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Eriguchi and Ueno Prove Themselves - Japanese Nationals Day Four

by Brett Larner

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s surprising heats for the men’s 100 m, the semi-finals provided most of the action on the fourth and last day of the 2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships. The finals, on the other hand, were a letdown for fans and athletes alike. The defending champs were recrowned in both the men’s and women’s 400 m, an unexpected name stole the men’s 1500 m, and most of the big names fizzled in the final event of the games, the men’s 10000 m.

After yesterday’s scintillating men’s 100 m heats, where Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu) set a PB of 10.09 and little-known Masashi Eriguchi (Waseda Univ.) came up with an unforeseen 10.14 PB, hopes were high for the semis. With the cooperation of the tailwind which had remained constant at around 1.8 m/sec through the championships Eriguchi came up with an even bigger run, clocking 10.07 to take the first semi and move ahead of Tsukahara on the favorite list even as the Olympian stood by watching. Three more men in the first semi broke the World Championships B-standard for the first time. Tsukahara managed another 10.09 in the second semi, but this time with a 2.4 m/sec tailwind.

In the women’s 100 m semi-finals, newly-minted national record holder Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) comfortably won the second semi after watching the woman who has pushed her all season long, Momoko Takahashi (Heisei Kokusai Univ.) take the first semi in a similar time. Both men’s and women’s 100 m finals looked set for exciting showdowns between the favorites and worthy challengers. Sprinting has risen in popularity in Japan over the last year thanks in large part to Tsukahara and Fukushima, and there was a sense of excitement in the stadium after the semis, a feeling that this day was going to be a turning point in the sport’s domestic history.

Incredibly, both Fukushima and then Tsukahara pulled out of the finals. To be fair, Fukushima had already won the 200 m national title and Tsukahara had appeared to be favoring his left leg after the heats the day before and both athletes were already sure to be chosen for the Berlin World Championships team, but the letdown in the crowd, many of whom had come to the stadium to watch the two defending champions and had been eagerly awaiting the duels, was audible. Takahashi ran a credible 11.34 to win the women’s 100 m, just 0.02 off her best, and Eriguchi confirmed his legitimacy with another 10.14, but the races lacked the electricity which had been building. What might have been.

Takahashi in particular in her post-race interview seemed disappointed and almost ashamed to be called national champion without having had to fight for it. “I wanted to run a PB today, but I guess now I’ll focus on peaking for Berlin,” she said. After running an A-standard 10.21 PB in the heats, Eriguchi’s Waseda teammate Shintaro Kimura pulled out 10.22 in both the semis and final for 2nd, taking the third spot on the national team.

The men’s 1500 m saw an unexpected face steal the win from national record holder and six-time defending national champion Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN). Running against Kobayashi and two other athletes holding the B-standard, this year’s 5000 m national champion, Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B), started off the 1500 m in last place. Ueno has developed a bit of a reputation as an idiot for always going out too hard. Rounding the first corner he went wide, passing the entire field and audaciously opening a considerable gap. Two runners initially tried to follow but soon sat back and joined the chase pack, which for the most part seemed not to take Ueno's breakaway seriously. Ueno clocked 59.4 for the first and second laps, not especially quick but an indication either of how little respect the field of 1500 m specialists gave him or how lazy they were. Kobayashi in particular waited in the pack, clearly planning to kick his way to the win with the least effort necessary.

At the bell Kobayashi took off and Ueno began to lose ground. He looked to be in range, but on the final curve he had a kick of his own and Kobayashi could only watch as the title slipped away. Adding insult to injury, Ueno began to thump his chest and wave down the home stretch, even looking back just before crossing the line. He clocked 3:42.51, exactly tying his PB, with Kobayashi 2nd in 3:44.34. Without a World Championships qualifying time to his name Ueno will not be doubling in Berlin, but he was gleefully happy to add a second national title to his name just days after his first, proving he is among Japan's best after a long period of setbacks. Doing it by humiliating a pack of more experienced athletes who were content to run conservatively made Ueno's run the highlight of this year's Nationals. Maybe his month racing in California this spring taught Ueno a few things about being aggressive and taking chances. Or maybe he is just a lucky fool who got away with it for once. Embarrassed by this interloper from the longer distances, Kobayashi may or may not be named to the Berlin team and will have to sweat it out or try again, and harder, next month.

The men’s 10000 m, on the other hand, should have been the highlight of the championships. Three A-standard holders, eleven B-standards, and a handful of people under 28:20, but it was not to be. Ethiopian steeplechase record holder Yakob Jarso (Team Honda) needed to run around a 30-second PB, i.e. around 27-flat, to make the Ethiopian national team, and accompanied by Kenyan Micah Njeru (Team Toyota Boshoku) he went out harder than any of the Japanese runners wanted. But not hard enough. His opening kilometer was only 2:45, right on pace to match his PB of 27:32.52. That looked workable for top Japanese man Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), who, with a recent PB of 27:38.25, came up to join the pair of Africans. Unfortunately for Jarso’s aspirations, Sato soon faded and Njeru decided it was his day to pacemake the pack rather than run a 45-second PB. Jarso was left on his own as Njeru led a contingent of Japanese B-standard holders on a gradually-slowing pace.

With the exception of A-standard man Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta), who is on the mend from injuries and never left the safety of the second pack, and B-standard holder Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), almost every World Championships-elligible runner took a turn trying to pick up the berth guaranteed to the top Japanese finisher. The pack eventually boiled down to Njeru, his teammate Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei), the identical trio which worked together to break 28 earlier this month at the Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa meet.

Iwai emerged the strongest, breaking away and trying to hunt down the fading Jarso. He closed within five seconds of the Ethiopian, but Jarso summoned up a strong final mile and pulled away again for the win in 28:04.20. Njeru came back, outkicking Iwai in the home stretch for 2nd in 28:17.31. Iwai took 3rd in 28:19.25, disappointed at scoring a national title in such a slow time but happy to pick up a ticket to Berlin. World Championships marathoner Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), running the race as a tune-up for next week’s Sendai International Half Marathon, was 12th in 29:08.30.

Also punching their tickets for Berlin, four-time men’s 400 m national champion Yuzo Kanemaru (Hosei Univ.) and women’s 400 m national record holder and two-time national champion Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) scored victories. Kanemaru’s time of 45.45 was the fastest of his five national wins. 2nd place man Hideyuki Hirose (Keio Univ.) ran 45.84 to break the World Championships B-standard for the first time. Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko) picked up her second 800 m title but failed to crack the World Championships B-standard.

Defending champions swept all the fourth day field events, with the majority coming up short of setting World Championships-qualifying marks. The exception came in the women's long jump, where defending champion Sachiko Masumi (Team Kyudenko) jumped a PB of 6.65 to clear the B-standard for the first time. Masumi beat national record holder and four-time champion Kumiko Imura (Sunnyside Up) last year but had to stay home from the Beijing Olympics as she lacked a qualifying mark. With her new PB this year Masumi will make her first national team with Imura on the bench as her reserve.

2009 Japanese National Track and Field Championships – Top Finishers
click event headers for complete results
Men’s 10000 m
(1.) Yakob Jarso (Team Honda) – 28:04.20
(2.) Micah Njeru (Team Toyota Boshoku) – 28:17.31
3. Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) – 28:19.25
4. Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) – 28:30.39
5. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 28:40.30
6. Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) - 28:41.09
7. Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) - 28:53.74
8. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 28:57.40
9. Takeshi Makabe (Team Kanebo) - 28:57.51
10. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 28:58.46
12. Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 29:08.30
14. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 29:14.99
17. Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujits) - 29:17.36

Men’s 1500 m
1. Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) – 3:42.51 - PB
2. Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN) – 3:44.34
3. Masahiro Takaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 3:45.00
4. Keisuke Tanaka (Josai Univ.) - 3:46.42
5. Yasunori Murakami (Team Fujitsu) - 3:46.45
6. Daisuke Tamura (SDF Sports Academy) - 3:47.29
7. Takahiko Onishi (Team NTN) - 3:48.04
8. Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 3:49.20
9. Naoto Morimoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 3:50.52
10. Kenji Shimizu (Team Yakult) - 3:51.32

Women’s 800 m - click here for video
1. Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko) – 2:04.76
2. Ruriko Kubo (Team Deodeo) - 2:04.88
3. Akari Kishikawa (NPO STC) - 2:05.42
4. Reina Sasaki (Rikusokai TC) - 2:07.07
5. Tomomi Kimura (Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 2:08.43
6. Yukari Nomura (Chuo Univ.) - 2:08.61
7. Mai Nishiwaki (Okayama Sozan H.S.) - 2:11.30
8. Miki Nishimura (SDF Sports Academy) - 2:12.32

Men’s 400 m
1. Yuzo Kanemaru (Hosei Univ.) – 45.45
2. Hideyuki Hirose (Keio Univ.) – 45.84
3. Yusuke Ishitsuka (Tsukuba Univ.) - 46.02
4. Yoshihiro Horigome (Team Fujitsu) - 46.02
5. Jun Kaito (Chuo Univ.) - 46.67
6. Akihiro Urano (Waseda Univ.) - 46.84
7. Shinichi Kitayama (Chukyo Univ.) - 47.03
8. Chihiro Hakamata (Tokai Univ.) - 47.37

Women’s 400 m - click here for video
1. Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) – 52.96
2. Sayaka Aoki (Team Natureal) - 53.87
3. Mayu Sato (Team Natureal) - 54.05
4. Miho Shingu (Higashi Osaka Keiai H.S.) - 54.07
5. Mayu Horie (Team M&K) - 54.44
6. Chisato Tanaka (Fukuoka Univ.) - 54.49
7. Natsumi Shihi (Kawawa H.S.) - 55.17
8. Chiaki Ueda (Tsuru Univ.) - 56.20

Men’s 100 m
1. Masashi Eriguchi (Waseda Univ.) – 10.14
2. Shintaro Kimura (Waseda Univ.) – 10.22
3. Shogo Arao (Fukuoka Univ.) – 10.23
4. Daiki Godo (Keio Univ.) – 10.28 - PB
5. Genki Kawai (Chuo Univ.) - 10.39 - PB
6. Shun Nagasawa (Team Taisay) - 10.40
7. Shigeyuki Kojima (Team Asics) - 10.44
Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu) - DNS

Women’s 100 m
1. Momoko Takahashi (Heisei Kokusai Univ.) – 11.34
2. Mayumi Watanabe (Team Natureal) - 11.50
3. Maki Wada (Team Mizuno) - 11.76
4. Shiori Ishikawa (Chuo Univ.) - 11.77
5. Kaori Kawarazaki (Nittai Univ.) - 11.79
6. Yumeka Sano (Tsuru AC) - 11.79
7. Saori Suda (Team M&K) - 11.87
Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) - DNS

Men’s High Jump
1. Naoyuki Daigo (Team Fujitsu) – 2.24
2. Hikaru Tsuchiya (Team Monterosa) - 2.20
3. Hiromi Takahari (Tokai Univ.) - 2.20

Women’s Long Jump
1. Sachiko Masumi (Team Kyudenko) - 6.65 - PB
2. Kumiko Imura (Sunnyside Up) - 6.46
3. Saeko Okayama (STC) - 6.39

Women’s Hammer Throw
1. Yuka Murofushi (Team Mizuno) - 63.46
2. Masumi Ase (Team Maruzen Kogyo) - 60.28
3. Mika Takekawa (Team Suzuki) - 57.82

Men’s Javelin
1. Yukifumi Murakami (Team Suzuki) - 78.25
2. Yasuo Ikeda (Team BS) - 75.15
3. Yutaro Tanemoto (STC) - 75.07

Women’s Heptathlon
1. Yuki Nakata (Team Nihon Hoiku Service) - 5802
2. Minori Ito (Team Kojima Press) - 5350 - PB
3. Chinami Yasuda (Team Daiwa Gas) - 5241

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Roberto said…
Continuing our conversation from the comments section of the previous post, it's for sure Ueno may have been lucky, but it was Kobayashi who was the fool. A guy who has won the national championship at 5K can be relied on to pursue only one strategy in the 1500. And as you wrote, Ueno didn't take it out particularly hard (though as you noted in your preview, the 1500 is perennially Japan's worst distance event). To not cover a 1:59 800 is appalling at anything above the high school level. And that Ueno wasn't moving especially quickly is of course why he was able to stay in front. He didn't die because he wasn't moving that quickly. He turned the race into a 400, and spotted himself 20-25m. As you say, it really was the highlight of the meet, and all credit to Ueno for having the balls to do what he had to do.

One other small observation from the day: Kanemaru Yuzo needs a coach. He's no longer a high schooler, and he's obviously talented. But watch video of him running and his form is awful. He strains like he's giving birth. It's hard for me to watch and not think he can find the better part of a second (bringing him into championships semifinal/final country) by simply learning to run relaxed.
David Sweeney said…
Hi Brett, Loved your comment on the 1500m ! What is the tie/scarf thing the runners appear to unwrap from their waists at the end of the race?
Brett Larner said…
Thanks. It's a kind of lower back support belt. A lot of Japanese guys wear them, especially in university.

Last night I was talking to two S&B guys. They felt the same way -- that all the 1500 m guys obviously thought Ueno didn't have the stamina to last through a 1500 but that that was laughable considering he'd just won the 5. One guy said, "If he'd just won the 800 then maybe that would have been reasonable to think, but if the guy's just won the 5000 then of course he's got the stamina."

This is Kanemaru's last year of school, so maybe once he goes pro things will change.
Roberto said…
Ueno did the reverse Lagat ('07 world champs) ... dashed away in the 1500 after winning the 5K and as you say, his competitors can't be excused for their brainless tactics.

Lagat, of course, won the 5K after winning the 1500 ... when his brainless competitors allowed the pace to dawdle, setting up the fastest man in the field.

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