translated by Brett Larner
At Sunday's Fukuoka International Marathon no Japanese men finished within the top eight. General Division entrant Tadashi Shitamori (31, Team Yasukawa Denki) was the best-placing Japanese finisher, 9th overall in 2:14:42, while lone Japanese invited runner Tomoyuki Sato (28, Team Asahi Kasei) suffered muscle cramps in both legs and dropped to 31st. Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Tsegaye Kebede (22, Ethiopia) brought the first-ever 2:05 on Japanese soil, winning his second straight Fukuoka title in 2:05:18.
The difference in strength between the overseas and Japanese runners was plain to see and has never been greater. At 7 km when the leaders dropped the pace down below 3 min / km all the Japanese runners in the pack immediately fell out. In the end it was the first time in Fukuoka's 63 year history that there was not a single Japanese finisher in the top eight. Rikuren Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee director Toshio Kiuchi commented, "They just couldn't fight against the reality," his face betraying dark emotions.
This year the only Japanese man to break 2:10 was Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) in April's London Marathon.* With such an atrocious result coming in the year of the speed marathon it is clear that Japan is not keeping up with the rest of the world. Rikuren Director of Men's Marathoning Yasushi Sakaguchi said, "I always thought this era was going to come some day." More emphasis being placed on ekidens than ever before and talented young runners avoiding the marathon are among the reasons for the decline. "That is one thing we're going to have to give some serious thought if we're going to turn this around," said Kiuchi somberly, indicating that no easy cure is in hand. Until then, the gap between Japan and the rest of the marathoning world continues to widen.
*Translator's note: There is still one more elite marathon left in Japan this year, the Dec. 20 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. While it's unlikely there will be a sub-2:10 there it is possible considering 2:07 man Tomoaki Kunichika is in the field.