Wednesday, August 24, 2011

World Championships Men's Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

Japanese men's marathoning bottomed out in 2009-2010, abruptly going from producing three 2:06 men, another eight 2:07 athletes, dozens of 2:08 runners and ten men a year sub-2:10 to only one 2:09 per year in 2009 and 2010, both in overseas races outside the domestic circuit.  It's a mark of how little respect they receive internationally nowadays that the IAAF's official Daegu World Championships marathon preview doesn't even mention them despite the top two members of Japan's five-man squad having superior season best times to the two Moroccans the preview cites as potential "intensive" challengers.

Nevertheless, 2011 has seen things begin to turn around, with four relative newcomers going under 2:10 for the first time, the fastest of them, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) recording the first Japanese men's 2:08 since before the Beijing Olympics.  There's a long way to go toward regaining some level of their former global competitiveness, but this year's World Championships mark an important checkpoint toward that end.  Japanese men have won three individual medals in the twelve World Championships marathon to date and, with eight-deep prize money at stake, have had at least one runner in the top eight at the last six Worlds not to mention team medals virtually every time.  For this year's young squad the goals will be to get as many as possible into the top eight and to compete for one of the team medals.

2011 World Championships Men's Marathon Team

Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Prefecture)
Born: Mar. 5, 1987 (24 yrs.)
PB: 2:08:37 - 3rd, 2011 Tokyo Marathon
half marathon: 1:02:40
10000 m: 29:02.33
5000 m: 13:59.73

Other major results:
2:12:36 - 4th, 2010 Tokyo Marathon
1:09:12 - 1st, 2009 P.I.C. Guam International Half Marathon - CR
1:07:15 - 1st, 2008 New Caledonia International Half Marathon

Kawauchi is the hardworking, self-training amateur with a full-time office job who picked up 2011 National Corporate Ekiden champion Team Toyota's star Yoshinori Oda and 2010 Hokkaido Marathon winner Cyrus Njui and broke them in half over his knee at 39 km on his way to a 2:08:37 at February's Tokyo Marathon.  His inspiring performance shook the Japanese marathon establishment, won Kawauchi fans around the world and earned him the top place on the Daegu World Championships team.  Although he freely admits that he is not a good hot-weather runner he has taken steps to improve in that area, steadily building up from a heat stroke-induced DNF in the last km of June's Okinoshima 50 km ultra to a 1:33:55 win at his final tuneup race, the Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km on July 31.  In many ways Kawauchi is the embodiment of an ideal, the classic story of the underdog, the nobody who goes all the way; his stated goal of a top eight finish at Worlds would be triumph enough, but raised on countless Hollywood adaptations of this story it's hard not to imagine him on the podium.  It's unrealistic.  He's not going to fire the shot that blows up the Death Star.  But what if he does it?  If you're ever going to root for a Japanese runner, this is your guy.

Results 2010-2011:
1:33:55 - 1st, 2011 Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km Road Race
1:06:24 - 4th, 2011 Shibetsu Half Marathon
1:07:12 - 63rd, 2011 Sapporo International Half Marathon
DNF - 2011 Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon
14:10.32 - 7th, 2011 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m Heat 25
1:04:44 - 13th, 2011 Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon
14:02.49 - 11th, 2011 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m Heat 24
2:08:37 - 3rd, 2011 Tokyo Marathon - PB
1:02:40 - 9th, 2011 Marugame International Half Marathon - PB
39:57 - 41st, 2011 National Men's Ekiden 7th Stage (13.0 km)
2:17:54 - 10th, 2010 Fukuoka International Marathon
14:01.89 - 23rd, 2010 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m Heat 39
29:03.94 - 11th, 2010 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 10000 m Heat 9
29:02.33 - 10th, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 10000 m - PB
14:01.91 - 11th, 2010 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m Heat 24
48:39 - 1st, 2010 Kasumigaura 10 Mile Road Race
2:12:36 - 4th, 2010 Tokyo Marathon
1:06:49 - 1st, 2010 Mari Tanigawa Half Marathon


Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota)
Born: Dec. 5, 1980 (30 yrs.)
PB: 2:09:03 - 4th, 2011 Tokyo Marathon (Japanese debut marathon all-time #3)
half marathon: 1:01:41
10000 m: 27:53.55
5000 m: 13:42.67

Other major results:
1:03:09 - 28th, 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, Birmingham, UK
1:05:03 - 16th, 2004 World Half Marathon Championships, New Delhi, India

Oda is the oldest runner on the Japanese team, the most talented, and the least experienced marathoner.  Late last year he kicked off his training cycle for his marathon debut by breaking 28 minutes for 10000 m for the first time, then at February's Tokyo Marathon he ran a precision effort, clocking the 3rd-fastest Japanese debut with a 2:09:03.  The quality of Oda's debut went all but unnoticed in the attention heaped on Kawauchi, but it was noteworthy for the focus and discipline with which he came to the race.  Since then Oda has run well on the track, but his final tuneup did not go as planned as he barely broke 67 minutes in hot and humid conditions at July's Sapporo International Half Marathon.  He should be a solid bet for a scoring position on the Japanese team, but his lack of marathon experience and his Sapporo performance raise questions.

Results 2010-2011:
1:06:57 - 58th, 2011 Sapporo International Half Marathon
28:32.68 - 8th, 2011 National T&F Championships 10000 m
13:51.08 - 12th, 2011 Kanaguri Memorial T&F Meet 5000 m Heat 3
28:24.59 - 27th, 2011 Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, Stanford, CA
2:09:03 - 4th, 2011 Tokyo Marathon - debut
1:04:26 - 7th, 2011 New Year Ekiden National Corporate Championships 4th Stage (22.0 km)
45:17 - 1st, 2010 Chubu Corporate Ekiden Championships 3rd Stage (15.4 km)
27:53.55 - 5th, 2010 Shizuoka Prefecture Time Trials 10000 m Heat 2 - PB
28:16.73 - 10th, 2010 National Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m
1:07:03 - 45th, 2010 Sapporo International Half Marathon
28:20.09 - 2nd, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 10000 m
29:07.58 - 10th, 2010 National T&F Championships 10000 m
13:58.63 - 7th, 2010 Chukyo Univ. Time Trials 5000 m
1:03:52 - 9th, 2010 New Year Ekiden National Corporate Championships 4th Stage (22.3 km)


Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei)
Born: Oct. 28, 1986 (24 yrs.)
PB: 2:09:25 - 3rd, 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
half marathon: 1:04:11
10000 m: 28:30.32
5000 m: 13:53.07

Other major results:
2:11:47 - 9th, 2008 Tokyo Marathon

Horibata had a promising 2:11:47 debut at age 21 at the 2008 Tokyo Marathon, but the following years saw a steady decline in his performances as he marked year bests of only 2:18:27 in 2009 and 2:26:55 in 2010.  Something of a big, clumsy oaf by Japanese standards, he suffered falls or water station collisions in every marathon he ran.  Coached by legendary 2:08 marathoner Takeshi Soh, Horibata found out he was running March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon only a few weeks beforehand, but despite lack of conditioning and at least two more near-falls he came through with a big PB of 2:09:25 to make the Daegu team.  Afterwards federation officials told him to lose weight before Worlds, calling him a "heavyweight division" runner.  He has run 5000 m and 10000 m PBs since then, has been consistently performing far beyond where he was a year ago in the leadup to his dismal 2:26:55 in Hokkaido and looks fit and lean in recent training photos, so Horibata seems ready for a good run if he can handle the heat.

Results 2010-2011:
13:53.07 - 1st, 2011 Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat 4 - PB
28:56.00 - 10th, 2011 Kyushu Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m Heat 3
28:30.32 - 6th, 2011 Nobeoka Spring Time Trials 10000 m Heat 2 - PB
28:48.38 - 13th, 2011 Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m
13:59.76 - 17th, 2011 Kanaguri Memorial T&F Meet 5000 m Heat 3
2:09:25 - 3rd, 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - PB
48:45 - 30th, 2010 Kumamoto Kosa 10 Mile Road Race
55:17 - 4th, 2010 Kyushu Isshu Ekiden Day Nine 4th Stage (18.0 km)
53:03 - 1st, 2010 Kyushu Isshu Ekiden Day Six 2nd Stage (17.6 km)
1:01:17 - 3rd, 2010 Kyushu Isshu Ekiden Day Three 5th Stage (20.0 km)
34:24 - 1st, 2010 Kyushu Isshu Ekiden Day One 7th Stage (11.4 km)
29:17.96 - 7th, 2010 Nobeoka Fall Time Trials 10000 m
2:26:55 - 20th, 2010 Hokkaido Marathon
14:15.07 - 7th, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 5000 m Heat 2
29:07.32 - 18th, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m Heat 2
14:21.81 - 18th, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Sapporo Meet 5000 m Heat 2
29:28.90 - 14th, 2010 Japanese National T&F Championships 10000 m
28:34.40 - 8th, 2010 Kyushu Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m
29:49.80 - 15th, 2010 Nobeoka Spring Time Trials 10000 m
14:19.35 - 13th, 2010 Nobeoka Spring Time Trials 5000 m
30:55 - 3rd, 2010 Asahi Ekiden 3rd Stage


Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki)
Born: Dec. 7, 1982 (28 yrs.)
PB: 2:09:31 - 4th, 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
half marathon: 1:02:29
10000 m: 29:04.24
5000 m: 14:04.31

Other major results:
2:11:42 - 8th, 2010 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon
2:13:53 - 9th, 2009 Tokyo Marathon
2:13:54 - 3rd, 2008 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon
2:15:21 - 2nd, 2008 Hokkaido Marathon

We're going to go out on a limb and say that Nakamoto, whose bio picture suggests a twee singer-songwriter more than an elite marathoner, may end up being the surprise star of the Japanese team.  His credentials are not especially impressive, but look at the numbers more closely.  He has PB'd steadily every year since debuting at the marathon in 2008, ran well in heat with a 2nd place finish at the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon, has PB'd at 5000 m and 10000 m since making the Daegu marathon team with a sub-2:10 PB at March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, and beat top-ranked Daegu teammates Kawauchi and Oda by a wide margin at last month's sweltering Sapporo International Half Marathon.  A university teammate of 2010's Japanese year leader Arata Fujiwara (Remo System AC), Nakamoto appears focused and quietly confident in video interviews shot during his summer training.  All of that adds up to good potential for a darkhorse breakthrough.

Results 2010-2011:
1:05:02 - 17th, 2011 Sapporo International Half Marathon
14:04.31 - 6th, 2011 Sayagatani Time Trials 5000 m Heat 10 - PB
29:15.36 - 7th, 2011 Kyushu Corporate T&F Championships Heat 2
29:04.24 - 15th, 2011 Nobeoka Spring Time Trials 10000 m Heat 2 - PB
2:09:31 - 4th, 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - PB
1:04:27 - 8th, 2011 New Year Ekiden National Corporate Championships 4th Stage (22.0 km)
49:04 - 10th, 2010 Fukuoka Prefecture 10 Mile Championships
2:11:42 - 8th, 2010 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon


Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN)
Born: Nov. 2, 1982 (28 yrs.)
PB: 2:10:51 - 4th, 2010 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
half marathon: 1:02:17
10000 m: 28:41.90
5000 m: 14:15.99

Other major results:
2:12:46 - 2nd, 2010 Asian Games Marathon, Guanzhou, China
1:02:50 - 21st, 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, Birmingham, UK
1:06:26 - 32nd, 2008 World Half Marathon Championships, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

After a strong 2009 which saw him run under 63 for the half marathon at least three times, Kitaoka had a good debut at the 2010 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon to pick up a spot on the Japanese team at the Asian Games.  He then disappeared from competition, surfacing only for a relatively weak tuneup effort at the Hakodate Half Marathon before the Asian Games marathon where he ran well, never out of the top three and running down defending gold medalist Mubarak Hassan Shami of Qatar in the final kilometer for silver.  At this stage Kitaoka has not raced since January, a hamstring strain keeping him out of a planned run at May's Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon.  With no media reports on his condition it's impossible to say how he stands coming into the World Championships, but the facts as they stand now suggest the prognosis is not good.

Results 2010-2011:
DNS - 2011 Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon
1:05:49 - 22nd, 2011 New Year Ekiden National Corporate Championships 4th Stage (22.0 km)
2:12:46 - 2nd, 2010 Asian Games Marathon, Guanzhou, China
1:04:19 - 7th, 2010 Hakodate Half Marathon
2:10:51 - 4th, 2010 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - debut

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2 comments:

Desert Dirt said...

Nice previews Brett. From a glance at the IAAF link you provided, it looks like prize money for the marathon only runs out to 6th place for some reason, and at a much lower rate than the track events. I know a gal who trains here in the States that will be in Deagu who I figured would run a Fall major instead of Worlds because of the pay differential. There must be something more there, like consideration for an Olympic Team berth, or some such. Cheers.

Desert Dirt said...

Whoops, reading that again it looks like prize money does go eight-deep, it's the team prize money that only goes six-deep. So perhaps there's added incentive for a runner to compete in Korea over a major, which was what I had initially assumed and was confused by. Don't mind me, I'll get it all straight at some point.