translated and edited by Brett Larner
If you ask Taiga Ito (26, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) who he is targeting, he immediately brings up Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) and Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Sagawa Express). It's not just that he respects them as his former senior teammates at Takushoku University, but something more. Having missed the London team himself, Ito views the two Olympians as his rivals. "I don't just want to be like them, I want to beat them," he says. With that state of mind Ito will make a return to the marathon on the start line of Sunday's Hofu Yomiuri Marathon.
As a general division entrant in Hofu in 2010 Ito took 2nd in 2:15:42, the top Japanese man behind winner Serod Batochir (Mongolia). The following July he ran his best of 2:13:16 abroad at Australia's Gold Coast Marathon, taking 4th. But despite making straightforward progress and a boost in his confidence from getting the results and the times he was looking for, his blueprint for making the London team was torn in half.
At the 2011 Fukuoka International Marathon Ito went out at sub-2:10 pace for the first time. "My training and fitness were perfect," he says, and his taper going into the race was likewise on-target. Nevertheless, the pace proved too fast and he fell off after only 20 km, ultimately finishing 76th in a dismal 2:29:55. He made a last-chance bid for the London team two and a half months later at this year's Tokyo Marathon but was only 33rd. "It hurt to feel how weak I really was," he reflects on his failed Olympic selection race runs.
But despite the crushing defeats Ito did not turn away. He was soon deep in discussion with Suzuki head coach Takuro Mikata and the team's assistant coaches about where his problems lay. Their diagnosis: "You can be confident in your stamina, but we need to improve your overall speed." Ito's new goal was settled.
His new program leading up to his return to the marathon included sessions of full-effort 1000 m and 2000 m repeats, thoroughly polishing his speed. An indication of his improvement came in October when he set a new 10000 m personal best. "There have been no mistakes in my training," he says, showing that his lost confidence has fully returned.
Now he is back in Hofu for the first time in two years. "My goal is to break my PB," he says. "I want to show the people of Hofu how much I've improved since last time." In his eighth marathon Ito hopes to relaunch his bid to join the ranks of the world class.