by Brett Larner
Update: Women's 1500 m NR holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) has switched from the 1500 m to the 5000 m.
This weekend marks the official start of track season across Japan. With many of the Kanto-region Hakone Ekiden university men's teams matching up for dual meets and one five-school meet hosted by Daito Bunka University, the top Olympic hopefuls will be lining up far south in Kumamoto for Saturday's 21st Kanaguri Memorial Middle and Long-Distance Track Meet.
The men's 5000 m A-heat looks to be by far the race of the weekend. The entry list includes 2011 World XC silver medalist Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko); 2010 World XC junior silver medalist Clement Langat (Kenya/Team Subaru); Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), one of the two Japanese men currently holding an Olympic-qualifying mark; Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), two of the three men with Olympic A-standard 10000 m times; most of the other Olympic track contenders, Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota), Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) and Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B); Komazawa University aces Shinobu Kubota, Wataru Ueno and Ikuto Yufu; and more. Notable absences include Olympic-mark holders Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) and Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.). 2011 World University Games 10000 m gold medalist and 2011 National University 1500 m champion Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) is pursuing a different path to his goal of making the Olympic 10000 m, bypassing the 5000 m for the 1500 m.
The women's 5000 m A-heat also looks good, with national champion Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) the obvious favorite despite winter injury troubles. With the apparent departure of Kenyan Ann Karindi from Team Toyota Jidoshokki, Kinukawa's only real competition is Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon), but the field also includes top talent Tomoka Inadomi (Team Wacoal), Tomoka Kimura (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.) and Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera). As with Osako, women's 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) is scheduled to start her season in the 1500 m where she will face Kenyans Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko) and Rose Maranga (Team Toto) along with domestic rivals Mika Kobayashi (Suma Gakuen H.S.), Azusa Saito (Niigata Albirex AC) and Risa Yokoe (Suma Gakuen H.S.).
Although the meet is likely to be only an early-season rust-buster, if even half the field on the entry starts it will be a good indication of where people stand ahead of the spring's other major chances to clock Olympic-qualifying times, most notably Stanford University's Cardinal Invitational which will see a large Japanese contingent. Click here for complete Kanaguri Memorial entry lists.
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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