Nikkei Newspaper, 12/5/11
translated and edited by Brett Larner
race-day photos by Dr. Helmut Winter
Star amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi (24, Saitama Pref.) made a strong argument for his status as a contender for the London Olympic team at the first of three domestic selection races, the Dec. 4 Fukuoka International Marathon. After falling behind once at 20 km he came back to hammer Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) with astonishing relentlessness, a dead heat one-on-one race that saw Kawauchi emerge as the top Japanese finisher, 3rd overall in 2:09:57. "It was really painful," he said of the battle with Imai, "but I love that kind of situation more than anything else. Telling myself not to give up, hitting him with everything I have and coming out ahead gives me a lot of satisfaction."
Kawauchi's great run in Fukuoka leaves the Federation in a state of confusion about how to deal with him. Executive member Tadasu Kawano did not hesitate to praise the ways in which Kawauchi met the Federation's expectations, saying, "He showed the best of what it means to be Japanese, and when the chance was there he went and took it himself." At the same time he added, "I honestly don't know whether that was strong or weak. In terms of the Olympics, we have to be strict about the objective numbers." For his part Kawauchi has no illusions about his performance. "I don't think they'll pick me based on today. I just wanted to run this one for experience, and then to go for a fast time in Tokyo," he said. "I didn't expect to actually be in the race for an Olympic spot in Fukuoka, and to be honest it's pretty sad that this kind of time was good enough to be the top Japanese man."
Even in spite of coming out on top of the first selection race, Kawauchi remains steadfast in his resolve to run the second selection race as well, February's Tokyo Marathon. Running in another selection race would shatter the neat, common sense logic of the Federation's selection system, but Kawauchi is determined to do it to show he is worthy of wearing the Rising Sun, another source of consternation for the Federation. It is unprecedented for the top Japanese finisher in a selection race to choose to run in another one. If he runs badly, his position among the Olympic contenders will fall drastically. "The way we know how to do things doesn't apply here anymore," admitted Kawano. "He's got his way of doing things and we want to respect that, but we have to see if there isn't someplace that we can compromise. I have to have a one-on-one meeting with him to make sure he understands the selection procedure." The Federation also plans to meet in the near future to decide how to adjust to the situation. In the meantime, Kawauchi confirmed that he will go ahead with plans to run the Dec. 18 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon.
"We wanted 2:08," Kawano said of the Federation's goal for Fukuoka. Not only did the best of the corporate system fall far short of this goal, but they also lost out to an amateur doing a training run. Federation director of men's marathoning Yasushi Sakaguchi urged the country's corporate runners to take the result as a wake-up call, saying, "Despite having an outstanding training environment they lost to Kawauchi. Our athletes and their coaches had better take stock of how they feel after something like this." For Kawauchi, the question of what to feel is simple. "When I was getting close to the two lead Japanese men [Imai and Kazuhiro Maeda] I could see that they were running along peacefully," he said, "Then the image of the Rising Sun suddenly floated to the surface of my mind. As I ran I remembered being in the award ceremony for the team medal at the World Championships and I had the urge to experience the feeling of being on the medal stand one more time."
Update: Kawauchi appeared at a press conference in Fukuoka the morning of Dec. 5. "I might not be chosen for the Olympic team with this time [2:09:57]," he told reporters. "In Tokyo I want to run a time one class higher and be picked on that basis." His comments confirmed that he intends to run the Feb. 26 Tokyo Marathon Olympic selection race.
Kawauchi said that last night after the race his muscles hurt so much that he couldn't sleep, so to help his body recover he went for an early-morning 70 minute jog through the city, washing away the fatigue. Following the race he had a meeting with Kawano. "He told me that I should keep doing things the way I have been [racing to build fitness]. That's a relief," he laughed. He plans to race three or four times before Tokyo.
Race-day photos (c) 2011 Dr. Helmut Winter
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