translated by Brett Larner
Two days of track and field action kick off April 21 at the Hyogo Relay Carnival in Kobe's Universiade Memorial Stadium. The first meet in the spring Grand Prix series, it is the official start of the track and field season and one of the meets used to select the Japanese Olympic team. Athletes will compete in eleven different disciplines.
The women's 10000 m looks like the absolute roughest event of the meet. "Track queen" Kayoko Fukushi (30, Team Wacoal) is absent, but 2011 World Championships team members Megumi Kinukawa (22, Mizuno) and Hikari Yoshimoto (22, Team Yamada Denki) will be leading the way in search of their second-straight national team appearances. "White-skinned beauty" Kasumi Nishihara (23, Team Yamada Denki) and the pride of disaster-hit Miyagi Prefecture, Hiroko Shoi (31, Team Nihon ChemiCon), are also among the main contenders. Despite having lost the speed of her golden years, national record holder Yoko Shibui (33, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) also cannot be discounted.
The women's 10000 m will also feature two "outsiders." Hitomi Niiya (24, Sakura AC) made the 5000 m final in Daegu last summer. She had previously indicated that she was not interested in pursuing longer distances, but she will be racing the Hyogo 10000 m seriously. The other is Mika Yoshikawa (27, Team Panasonic), formidable speed runner with five 1500 m national titles to her name.
It's likely that we'll see Niiya take the race out fast. There will be pacers, but there's good chance that Niiya will be out running in front of them. Changing gears partway through to run her down, Kinukawa is most apt to be her competition. Exactly in this way Kinukawa beat Niiya to win last year's 5000 m national title. If it comes down to a last kick, Yoshikawa is the favorite, no mistake about it. Fans can look forward to the possibilities of both a fast race as runners chase the 31:45.00 Olympic A-standard, and a dramatic, competitive competition between many of the best Japanese women.
The favorite among the Japanese men in the 10000 m is young star Chihiro Miyawaki (20, Team Toyota) who will be looking to break the Olympic A-standard of 27:45.00 for the second time to seal his Olympic spot. Two-time Hakone Ekiden First Stage winner Suguru Osako (20, Waseda Univ.) is also aiming for the Olympic 10000 m. With a long list of achievements including the 10000 m gold medal at last year's World University Games he has more than enough potential to get there. Hakone's "God of the Mountain" Ryuji Kashiwabara (22, Team Fujitsu) will be making his pro debut in the 10000 m at Hyogo. He says his goal for the first half of this season is "to get myself into the ring as a competitor for the Olympic team." His current best time is far too weak, but as a powerful, passionate athlete there is plenty of chance that he'll get "somewhere" in a breakthrough performance.