Skip to main content

Evaluating the Japanese Performance in Berlin

by Brett Larner

By most criteria the Japanese federation's stated goals in the 2009 Berlin World Championships were modest and clear-cut: one medal, six top-eight finishes and a 25% season best performance rate among the team as a whole, with the medal and two of the top-eight performances coming from the team's strongest component, the marathon squads. Despite no-shows and disappointment from many of the biggest Japanese stars including hammer thrower Koji Murofushi, 400 m runner Yuzo Kanemaru and marathoners Yoko Shibui and Yukiko Akaba the team came just within achieving all of Rikuren's aims. Below is a quick evaluation of the Japanese performances relative to the stated goals.

Marathon
Goal: one medal, two top-eight finishes
Actual: one medal, two top-eight finishes
With three potential medalists in its initial lineup the women's marathon squad was by far the strongest on the Japanese team. Yoko Shibui's withdrawal with a stress fracture and Yukiko Akaba's surprisingly weak showing, the two biggest disappointments of this World Championships for the Japanese team, meant that Yoshimi Ozaki's silver medal in the women's marathon kept the team on track. Winning silver lifted the national team beyond the 2007 World Championships where Reiko Tosa's silver medal in the women's marathon was Japan's only hardware.

Yuri Kano offered Ozaki support in the lead pack and came through with a 7th place finish to round out the squad's quota after Atsushi Sato's 6th place finish in the men's marathon. Masaya Shimizu came unexpectedly close to exceeding the quota by rising to 8th in the men's marathon but was heartbreakingly passed by three rivals just meters before the finish line and ultimately ended up in 11th. Potential top-eight men Kazuhiro Maeda and Arata Fujiwara had extremely disappointing showings alongside Akaba and finished deep in the field.

The women's team silver medal was an improvement over its bronze at the 2007 World Championships. While the men's team bronze broke Japan's streak of four team golds it restored some confidence following the Beijing Olympics breakdown. Four marathoners, two each in the men's and women's races, also contributed season best marks to the overall tally. As expected, the marathoners were overall the Japanese team's biggest asset.

Overall
Goal: one medal, six top-eight finishes
Actual: two medals, five top-eight finishes
The clear assumption was that the women's marathon team would deliver a medal. The Beijing Olympics bronze medal-winning men's 4 x 100 m squad had a close call, finishing 4th, but Yukifumi Murakami's completely unexpected first-ever Japanese bronze medal in the men's javelin just a few hours after Ozaki's marathon silver was a cause for great joy. Combined with the five overall top-eight finishes it meant that in terms of competitiveness the 2009 national team exceeded Rikuren's plans and was a success.

Goal: 25% season best performance rate
Actual: 23% season best performance rate
The goal of a 25% season best rate, a partial measurement of Japanese athletes' ability to peak when it matters, revealed the area most in need of improvement. While the numbers look close, they are artificially buoyed by four of the marathoners' times counting as season bests despite not having run another marathon in 2009. Among the thirteen season best performances on the Japanese team were six PB marks. Encouragingly three of these were by relative unknowns including Murakami, hurdler Kazuaki Yoshida and decathlete Daisuke Ikeda. The other three PBs and one of the top eight finishes were all delivered by women's distance runner Yurika Nakamura. Nakamura deserves credit alongside Ozaki and Murakami as one of the heroes of the team for PBing and finishing 7th in the 10000 m, PBing the heats of the 5000 m, and then running a third PB in the 5000 m final. Without her achievements the team's numbers would look very different.

In terms of future improvement, the low expectations and even lower achievement rate for season best marks may indicate a timing problem with the late-June National Championships, with many of the top athletes making the team having recorded their season bests at or shortly before Nationals and then arriving at Worlds injured or flat. It may also betray a lack of experience and self-confidence among team members when faced with international competition after the relative closed-circuit nature of the Japanese track and field system. With some refinement on these points a larger percentage of Japanese athletes could be in a position to deliver their best when it is really needed and creep closer to the podium.

Medalists
Yoshimi Ozaki - silver, women's marathon
Yukifumi Murakami - bronze, men's javelin

Top-Eight Finishers
men's 4 x 100 m relay - 4th
Atsushi Sato - 6th, men's marathon
Masumi Fuchise - 7th, women's 20 km RW
Yuri Kano - 7th, women's marathon
Yurika Nakamura - 7th, women's 10000 m

Season Best Performances
men's 4 x 100 m relay - 38.30
Arata Fujiwara - 2:31:06, men's marathon
Kayoko Fukushi - 31:23.49, women's 10000 m
Minori Hayakari - 9:39.28, women's 3000 m SC heats
Daisuke Ikeda - 7788, men's decathlon - PB
Satoshi Irifune - 2:14:54, men's marathon
Yuri Kano - 2:26:57, women's marathon
Yuriko Kobayashi - 15:12.44, women's 5000 m final
Yuriko Kobayashi - 15:23.96, women's 5000 m heats
Yukifumi Murakami - 83.10, men's javelin throw qual. round
Yurika Nakamura - 31:14.39, women's 10000 m - PB
Yurika Nakamura - 15:13.01, women's 5000 m final - PB
Yurika Nakamura - 15:21.01, women's 5000 m heats - PB
Yoshimi Ozaki - 2:25:25, women's marathon
Kazuaki Yoshida - 49.45, men's 400 m H heats - PB

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Yuta Shitara Breaks Japanese Men's Half Marathon National Record in Berlin Marathon Tuneup at Usti nad Labem Half

A week after his 28:55 at the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10 km and just eight days out from the Berlin Marathon, Yuta Shitara (Honda) made the great leap forward, taking 8 seconds off Atsushi Sato's 2007 half marathon Japanese national record, finishing 8th at the Czech Republic's Usti nad Labem Half Marathon.

Shitara is probably most well-known outside Japan for going through halfway under 62 minutes during his marathon debut at this year's Tokyo Marathon and still ending up with a 2:09:27, but he's been turning heads in Japan since his second year at Toyo University when he broke a stage record at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden and outkicked the U.S.A.'s Dathan Ritzenhein to finish in 1:01:48 at the NYC Half two months later, until this year the fastest time ever by a Japanese man on U.S soil.

Three weeks before Tokyo this year he ran a 1:01:19 PB at the Marugame Half. Many people would call that a solid tuneup three weeks out from a serious marathon, but eight days? In P…

Ayuko Suzuki Leaves for Altitude Training in Boulder Motivated for the Marathon

2017 London World Championships 5000 m and 10000 m runner Ayuko Suzuki (25, Japan Post) left from Narita Airport on Sept. 18 for altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.

Two days earlier at a half marathon in Czech Republic, Yuta Shitara (25, Honda), like Suzuki born in 1991, broke the 10-year-old Japanese men's half marathon national record in a time of 1:00:17. "It's a big motivation to see an athlete the same age as me doing something like that," she said. Showing her determination to be one of her generation's leaders, she added, "I'll be 28 [at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics], right in my prime mentally and physically. I want to run big too."

In the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics Suzuki has the marathon in sight along with the track. "I need to run a half marathon and marathon somewhere once to check [how well they suit me]," she said. "Coach and I will be talking about it." If everything goes according to plan, December's Sanyo …

New Half Marathon NR Holder Yuta Shitara's Twin Brother Keita Joins Hitachi Butsuryu Corporate Team

Having left the Konica Minolta men's corporate team at the end of March this year, Keita Shitara, 25, announced on Sept. 19 that he will join the Hitachi Butsuryu team. The official announcement is scheduled for Sept. 20.

As a member of Toyo University Shitara was part of two Hakone Ekiden-winning teams before joining Konica Minolta following his graduation in 2014. His first year at Konica Minolta Shitara ran New Year Ekiden national championships' toughest stage, but since his second year he has experienced a slump. Saying, "I need to change my environment in order to get my head straight and back on track," Shitara chose to leave the team at the end of March, returning to Toyo as his training base.

The Hitachi Butsuryu team came into being in April, 2012 as the successor to the Hitachi Cable Marathon Team. It is based in Matsudo, Chiba. Under the leadership of head coach Manabu Kitaguchi, 45, it has grown steadily, placing 10th at this year's New Year Ekiden.…