by Brett Larner
Click here for JRN's sprints, hurdles and field events preview.
This weekend's 96th Japanese National Track & Field Championships in Osaka double as Japan's Olympic Trials for the 2012 London Olympics. Any athlete holding an A-standard Olympic qualifying mark who wins his or her event will be guaranteed a place in London, with the remaining spots decided through federation consideration within the constraints of a maximum of three A-standard entrants or one B-standard entrant in any one event. The complete Olympic team lineup for individual events will be announced on Monday following the Trials, meaning that the only time chasing that will be allowed after the Trials is by people already on the team in one event looking to double. For most, there will be no other chance.
It's no secret that Japanese middle distance is far below the level of both its long distance and sprinting systems. The extent to which that's due to athletes being pushed to longer distances, a lack of knowhow or a lack of interest is another question, but looking over the entry lists only one athlete in a middle distance event, men's 800 m NR holder Masato Yokota (Team Fujitsu), holds even an Olympic B-standard. It's entirely possible that Yokota will be the only runner from this block lining up in London. To get there he will have to hold off a challenge from Nihon University's Sho Kawamoto, just 0.02 behind Yokota while setting the Jr. NR of 1:46.89 last month. Kawamoto will need another leap in his performances to clear the Olympic B-standard, but if he beats Yokota without clearing the standard it could be enough to keep Yokota off the team. Last year's women's 800 m runner-up Ruriko Kubo (Team Edion) has also come way up this year and is a similar distance from the Olympic B-standard having set a new PB of 2:01.90, nearly 1 1/2 seconds faster than defending national champion Akari Kishikawa (Hasegawa AC).
Only one Japanese man has ever broken the 1500 m Olympic B-standard of 3:38.00, and with favorite Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) sitting out in favor of the 5000 m after a nearly year-long injury it is unlikely anyone else will be stepping up. Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku) leads the way for the national title with a SB mark of 3:41.50. With the movement of national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and five-time national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) to longer distances the women are even further from clearing the B-standard, the top-ranked woman being Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko) with a SB of 4:14.70. Last year's surprise winner Mika Kobayashi (Suma Gakuen H.S.) has been running well this spring and will be back to defend, as will men's and women's 3000 mSC 2011 national champions Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC) and Tsuyoshi Takeda (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC).
Few things demonstrate the heavy emphasis on distances 10 km and longer among Japanese men better than the list of its candidates for 5000 m. Only one man, 2011 national champion Watanabe, holds an Olympic B-standard time, and having been complete out of competition since a DNF in Europe last September it's doubtful whether he is fit for the win to pick up his Olympic booking. S&B teammates Kensuke Takezawa and Yuichiro Ueno have both broken the A or B standard in their careers and have the two fastest marks this season after Watanabe, 13:28.70 and 13:27.66, but both are just short of the B. Judging from their races this spring Ueno is on the better trajectory to qualify at Nationals. 2012 Kanto Region University 5000 m champ Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) is entered in both the 5000 m and 10000 m; it's likely he will choose to focus on the 10000 m but look for him to be a challenger if he runs the 5.
The women's 5000 m, by contrast, could be the most competitive of the distance events. Four women have the A-standard, and all have a legitimate chance. Defending national champ Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) has the fastest Olympic-qualifying mark with her 15:09.96 winning time from last year, followed closely by last year's front-running runner-up Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and five-time 1500 m national champ Yoshikawa. The volatile Kinukawa has been on the mend from another round of injury troubles over the winter and may be vulnerable after sitting out much of the spring track season. National record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) is still on the rebound from failing to make the marathon squad and will be looking for her third-straight Olympic 5000 m and 10000 m double. It would take solid runs from all three of the other women to keep her off the team, but 1500 m NR holder Kobayashi could also factor in to the equation. Olympic marathon squad member Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) is also in the mix.
Fukushi, Kinukawa, Niiya and Yoshikawa will also bang heads in the 10000 m, but given Kinukawa's circumstances it doesn't seem likely that she will truly contend in the distance at which she is the Jr. NR holder. Yoshikawa, holding only the B-standard will need to pick up the A to have a chance. Defending national champion Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) and ekiden star Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) both have the A-standard but have been largely M.I.A. this year, making their chances questionable.
Rivaling the women's 5000 m for competitiveness and definitely looking set to be the most exciting race of the Trials is the men's 10000 m. Three men have the A-standard. Of them, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) have been slugging it out since last fall. Ugachi has won head-to-head on the track more often than not, but Miyawaki beat Ugachi at the New Year Ekiden and, in his half-marathon debut at March's National Corporate Championships, ran 1:00:53 to beat Ugachi's best by 5 seconds. The third man, Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei), boldly went where no collegiate had gone before when he ran 27:44.30 in the U.K. last summer, but with sciatic nerve problems hampering his final collegiate winter ekiden season and a post-graduation move to the Asahi Kasei corporate team leading to a 14:24.41 in his only track race this spring it doesn't like he will be a likely choice for a top-three finish.
Better chances are to found among the seven men with the B-standard. 2011 national champ Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) has the fastest PB in the field, 27:38.25, but at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in his only serious shot at the A-standard this season he couldn't sustain the pace was easily beaten by top-ranked collegiate Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) and Ugachi. In a close race his closing speed is good enough to outkick virtually anyone in the field with the possible exception of Takezawa, but if he does that without breaking the A-standard will the federation send him instead of A-standard men Ugachi and Miyawaki? Collegiates Murasawa and Osako both broke 28 for the first time this season but each fell short of the A. Osako seems the most likely to push the pace and keep the race on track, but whether he can do that and stay ahead of Ugachi, Miyawaki, Sato, Murasawa and year-leader Daisuke Shimizu (Team Kanebo) is a question mark. Tuning up the Olympic marathon will also be Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express).
JRN will be on-site in Osaka to cover the Olympic Trials. Follow @JRNHeadlines and @JRNLive for live coverage and check back regularly throughout the weekend for video of all the key races. Entry list highlights are listed below. Our sprint and field event preview will be up tomorrow.
96th Japanese National Track & Field Championships - 2012 Olympic Trials
Nagai Stadium, Osaka, 6/8-10/12
click here for complete entry lists
Women's 10000 m 6/8/12, 8:05 p.m.
Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - SB: 30:54.29 PB: 30:51.81
Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) - SB/PB: 31:10.02
Hitomi Niiya (Team Universal Ent.) - SB/PB: 31:28.26
Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) - SB/PB: 31:34.35
Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - SB/PB: 31:43.25
Hikari Yoshimoto (Team Yamada Denki) - SB/PB: 31:45.82
Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - SB/PB: 31:55.06
Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - SB: 32:23.29 PB: 31:42.86
Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - SB: 32:15.09 PB: 31:50.45
Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - SB: 32:20.81 PB: 31:53.22
Men's 10000 m 6/9/12, 6:50 p.m.
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - SB/PB: 27:40.69
Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - SB/PB: 27:41.57
Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) - SB/PB: 27:44.30
Daisuke Shimizu (Team Kanebo) - SB/PB: 27:50.50
Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) - SB/PB: 27:50.59
Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - SB/PB: 27:56.94
Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - SB: 27:57.07 PB: 27:38.25
Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) - SB: 28:01.31 PB: 27:56.29
Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - SB/PB: 28:02.46
Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - SB/PB: 28:03.46
Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - SB: 28:14.43 PB: 27:41.75
Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) - SB: 28:15.79 PB: 27:45.59
Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - SB: 28:24.82 PB: 27:48.71
Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - SB: 28:21.47 PB: 27:52.55
Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - SB: 28:24.59 PB: 27:53.55
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - SB: 28:28.65 PB: 27:55.17
Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) - SB: 28:24.61 PB: 27:56.46
Kenta Murozuka (SDF Academy) - SB: 28:27.30 PB: 28:04.40
Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) - SB/PB: 28:22.84
Women's 5000 m 6/10/12, 5:05 p.m.
Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) - SB/PB: 15:09.96
Hitomi Niiya (Team Universal Ent.) - SB/PB: 15:13.12
Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - SB/PB: 15:15.33
Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - SB: 15:18.46 PB: 14:53.22
Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - SB/PB: 15:22.87
Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) - SB/PB: 15:23.80
Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - SB/PB: 15:29.69
Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - SB: 15:30.95 PB: 15:05.37
Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) - SB: 15:33.54 PB: 15:24.99
Hikari Yoshimoto (Team Yamada Denki) - SB: 15:30.95 PB: 15:26.72
Tomoka Inadomi (Team Wacoal) - SB: 15:35.46 PB: 15:29.56
Men's 5000 m 6/8/12, 7:05 p.m.
Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - SB/PB: 13:23.15
Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) - SB: 13:28.70 PB: 13:19.00
Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) - SB: 13:27.66 PB: 13:21.49
Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - SB/PB: 13:31.27
Yuta Takahashi (Team S&B) - SB: 13:31.48 PB: 13:31.37
Women's 3000 m SC 6/10/12, 3:20 p.m.
Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC) - SB: 9:51.88 PB: 9:33.93
Yoshika Arai (Team Edion) - SB: 10:05.43 PB: 9:53.87
Nanae Kuwashiro (Team Sysmex) - SB/PB: 10:00.16
Misato Horie (Team Noritz) - SB/PB: 10:02.24
Men's 3000 m SC 6/8/12, 6:45 p.m.
Aoi Matsumoto (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - SB: 8:40.08 PB: 8:30.49
Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - SB: 8:40.83 PB: 8:33.44
Hiroyoshi Umegae (Team NTN) - SB: 8:37.69 PB: 8:34.96
Tsuyoshi Takeda (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - SB/PB: 8:35.86
Satoshi Kato (Team Toyota) - SB: 8:50.00 PB: 8:37.25
Masatoshi Kikuchi (Team Fujitsu) - SB: 8:45.10 PB: 8:37.71
Women's 1500 m 6/10/12, 3:50 p.m.
Yukari Soh (Team Asahi Kasei) - SB: 4:20.31 PB: 4:13.79
Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko) - SB/PB: 4:14.70
Yui Fukuda (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - SB/PB: 4:17.15
Akane Yabushita (Ristumeikan Univ.) - SB/PB: 4:17.35
Mika Kobayashi (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - SB/PB: 4:19.40
Men's 1500 m Heats 6/9/12, 5:05 p.m., Final 6/10/12, 4:15 p.m.
Yasunori Murakami (Team Fujitsu) - SB: 3:42.42 PB: 3:38.9
Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) - SB: 3:44.94 PB: 3:39.52
Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - SB: 3:41.50 PB: 3:40.36
Masahiro Takaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - SB/PB: 3:42.71
Women's 800 m Heats 6/9/12, 5:50 p.m., Final 6/10/12, 4:30 p.m.
Ruriko Kubo (Team Edion) - SB/PB: 2:01.90
Akari Kishikawa (Hasegawa AC) - SB/PB: 2:03.34
Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko) - SB: 2:04.22 PB: 2:03.53
Manami Mashita (Tsukuba Univ.) - SB/PB: 2:04.57
Yuko Kurokawa (I Most AC) - SB: 2:08.77 PB: 2:04.97
Men's 800 m Heats 6/9/12, 6:15 p.m., Final 6/10/12, 4:45 p.m.
Masato Yokota (Team Fujitsu) - SB: 1:46.19 PB: 1:46.16
Takeshi Noguchi (Team Fujitsu) - SB: 1:48.34 PB: 1:46.71
Sho Kawamoto (Nihon Univ.) - SB/PB: 1:46.89
Yasuhiro Makino (Yutic AC) - SB: 1:48.03 PB: 1:47.48
Shohei Oka (Juntendo Univ.) - SB/PB: 1:47.66
Hikaru Miyazaki (SDF Academy) - SB: 1:49.36 PB* 1:47.96
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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