Friday, July 8, 2011

5000 m National Champion Watanabe at Asian Athletics Championships: "I Want the A-Standard"

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The 19th Asian Athletics Championships got underway July 7 at the World University Games Memorial Stadium in Kobe, Hyogo.  The last chance for Japanese athletes to qualify for the national team for next month's World Championships in Daegu, Korea, the Japanese federation Rikuren will give a guaranteed place on the team to any athlete who wins their event and holds a World Championships A-standard qualification mark.

A four-day meet, the first day of the Asian Athletics Championships features seven events including the men's and women's 10000 m and the heats and semi-finals of the men's 100 m, where no Japanese athletes have yet recorded a Worlds-qualifying time.  The field includes 3-time national champion Masashi Eriguchi (Team Osaka Gas).  Women's sprinting star Chisato Fukushima (Hokkaido Hi-Tec AC) will run the 200 m heats on the third day of the meet.  The same day, 5000 m national champion Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) will run the men's 5000 m.  2009 World Championships men's javelin bronze medalist Yukifumi Murakami (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) will shoot for 85 m on the final day of competition.

Watanabe is highly motivated for the 5000 m on the 9th, saying, "I want to run a race that will leave me with no regrets."  Having left Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko last summer, in May this year Watanabe cleared the World Championships 5000 m B-standard of 13:27.00.  Now he is ready to run a triumphant homecoming race to show everyone how much he has grown.

Watanabe was born in Nishinomiya, Hyogo and joined Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko after graduating from Hotoku H.S. in 2006, hoping to become one of the country's leading runners.  However, he says, "I found that I needed to be in an environment where I could concentrate more on my training." Last summer he quit the team to move to Team Shikoku Denryoku.  After the move his training became more interval-based, sharply improving his speed.

Already the all-time #2 Japanese man over 1500 m, this season Watanabe has been on fire.  At May's Golden Games in Nobeoka meet he won the 5000 m outkicking most of the best Japan-resident Africans and running 13:23.15.  Watanabe became the all-time eighth-fastest Japanese man and, together with Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) in the same race, the first Japanese man to crack the Daegu World Championships B-standard.  At June's National Championships he won the 5000 m, outkicking Sato over the final 400 m, a confirmation that his speed has arrived at its first major checkpoint.  Watanabe followed up on his Nationals win with a 27:47.79 m and a tie of his 3:38.11 1500 m PB within four days.

Having turned 24 on July 7, Watanabe has the greatest momentum of any Japanese distance runner right now.  "My goal for the Asian Athletics Championships is the [World Championships] A-standard [13:20.00]," he says with confidence.  He'll have company again from his rival Sato.  There's no doubt that with the cheers from the home ground Hyogo crowd Watanabe's chances of making the World Championships team are very good indeed.

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