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Japanese Women Bronze, Kawauchi Shames the System Again at World Half Marathon Championships

by Brett Larner

The Japanese women took the team bronze medal at the Oct. 6 World Half Marathon Championships, year-leading national corporate champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) finishing 8th after running 7th throughout the race with teammate Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) only to lose out in the final sprint to a fast-closing Gemma Steel (GBR). Both Steel  and Tanaka clocked 1:11:09, Ito just back in 1:11:25 after fading in the final kilometer. 21-year-old Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) came through in the second half of the race to move up from 17th to 12th, her 1:12:11 less than a minute off her best and enough to give Japan the bronze over Great Britain. All five Japanese women cracked the top 20.  Ethiopians Meseret Hailu and Feyse Tadese went 1-2 and sub-1:09, ensuring that Ethiopia scored the team gold over Kenya, whose top finisher Paskalia Chepkorir Kipkoech took the individual bronze 9 seconds back from winner Hailu.

As for the men, what is there to say? In an outstanding year with a 2:07 marathon, three 2:08's and four 2:09's so far, with twenty-three men sub-62, with three of Japan's all-time top eight half-marathoners on the team, Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota, 1:00:53), Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta, 1:00:58) and Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo, 1:01:15), corporate team aces one and all with everything they could want at their disposal, it was a self-training independent who in the last six weeks has won two marathons, one a nearly three-minute CR, and set 1500 m and 5000 m lifetime bests, who took the top Japanese spot. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.).



All-time Japanese #3 Miyawaki frontran the early stages of the race only to finish with a time that barely beat Hailu and Tadese in the women's race. All-time Japanese #8 Kihara lost to women's team members Tanaka and Ito. Honestly, what were they doing there? It's not a criticism, it's a genuine question. Sure, it was warm, and sure, Kawauchi fell far short of his time goal and was nearly four minutes adrift of the brilliant Zersenay Tadese's 1:00:19 win, but he was still head and shoulders above the cream of what the corporate system could produce, starting off at the back of the pack and moving up over the last five kilometers to shame them all, the coaches and federation maybe more than the athletes. And, did I mention, he has won two marathons in the last six weeks while the rest of them had everything they could have needed to focus on this pre-ekiden season World Championship race without distraction.

Naoko Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), only the fourth man on the team with a 1:02:16 PB but a proven racer, deserves some props for coming in as the third scoring member of the team. But overall? How to explain it? I don't know the answer.  As with the Daegu World Championships, where every single Japanese track distance athlete except Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) finished at the bottom of their event after having run great times in domestic Japanese races, you have to wonder what's up. If you're reading this far you're probably someone who could think of a few countries where virtually every athlete running superb times domestically only to show up at an international championships and blow would be viewed as a pretty sizable red flag that more than meets the eye is going on.  What makes Japan different?

Ultimately it doesn't really matter; there won't be much introspection, the women will get their due credit for a bronze medal, Tanaka will get praised for making the top eight that the Japanese care so much about, Kawauchi will earn new fans for rocking and rolling, and all else will be forgotten. Whatever blame flies will fall on the athletes for being weaker than the coaches who will escape criticism were back in their day.  No heads will roll over the rest of the men; after the debacle of the Beijing Olympics marathons the two coaches of the three athletes who actually managed to finish were made the directors of the federation's men's and women's marathoning programs. Despite the encouraging turnaround in Japanese men's times this year, the World Half results only go to show that even when there's a light at the end of the tunnel you're still in the darkness.

2012 World Half Marathon Championships
Kavarna, Bulgaria, 10/6/12
click here for complete results

Women
1. Meseret Hailu (Ethiopia) - 1:08:55 - PB
2. Feyse Tadese (Ethiopia) - 1:08:56
3. Paskalia Chepkorir Kipkoech (Kenya) - 1:09:04
4. Lydia Cheromei (Kenya) - 1:09:13
5. Emebt Etea (Ethiopia) - 1:10:01 - PB
6. Pauline Njeri Kahenya (Kenya) - 1:10:22
7. Gemma Steel (GBR) - 1:11:09 - PB
8. Tomomi Tanaka (Japan) - 1:11:09
9. Mai Ito (Japan) - 1:11:25
10. Caryl Jones (GBR) - 1:11:52 - PB
-----
12. Asami Kato (Japan) - 1:12:11
15. Yoko Miyauchi (Japan) - 1:13:00
19. Kayo Sugihara (Japan) - 1:13:36

Team Results
1. Ethiopia - 3:27:52
2. Kenya - 3:28:39
3. Japan - 3:34:45
4. Great Britain - 3:36:56
5. U.S.A. - 3:40:40

Men
1. Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) - 1:00:19
2. Deressa Chimsa (Ethiopia) - 1:00:51 - PB
3. John Nzau Mwangangi (Kenya) - 1:01:01
4. Pius Maiyo Kirop (Kenya) - 1:01:11
5. Stephen Kosgei Kibet (Kenya) - 1:01:40
6. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) - 1:01:52
7. Jackson Kirop (Uganda) - 1:02:05
8. Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) - 1:02:06
9. Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) - 1:02:10
10. Kiflom Sium (Eritrea) - 1:02:12
-----
21. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) - 1:04:04
29. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan) - 1:04:49
35. Naoki Okamoto (Japan) - 1:05:40
58. Chihiro Miyawaki (Japan) - 1:08:33
67. Masato Kihara (Japan) - 1:11:31

Team Results
1. Kenya - 3:03:52
2. Eritrea - 3:04:41
3. Ethiopia - 3:05:43
4. U.S.A. - 3:09:56
5. Uganda - 3:10:20
-----
9. Japan - 3:14:33

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Brett Larner said…
Thumbs up to American Luke Puskedra for a quality run.
Brett Larner said…
Some post-race news flashes going around say that Ugachi and Miyawaki both woke up with stomach problems.
TokyoRacer said…
It was hot, but that's not an excuse, as it was hot in Japan in August and most of September.
I guess they're just not comfortable running overseas, which is not surprising. If you don't race much overseas, you won't be used to it. They're probably worrying about things like, will I be able to get Japanese rice?
They also probably get intimidated easily. They're used to (running behind) one or two Africans, but not a whole pack.
Kawauchi, however, is really amazing....
Anonymous said…
Nothing against Puskedra--whose 1:02:46 was only a minute off his Houston PB--but let's also give props to American Augustus Maiyo for making the leap from running the steeplechase to running his first half marathon in 1:02:33, especially under such conditions.
Brett Larner said…
Bob--

Hopefully things are in the process of changing re: not enough international racing, but you're more right than you could know about the rice. Where to do laundry was no doubt also a primary concern.

With regard to Maiyo, well, not being American I'd be more inclined to give whatever additional props are due to Brazilian Giovani dos Santos, who outkicked Maiyo by 1 second and was the top finisher from outside Africa. According to the IAAF Maiyo ran 1:04:24 last November in San Antonio, so while this was not his first half marathon, yes, it was a good run.

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