an editorial by Kenji Sato
translated by Brett Larner
The marathon teams for August's World Championships marathon in Berlin have now been decided. There was a time and place when Japanese marathoners were among the world's leaders, but the world has moved forward. While Rikuren's goal for the combined men's and women's teams is for one medal and one or two top eight finishes, officials admit that "reality is harsh" as they look at the road ahead.
This year's selection process was the first since the disastrous failure of Japanese marathoning at the Beijing Olympics and the first to benefit from major changes made since then. Up until this year Japanese runners have been restricted to the major domestic marathons to qualify for the national team, but they have now been given the option of qualifying in a major overseas race. Rikuren's selection committee made the change in the hope that the experience of preparing for and racing in a tough overseas race would help Japanese marathoners raise their running up to a globally competitive level.
However, only three athletes took advantage of this opportunity to qualify overseas, with one man and two women running April's London Marathon.* Of these, only one runner, 31 year old Beijing Olympian Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), claimed a ticket to the Berlin. Officials had hoped that the experiment would encourage a larger number of ambitious young runners to cross the seas.
Looking at the ages of this year's national team members, 33 year old Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) is the oldest, while Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) and two others are the youngest at 27. The average age of the men is 29.4 and the women 28.6. Veterans and those in their mid-careers have already proven their reliability, but they fill the roster and the absence of any younger runners to learn from them is something to be concerned about.
This year Rikuren began sending the most promising young runners in the country to new overseas group training camps to help them grow stronger, but their efforts in creating this first opportunity for athletes to challenge themselves has now come to an end. With just three years until the London Olympics the nation's marathoners will have to take it one year at a time. Let's all get behind our young, up-and-coming athletes and spur them on to the next level.
*Translator's note: A third woman, Yuri Kano, also ran London but had already been selected for the World Championships team after finishing 2nd in November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon. Two Japanese runners also ran April's Boston Marathon but did not perform adequately to be considered for the Berlin team.