (Team Kanebo) - 13:59.55
10. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:59.68

Men's 3000 mSC
1. Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu) - 8:36.17
2. Takayuki Matsuura (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 8:37.08 - PB
3. Tsuyoshi Takeda (Team Suzuki) - 8:37.48 - PB
4. Masatoshi Kikuchi (Team Fujitsu) - 8:41.14 - PB
5. Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 8:41.85
6. Tatsunori Shinoura (Team S&B) - 8:41.95
7. Yuki Munakata (Chuo Univ.) - 8:42.04 - PB
8. Takamori Yamashita (Chuo Univ.) - 8:45.54 - PB
9. Satoshi Kato (Team Toyota) - 8:46.49
10. Sho Okamura (Team Honda) - 8:48.71

Men's Discus Throw
1. Shiro Kobayashi (Team Niigata Nippo) - 57.18
2. Shigeo Hatakeyama (Team Zenrin) - 56.88
3. Masaru Miyauchi (Team Monterosa) - 53.07

Women's Triple Jump
1. Fumiyo Yoshida (Team Narita Airport) - 13.43
2. Sayuri Takeda (Hokkyo Univ.) - 13.16
3. Waka Maeda (Tsukuba Univ.) - 12.95

Women's High Jump
1. Miyuki Fukumoto (Osaka T&F Assoc.) - 1.85
2. Yuki Mimura (Kansai Univ.) - 1.82
3. Kiyoka Fujisawa (Kamagawa Michiru AC) - 1.75

Women's Pole Vault
1. Takayo Kondo (Team Hasegawa) - 4.35 - MR
2. Tomomi Abiko (Doshisha Univ.) - 4.20
3. Mami Nakano (Team Imabari) - 4.10

Women's Javelin Throw
1. Yuki Ebihara (Team Suzuki) - 55.16
2. Emika Yoshida (Team Daiwa Gas) - 54.31
3. Momoko Matsumoto (Minami Shimabara TAC) - 53.70

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


kevin said…
Is Akaba gonna double in the marathon and 10000 meters? It'll be great if she wins 2 medals from berlin. She needs to be selfish. She doesn't have to give up her spot.
Brett Larner said…
You changed your screen name, Dennis?
Kevin said…
I thought Nakamura was going break open the race. She did that really well in Nagoya. I can't believe shed got dropped so easily. And she wont make the team. That's sad cause she qualify so easily last year and now she can't qualify.
dennis said…
Can I join University teams like Hokkaido Kyoiku? How do you sign up for that?
Yuza said…
Brett, as you are down in Hiroshima I was curious to know if you have heard anything regarding Kinukawa and her fitness?

Basically is her career going to come to a very early end or are people still confident she can get back on track?

It is just a shame to see her having so many problems.
Brett Larner said…
That seems to be the way it goes with Tenmaya runners.

Good question. She's still young and has plenty of time, but this new round of injuries after the comeback last fall has to make you wonder. If you compare her at the start of the 10000 m video above (front row on the left) to pre-setback photos you'll see she has put on a lot of weight.
Yuza said…
You are right she has put on weight! Interesting, I hope she can get back into shape and back to running well. She has so much potential.

Good to see Sahaku run well. As long as she stays fit it looks like she will run a quick marathon next time out.

Thank you for the coverage, it is appreciated.
Kevin said…
Mari Ozaki should make the team instead of Matsuoka because she was in the lead pack much longer than Matuoka. What's next for Mari Ozaki? I think she can a 2:24:00 marathon. She hasn't run a marathon for so long. Is there any good runner on the Norits team instead of Ozaki.

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