Sunday, August 30, 2009

Njenga and Shimahara Top Hokkaido (updated)

by Brett Larner

Two veterans made comebacks to win the 2009 Hokkaido Marathon in its first edition on a new course. In the men's race Kenyan Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) endured a relatively slow first 5k of 15:46, typical of hot, summery Hokkaido, before cutting loose at 12 km with a surge at world record pace. From 12 km to 18 km Njenga ran under 3:00 / km pace, clocking as fast as 2:50 / km to kill off all rivals. He hit halfway in 1:04:11 with a chase pack of three including fellow Kenyan Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel), Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and debutant Takayuki Tagami (Team Kyudenko) around 25 seconds behind.

A minute ahead of the Hokkaido Marathon record, Njenga began to slip in the heat and was down to 3:10 / km pace by 25 km. He continued to fade, but the chasers were likewise suffering and could make no headway. Approaching 40 km, first-timer Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) cruised past into second as Njenga dropped to 3:20 / km. Yamamoto almost closed the gap but fell 8 seconds short as Njenga crossed the line in 2:12:03, the second-fastest time ever in Hokkaido. Yamamoto was 2nd in 2:12:10, with Kagika a short way back in 3rd in 2:12:24. Defending champion Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) was 4th in a credible 2:13:05, while Kobayashi slipped to 5th. In his post-race interview Njenga said that he had been suffering leg pain earlier in the month and had been unsure whether to run Hokkaido, but was very happy to win. It was his first good marathon since his last win in the 2007 Tokyo Marathon and brought his lifetime marathon victory count to three.

2008 Honolulu Marathon champion and noted hot weather specialist Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) took the race out fast from the gun accompanied by her teammate Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC), the older sister of World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Challenges from 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) and Olympian Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) never materialized, and after a summer training in Albuquerque, NM with World Championships marathon 7th placer Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) both Shimahara and Ozaki were fit enough to make it a two-woman race. The pair were over 15 seconds ahead of Masako Chiba's Hokkaido Marathon record pace at 10 km before Ozaki lost contact, but at halfway Shimahara was still on track with a 1:11:02, her best half marathon time in three years and less than a minute off her half PB.

At 25 km she was still going strong and was 42 seconds up on the record, but at 28 km Shimahara abruptly began having some kind of trouble, clutching at the left side of her chest and tugging at the neck of singlet before her coach Manabu Kawagoe ran up on the parallel sidewalk and shouted advice to her. The crisis passed, and although her pace had dropped it was clear that barring a major disaster Shimahara would not only break 2:30 for the first time since 2006 but also crack her PB of 2:26:14 from Hokkaido '05 and possibly hold out for Chiba's record of 2:25:46. Her aggressive sub-3:25 / km splits never returned, but Shimahara held on for the win in 2:25:10, achieving not only the record and a new PB but also setting the second-fastest time of the year by a Japanese woman and tenth-fastest worldwide, faster than Xue Bai, Yoshimi Ozaki and Yuri Kano's times in the Berlin World Championships despite the heat. Like Njenga it was her third marathon win.

Akemi Ozaki held on for 2nd in 2:27:23, likewise a PB by over a minute. Nasukawa was never in the race, finishing a distant 7th in 2:34:17 after having convincingly beaten Shimahara in March's Tokyo Marathon. 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) was close behind in 8th, clocking her fastest time since 2003 and her best since giving birth to her second daughter.

Combined with Kano's run in Berlin, Shimahara and Ozaki's Hokkaido performances complete a big week which marks Second Wind and coach Kawagoe the dominant force in Japanese women's marathoning at the moment, a noteworthy achievement in that they are an independent group which broke away from Team Shiseido in 2007 to exist outside the jitsugyodan corporate team system. Shimahara's win shows that she is still competitive and gives her the confidence to try for the overseas major win which, apart from Honolulu last year, has thus far eluded her.

2009 Hokkaido Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Men
1. Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) - 2:12:03
2. Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:12:10 - debut
3. Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel) - 2:12:24
4. Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 2:13:05
5. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:13:27
6. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:34
7. Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:35
8. Isamu Sueyoshi (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:14:37
9. Yoshiyuki Suetsugu (Team Kanebo) - 2:15:51
10. Yuichi Washio (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:15:32

Women
1. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:10 - PB, MR
2. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:23 - PB
3. Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) - 2:33:55
4. Nami Tani (Team Aruze) - 2:33:59
5. Misuzu Okamoto (Hokukoku Ginko) 2:34:12
6. Chinami Fukaminato (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:34:16
7. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:34:17
8. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 2:35:15
9. Nozomi Iijima (Team Sekisui Giken) - 2:36:46
10. Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido) - 2:37:25

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Watch the Hokkaido Marathon Online

by Brett Larner

The 2009 Hokkaido Marathon takes place Sunday, Aug. 30. Typically run under hot summer conditions, the Hokkaido Marathon isn't known as a speed race but in most years attacts a top domestic field and several good overseas runners.

The highlight of this year's race, the first edition on a new course, will be the women's event. Defending champion Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) will be back straight from her disappointing run in the 10000 m at the Berlin World Championships. Her strongest competition and arguably the race favorite is her teammate Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze), the 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner. Heat specialist Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), who ran her PB of 2:26:14 in Hokkaido four years ago, ran her best half marathon in several years at last month's Sapporo International Half Marathon and may also be a threat. Also conceivably in contention is Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya), whose six-year old PB of 2:21:51 marks her as the fastest in the field. One disappointment is the withdrawal of 2008 Tokyo Marathon winner Claudia Dreher of Germany with an injury.

On the men's side Kenyan Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult), struggling in the last few seasons, will face off against defending champion Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.), 2:07 man Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin), 2:08 runner Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin), 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon runner-up Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express), the identical twin brother of World Championships marathoner Masaya Shimizu.

The race will be broadcast nationwide on Fuji TV beginning at 12:00 noon Japan time on Aug. 30. International viewers should be able to watch live online for free by clicking here.

2009 Hokkaido Marathon - Elite Field
Women
Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) - 2:21:51 (Osaka 2003)
Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:25:38 (Tokyo 2009)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:26:14 (Hokkaido 2005)
Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido) - 2:27:06 (Nagoya 2004)
Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:28:39 (Tokyo Int'l 2007)
Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze) - 2:28:55 (Tokyo 2009)
Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:30:58 (Nagoya 2008)
Naoko Ota (Saku AC Hokkaido) - 2:48:52 (Nagoya 2008)
Mai Fujisawa (Hokkaido City Hall) - 2:50:23 (Nagoya 2009)

Men
Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) - 2:06:16 (Chicago 2002)
Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:07:55 (Fukuoka 2003)
Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako 2008)
Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:09:23 (Biwako 2008)
Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel) - 2:10:24 (Fukuoka 2001)
Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:10:38 (Beppu-Oita 2009)
Yuri Hyuchun (Ukraine) - 2:10:59 (Debuno 2008)
Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 2:12:10 (Hokkaido 2008)
Toyoshi Ishige (Team Yakult) - 2:12:45 (Biwako 2008)
Hiroshi Matsuda (Saku AC Hokkaido) - 2:23:38 (Fukuoka 1999)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

JRN on Location

Japan Running News will be on location at Ironman Canada on Aug. 30 for associate editor Mika Tokairin's debut Ironman. My apologies in advance for any irregularities in updating over the next two weeks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

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

Monday, August 24, 2009

JRN Contest Results

With the conclusion of the 2009 World Championships marathons it's time to announce the two divisional runners-up and the grand prize winner in our marathon prediction contest.

In the men's marathon division, celebrity JRN reader A. Webb beat the next entrant by a margin of nearly 100 points to take the prize. Webb successfully predicted top man Atsushi Sato's 6th place finish and was off by only 42 seconds with a time prediction of 2:11:23. More impressively Webb called Irifune's 2:14:54 finishing time, the only entrant to exactly nail one of the finishing times, and was off by only 5 spots with an estimated 9th place finish.

In the women's marathon division, enigmatic Japanese women's marathoning superfan Dennis, a/k/a Kevin, showed that he/she is not just talking when he/she is talking Japanese women's marathoning. Dennis/Kevin outwitted his/her nearest rival thanks to crafty time calls for Fujinaga, Kano and Ozaki, which he/she guessed within as close as 25 seconds.

For their efforts, Webb and D/K will receive some quality Japanese distance running-related tchotchkes within a fortnight. And now on to our grand prize.

To win the grand prize of a 2009 Japanese national team singlet the winner had to have the best overall score for the combined predictions for all nine Japanese marathoners. Our winner had only one bullseye, picking Sato for 6th in the men's marathon, but guessed three finishing times from within 10 to 43 seconds of the true times and was consistently close on the others. And that winner, ladies and gentlemen, is none other than JRN regular Simon. Congratulations to Simon, Webb, and Dennis/Kevin, and thank you to everyone worldwide who entered.

Murakami a Surprise Bronze - Berlin World Championships - Day Nine

by Brett Larner

Following Yoshimi Ozaki's silver medal in the women's marathon, little-known Yukifumi Murakami earned Japan its second medal of this year's World Championships with a bronze in the men's javelin. Coming into the qualification round with a PB of 81.71, only the eighth-best in the field, Murakami shot to attention when he threw 83.10 on his second attempt, earning him the number two ranking going into the final and making him the first Japanese athlete in decades to make a javelin final.

With the national eye abruptly turned toward him, Murakami took the pressure in stride and again broke his pre-Championships PB with a throw of 82.97 to edge out Latvia's Vadims Vasilevskis for the bronze. Apart from the great hammer thrower Koji Murofushi, Murakami's medal was Japan's first-ever field medal. With this unexpected success he will return to Japan a star alongside Ozaki.

2009 Berlin World Championships - Top Results
Men's Javelin
1. Andreas Thorkildsen (Norway) - 89.59
2. Guillermo Martinez (Cuba) - 86.41
3. Yukifumi Murakami (Japan) - 82.97
4. Vadims Vasilevskis (Latvia) - 82.37
5. Tero Pitkamaki (Finland) - 81.90

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ozaki Silver! World Championships Women's Marathon



by Brett Larner

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) scored the silver medal in the women's marathon at the 2009 World Championships in a thrilling three-way battle against eventual winner Xue Bai (China) and bronze medalist Aselefech Mergia (Ethiopia), Japan's first silver medal at the World Championships since Mizuki Noguchi finished second to Catherine Ndereba in the 2003 Paris World Championships.

Holding the fastest qualifying time on the Japanese team, 2:23:30 at last year's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, Ozaki was a question mark coming into Worlds after a spring of injury and an absence from media coverage, but her powerful, efficient form was clearly operating at 100% right from the start. When Russian Nailiya Yulamanova attacked after a moderately-paced first 30 km Ozaki was one of only three athletes to follow. Men's steeplechase national record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu came to the rescue when Ozaki missed her special drink shortly afterwards. In the final 5 km after Yulamanova dropped away Ozaki pushed to break her Chinese and Ethiopian rivals, but the race came down to a sprint over the final kilometer with Bai taking gold in 2:25:15. Ozaki was 10 seconds back in 2:25:25 and Mergia another 7 seconds behind in 2:25:32. Japanese-coached Chunxiu Zhou and Xiaolin Zhu took 4th and 5th to give China the team gold medal by a wide margin. Japan-based Julia Mumbi Muraga, coached by the legendary Yoshio Koide, was the top Kenyan finisher, 12th overall in 2:28:59.

In an interview immediately after the finish Ozaki was fresh, energetic and full of laughter. Her hair did not even look wet despite the heat. "Up until the 30 km point I just ran my own pace," she said of the back-and-forth pacing of the main pack throughout much of the race. "The real race was only over the last section." Ozaki's silver ties that of her coach Sachiko Yamashita, who was second at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. As in the 2007 World Championships, where the great Reiko Tosa scored bronze, Ozaki's medal is thus far the only Japanese medal in Berlin and a significant achievement for Yamashita, one of the only female professional coaches working in Japan. It also extends Japan's legacy of medaling in the World Championships, with at least one medal in every World Championships since 1991 with the sole exception of 1995.

Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), a teammate of Ozaki's older sister Akemi, was the second Japanese finisher at 7th overall in 2:26:57, her best race of the year. "In the morning my coach told me to be ready for tough conditions," she told journalists afterward, "I wanted to place better than this, but in the back of mind I had 'top eight at worst.' I'm glad I at least made my minimum goal." Kano's former teammate Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido), running in her first World Championships in ten years, was a surprise third on the Japanese team, giving Japan the team silver medal, its seventh straight team medal, with a 2:29:53 finish. The only team member to cry during her post-race interview, Fujinaga said, "After ten years since my last World Championships I'm just glad I could make it all the way to the finish."

The shock of the race from the Japanese perspective was the underpar performance by Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), who finished 31st in 2:37:43 after struggling to maintain contact with the pack from early on in the race despite being a pre-race favorite for medal contention. Fujinaga waited for Akaba at the finish line with an ice pack, and Akaba could later be seen bent over holding her left forefoot in evident pain.

Ozaki's medal, the team medal and Kano's top ten finish combined with Atsushi Sato's 6th place finish and the Japanese men's team bronze medal go a long way toward restoring Japanese confidence in the marathon after the failure of the Beijing Olympics. In Ozaki the country appears to have found another great with a bright future.

2009 World Championships Women's Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Xue Bai (China) - 2:25:15 - SB
2. Yoshimi Ozaki (Japan) - 2:25:25 - SB
3. Aselefech Mergia (Ethiopia) - 2:25:32
4. Chunxiu Zhou (China) - 2:25:39 - SB
5. Xiaolin Zhu (China) - 2:26:08 - SB
6. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:26:50
7. Yuri Kano (Japan) - 2:26:57 - SB
8. Nailiya Yulamanova (Russia) - 2:27:08
9. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:27:39 - SB
10. Kara Goucher (U.S.A.) - 2:27:48 - SB
-----
12. Julia Mombi (Kenya) - 2:28:59 - SB
14. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Japan) - 2:29:53
31. Yukiko Akaba (Japan) - 2:37:43

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Men's Marathon in Review

by Brett Larner

On many levels this year's World Championships men's marathon was a test for the Japanese marathon world. In the year since the system's breakdown at the Beijing Olympics, a year in which the world's top-level marathons have become fast-starting toughest man competitions regardless of conditions, the slow-moving bureaucracy at the top of the Japanese system and the athletes below have struggled with questions of their own competitiveness and even relevance and what, if anything, can be done to bring Japanese men back from the edge.

In this light the Japanese men's results in Berlin were a mixed grade - passing marks but maybe just so. After winning nothing but gold and silver in the World Cup team competition at the last six World Championships Japan earned only bronze this time, and that just by the barest of margins over Portugal. But it was still a medal against Ethiopia and arguably Kenya's strongest-ever World Championships teams. Top man Atsushi Sato was over five minutes behind winning Kenyan Abel Kirui and placed only 6th, missing his goal of the top five after struggling deeply in the third quarter of the race and apologizing afterwards to his training partners Tsuyoshi Ogata and Shigeru Aburaya for breaking their streak of top five finishes in the last four World Championships. But Sato's finish, throwing off his sunglasses before running down Ethiopian Dejene Yirdaw and 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Adil Annani of Morocco in the aggressive ekiden style which has made him popular in Japan, and his roaring, screaming joy at the goal line showed that he has overcome the psychological damage of finishing last in Beijing and is ready to move on to something better. Maybe most significantly, all five Japanese runners went with the lead pack during the fast early stages despite the heat. They may have faded one by one, but the move at least showed a willingness to change and to try to take on the suicidal speed marathon era. While many internationl runners with better PBs did likewise only to DNF or finish deep in the depths of the also-rans, the Japanese men held on for the team bronze. And that's a sign which should be read as a hopeful one for the future.

Which is not to say that there wasn't a share of failure. Kazuhiro Maeda, running only his second marathon but showing glimpses of the potential to be a 2:07 runner or better, was the first to permanently fade from the Japanese ranks. He ultimately came in 39th of the 70 finishers, clocking a disappointing 2:19:59. The erratic Arata Fujiwara brought his dark side, running up front with Sato until well into the race before abruptly vanishing to stagger home in 2:31:06, 61st place. With five marathons now under his belt Fujiwara has run a PB of 2:08:40 and broken 2:10 another time, but he now has one race in the 2:20's and two in the 2:30's. To be fair his bad marathons have been for the most part hot and Fujiwara was nervous about the conditions just before the race, but the balance of scales on the question of whether he is an unstable talent or a hack who occasionally gets lucky seems to be tipping.

But on the overall scales this year tips toward positive. Veteran Satoshi Irifune hung with the lead pack as long as he could and then ground out a steady second half. Once again he failed to live up to his seeming potential, but he did what he had to and brought the team its medal. The biggest hero of the Japanese squad was undoubtedly little Masaya Shimizu, though. You probably had someone like him on your team if you ran in high school or university - the unremarkable, unasuming last man who reliably plods along at his own pace. Every now and then when the top guys fall apart that kind of runner comes through and saves the day. Aug. 22 was Shimizu's day. Surviving a fall at an early water station, burning energy to regain contact with the pack, then drifting away on his own, Shimizu adjusted pace to run the kind of race he always does: a steady, stable one in the low-mid teens. One by one he picked up Maeda, Fujiwara and then Irifune to move into 2nd on the Japanese team and, incredibly, 8th overall. In the very final meters of the race, completely spent in the heat, he was passed by a pack of three Europeans to finish 11th in 2:14:06, but his above-expectation performance was the key in Japan's bronze medal. Pausing to turn around and bow to show his respect to the course and race, he was immediately seized by race officials and taken to the medical area and was unavailable for post-race interviews.

And so even though the Japanese men's results were not exactly spectacular at either the individual or team level this year, they showed that there is still hope, that the people in charge and the athletes themselves recognize the need to change and are trying to find solutions to get their edge back. As the world standard itself continues to progress, the next three years will be a critical period in the history of Japanese men's marathoning.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Always in Threes - Nakamura on World Championships Day Eight

by Brett Larner

2009 women's 5000 m national champion Yurika Nakamura may not be as talented as the top Kenyans and Ethiopians or even some of her countrywomen, but her performance in the 5000 m final at the 2009 World Championships marks her as the star of the Japanese team with only the medal hopefuls in the women's marathon and men's javelin left to outshine her efforts. In the 10000 m and the 5000 m heats Nakamura took the early lead to keep the races from going out too slowly, ran negative splits, and was rewarded with credible PBs. In the 5000 m final it was the same story. At 1000 m she was in the lead in 3:06.02. When the real racing began she was left behind, ultimately finishing 12th of 15, but she improved her PB from the heats by 8 seconds as she clocked a very decent 15:13.01. Three races in eight days, three PBs. With her stated goal for this year being to improve her track speed before taking another shot at the marathon Nakamura looks well on the way to something big.

2008 national champion and 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi was one spot ahead of Nakamura, 11th overall in 15:12.44. Her time was far off her PB, but after a spring filled with injury it was a season best mark and showed that Kobayashi is almost back to form.

The most anticipated event of the evening for Japanese viewers was the men's 4x100 m relay. Sporting a new lineup containing only half of its Beijing Olympics bronze medal-winning squad along with two up-and-coming student runners, the Japanese team easily made the final. Up against giants like Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, the new Japanese team was clipped for bronze by the British team by a margin of 0.28 seconds. The Japanese team's mark of 38.30 was a season best, and while they fell short of extending the legacy of last year's first-ever Japanese men's track medal it was a hopeful sign for the country's aspirations of developing world-class sprinters. The women's 4x100 m squad featuring national record holder Chisato Fukushima was unable to follow suit, finishing 14th of 17 in the first round and failing to advance, with the women's 4x400 m squad also left behind at 14th in the heats.

Japanese national team captain Daichi Sawano made the final of the men's pole vault, but after clearing only 5.50 he finished 10th of 15.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Akaba Checks in from Berlin

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

translated by Brett Larner

Berlin World Championships women's marathon medal favorite Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and her husband and coach Shuhei updated their blog with some reports from Berlin ahead of tomorrow's zero day. Below are some highlights. Click here for a translation of Akaba discussing her Berlin training and preparations, her views on doping, and the connection between her family life and success in running.

Aug. 19 - In Berlin
Sorry we couldn't update the blog one more time before we left. We got to Berlin the evening of the 17th. The flight was really, really long, but I spent the whole time watching movies. Yesterday we went out to tour the marathon course, a 10 km loop that we run four times. There's basically no up-down, in fact it's almost perfectly flat, but there are a lot of curves, the road is very narrow, and there will be streetcars running so there are some pretty tricky parts.

Along the course there are some places where you can see remnants of the Berlin Wall. There are some beautiful cathedrals and museums too as well as some green areas, so I think we'll be able to soak up some of the Berlin flavor and relax as we run.

In the morning and evening it's been around 15 degrees, but when the sun's shining at midday it's gotten into the 30's and the UV seems like it'll be a problem. The humidity is really low, though, so it feels quite different from Japan. Anyway, I'll be anxiously checking the forecast for the weather on race day!

Today's the fifth day of the World Championships! It's going to be a tough, heated battle and it's all I'm thinking about!

Aug. 20 - Plain White Rice
It's our fourth day in Berlin. We're completely adapted to the environment here now. The Japanese marathon team is getting more excited every day! This time we're having breakfast every day on our own in the hotel's buffet-style restaurant. By special request they are making rice for us too. Nobody in Germany eats plain white rice, so when the waitresses bring it for us they ask things like, "Are you really going to eat it that way? I can bring you some soy sauce if you like," and, "Wouldn't you rather eat it fried?" They seem really genuinely concerned and it's clear that they want everything to be perfect for their guests. It feels nice to be taken such good care of.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

JRN Contest Results - Marathon Predictions

Entries are now closed for JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest. Thank you to everyone who entered worldwide. Below is a summary of entries; click the chart for a larger version. The red section shows the predicted finishing place and time of each Japanese athlete based on the average of all valid entries received. The next two columns show the highest and lowest individual finishing place predictions, and the final two columns the best and worst individual finishing time predictions.

Berlin World Championships - Day Seven

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

In the absence of distance running events, men's javelin thrower Yukifumi Murakami turned in the best Japanese performance of the day at the Berlin World Championships. Murakami threw a PB of 83.10 to win his qualification group and was ranked second overall after the completion of the round. A javelin medal in the final would be completely unexpected but more than welcome to the Japanese national team, which with the exception of women's 5000 m and 10000 m runner Yurika Nakamura has thus far underperformed.

The day's other strong Japanese performance came unsurprisingly in the men's 4x100 m relay, in which Japan won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics. With only two members of the Beijing team still active, this year's squad featured new blood Masashi Eriguchi and Kenji Fujimitsu teaming up with medalists Naoki Tsukahara and Shinji Takahira. The new team finished 2nd in its heat in 38.53 despite a sloppy exchange between veterans Tsukahara and Takahira, credibly advancing to the final.

The darkest moment of the day came in the men's 50 km race walk, where medal contender Yuki Yamazaki and teammate Takayuki Tanii were both disqualified. The team's third member, Koichiro Morioka, was only 18th in 3:56:21.

The only Japanese field athlete of the day, first-time World Championships entrant Sachiko Masumi, was eliminated in the qualification round of the women's long jump with a mark of 6.23.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, August 21, 2009

Berlin World Championships - Day Six

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

Double 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno ran according to his reputation today in the men's 5000 m heats at the 2009 World Championships. With one of the slowest PBs in the field, 13:21.49, Ueno took a cue from women's 5000 m champion Yurika Nakamura and went out the way he needed to in order to stand a chance of making the final - bang on a steady 2:40 pace. In Nakamura's case the field responded and went with her, but for Ueno he was left alone as the field relaxed and trailed a few seconds behind. On the strength of his recent performances Ueno should easily have been able to sustain the pace, but after only 1 km he abruptly slowed and was helpless as the field, which maintained its pace of around 2:43/km, breezed past. Virtually flailing, Ueno finished dead last in 14:30.76 versus winner Kenenisa Bekele's 13:19.77 but still found the energy for an unjustified final kick over the last 400 m. It was a disappointing performance but one which followed an all-too familiar pattern for those who have watched Ueno's racing over the years.

In other results:

-Daisuke Ikeda has a strong second day in the men's decathlon, improving his overall standing to 26th with a PB of 7788 by the end of competition.

-Men's pole vault national champion Daichi Sawano moved on from the qualification round after clearing 5.55, but teammate Takafumi Suzuki struggled and was left behind after clearing only 5.25 to finish last in his group. Men's long jumper Daisuke Arakawa likewise finished last in his group and did not advance past the qualification round.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Yoko Shibui Withdraws From World Championships Marathon With Likely Stress Fracture

http://mainichi.jp/enta/sports/general/track/news/20090820k0000e050009000c.html
http://mainichi.jp/enta/sports/news/20090821k0000m050127000c.html?link_id=REH04

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

After initial reports on Aug. 19, Rikuren officially confirmed on Aug. 20 that marathoner Yoko Shibui (30, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) is withdrawing from the Aug. 23 World Championships women's marathon in Berlin, Germany. Shibui began experiencing discomfort in the upper right side of her right foot on Aug. 14. After arriving in Berlin, the discomfort developed into pain bad enough that Shibui consulted a doctor on Aug. 18. The diagnosis was a likely stress fracture of the 4th metatarsal.

Since alternate Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) is also injured and unable to run, Japan will field a team of only four runners: Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), and Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido). In the Beijing Olympics two marathoners, Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) withdrew with injuries shortly before their races. Rikuren executive Keisuke Sawaki apologized to the public for Shibui's situation, saying, "Since Beijing I have been personally involved in overseeing athletes' condition, and I am very, very sorry this has happened."

Atsushi Sato on the Year From Beijing to Berlin

http://www.energia-ssc.org/rikujou/2009/sato_interview.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

Atsushi Sato, 30, is Japan's best current marathoner with a PB of 2:07:13 from his 3rd place finish in the 2007 Fukuoka International Marathon where he raced Samuel Wanjiru and Deriba Merga. After melting down from stress a short time before the Beijing Olympics he finished last in the Olympic marathon. Since then he has been in a process of rebuilding himself physically and, more importantly, mentally. His sponsor company Chugoku Denryoku recently featured the following interview about his leadup to Saturday's Berlin World Championships marathon on its website.

Atsushi Sato ran the London Marathon as a preparation run for the August 22nd Berlin World Championships men's marathon, sealing his place on the national team with a 2:09:16 finishing time. We interviewed Sato about his year since the Beijing Olympics marathon.

Congratulations on making the World Championships team. How did you feel about your tune-up at the London Marathon?
I'm glad I met my target of breaking 2:10. To be honest I wanted to run in the top group, but they told us beforehand that the leaders would be going out very, very hard so I made the decision to stick with the second pack of about eight no matter what. The first 10 km were too fast so we slowed down after that. After 32 km it got a bit hard, but I've run the marathon quite a few times before so I wasn't really concerned about making it to the finish in one piece. I just believed in myself, took my time and ran the kind of race I wanted to.

What kind of training have you been doing since the Beijing Olympics?
After the Olympics were over I was a wreck, physically and mentally broken from the shock of it. For a while I didn't think I could do marathons any more. At the same time, though, part of me felt like I should give it one more try. I didn't run well in Beijing because my health went bad a little while before. My physical condition completely collapsed and I started becoming afraid to train. To get over that fear I had to use a bit of force with myself; I challenged myself to race as much as I could to help me clear that barrier and get back some self-confidence. As a result I raced a lot this spring.

So that's why you did a lot of races in a short period of time?
Yes, and it worked. I knew that if I raced a lot and I was still in good condition afterwards then I could regain confidence. Also, to cope with this new era of high-speed marathons I thought I had to work on my own speed. To do that of course you have to run hard to some extent. When you race you have to run hard, so by using them as part of my training I was hoping it would help bring me around. At my age I think it's important to maintain the quality at a high level.

After the 2009 New Year Ekiden I wanted to spend this year getting competitive again. The London Marathon was the main goal for the first half of the year, so I told myself that I should run it to get my fitness back. Training for London I reduced the quantity of my training and just tried to fulfill what I absolutely needed to do plus some margin, and I always prioritized my health. I had nothing to lose in London and I thought that even if I failed I would be able to move on easily to the next target.

Now that we're in an era when the marathon has become a speed race I've realized that I should change my training methods. In London I asked overseas runners about their training and I found out that they don't do that much volume. In Japan we need more high-quality training to get better speed as part of our marathon training, but at the same time if you do high-quality speed training you will have more damage so it's very important to know your physical and mental condition as you train.

What's your goal in Berlin?
I'd like to go for the prizes. When I ran the World Championshis marathon in Paris I was 10th and only missed the top eight by 8 seconds. Compared to then the level of marathoning has gone way up and I can see clearly that this is going to be a high-quality race, even more so than Beijing. This time in Berlin it will be my twelfth marathon including DNF's. I want to use the experience I've gained to help me be as competitive as I can.

Do you have a message for your Chugoku Denryoku colleagues?
When you're by yourself you're very weak and you can't maximize what you do. I've been given the opportunity to train the way I do thanks to Chugoku Denryoku and everyone in the company. When my colleagues give me encouragement it makes me want to try harder. Please give me your support in Berlin and in the future.

Yoshimi Ozaki Looking for Marathon Gold With Secret Weapon: Honey of the Giant Killer Hornet

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

translated and edited by Brett Larner
source articles below

Marathoner Yoshimi Ozaki (28, Team Daiichi Seimei) will employ a secret weapon in this weekend's World Championships women's marathon in Berlin: the honey of the giant killer hornet suzumebachi. The honey, which Ozaki received from one of her trainers, has been produced by the Fujiwara bee farm in Iwate Prefecture for over 108 years. 500 g costs around $100. In addition to providing energy, the honey reduces the sensation of muscle fatigue during strenuous exercise. "It tastes very rich and is really nutritious," said Ozaki. "I'll be using it to give my body back its energy in the second half of the race. It was pretty effective in training." Ozaki will dissolve the honey into her sports drink and water bottles in hopes that it will convey the power of the suzumebachi, which can fly 100 km per day at speeds reaching 40 km/hr, and give her the energy needed to win.

Ozaki injured her back in the spring and had to take time off from training, but in May she began working out again in Boulder, Colorado. Her condition improved and her form returned, and Ozaki was able to take in everything on the training menu. "I'm in good shape," she said. Her coach, 1991 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita (44), commented, "The person who gives it 100% of their ability will win. Our goal? A better finishing position than mine."

Ozaki watched the women's 10000 m on TV and was impressed by the performance of Yurika Nakamura, one of her main rivals for the 2012 London Olympics marathon team. "She said, 'I'm going to finish in the top eight as a step toward the London Olympics,' then she went and did it. That's amazing," Ozaki said of Nakamura's performance. "It gives me motivation to work harder too. I'm tenacious and I'll be sticking up front with every loop of the marathon course."

http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20090817-OHT1T00007.htm
http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/2009/news/p-sp-tp0-20090817-532015.html
http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/2009/news/f-sp-tp0-20090816-531865.html

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nakamura Rolls On - Berlin World Championships Day Five

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

Just days after setting a sizeable PB in the women's 10000 m to become the all-time #4 Japanese woman over the distance, 2009 national champion Yurika Nakamura came out tough again in the first heat of the women's 5000 m. Nakamura led for the first two kilometers at a relatively modest 15:30 pace before the big guns went to work. She managed to trail along in the lead pack and, with little hope of competing in the final kick, pushed back to the front in the final kilometer for a long surge. Outkicked over the last lap, Nakamura nevertheless rolled on to a negative split 6th place finish, clocking a PB of 15:21.01 and succeeding in advancing to the final on time despite having the slowest PB in the field coming into the race, development program runners aside. Her achievements at this year's World Championships mark Nakamura as the brightest star on the Japanese team thus far.

2008 national champion Yuriko Kobayashi, still on the rebound from a late-spring injury, was well off her PB in the more competitive second heat, finishing 8th in 15:23.96. Her mark was nevertheless also good enough to send her on to the final. Both women will race the final on Saturday, Aug. 22.

In other results:

-After an outstanding start women's 200 m national record holder and 2009 national champion Chisato Fukushima lost ground in the final meters and missed making the quarter final by 0.06 seconds. Perennial rival Momoko Takahashi ran only 23.61 and did not advance.

-Tasuku Tanonaka finished last in his first round heat of the men's 110 m hurdles and was eliminated. Likewise, Naoyuki Daigo failed to advance past the first round of the men's high jump after clearing only 2 m 20.

-Daisuke Ikeda sat in 31st of 34 athletes in the men's decathlon at the end of the first day. The highlight of Ikeda's performance came in winning his heat of the 400 m.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Three Days Left to Enter JRN's World Championships Marathon Prediction Contest

There are three days left to enter Japan Running News' World Championships marathon prediction contest with a grand prize of a 2009 Japanese national team singlet. It's easy to enter: just predict the finishing place and time of the five men and five women on the Japanese marathon squads. Click here for more information and to make your entry. Entries close at 4:00 p.m. on Aug. 22. The next two days will feature primarily articles about the members of the Japanese marathon teams.

World Championships Day Four

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

Barring a repeat of the Beijing Olympics marathons, 2009 national champion Yuzo Kanemaru's performance in the men's 400 m will be the biggest disappointment of this year's World Championships for Japanese fans. A legitimate contender for the final, despite setting a PB of 45.16 in May and being reliably under 46 seconds all season Kanemaru, who sustained a minor injury to his left thigh on the final day of training for Berlin, failed to make it out of the first round heats after delivering only a 46.83. Hideyuki Hirose actually ran faster in his heat, clocking 46.80, but likewise failed to advance.

The men's 200 m squad fared better, with Beijing Olympics 4x100 m relay bronze medalist Shinji Takahira and the young Kenji Fujimitsu leaving teammate Hitoshi Saito behind to advance to the quarterfinal. However, both Takahira and Fujimitsu were eliminated in the quarter, Takahira missing the semifinal by less than 0.01 of a second. Women's 100 m hurdles national champion Asuka Terada joined in the off day festivities as she likewise did not advance to the second round.

The only bright spot of the day came from Team Honda's Japan-based Ethiopian Yacob Jarso. Jarso set the Ethiopian national record in the men's 3000 mSC while finishing 4th at last year's Beijing Olympics. Having lost the national record last month to fellow World Championships team member Roba Gary, Jarso came to Berlin determined to get a medal. The extremely competitive quality of the race kept the hardware out of his range, but Jarso finished a credible 5th in a new PB of 8:12.13, 0.10 seconds short of Gary's record but beating the man himself by 0.27 seconds.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Berlin World Championships - Day Three

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

2009 men's 10000 m national champion Yuki Iwai ran in the 10000 m on the third day of the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Having experienced problems with his right Achilles tendon since winning the national title in June, Iwai was visibly wincing during his warmup and while stretching on the starting line and he fared accordingly in the race. In last place in the field of 30 after only a lap, Iwai soon lost contact with the group and was overtaken by the leaders twice in the course of the race which saw winner Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia set a new World Championships record of 26:46.31, all three medalists break 27 minutes, and the top 14 set season or lifetime bests.

In light of Rikuren's questionable decision to omit 27:38 runner Yuki Sato from the team Iwai was the sole Japanese runner, and unlike the five athletes who dropped out of the race he undoubtedly felt pressure to finish no matter what. Gutting out his last-place 29:24.12 was an impressive testament to his strength, but the pain he was obviously experiencing suggested he may have done more serious injury. What comes next for this talented runner remains to be seen.

With the withdrawal of two-time Olympic medalist Koji Murofushi from the men's hammer throw the only other Japanese athletes active on Day Three were women's 400 m hurdlers Satomi Kubokura and Sayaka Aoki. Kubokura, the 2009 national champion, missed making the second round by only 0.18 seconds. Aoki, a university star in her first season as a professional, was among the leaders when she caught her trailing leg on the fourth hurdle and fell face first. She got up and continued to run but finished over six seconds back from the next runner ahead of her.

2009 World Championships - Top Results
Men's 10000 m
1. Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) - 26:46.31 - CR
2. Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) - 26:50.12 - SB
3. Moses Masai (Kenya) - 26:57.39 - SB
4. Imane Merga (Ethiopia) - 27:15.94 - PB
5. Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) - 27:18.47 - SB
6. Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.) - 27:22.28 - PB
7. Micah Kogo (Kenya) - 27:26.33 - SB
8. Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 27:37.99 - SB
9. Kidane Tadasse (Eritrea) - 27:41.50 - PB
10. Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam (Ethiopia) - 27:44.04 - SB
-----
25. Yuki Iwai (Japan) - 29:24.12

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, August 17, 2009

New York City Half Marathon - Results

Click here for complete results from the Aug. 16 New York City Half Marathon.

2009 New York City Half Marathon - Top Finishers
Men
1. Tadesse Tola (Ethiopia) - 1:00:50
2. Ridouane Harroufi (Morocco) - 1:02:32
3. Ryan Hall (U.S.A.) - 1:02:35
4. Abdi Abdirahman (U.S.A.) - 1:02:50
5. Henrick Ramaala (South Africa) - 1:02:52
6. Abderrahime Bouramdane (Morocco) - 1:04:08
7. Stephen Chemlany (Kenya) - 1:04:10
8. Ketema Nigusse (Ethiopia) - 1:04:13
9. Worku Beyi (Ethiopia) - 1:04:26
10. Hosea Rotich (Kenya) - 1:04:59
-----
11. Hiroshi Yamada (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:05:06
19. Shuichi Fujii (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:08:36

Women
1. Paula Radcliffe (U.K.) - 1:08:53
2. Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) - 1:11:04
3. Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 1:12:22
4. Nadia Ejjafini (Bahamas) - 1:12:47
5. Buzunesh Deba (Ethiopia) - 1:13:17
6. Ilsa Paulson (U.S.A.) - 1:13:17
7. Deena Kastor (U.S.A.) - 1:13:33
8. Aniko Kalovics (Hungary) - 1:14:37
9. Lindsey Scherf (U.S.A.) - 1:14:56
10. Sheri Piers (U.S.A.) - 1:16:10
-----
12. Rie Matsumoto (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 1:16:34
14. Mina Nomura (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 1:17:45

Berlin World Championships - Day Two

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

Japan made little impact on the second day of competition at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin as its sprinters came up flat. Click event in summaries below for complete results.

-Beijing Olympics men's 4x100m relay bronze medalist Naoki Tsukahara had vowed to become the first Japanese sprinter to break 10.0 seconds in the open men's 100 m and to make the final at the World Championships. Despite making the semi final comfortably, Tsukahara had an off run as he finished last in his semi final heat in only 10.25.

-Women's 100 m national record holder Chisato Fukushima became the first Japanese woman to advance to the quarter final in a world-level championships 100 m but just missed out on making the semi final by 0.03 seconds. 2009 national champion Momoko Takahashi did not advance past the first round of heats.

-Men's 3000 mSC national record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu missed out on making the final after finishing 9th in the third heat in 8:39.03. Running in the same heat, Japan-based Ethiopian Yacob Jarso of Team Honda advanced after finishing 3rd in 8:20.91.

-Men's 400 m hurdler Kazuaki Yoshida, who made the semi-final with a surprise PB performance in the first round, finished last in the semi in a disappointing 50.34.

-Women's 20 km race walkers Masumi Fuchise and Kumi Otoshi were 7th and 12th in 1:31:15 and 1:33:05 respectively. Team ace Mayumi Kawasaki was among the seven athletes disqualified for lifting their feet.

-Women's javelin thrower Yuki Ebihara failed to advance past the first round.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sahaku in Wonderland

Immediately after finishing last by one minute in the women's 10000 m to a roaring ovation at the Berlin World Championships, the 142 cm-tall Yukari Sahaku, 20, was picked up by mascot Berlino and given a huge, twirling hug like the junior high school-aged girl she resembles.



The delighted Sahaku enjoyed every moment, then made her way through a short interview in English during which Berlino again picked her up and held her at the interviewer's level. Click the photos for full-sized images.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nakamura the Star of the Japanese Team on Berlin Day One

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

by Brett Larner

Although she only made the Japanese 10000 m squad by default after winning the 5000 m at June's National Championships, Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) turned in the run of her life on the first day of the 2009 World Championships in the women's 10000 m. Nakamura ran a PB of 31:14.39 to finish 7th, making her the all-time 4th-fastest Japanese woman over the distance and Japan's best World Championships 10000 m finish in ten years. Nakamura beat all-time #2 Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) who was 9th in 31:23.49, a SB in a season plagued by plantar fasciitis and other injury woes. The diminuitive Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze), who unexpectedly beat both Nakamura and Fukushi at Nationals to make the Berlin team, finished last by a minute in 33:41.17.

After finishing 13th in last summer's Beijing Olympics marathon Nakamura vowed to spend time improving her track times before attempting another marathon. In Berlin she took the race out in the lead right on 75 seconds per lap, on pace for a 31:15 with Sahaku, who set a PB of 32:01.80 in June's National Championships, right behind. Two Russians took over in the second kilometer, but Nakamura and Sahaku remained up front with Fukushi sitting back in the field. Sahaku faded away in the third kilometer and lost contact with the rest of the field, but Nakamura stayed right on pace, never fading. Approaching 4000 m she moved into 2nd remaining there as the field moved through halfway in 15:45.19.

Surrounded by athletes from Russia, New Zealand, the U.S.A. and Ethiopia who had all run faster than the Japanese national record, Nakamura never relinquished 2nd, even making a brief surge back into the lead early in the seventh kilometer. When eventual winner Linet Masai of Kenya went into the lead just past 6800 m Nakamura went with her before being consumed by a wave of Ethiopians. When Fukushi went by her at the tail end of the rush to stay in the race Nakamura had sunk as low as 11th, but maintaining contact with the group Nakamura moved into 7th in pursuit of American Amy Yoder Begley with 1200 m to go. The pair raced each other the rest of the way, dropping the rest of the chase pack, but their order did not change as Yoder Begley took 6th.

Having taken the all-time Japanese 4th position over 10000 m, Nakamura's achievement in Berlin is signicant as it relates to her future as a marathoner. She will next take on what is nominally her main event in Berlin, the 5000 m. For Fukushi and Sahaku, their Berlin World Championships experience has come to an end. Sahaku, who with short hair and standing 142 cm tall looks like a junior high school-aged boy, received a roar of cheers as she finished, then a hug which carried her off her feet from the Berlin World Championships bear mascot, then was again lifted off her feet by the bear while being interviewed by a German sportscaster. Although her running was far from her best, Sahaku made an impression which greatly exceeded her size.

In other results (click event for complete results):

-2009 men's 100 m national champion Masashi Eriguchi (Waseda Univ.), runner-up Shintaro Kimura (Waseda Univ.) and Beijing Olympics relay bronze medalist Naoki Tsukahara (Team Fujitsu) all advanced to the quarter final. Both Waseda runners were eliminated in the quarter final, Eriguchi executing the best start in the quarter final round but Kimura earning a yellow card for taking too long to get into position following the starter's "On your marks," instruction. Tsukahara, the only athlete of non-African descent to make the semifinal in Beijing, repeated the distinction as he advanced to the semifinal with a run of 10.15.

-Juntendo University senior Kazuaki Yoshida advanced to the semifinal in the men's 400 m hurdles with a PB of 49.45. Yoshida led until after the final hurdle, only falling to 3rd in the final meters. National champion Kenji Narisako missed out on advancing, finishing 5th in his heat in 49.60.

-Women's 3000 m SC national record holder Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC), one of only two athletes in the 2009 World Championships to have also competed in the 1991 World Championships, ran a SB of 9:39.28, six seconds off her national record from last summer, but failed to advance to the final after finishing 10th in her heat.

-Women's 400 m runner Asami Tanno (Team Natureal) and women's pole vaulter Takayo Kondo likewise failed to advance past the first round in their events.

-The men's 20 km race walkers had a disappointing showing, Koichiro Morioka finishing 11th in 1:21:48, Isamu Fujisawa 30th in 1:25:12, and Yusuke Suzuki 42nd in 1:30:21.

2009 World Championships - Top Results
Women's 10000 m
1. Linet Masai (Kenya) - 30:51.24 - SB
2. Meselech Melkamu (Ethiopia) - 30:51.34
3. Wude Ayalew (Ethiopia) - 30:51.95
4. Grace Momanyi (Kenya) - 30:52.25 - PB
5. Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) - 30:52.37
6. Amy Yoder Begley (U.S.A.) - 31:13.78 - PB
7. Yurika Nakamura (Japan) - 31:14.39 - PB
8. Kim Smith (New Zealand) - 31:21.42 - SB
9. Kayoko Fukushi (Japan) - 31:23.49 - SB
10. Ines Monteiro (Portugal) - 31:25.67 - PB
-----
20. Yukari Sahaku (Japan) - 33:41.17
-----
DNF - Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey)

Men's 100 m Quarter-Final
1. Asafa Powell (Jamaica) - 9.95
2. Tyson Gay (U.S.A.) - 9.98
3. Michael Rodgers (U.S.A.) - 10.01
4. Daniel Bailey (Antigua) - 10.02
5. Usain Bolt (Jamaica) - 10.03
6. Dwain Chambers (U.K.) - 10.04 - SB
7. Darvis Patton (U.S.A.) - 10.05
8. Richard Thompson (Trinidad & Tobago) - 10.08
9. Michael Frater (Jamaica) - 10.09
10. Tyrone Edgar (U.K.) - 10.12
10. Marc Burns (Trinidad & Tobago) - 10.12
12. Monzavous Edwards (U.S.A.) - 10.15
12. Naoki Tsukahara (Japan) - 10.15
-----
36. Masahi Eriguchi (Japan) - 10.45
37. Shintaro Kimura (Japan) - 10.54

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, August 14, 2009

Yukiko Akaba Talks About Her Final Training for World Championships Marathon

translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

World Championships marathoner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) writes an entertaining blog together with her husband and coach Shuhei mostly talking about the food she eats as part of her training and about her daughter Yuna. In recent weeks she has written about some of her final training for next week's marathon where she is a potential medal winner. Below are highlights of some of her recent entries. Click photos for full-sized versions.

July 14 - Running in Thick Fog!!
There are only a few days left at the Sugadaira high altitude training camp. Since it's the rainy season we've had lots of rain but I went through all the training as planned. Almost as bad as the rain is Sugadaira's one of a kind fog. When I had a key workout the other day the fog was really thick.

This is a picture at the track at Sania Park. Visibility was about 40 m. The fog was so thick that unless you went really, really close you couldn't tell anyone was running. I couldn't see very well but I could still focus on my running, just listening to the sound of my feet striking the track. I think I'm getting closer to the kind of shape I should be in.

I was lucky because no other teams were using the track that day. If there are only distance runners it's no problem, but if there had been sprinters or middle-distance people it would have been dangerous. So, winding down through the thick fog, this training camp is almost finished. I want to stay focused and train well until the end.

July 29 - Everything We've Been Building Up
I'm in Fukagawa, Hokkaido and the weather is cloudy and dull. It's been raining all month here and I'm worried how it's going to affect the local farmers. It sounds like it's hot around Tokyo and Osaka, but here in Hokkaido it's been cool and running-wise it's been pretty comfortable. Before coming to Fukagawa a lot of coaches told me, "It's going to be really hot in Fukagawa," but I haven't had any days like that yet.

In Fukagawa there are a lot of road courses with kilometer marks where you can do long runs. I checked out every single one and ran two of them by myself, then picked one for my training, a 33 km single loop course. There are two places with significant hills, but 80% of it is flat without much traffic. I change the starting point when I run something other than just 33 km. I'd like to show my gratitude to the Fukagawa civic sports promotion bureau for adding some kilometer marks and course map signs for me. Thank you for your support!

This picture was taken during a long pace run yesterday. Right before I began it started raining. Since the rain got harder I wore a cap and vest.

The workout called for me to start fast. It was no problem, evidence that I'm getting close to the last stage of training.

This rear view shows the whole three years since Yuna was born, everything we've been building up. There's no easy way to become strong. It's the result of hard work every day.

After taking off my cap and vest, in the last 5 km I went all-out, running as hard as I could. Here's the speed that conquered the National Championships 10000 m! Although my face looks like I'm in agony, my movement was smooth right until the end.

I look really relieved at having done the workout as planned. I went full effort, so it's no wonder I look so tired. Shuhei said, "Hey, you look older, you must have been working hard!" I got pretty angry.

The thing we're evaluating compared to this time last year is whether I feel easy and calm. This is only my second marathon and I've never done one in the summer, so I don't think it's really necessary to look back much, just to believe in what we're doing and look forward.

It's only been a week since we got to Fukagawa, but many people recognize me and greet me when I'm out jogging. People are really warm and encouraging and tell me, "Good luck!" When I'm concentrating on a hard workout I can't react to people calling out to me, but I definitely hear them and they reach my heart. The training camp is still going to go on for a while, so please keep cheering me on.

Aug. 6 - I Found a Nice Jogging Course
The weather's been getting better and better and now we're having great conditions here in Fukagawa. During the day it's warm enough to go around in a t-shirt, but it's cool in the morning and at night and you can sleep really well.

My main jogging courses right now are:

1. A cross-country course in the woods called Sakurayama Power-Up Road. One loop is 2 km.
2. A woodchip course near Sogo Sport Park's track surrounded by lush grass.
3. Green Park 21, a nice park we found this time.

Green Park 21 is completely covered with beautiful grass, and if you run the outer loop it's about 1 km. It's walking distance from the city center, and toilets and parking are all right there. There are a lot of benches with shade and stuff for kids to play with. There's a pond with a fountain in the center of the park. You have to be careful near water with children, but there aren't any cars so other than that it's a safe place.

Our little princess is desperately running after mama in this picture. Today Yuna did a hard workout, one lap of the park! She was soaked in sweat.

Other than woodchip or grass courses there are a lot of road courses here and we don't have to struggle to find places to run. It's a great running environment.

It's been more than two weeks since we started this training camp for Berlin. So far so good. There's less than a week left here at the camp. The work of art we started envisioning in our minds six months ago is almost completed as we've planned it. From here on out it's the polishing stage. The quality of the polishing determines that of the artwork. Losing faith in what we've done, getting greedy and trying to squeeze in more is the biggest enemy.

Powerful, aggressive, energetic form.....That's where I want to go, one step at a time.

Aug. 11 - Surprise Test!!
Only four days til the opening ceremonies in Berlin! The first group of Japanese athletes are already there on the battlefield. Our Fukagawa training camp is going to be over tomorrow and we're going back to hot, hot Kanto tomorrow night. In the afternoon of our last day of training here we had some uexpected guests.....

The Japanese Anti-Doping Association testers. They came here to give me a surprise doping control test before the World Championships. Thanks for coming in this hot weather! This picture shows me listening to the explanation from the testers. Athletes who reach a certain level of the sport become subjected to tests by the JADA or the World Anti-Doping Association. This was my second time. It seems like there are usually tests before big meets.

The test itself takes time and moreover when it's a surprise test we have to make a big change to the training schedule, so it's really a headache. But, that's the way to prove you're clean so I'm all for the testing system. I hope, though, that there'll be a day when we don't have to do this kind of thing anymore. I wanted to do the scheduled training, so we asked the testers to come with us to the cross-country course. They said OK. Thank you very much for suffering through the hot weather!

There are only a few days left before we leave for Berlin. I'm sure we're going to be very busy in the last preparation period. After getting back home we will prioritize the World Championships over everything, so it'll be hard to communicate with people. Please forgive me if I'm slow to respond to comments. I want to do one more update on the blog before we leave, but I'm not sure if I'll have time. I'll try to update the blog from Berlin, so until then.

Fukushi and Nakamura Leave for Berlin

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/2009/news/f-sp-tp0-20090812-530260.html

translated by Brett Larner

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

2009 World Championships 5000 m and 10000 m runner Yurika Nakamura (23, Team Tenmaya) and 10000 m runner Kayoko Fukushi (27, Team Wacoal) left for Germany on Aug. 12 ahead of this year's games, which begin Aug. 15. For Nakamura, who won the 5000 m at June's National Championships, it is her first time at the World Championships. "The difference between Japan and the rest of the world is bigger on the track than in the marathon," said Nakamura. "I don't know how far I can go, but just making the team and then running doesn't mean anything." Fukushi, who has been training in Hokkaido and Hiroshima, added with a laugh, "I feel good. I'm going to enjoy myself when I race."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

World Championships Women's Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

Click here to enter JRN's World Championships marathon prediction contest for a chance to win a 2009 Japanese national team singlet.

Japanese women have dominated the World Championships marathon like no one else. Since 1991 they have won two gold, four silver and three bronze medals, most notably taking 2nd through 4th in Paris in 2003. There is an excellent chance of one or more Japanese women going home from Berlin with a souvenir, particularly with several of their major competitors out of the race. If, that is, their own big names are in one piece. Below is a quick guide to the members of the Japanese team in the Aug. 23 women's marathon, the highs and lows of their seasons, and some predictions. Athletes are listed in order of estimated chance of success. Click the names for photos and more detailed profiles.

Yukiko Akaba - SB/PB: 2:25:40 (Osaka '09 - debut)
Akaba is the best Japanese hope for a medal. Following a 2008 which saw her make the all-time Japanese top three or four over 5000m, 10000m and half marathon and double in the 5000m and 10000m in the Beijing Olympics she ran her marathon debut in January after an abbreviated training period interrupted by the winter ekiden circuit. This time she has trained without distraction, pausing only to take the 10000m national title in June, and is targeting at least a 2:22 in Berlin. There is little chance of her cracking and her finishing speed has only a handful of rivals in the Berlin field.
Plusses:
-2:25:40 debut, Osaka Int'l Women's Marathon, 1/25/09 - 2nd
-2009 national 10000m champion
-5000m, 10000m and half marathon PB, 2008
-Olympic and World Half Marathon experience
Minuses:
-only weak races in 2008 were Beijing Olympics and World Half Marathon
-only second marathon
Last three races:
-15:35.05, National Championships 5000m, 6/27/09
-31:57.44, National Championships 10000m, 6/25/09 - winner
-1:08:50, Sendai Int'l Half Marathon, 5/10/09 - winner
Verdict:
Medal winner, most likely silver.

Yoko Shibui - SB: 2:23:42 (Osaka '09 - winner) - PB: 2:19:41 (Berlin '04 - winner)
With world record holder Paula Radcliffe's participation looking iffy, Shibui holds the fastest time of the year and best PB in the field. If the Shibui who won Osaka in January arrived in Berlin she would be all but unstoppable, but after being out for the entire spring with an injury her condition seems to be far from what it was seven months ago. A half marathon personal worst in early July followed by an inscrutable 2:46:34 training run win in the San Francisco Marathon are her only post-injury performances. Always wildly unpredictable, in her most recent comments Shibui lacked her characteristic bravado despite saying she is ready. At this stage the chance that we're going to see the good Yoko looks very slim.
Plusses:
-2:23:42, Osaka Int'l Women's Marathon, 1/25/09 - winner
-2008 national 10000m champion
-Olympic and World Championships experience
-she's Yoko Shibui
Minuses:
-injured all spring and in doubtful condition
-1:14:09 -PW, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-history of instability in marathon
Last three races:
-2:46:34, San Francisco Marathon, 7/26/09
-1:14:09 -PW, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-16:29, Yokohama Int'l Women's Ekiden anchor stage (5.195 km), 2/22/09 - stage best
Verdict:
As much as it hurts to say, no. She's going to be a non-factor. Shibui will finish, but far back. If there is a miracle she will medal.

Yuri Kano - SB: 2:28:44 (London '09) - PB: 2:24:27 (Tokyo Int'l '08)
With an excellent record of half marathon performances to her name there is a lot of hope that Kano will break through to the top ranks of women's marathoning, but thus far she seems stuck at the 2:24 level. Her coach Manabu Kawagoe is talking about her running 2:21-22 in Berlin, but she lacks the credentials to really back such a statement up and after a flat spring filled with nagging minor injuries it's more likely that her best hope is for a top ten finish and top three among the Japanese women. In an outstanding run she might make 2:23.
Plusses:
-recent races point toward peaking at World Championships
-1:08:57 -PB, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 6/15/08
Minuses:
-minor injuries throughout the spring
-when running PB marathon in November, was overtaken in final kilometers by winner Yoshimi Ozaki
Last three races:
-1:11:19, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-32:34.87, National Championships 10000m, 6/25/09
-33:43, New York Mini 10k, 6/8/09
Verdict:
Will start fast, fade, but still put in a credible performance, just making the top ten.

Yoshimi Ozaki - SB/PB: 2:23:30 (Tokyo Int'l '08 - winner)
Ozaki ran the fastest qualifying time on the Japanese team in only her second marathon when she won November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, coming from behind to overtake Shibui, Kano and 2009 London Marathon runner-up Mara Yamauchi. She should be a medal favorite, but after a mid-spring injury she was forced to take substantial time off and start over. Since then Ozaki has been virtually invisible, raising doubts about whether she is going to be in top form.
Plusses:
-fastest qualifying time on Japanese team, 2:23:30, at Tokyo Int'l Women's Marathon, 11/16/08, winner
-2:26:19 debut, Nagoya Int'l Womens Marathon, 3/9/08 - 2nd
-coached by 1991 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita
Minuses:
-injured in spring
-has not raced this year
Last three races:
-20:26, National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden 1st Stage, 6.6 km, 12/14/08
-2:23:30 -PB, Tokyo Int'l Women's Marathon, 11/16/08, winner
-39:03, East Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 11.95 km, 11/3/08
Verdict:
Difficult to call in the absence of information. She should be among the leaders but with the interruption to her training base will probably be back in mid-pack.

Yoshiko Fujinaga - SB/PB: 2:28:13 (Nagoya '09 - debut, winner)
Fujinaga ran a great debut race, coming from behind to take the win and make the Berlin team, but there's no denying that she was lucky in that the top Japanese women all ran Tokyo and Osaka to qualify for the World Championships. A former teammate of Kano, Fujinaga has World Championships experience having run the 5000m in Seville while a high school student, but she doesn't look to be on the same level as the other four women on the team. Her recent races show her building toward the World Championships nicely but it would be a major surprise to see her be in contention even for the top ten.
Plusses:
-won debut marathon to qualify for Berlin World Championships
-seems to be building to well-timed peak
-World Championships experience
Minuses:
-marathon time only 2:28:13
-only one marathon
Last three races:
-32:26.63, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 10000m, 7/21/09 - 3rd
-15:53.54, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet 5000m, 7/16/09 - 3rd
-1:11:58, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
Verdict:
Weather permitting will PB, but will not be a significant factor unless Shibui and Ozaki fail.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved