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Japanese Olympic Team Profiles - Middle and Long Distance

by Brett Larner

This year's Japanese Olympic track squad includes three women and only one man in the distance events, all of whom are scheduled to double at 5000 m and 10000 m.  The women's team features 5000 m national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), 5000 m national champion Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) and 10000 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic), while two-time men's 10000 m national champion Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) will be the sole Japanese man in the 5 and 10.

Fukushi originally targeted the marathon in London, but after a failed qualification race in Osaka in January she regrouped and went back to the track, where she is already a two-time Olympian.    Sub-par throughout the spring, at the Olympic Trials she acted as an unofficial pacer for Yoshikawa to get the 10000 m A-standard, finishing 2nd in 31:43.25 but a lock for the team with a career 2nd-best 30:54.29 A-standard mark at last year's Payton Jordan Invitational.  She was likewise 2nd in the Olympic Trials 5000 m behind Niiya.  Fukushi holds the sixth-fastest qualifying time in the Olympic 10000 m and it would look to be her better event, but her history of Olympic and World Championships 10000 m finishes around the 10th-place mark suggests that even cracking the top eight would be a success.

Thanks to Fukushi's extraordinarily even pacing Yoshikawa ran a massive PB of 31:28.71 to win the Olympic Trials 10000 m, closing in 2:57 to earn her Olympic spot.  A five-time 1500 m national champion who has begun to move up in distance, her Trials run appeared controlled and conservative and hinted at the potential for more.  Her limited championship experience may be the biggest thing holding her back, but if she can muster anything close to the same closing speed at a faster overall pace then she may surprise many.

Niiya has had an unusual career, a high school star who dabbled in the marathon in her late teens before returning to shorter distances and XC, fired from her team last year when she opposed them leaving mentor Yoshio Koide to relocate westward, running as an independent club athlete for the last year, and officially joining the Koide-connected Universal Entertainment team in April but training separately from the rest of the team.  An aggressive frontrunner, she was the lone credit to her country on the track at last year's World Championships, making the 5000 m final after leading her heat in the early going and following up with a win over Fukushi and Yoshikawa at the Olympic Trials 5000 m.  At the same time, her position is somewhat tarnished by a controversial naming to the 10000 m team over A-standard-qualified Trials 3rd-placer Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) despite Niiya not running the Trials 10000 m.  Her 5000 m and 10000 m bests are almost identical to Yoshikawa's, but with a string of improvements over the last two years and an independent attitude radically different from the average corporate runner's she could surpass both of her teammates at either distance.

Despite a collection of A-standard men in contention at the Olympic Trials, Sato is the lone Japanese man on the team.  A high school and university star with three Hakone Ekiden stage records, Sato's bests of 13:31.72 and 28:07.39 at age 18, 13:23.57 at age 19 and 27:38.25 at age 22 compare well to American track Olympian Galen Rupp's 28:15.52 at age 18 and 27:36.99 at age 22 and to Rupp's 10000 m teammate Dathan Ritzenhein's 13:27.77 at age 19.  Since then, however, Sato has stalled on the track, winning New Year Ekiden stages and leading Team Nissin Shokuhin to the 2012 national title while watching from the distance as Rupp and Ritzenhein moved on to sub-13 and, in Rupp's case, sub-27 territory.

Despite predicting a 10000 m national record this spring, Sato could only muster a B-standard 27:57.07 to finish as the third Japanese man at this year's Payton Jordan Invitational.  Selecting the lowest-hanging branch method of making the Olympic Team, Sato sat on the competition at the Trials and used his formidable closing speed to just nick fellow B-standard Saku Chosei H.S. grad Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) and A-standard men Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) for the win.  Had he run up to ability Miyawaki and Ugachi would likely also have been named to the 10000 m, surely a better outcome for the Japanese team as a whole.  Skipping the 5000 m but holding a B-standard time at that distance as well, he was named as the sole man for the team.  A poor 5000 m performance at the London Diamond League meet suggests Sato is unlikely to make it out of the Olympic heats, so while his 15th-place finish in the 10000 m in Daegu is not encouraging, the 10000 m will probably be his better event this time.

Detailed bios follow below.

Kayoko Fukushi
Women's 5000 m, Women's 10000 m

Corporate Team: Wacoal
Born: Mar. 25, 1982 in Aomori
Graduated: Goshogawara Kogyo H.S.
Coach: Tadayuki Nagayama

PBs:
1500 m: 4:21.61
3000 m: 8:44.40 - NR
5000 m: 14:53.22 - NR
10000 m: 30:51.81 (all-time Japanese #2)
half-marathon: 1:07:26 - NR
marathon: 2:24:38

Major Results:
2nd, 5000 m and 10000 m, 2012 National Championships
10000 m national champion, 2002-2007, 2010
5000 m national champion, 2002, 2004-2007, 2010
9th, 10000 m, 2009 Berlin World Championships
11th, 10000 m; 10th, 5000m heats, 2008 Beijing Olympics
10th, 10000 m; 14th, 5000 m final, 2007 Osaka World Championships
1st, 10000 m, 2006 Asian Championships
6th, 2006 World Road Racing Championships
6th, Senior 8 km, 2006 World XC Championships
11th, 10000 m; 12th, 5000 m final, 2005 Helsinki World Championships
26th, 10000 m, 2004 Athens Olympics
11th, 10000 m; heats, 11th, 5000 m heats, 2003 Paris World Championships
15th, Senior 8 km, 2002 World XC Championships

Hitomi Niiya
Women's 5000 m, Women's 10000 m

Corporate Team: Universal Entertainment
Born: Feb. 26, 1988 in Okayama
Graduated: Kojokan H.S.
Coach: Yoshio Koide

PBs:
1500 m: 4:22.75
3000 m: 9:18.88
5000 m: 15:13.12 (all-time Japanese #10)
10000 m: 31:28.26
half-marathon: 1:11:41
marathon: 2:30:58

Major Results:
5000 m national champion, 2012
13th, 5000 m final, 2011 Daegu World Championships
2nd, 5000 m, 2011 Asian Championships
2nd, 5000 m, 2011 National Championships
26th, Senior 8 km, 2011 World XC Championships
1st, 2011 Chiba International XC Meet
31st, Senior 8 km, 2010 World XC Championships
2nd, 2008 Hokkaido Marathon
1st, 2007 Tokyo Marathon
13th, Junior 6 km, 2006 World XC Championships
3rd, 3000 m, 2005 World Youth Championships
13th, Junior 6 km, 2005 World XC Championships
19th, Junior 6 km, 2004 World XC Championships

Mika Yoshikawa
Women's 5000 m, Women's 10000 m

Corporate Team: Panasonic
Born: Sept. 16, 1984 in Kanagawa
Graduated: Eda H.S.
Coach: Toshiaki Kurabayashi

PBs:
1500 m: 4:10.00 (all-time Japanese #3)
3000 m: 9:02.71
5000 m: 15:15.33
10000 m: 31:28.71
half-marathon: 1:11:13

Major Results:
10000 m national champion, 2012
1500 m national champion, 2006-2010
11th, 1500 m heats, 2007 Osaka World Championships
4th, 1500 m final, 2007 Asian Championships
68th, Senior 4 km, 2006 World XC Championships

Yuki Sato
Men's 5000 m, Men's 10000 m

Corporate Team: Nissin Shokuhin Group
Born: Nov. 26, 1986 in Shizuoka
Graduated: Tokai Univ., Saku Chosei H.S.
Coach: Teruoki Shirouzu

PBs:
1500 m: 3:44.80
3000 m: 7:44.63 (all-time Japanese #2)
5000 m: 13:23.57 (all-time Japanese #10)
10000 m: 27:38.25 (all-time Japanese #3)

Major Results:
10000 m national champion, 2011-2012
15th, 10000 m, 2011 Daegu World Championships
2nd, 5000 m, 2011 Asian Championships
2nd, 5000 m, 2011 National Championships
93rd, Senior 12 km, 2008 World XC Championships
47th, Junior 8 km, 2005 World XC Championships
13th, 5000 m, 2004 World Jr. Championships
46th, Junior 8 km, 2004 World XC Championships

Masato Yokota
Men's 800 m

Corporate Team: Fujitsu
Born: Nov. 19, 1987 in Tokyo
Graduated: Keio Univ., Ikebukuro Rikkyo H.S.
Coach: Tadashi Fukushima

PBs: 
800 m: 1.46.16 - NR

Major Results:
800 m national champion, 2006-2007, 2009-2012

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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