translated by Brett Larner
Making a bid for places on the national team for this summer's World Championships in Daegu, Korea, two members of Team Chugoku Denryoku, Naoki Okamoto and Hideaki Date, will be on the starting line of this Sunday's Tokyo Marathon. For Okamoto, 26, it will be his second marathon. The 25 year old Date will be making his debut. Since 2001 every World Championships and Olympics men's marathon team has featured members of the Chugoku Denryoku team, and these two young athletes are now charged with carrying on the team's legacy.
"It wasn't sweet." That is how Okamoto looks back on his debut at last year's Tokyo Marathon, where he finished 23rd in 2:23:06. Coming to the race with problems with his right Achilles, Okamoto was in questionable condition to run a marathon and, combined with the freezing cold rain at last year's Tokyo, fell off the lead pack just before 30 km. He felt the fear of the marathon, but it did not break his spirit. "I don't run away from failure," he says, explaining his decision to return to Tokyo for his second marathon. Since January he has done five 40 km runs, eliminating any uncertainty about being able to handle the distance. Poised to become the team's next-generation ace, Okamoto says, "I want to be the one to carry on the Chugoku Denryoku tradition on the national team."
Date is also focused on making the team. In his days at Tokai University Date was a major star of the university ekiden circuit. Upon announcing his signing to the Chugoku Denryoku team he declared, "I want to find success in the marathon," but until last year he was beset by back problems and other injuries. Unable to compete, Date had to watch from the sidelines as other runners who graduated the same year, such as Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B), went on to make the national team for the World Championships and Asian Games. "That was hard to take," he says. Now three years later he is ready to face his first marathon. "I'm feeling about 50-50 fear and excitement, but either way with this one race I'm going to bring back the old me. My goal is to break 2:09:30 and be the top Japanese man." If he succeeds, Date will find himself on Chugoku Denryoku's eighth-straight national team.
Translator's note: Okamoto and Date's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi is also the federation's director of men's marathoning. Until this past November Date was the half marathon junior national record holder.
Chugoku Denryoku Marathon National Team Members
2009 Berlin World Championships - Atsushi Sato - 6th
2008 Beijing Olympics - Tsuyoshi Ogata - 13th, Atsushi Sato - 76th
2007 Osaka World Championships - Tsuyoshi Ogata - 5th
2005 Helsinki World Championships - Tsuyoshi Ogata - bronze medal
2004 Athens Olympics - Shigeru Aburuya - 5th
2003 Paris World Championships - Shigeru Aburuya - 5th, Atsushi Sato - 10th, Tsuyoshi Ogata - 12th
2001 Edmonton World Championships - Shigeru Aburuya - 5th