translated by Brett Larner
click here for JRN's Fukuoka preview
The top invited athletes for the Dec. 2 Fukuoka International Marathon, the first domestic selection race for the Japanese men's marathon team for next August's Moscow World Championships, appeared at a pre-race press conference in Fukuoka on Nov. 30 full of motivation and ready to go. The first of them across the line will score a guaranteed place on the team if he is under 2:08:00.
At the press conference, London Olympian Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) brought the fireworks as they took shots at each other. The two independents trained together several times between February's Tokyo Marathon and the Olympics. Fujiwara told the media, "I'm in this race because Kawauchi is here." Kawauchi fired back, "I have no intention of losing. When we trained together I didn't see anything that made me feel he's any better than me."
The corporate runners in the race haven't given up under the indie assault. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) said, "This race is full of world-class athletes. Even with such strong competition I think I can take them." Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) predicted a tough, man-to-man battle, saying, "I want to run an aggressive, active race."
Depending on the wind, the flat Fukuoka course can be ideal for fast times. Former world record holder Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) is the likely leader, with the best Japan has to offer expected to be chasing behind him. The Federation has set the bar at the 2:07 level, the minimum time needed to be considered truly world class in this era. The hope is that the high hurdle will motivate Japan's athletes to set their own standards higher and go for the big times. In the first post-London race of the buildup to the Rio Olympics four years from now, fans can hope to see the true competitive heart of the Japanese marathoner emerge once again.