translated and edited by Brett Larner
At the Apr. 10 Daegu International Marathon, a selection race for the Japanese women's marathon team for this summer's Daegu World Championships, Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon) was the top Japanese woman. Finishing 7th in a time of 2:32:39, her chances of making the team are very slim. Among other contenders for the World Championships team, Tomomi Higuchi (Team Daihatsu) was 8th in 2:33:48, while Seika Iwamura (Team Daihatsu) was 12th in 2:36:33. Atsede Besuye (Ethiopia) won in 2:25:12. Veteran Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) was the top Japanese man, 14th in 2:16:49.
With the cancellation of March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon selection race and its designated replacement, April's Nagano Marathon, following the March 11 disasters in northeastern Japan, the Japanese federation Rikuren named Daegu as a substitute selection race along with the April 17 London Marathon and the April 18 Boston Marathon.
Machida, 30, was caught in both February's Christchurch earthquake and the March 11 Miyagi earthquake. Likely having missed out on qualifying for the World Championships due to falling short of the sub-2:26 time requirement set by Rikuren, Daegu is set to have become Machida's retirement race. "I have a lot to be grateful for," she says in looking back at her career.
Machida was in Shizuoka prefecture at the time of the earthquake and did not experience the worst of the disasters firsthand, but the Nihon ChemiCon team's training grounds in Osaki, Miyagi were extensively damaged and in her room in the team dormitory Machida's personal belongings were strewn about by the force of the earthquake, many of them damaged and broken. First Nagoya, then Nagano were cancelled. Daegu was quickly named as a substitute selection race, but surrounded by destruction Machida wondered, "Is it really OK to be running at a time like this?" as she faced the impossibility of concentrating on training in her day to day life in the month following the disasters.
Machida came to the conclusion that even in such conditions, "It's important to at least try to look strong," settling her appearance in Daegu. Midway through the marathon she fell off pace, finishing roughly 3 minutes off her PB. But, she said afterwards, "Even though it was tough out there I never gave up," finishing with a smile at her accomplishment against tough odds. Her parents, who accompanied Machida to Korea from their home in ravaged Shiogama, Miyagi, presented her with a handmade gold medal after she crossed the finish line.