Monday, December 31, 2012

Four Years in One Hour



A retrospective video somebody put together on the college career of Toyo University's Ryuji Kashiwabara.  Kashiwabara won the Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage, 23.4 km with almost 900 m of continuous climb between 5 km and 18.5 km followed by 150 m of downhill in less than 2 km, all four years at Toyo, setting new stage records every time except his junior year.  2013 will be the first Hakone since his graduation.  He is scheduled to make his corporate league debut on the Sixth Stage of the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden.

"The most important newcomer...Kashiwabara looks poised for the most impressive Hakone debut [in years]."  
-JRN, 12/27/08

Three Record-Setters Face Off for Hakone Ekiden Glory

by Brett Larner



It's almost time for Japan's biggest and best sports event, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, the Kanto region university men's championships.  It seems like every year I've come on here and said, "This is going to be the greatest Hakone ever," but it's true.  Things have been accelerating very rapidly in Kanto collegiate distance running.  There have been course records at Hakone the last two years, and this fall the other two Big Three University Ekidens, the Izumo Ekiden and National University Ekiden Championships, also saw course records.  Two years ago 15 athletes in Hakone's field had bests at the sub-13:40, sub-28:30 and sub-1:03:00 level.  Last year there were 19.  This year there are 32, from 15 of the 20 schools in the field.  Where is it going to end?  The battle between the three course record-setting schools this year, Toyo University, Komazawa University and Aoyama Gakuin University, looks set to be one for the ages.



Hakone this year is in at least one way the end of an era with the graduation of defending champion Toyo's uphill specialist Ryuji Kashiwabara.  For the last four years Kashiwabara has been a celebrity, fearlessly conquering the nearly 900 m-climb Fifth Stage with four stage wins, three of them course records.  His presence shaped the race, with other coaches setting their lineups according to how best to deal with the three-minute advantage he brought Toyo.  Without him it's a different game, but Toyo is not going to just lie down.  Overall they have a better team than last year, when they took 8 minutes 15 seconds off the course record.  At both Izumo and Nationals Toyo placed 2nd.  At Hakone if their new Fifth Stage runner can perform only decently then the other nine men on the team need to average 1 second per km faster than last year for the course record to again be in range.  Everything depends on twins Keita and Yuta Shitara.  On the one hand both have broken 28:20 and 1:02:00 since the 2012 Hakone Ekiden, but on the other both have been relatively flat throughout the fall.  The school's fortunes will rise or fall with their performances.

Their greatest competition is Komazawa, the best university team Japan has ever seen.  8 of its 10 starters have PBs under 28:30 or 1:03:00.  In November anchor Shinobu Kubota ran down Toyo on the anchor stage of the National University Ekiden to give Komazawa the course record and its 10th national title.  Time and again a team's half marathon average has proven to be the best predictor of success in Hakone, where the average stage length is 21.79 km.  Komazawa's ten-man average of 1:02:58 ranks it first and says that Toyo's Hakone record is in reach.  On paper they look unstoppable, the only possible flaw being that their 10th man has a half marathon best of only 1:04:15.  But there are other cracks.  Despite the record at Nationals, at Izumo Komazawa was only 5th.  In other seasons when they've shown that kind of instability they have performed badly at Hakone, including a 13th-place finish in 2009.  Komazawa usually runs better on Day Two, but with its three best men Kubota, Ikuto Yufu and Kenta Murayama all entered for Day One look for them to come out hard.

Izumo Ekiden course record-setter Aoyama Gakuin University is the other major contender.  Led by Takehiro Deki, who made an early marathon debut earlier this year with a 2:10:02 at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Aoyama has quietly been building toward something special in Hakone.  In June they missed qualifying for Nationals when both Deki and senior Ryotaro Otani were out with injury, but in September they shocked everyone with the Izumo record.  Instrumental to their win was Kazuma Kubota, the #1-ranked incoming high schooler.  Izumo was a surprise, but with stage lengths only a third those in Hakone it didn't necessarily mean Aoyama was going to perform over longer distances.  In October they shattered any doubts on that point by putting ten men under 1:00:30 at the Takashimadaira 20 km Road Race without Deki even running.  It's hard to overstate how big that result was for Aoyama's Hakone chances.  They have the fastest 10th man in the field, and if aces Deki, Kubota and Otani run up to ability they should have a shot at the win.

Skip to 1:40

On paper Meiji University looks like the equal of the three favorites, but with weaker half marathon credentials and only a 5th-place finish at Nationals Meiji is most likely to be fighting for 4th.  Teikyo University, featurng 2012 national collegiate half marathon champion Toshikatsu Ebina and National University Ekiden 3rd and 4th-place teams Waseda University and Nittai University will be Meiji's top competition in the second tier.  Waseda, who set the previous Hakone course record in 2011 and feature #1-ranked Japanese collegiate  Suguru Osako, have gotten a lot of attention as a contender for the win, but they have only half a team.  Despite having six men close to Komazawa's best eight, Waseda's bottom four are far lower in quality, and up against the three favorite schools that deficit means the win is all but hopeless.

The top ten schools in Hakone each year are seeded for the following year, with the remaining ten bumped out to run October's Yosenkai 20 km qualifier.  The race for the last few seeded bracket spots is always as exciting as the action up front, and this year looks like it will be very rough.  Beyond the seven best schools mentioned above another seven have legitimate chances of getting into the final three seeded spots.  Look for Tokyo Nogyo University, Chuo University, Juntendo University, Josai University, Daito Bunka University, Chuo Gakuin University and the Kanto Region Select Team to be fighting it out late in the race for seeded honors.  If the Select Team, made up of the top-finishing individuals at the Yosenkai from schools that miss qualifying for Hakone as a team, make the top ten they will bump another school down to the qualifiers, leaving only nine schools qualified for 2014.

The Hakone Ekiden is broadcast live in its entirety by NTV beginning at 7:00 a.m. on the 2nd and 3rd.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online with Keyhole TV, with coverage also available via Twitter @JRNLive.

Here's to the best race of the year.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, December 30, 2012

On Making the New Year Ekiden

http://blog.ap.teacup.com/pressrikujo/

translated by Brett Larner

A member of the Press Kogyo corporate team posted this interesting entry on the team's blog ahead of their run at the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden.

Hello.  In just a little time now the New Year Ekiden will kick off.  This will be kind of out of nowhere, but I want to talk about the distribution of places for the New Year Ekiden.  Most of you probably know that there's some variability in the number of places available for teams trying to make the New Year Ekiden.  The number of teams from any given region depends on the results from the previous year's New Year Ekiden.  The total number of teams that can run the New Year Ekiden is set at 37, with teams coming from 6 different regions: East Japan, Chubu, Hokuriku, Kansai, Chugoku and Kyushu.  To determine the number of teams from each region they use the following algorithm:

  1. Starting with a given region's number of teams that year, the region will lose one slot for each team that finishes 31st-37th.  (The total number of teams subtracted is 7, one each for 31st-37th.)
  2. After subtracting the slots in step 1, each region receives one additional slot.  (With 6 regions, 6 slots are now added.)
  3. The region with the best average placing of teams in the top 30 receives one more slot. (-7+6+1=0)
It's kind of complicated, but the basic point is that a region that doesn't have any teams finish 31st or lower will be guaranteed to pick up one extra slot the next year while on the other hand for any region that has 2 or more teams finish 31st or worse the poor results impact everybody in that region and it becomes that much harder for them all to qualify the next year because there is one less place available.

If you take the example of the East Japan region, at the January 2012 New Year Ekiden Press Kogyo finished 31st and the Tokyo Police Headquarters finished 34th.  That year the East Japan region had 13 teams in the New Year Ekiden, but:

13-2 (Press Kogyo, Tokyo Police) +1+0 (Kyushu had the best average placing of teams in the top 30) = 12 teams

And that's how we came to the number of slots available to East Japan region teams this year.

Incidentally, on all six regional Corporate League websites, in the East Japan Corporate Ekiden and New Year Ekiden programs, on the official TBS New Year Ekiden website, these rules ARE NOT WRITTEN ANYWHERE.  The fact that the number of slots within each region can decrease means that among the teams that run one year, at least one of them will not be able to run the next year.  These teams will almost certainly come from among the teams finishing 31st or lower.  For teams that barely made it through the qualifiers getting into the top 30 is really a life-or-death struggle as they are digging their own graves with regard to continued sponsorship if they don't make it.

But, like I said previously, these rule are not available to the public anywhere.  I found them by chance on 2channel and have been checking their accuracy for the last 2 or 3 years.  The changes in the number of slots really do follow these rules, but while teams more or less know that there are rules like this I'm pretty sure almost none of them understand exactly how they works or what the cutoff point they should be targeting is.  Last year Press Kogyo went into the race not knowing whether we had to make top 30 or top 29.

At the Hakone Ekiden in addition to the race up front the battle for the seeded bracket is always important, and the truth is that there is something like the seeded bracket at the New Year Ekiden too.  It would be nice if companies that sponsor ekiden teams would support them regardless of whether or not they make the New Year Ekiden, but for most of them if the team does not make the New Year Ekiden.....well, let's just say that the consequences are pretty severe.  It's no exaggeration to say that a team's fate depends on whether or not it makes the top 30.

This is pretty important for the people involved, but I think from the point of view of the spectators and fans these rules make things more interesting too.  At this point pretty much nobody in the public knows about these rules, but since they has a direct impact on the survival of the lower-placing teams if they said something about the 30th-31st place cutoff on the TV broadcast like, "Team X and Team Y are locked in battle for 30th!  Whichever team falters is going to lose one spot for their region next year!" I think people would get pretty excited about it.  Along with that, there should be something about the rules in the New Year Ekiden program since they directly affect whether some teams will be able to continue existing or not.

Sorry this article has gotten so long, but if it has helped people understand the New Year Ekiden's rules even a little better then I'll be happy.

New Year Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner



The raison d'ĂȘtre for the Japanese men's corporate team comes bright and early every Jan. 1 with the New Year Ekiden national corporate men's championships.  37 teams from 6 regions square off over 100 km in a race that sees most of the athletes bringing their peak performance of the year; at the 2012 New Year Ekiden, winner Team Nissin Shokuhin ace Yuki Sato's record of 1:02:51 for the 22.0 km Fourth Stage was equivalent to a 1:00:16 half marathon, faster than the Japanese national record.  TBS will broadcast the race live starting at 8:30 a.m.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online with Keyhole TV, with coverage also available via Twitter @JRNLive.

Nissin Shokuhin comes to the 2013 New Year Ekiden in range of a title defense, but much of its chances depend on Sato.  At November's East Japan regional qualifier he was only 4th on his stage, contributing to the team's loss to the Tsuyoshi Ugachi-led Team Konica Minolta.  It will take a performance close to his stage record last year, along with a solid debut from Nissin's junior Kenyan Leonard Barston, for Nissin to make up the distance to Konica Minolta, the favorite for the overall win.

Running without either of its Ethiopians, Team Honda was only one second behind Nissin at the East Japan qualifier and should also be up front throughout the race.  Noteworthy on Honda's lineup is the entry of Asmerow Mengistu rather than 2011 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan.  Team JR Higashi Nihon and Team Fujitsu were also strong in East Japan and have to be counted among the favorites.  The most-anticipated moment of this New Year Ekiden will surely be the pro ekiden debut of Fujitsu's Ryuji Kashiwabara, a celebrity throughout Japan after his four-straight Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage wins while at Toyo University.

If any team can break East Japan's dominance it will be Kyushu's Team Asahi Kasei.  One of Japan's most legendary old-school teams, Asahi Kasei has recently been accumulating a tough lineup including Komazawa University and Meiji University aces Takuya Fukatsu and Tetsuya Yoroizaka along with Hiroyuki Horibata, who ran 2:08:24 in Fukuoka earlier this month.  If Horibata has recovered adequately then Asahi Kasei should be a player.  Kyushu runner-up Team Yasukawa Denki and Kansai region winner Team Sagawa Express, featuring Olympic marathoners Kentaro Nakamoto and Ryo Yamamoto, should be in contention for the top five, along with Chugoku champion Team Chugoku Denryoku.

Despite Jeilan's absence, the 8.3 km "International Stage" should provide some of the best race of the day.  The entry list includes the likes of Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko), Clement Langat (Kenya/Team Subaru), Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Team JFE Steel), Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.), Jonathan Ndiku (Kenya/Team Hitachi Butsuryu) and Alemu Desta (Ethiopia/Team Yasukawa Denki).  Most of the top Japanese talent will be lined up on the 13.6 km Third Stage and 22.0 km Fourth Stage.

2013 New Year Ekiden
National Corporate Men's Ekiden Championships
Maebashi, 1/1/13
37 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km

Top Team Entries
Konica Minolta (East Japan)
Nissin Shokuhin (East Japan)
Honda (East Japan)
Asahi Kasei (Kyushu)
JR Higashi Nihon (East Japan)
Sagawa Express (Kansai) 
Yasukawa Denki (Kyushu)
Shikoku Denryoku (Kansai) 
Toyota Kyushu (Kyushu)
Fujitsu (East Japan) 
Otsuka Seiyaku (Kansai)
Chugoku Denryoku (Chugoku) 
Toyota Boshoku (Chubu) 
Toyota (Chubu) 
Aichi Seiko (Chubu)
YKK (Hokuriku)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, December 28, 2012

Notification of the Termination of the Sapporo International Half Marathon

http://www.shsf.jp/half-marathon/55/

translated by Mika Tokairin and edited by Brett Larner

Having brought some of the world's best runners to race in Sapporo for the last 55 years, it has been decided that the 2012 edition of the Sapporo International Half Marathon will be its final running.

The Sapporo International Half Marathon, starting and finishing at Maruyama Field, passing through the streets of downtown Sapporo and Odori Park and turning around at Shiraishi in East Sapporo, is known to be a race that produces good times due both to its course and to favorable weather.  In recent years it has served as a selection race for the Japanese team at the World Half Marathon Championships.  At this year's 55th running on July 1st, a total of 323 runners including both men and women started the race, with a very high 98% finisher rate.

At the 43rd running in 2000, Naoko Takahashi won the women's race as a step toward her gold medal at the Sydney Olympics later that summer.  A year later in 2001 Mizuki Noguchi, who later won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, raced head-to-head against Sydney silver medalist Lidia Simon (Romania), losing by 5 seconds but gaining experience that was crucial toward her Olympic success.

It is very rare to hold a half-marathon in mid-summer in Japan, and in that sense it has been very meaningful to have this race in Sapporo.  However, when the four bodies involved in organizing the race met to discuss the future editions they came to the conclusion that its prospects, both financially and in terms of value to the media, were limited, and it was determined that the best course of action was to cease holding the race.  The proposal to discontinue the race was submitted to the Japanese Federation, one of its advisory bodies, who accepted the decision.

We would like to express our deep gratitude to all the organizations related to the race, including each o the sponsors, the Hokkaido Police Headquarters, the security companies and others.  We hope to continue to contribute to the development of athletics and sports in the future and ask for you continued support.

Translator's note: The Sapporo International Half Marathon was one of the world's greatest half marathon events, with course records of 1:08:14 by Mizuki Noguchi in 2006 and 59:54 by Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) in 2007.  Click here for a complete list of past winners.  In recent years its start time had been pushed back to mid-afternoon to meet the requirements of race broadcaster Nihon TV, and the sudden announcement of the race's termination suggests NTV's complete withdrawal of its support.

The termination of the race after 55 years follows the elimination of the elite field from Sapporo's Hokkaido Marathon this year.  Sapporo International now joins other elite half marathons including the Miyazaki Women's Half Marathon, Kobe Women's Half Marathon and Nagoya Half Marathon to disappear or be incorporated into large mass-participation events.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Top Ten Japanese Men of 2012

by Brett Larner

Japanese men are back on track. 2012 saw all-time Japanese top ten performances over 10000 m, half-marathon and the marathon, and overall depth at those distances has almost never been better.  Just two years ago there was only one sub-2:10 marathon by a Japanese man, but in 2012 there ten, including a 2:07 and four 2:08's.  Apart from Japan only Kenya and Ethiopia have ever had ten or more in one year.  University men continued to reach unprecedented heights, with course records at all three major university ekidens and collegiates making the 2012 top ten lists for 5000 m, 10000 m, half-marathon and even the marathon.

Quality over 5000 m and shorter is still an issue and there is still a long way to go at the longer distances, as well as a major problem with Japanese men's ability to show up at major international competitions and compete.  Apart from London Olympics marathon 6th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) the entire Japanese men's teams at both the Olympics and the World Half-Marathon Championships were pitiful, running far below potential.  But despite these issues there is no question that in terms of momentum and positivity Japanese men are headed in the right direction.  Using a scoring system that takes into account quality, range and performance relative to other Japanese athletes, JRN ranked the year's top ten individual Japanese men along with two honorable mentions.

Video of Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m courtesy of naoki620.

1. Daisuke Shimizu (Team Kanebo) - 283.8 pts.

5000 m: 13:25.54 - 3rd, KBC Nacht, 7/7/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 27:50.50 - 3rd, Hyogo Relay Carnival, 4/21/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012
half-marathon: 1:01:44 - 9th, Marugame, 2/5/11 - #8 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 4th Stage, 22.0 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 1:05:32 - 23rd
Tokyo Marathon, Tokyo, 2/26/12 - 2:16:39 - 30th
Setagaya Time Trials 3000 m A-heat, Tokyo, 4/8/12 - 8:06.33 - 1st
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:42.88 - 12th
Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 37, Kanagawa, 9/23/12 - 13:42.45 - 3rd
East Japan Corporate Ekiden 5th Stage, 7.4 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 21:48 - 1st

An outsider choice for top Japanese man of the year, relative unknown Shimizu quietly got it done through the spring and summer.  In a parallel to 2012's top Japanese woman Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Shimizu had a bad marathon early in the year but returned to set the year-leading Japanese 5000 m mark over the summer.  In between, his 27:50.50 at the Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, where he beat top ten-ranked men Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) and Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo), was the top Japanese men's time for over 5 months and ended up the #2 time of the year.  Together with his 5000 m and 10000 m performances Shimizu's 1:01:44 half-marathon, part of the Miracle in Marugame, was enough to secure him the top spot in JRN's rankings on the strength of his range. Unfortunately he was off when he needed most to be on, finishing only 12th in the National Championships 10000 m and missing the London Olympics, but with good runs behind him in the fall he should be ready to be a bigger name at next week's New Year Ekiden and on into 2013.  With coaching from national record holder Toshinari Takaoka at Kanebo Shimizu should evolve into one of the country's top-ranked marathoners.

2. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 255 pts.

10000 m: 27:41.57 - 4th, National Corporate Championships, 9/21/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012, #6 Japanese all-time
half-marathon: 1:00:53 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/18/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012, #3 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 3rd Stage, 13.6 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 37:52 - 1st - CR
National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden 7th Stage, 13.0 km, Hiroshima, 1/22/12 - 37:35 - 2nd
Meigi Ekiden 6th Stage, 11.8 km, Gifu, 2/5/12 - 33:48 - 1st - CR
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 28:07.45 - 4th
Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Hiroshima, 5/13/12 - 13:43.97 - 1st - MR
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:20.76 - 3rd
World Half-Marathon Championships, Kavarna, 10/6/12 - 1:08:33 - 58th

One of the big surprises of 2011, Miyawaki ran big in 2012 as well.  Only 20, he outran 2011's #1 man Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) for a stage record win at the New Year Ekiden, beat him again at the National Men's Ekiden three weeks later, and then beat Ugachi's half-marathon PB by 5 seconds.  In his half-marathon debut Miyawaki won the National Corporate Half-Marathon Championships in 1:00:53, the third-best ever by a Japanese man on a record-legal course and the leading time of 2012 by a Japanese man. Late spring and summer proved tougher, and he missed making the London Olympics team when he was 3rd at June's National Championships.  At September's National Corporate Track and Field Championships a month after turning 21 he enigmatically tied his 10-month-old PB of 27:41.57, already the all-time #6 Japanese mark, but two weeks later he was a bust at the World Half-Marathon Championships where he ran only 1:08:33. Since then he has been absent from major competition, sitting out November's New Year Ekiden regional qualifier.  He is on Toyota's roster for the New Year Ekiden and hopefully will be back and among the best.  Japan has had no shortage of guys show up unexpectedly for one or two hot seasons early in their careers and then never live up to them again.  Nobody wants to see Miyawaki added to that list.

3. Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) - 184.2 pts.

5000 m: 13:33.34 - 7th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet, 4/7/12 - #5 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 28:06.28 - 8th, National Corporate Championships, 9/21/12 - #9 Japanese, 2012
half-marathon: 1:01:25 - 1st - CR, Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half-Marathon, 3/4/12 - #3 Japanese, 2012, #10 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 1st Stage, 12.3 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 36:07 - 10th
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 28:10.09 - 5th
Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, Nobeoka, 5/12/12 - 28:18.24 - 6th
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:56.70 - 17th
Grand Tour Kyushu Day Six 3rd Stage, 16.5 km, Kyushu, 11/2/12 - 49:31 - 1st
Kyushu Corporate Men's Ekiden 7th Stage, 14.2 km, Kitakyushu, 11/23/12 - 40:58 - 1st - CR

Part of a powerful quartet while at Komazawa University along with Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu), Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), Fukatsu has done well in his first two pro seasons.  2012 was more inconsistent than his debut season, but he was strong in the spring with an all-time Japanese top ten 1:01:25 course record solo win at March's Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon and a solid 5000 m at April's Kanaguri Memorial Meet.  Peaking for the National Championships proved a problem, and it wasn't until September that Fukatsu returned to close to full fitness.  A course record on the anchor stage of November's Kyushu Corporate Men's Ekiden showed that he is back to his best, and if he can carry that through to New Year's Day he should be a favorite for the win on whichever stage he runs.  Having competition to run against would give him a shot at sub-61 if he were to run Marugame in February.

4. Arata Fujiwara (Miki House) - 183.75 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:34 - 6th, Marugame, 2/5/12 - #5 Japanese, 2012
marathon: 2:07:48 - 2nd, Tokyo, 2/26/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012, #7 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
Sendai International Half-Marathon, Sendai, 5/13/12 - 1:03:32 - 2nd
Gifu Seiryu Half-Marathon, Gifu, 5/20/12 - 1:03:05 - 6th
Bupa London 10000 Road Race, London, 5/27/12 - 29:24 - 2nd
Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 10000 m B-heat, Shibetsu, 6/23/12 - 29:08.00 - 1st
Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 10000 m A-heat, Shibetsu, 6/23/12 - 29:00.98 - 5th
Sapporo International Half-Marathon, Sapporo, 7/1/12 - 1:02:48 - 6th
Aegeriseelauf 14.138 km, Switzerland, 7/21/12 - 41:42 - 2nd
London Olympics Marathon, London, 8/12/12 - 2:19:11 - 45th
Fukuoka International Marathon, Fukuoka, 12/2/12 - 2:09:31 - 4th

The wildly inconsistent and unpredictable Fujiwara, JRN's 2010 Japanese man of the year, returned from a terrible 2011 with an unexpected half-marathon PB in Marugame.  Three weeks later he delivered the biggest run of his career, an all-time Japanese 7th-best 2:07:48 for 2nd at the Tokyo Marathon to guarantee a London Olympics berth.  With Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) a dud in the same race Fujiwara took over as the public face of Japanese marathoning for the year, breaking new ground in sponsorship deals and media exposure while running well in his spring and summer Olympic prep races.  Regrettably, the wrong Fujiwara showed up in London.  After a clear-eyed self-analysis of his failure he took a few months out of the public eye before unexpectedly announcing that he was running Fukuoka on only a month's training in order to go head-to-head with Kawauchi. Undertrained for what was ultimately a meaningless race appearance he of course ran well, clocking 2:09:31 to give Japan its tenth sub-2:10 performance of the year and to become only the fifth Japanese man to break 2:10 five times in his career.  Now he is talking about a national record at February's Tokyo Marathon.  2008, 2010 and 2012 were all good years for Fujiwara, while 2009 and 2011 were not.  Let's hope 13 turns out to be his lucky number.

5. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 136.875 pts.

5000 m: 13:33.84 - 1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet, 7/7/12 - #6 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 27:56.94 - 2nd, Golden Games in Nobeoka, 5/12/12 - #6 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Hakone Ekiden 1st Stage, 21.4 km, Tokyo, 1/2/12 - 1:02:03 - 1st
Chiba International Cross-Country Meet 12000 m, Chiba, 2/12/12 - 35:44 - 4th
Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet 10000 m, Fukuoka, 2/24/12 - 30:27 - 1st
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 28:26.94 - 8th - PB
Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Tokyo, 5/20/12 - 13:47.44 - 1st
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:18.53 - 2nd
Izumo Ekiden 1st Stage, 8.0 km, Izumo, 10/8/12 - 23:57 - 10th
National University Ekiden Championships 2nd Stage, 13.2 km, Nagoya, 11/4/12 - 37:25 - 2nd
International Chiba Ekiden 1st Stage, 5.0 km, Chiba, 11/23/12 - 13:31 - 2nd

By now Osako's name will be familiar to overseas readers with news of his impending addition to the Nike Oregon Project spreading over the last few days.  The 2011 national university 1500 m champion, 2011 World University Games 10000 m gold medalist and Asian junior half-marathon record holder, Osako started off 2012 with a frontrunning win on the Hakone Ekiden's First Stage where he ran the equivalent of 1:01:10.  He outkicked his fellow Saku Chosei H.S. grad Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) for the win by a hair at the Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet and followed up with a 27:56.94 PB at the Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, 0.13 seconds better than Sato's time at the Cardinal Invitational a week later.  At the National Championships it came down again to the two of them locked in a sprint finish.  With both holding Olympic B-standard marks only one could go on to London, at sadly for Osako it was Sato who pulled ahead by a margin of only 0.38 seconds. Following this disappointment Osako headed to Europe for some late-summer meets, but while there news came that his post-graduation corporate team S&B was to disband.  The stress led to a string of poor performances, but by November Osako was back to near normal.  He is promising a stage record in Hakone, and after that it's off to Oregon.  Will the magic rub off on him?  Osako's next few years should be interesting.

6. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 117 pts.

5000 m: 13:28.79 - 2nd, Sollentuna, 7/5/12 - #3 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 27:57.07 - 16th, Payton Jordan Cardival Invitational, 4/29/12 - #7 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 4th Stage, 22.0 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 1:02:51 - 1st - CR
Chiba International Cross-Country Meet 12000 m, Chiba, 2/12/12 - 36:05 - 6th
Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet 10000 m, Fukuoka, 2/24/12 - 30:27 - 2nd
Shizuoka Sunpu Half-Marathon, Shizuoka, 3/4/12 - 1:06:47 - 5th
Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 23, Yokohama, 5/27/12 - 13:43.01 - 1st
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:18.15 - 1st
London Olympics 10000 m, London, 8/4/12 - 28:44.06 - 22nd
London Olympics 5000 m Heat One, London, 8/8/12 - 13:38.22 - 12th
National Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Fukuoka, 9/22/12 - 13:38.51 - 4th
East Japan Corporate Ekiden 4th Stage, 9.9 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 29:58 - 4th

Sato has long been a monster.  13:31.72 and 28:07.39 at age 18.  13:23.57 at age 19.  Stage records three out of his four Hakone Ekiden runs.  Seconds off the national records for 3000 m and 10000 m.  A 1:02:51 course record for 22.0 km, equivalent to a half-marathon national record, at last January's New Year Ekiden.  But despite all of this potential something has been missing.  No national records.  No Olympic A-standard either, barely squeezing into the London team on B-standard marks after sitting on Osako in the 10000 m and outkicking him by 0.38 seconds.  No turning it up to eleven.  Come on already, if the track isn't happening for whatever reason then run a serious half-marathon and get the national record.  It's just waiting there.  Sato has been somewhat flat this fall, only 4th on his East Japan Corporate stage, but with a planned marathon debut early in 2013 this could be due to higher mileage.  A half-marathon national record would be nice before he makes a serious move to the marathon, but maybe that'll come in Marugame in February.

7. Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) - 105.3 pts.

5000 m: 13:28.70 - 2nd, Kanaguri Memorial Meet, 4/7/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden 7th Stage, 13.0 km, Hiroshima, 1/22/12 - 37:32 - 1st
Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, Nobeoka, 5/12/12 - 28:40.43 - 10th
National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Osaka, 6/8/12 - 13:47.54 - 2nd

Along with Sato, Takezawa has been emblematic of the problems at the very top end of the Japanese system, running 13:22.36 at age 19 and 13:19.00 at age 20 with half-marathon national record-quality performances at the Hakone Ekiden and making the Beijing Olympics late in his collegiate career, but chronically injured and languishing on the S&B team since going pro.  As in 2011, Takezawa started the year strong, beating Miyawaki and Ugachi on the anchor stage of the National Men's Ekiden in January but vanishing come summer.  The announcement at the end of August that the S&B team will disband in March means Takezawa will have to look elsewhere to get back on track.  Maybe there is room for him in Oregon with Osako.

8. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 97.2 pts.

marathon: 2:08:24 - 2nd, Fukuoka, 12/2/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 4th Stage, 22.0 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 1:03:43 - 4th
Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Otsu, 3/4/12 - 2:10:05 - 11th
Grand Tour Kyushu Day Two 4th Stage, 14.2 km, Kyushu, 10/29/12 - 42:10 - 1st
Grand Tour Kyushu Day Six 6th Stage, 20.2 km, Kyushu, 11/2/12 - 1:00:31 - 2nd
Kyushu Corporate Men's Ekiden 4th Stage, 12.2 km, Kitakyushu, 11/23/12 - 35:20 - 2nd

A favorite for the London Olympics after finishing 7th at the Daegu World Championships marathon, Horibata struggled in the cold rain at March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon and missed the cut.  Out with injury until the fall, he came back with a series of strong ekiden performances before delivering a superb run in Fukuoka.  Making a serious effort to meet the Federation's sub-2:08 criterium for the Moscow World Championships team Horibata took control at 30 km with a surge that knocked the great Haile Gebrselassie out of the race.  He couldn't match winner Joseph Gitau's 2:06 pace but still held on for 2nd in 2:08:24, the 2nd-best Japanese time of the year.  Not sub-2:08, but the Federation would be crazy not to send him to Moscow after a performance of that caliber.

9. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 79.625 pts.

5000 m: 13:29.50 - 4th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet, 4/7/12 - #4 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 27:52.79 - 13th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/29/12 - #5 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 3rd Stage, 13.6 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 37:58 - 2nd
National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden 7th Stage, 13.0 km, Hiroshima, 1/22/12 - 37:47 - 3rd
Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, Kumamoto, 2/19/12 - 1:30:01 - 1st
Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 23, Yokohama, 5/27/12 - 13:46.03 - 2nd
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:23.01 - 4th
World Half-Marathon Championships, Kavarna, 10/6/12 - 1:04:49 - 29th
East Japan Corporate Ekiden 2nd Stage, 15.3 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 44:35 - 1st
Hachioji Long-Distance Time Trials 10000 m Heat 1, Hachioji, 11/24/12 - 27:55.29 - 4th

JRN's 2011 Japanese man of the year, Ugachi struggled to find the same rhythm this year. Reasonably solid through the spring, he was only 4th at the National Championships 10000 m in June and missed making the London Olympics team despite having the fastest qualifying time.  He blamed a poor showing at the World Half-Marathon Championships on food poisoning and since then has been back to better form with a stage win at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden and a sub-28 clocking at the Hachioji Time Trials in late November.  All he needs now is a stage win at the New Year Ekiden.  Scheduled to be a pacer to 30 km at the Tokyo Marathon, which way will Ugachi go in 2013, toward a national record on the track or on to the roads for the longer end of things?

10. Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - 79.2 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:15 - 3rd, National Corporate Championships, 3/18/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012, #8 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden 3rd Stage, 13.6 km, Maebashi, 1/1/12 - 41:53 - 36th
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 28:21.47 - 6th
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/9/12 - 28:32.54 - 9th
World Half-Marathon Championships, Kavarna, 10/6/12 - 1:11:31 - 67th

Brilliant in college, Kihara has been wildly off and on, mostly off, as a corporate runner. After a bad start to the year at the New Year Ekiden he popped up unexpectedly with an all-time Japanese #8 half-marathon performance at March's National Corporate Half-Marathon Championships to make the Japanese team for the World Half-Marathon Championships.  He ran well through the spring but missed making the Olympic team on the track, then had a disastrous run at the World Half.  He looks like a potential 2:07 man at least, but having also missed his goal of making a marathon debut in 2012 the clock has to be ticking on Kihara's Kanebo contract.

Honorable mention: Toyo University

10:51:36 course record, Hakone Ekiden, 10 stages, 217.9 km, Tokyo-Hakone, 1/2-3/12

Other major performances:
Hood to Coast Relay, 36 stages, 320 km, Oregon, 8/24-25/12 - 17:14:37 - 1st
Izumo Ekiden, 6 stages, 44.5 km, Izumo, 10/8/12 - 2:11:10 - 2nd
National University Ekiden Championships, 8 stages, 106.8 km, Nagoya-Ise, 11/4/12 - 5:13:32 - 2nd

Toyo came into the 2012 Hakone Ekiden off wins in 2009 and 2010 and a 2nd-place finish under the course record behind Waseda University in 2011, all on the strength of uphill prodigy Ryuji Kashiwabara's record-setting runs of soaring inspiration on the 900 m-climb Fifth Stage.  For Kashiwabara's senior year the rest of the team vowed to give the race to him as a thank you gift, each member going beyond himself to make sure they could win even without the 3-minute advantage Kashiwabara brought them.  And they did. Toyo took an incredible 8 minutes, 15 seconds off Waseda's year-old course record, all ten members of the team averaging under 3 minutes per km for the entire 217.9 km race even with the two mountain stages.  It's hard to describe how shocking it was to watch.  One prominent corporate league coach told JRN that he seriously doubted any pro team in Japan could have beaten Toyo.  Since then the team members have continued to make progress toward being able to set another course record in 2013 without Kashiwabara. Identical twins Keita and Yuta Shitara have led the way, Keita running 1:01:45 at February's Marugame Half and 28:15.90 later in the spring, both Toyo records, and Yuta outkicking Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein at March's NYC Half to run 1:01:48, taking silver at the World University Cross-Country Championships, and breaking Keita's school 10000 m record with a new best of 28:12.82.  Toyo's JV squad had an easy time winning August's Hood to Coast Relay, and in the fall the varsity squad took 2nd behind both Aoyama Gakuin University's course record win at the Izumo Ekiden and Komazawa University's National University Ekiden Championships course record.  Hakone is going to be big.

Fan favorite: Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.)

2:10:29 - 6th, Fukuoka International Marathon, 12/2/12 and 2:10:46 - 1st, Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, 12/16/12
2:11:52 - 1st - CR, Sydney Marathon, 9/16/12 and 3:50.51 - PB, 1st, Nittai Univ. Time Trials 1500 m Heat 12, 9/22/12 and 13:58.62 - PB - 7th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m Heat 37, 9/23/12

No need to say much about Kawauchi.  His performances do the talking.  Of his 34 known races this year he had 17 wins.  JRN readers picked his 2:10:29 and 2:10:46 at Fukuoka and Hofu, a world record for the shortest time ever between sub-2:11 marathons, as the Japanese men's performance of the year.  Here are the rest of them.

Kawauchi's 2012 race schedule:
Mari Tanigawa Half-Marathon, Tokyo, 1/8/12 - 1:06:19 - 2nd
Okumusashi Ekiden 6th Stage, 9.283 km, Hanno, 1/29/12 - 27:15 - 1st
Kagawa Marugame International Half-Marathon, Kagawa, 2/5/12 - 1:02:18 - 27th - PB
Tokyo Marathon, Tokyo, 2/26/12 - 2:12:51 - 14th
Saitama Half-Marathon, Saitama, 3/12/12 - 1:04:26 - 1st

Satte Sakura 10-Mile Road Race, Satte, 4/1/12 - 48:07 - 2nd
Yaizu Minato Half-Marathon, Yaizu, 4/8/12 - 1:03:48 - 2nd
Kasumigaura Marathon, Tsuchiura, 4/15/12 - 2:22:38 - 1st
Dusseldorf Marathon, Dusseldorf, 4/29/12 - 2:12:58 - 8th

Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 18, Yokohama, 5/6/12 - 14:00.02 - 4th
Sendai International Half-Marathon, Sendai, 5/13/12 - 1:03:49 - 4th
Gifu Seiryu Half-Marathon, Gifu, 5/20/12 - 1:04:13 - 12th
Kurobe Meisui Half-Marathon, Kurobe, 5/27/12 - 1:05:38 - 2nd
Sakuranbo Half-Marathon, Higashine, 6/10/12 - 1:05:34 - 1st
Okinoshima 50 km Ultra, Okinoshima, 6/17/12 - 2:51:45 - 1st - CR
Gold Coast Marathon, Brisbane, 7/1/12 - 2:13:26 - 4th
Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m, Abashiri, 7/7/12 - 14:09.37 - 25th

Shibetsu Half-Marathon, Shibetsu, 7/22/12 - 1:05:00 - 1st
Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km Road Race, Kushiro, 7/29/12 - 1:35:02 - 1st
Nihonkai Melon Half-Marathon, Oga, 8/5/12 - 1:06:15 - 1st
Hokkaido Marathon, Sapporo, 8/26/12 - 2:18:38 - 1st
Harunako Ekiden 4th Stage, 5.5 km, Harunako, 9/2/12 - 15:48 - 1st - CR

Sydney Marathon, Sydney, 9/16/12 - 2:11:52 - 1st - CR
Nittai University Time Trials 1500 m Heat 12, Yokohama, 9/22/12 - 3:50.51 - 1st - PB
Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 37, Yokohama, 9/23/12 - 13:58.62 - 7th - PB
World Half-Marathon Championships, Kavarna, 10/6/12 - 1:04:04 - 21st
Chiba Aqualine Marathon, Chiba, 10/21/12 - 2:17:48 - 1st
Joshu Ota Subaru Half-Marathon, Ota, 10/28/12 - 1:05:55 - 1st
Hasuda 3 km Road Race, Hasuda, 11/3/12 - 8:44 - 1st
Oshu Maezawa 30 km Road Race, Oshu, 11/4/12 - 1:33:12 - 1st
Ageo City Half-Marathon, Ageo, 11/18/12 - 1:03:02 - 3rd
Fukuoka International Marathon, Fukuoka, 12/2/12 - 2:10:29 - 6th
JBMA Jingu Gaien 10 km Road Race, Tokyo, 12/9/12 - 38:04 - guest appearance
Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, Hofu, 12/16/12 - 2:10:46 - 1st
etc.....

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

The Top Ten Japanese Women of 2012

by Brett Larner

2012 was not a great year for Japanese women's distance running.  Despite a few outstanding top-end performances, including all-time Japanese top ten marks by Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) and Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) and a slight improvement over recent years in marathon depth, overall the year showed a decline.  The death of Japanese women's half-marathoning has been the most puzzling trend; ten years ago over a half dozen Japanese women running times in the 67 to 69 minute range was a given, but this year only two broke 70 minutes, barely.  Depth was also down over 5000 m and 10000 m.  While the men seem to have turned the corner and have regained some upward momentum and positivity, Japanese women are still on the downhill.

It wasn't all bad, though.  London Olympics track runners Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Niiya and Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) were a credit to the country, saying to their competitors, "This is the Olympics.  We're not here to jog," before setting the pace that dictated the way their races went.  Ritsumeikan University and its sister Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. both delivered thrilling performances to win the National University Women's Ekiden and National High School Girls' Ekiden titles, and particularly at the high school level the depth and quality were incredible: 8 out of the top 10 high school teams had better five-starter 3000 m average bests than 2012 NCAA DI cross-country champion University of Oregon.  High school teams.

With the balance of good and bad there's no telling where things are headed, but there is telling where they have been.  Using a scoring system that takes into account quality, range and performance relative to rivals, JRN ranked the top ten Japanese women of the year, with one honorable mention going to a worthy recipient.



1. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 317.875 pts.

5000 m: 15:09.31 - 8th, London Olympics Heat 2, 8/7/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 31:10.35 - 10th, London Olympics, 8/3/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Osaka International Women's Marathon, Osaka 1/29/12 - 2:37:35 - 9th
Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, Nobeoka, 5/12/12 - 15:18.46 - 2nd
Bolder Boulder 10 km, Boulder, CO, 5/28/12 - 33:32 - 4th
National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Osaka, 6/8/12 - 31:43.25 - 2nd
National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Osaka, 6/10/12 - 15:25.74 - 2nd
National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Fukuoka, 9/21/12 - 31:52.54 - 3rd
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.2 km, Munakata, 10/28/12 - 32:11 - 1st - CR
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 35:04 - 1st - CR

Multiple national record holder Fukushi is the most dominant force in Japanese women's distance running, and 2012 saw her return to the top of the rankings by a slim margin over 5000 m national champion Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.).  Starting off the year with a failed marathon in Osaka and running only passably through the spring, she made the London team without winning either the 5000 m or 10000 m national titles.  At the Olympics she brought her best, running the #2 Japanese women's 10000 m time of the year behind Niiya and the year-leading Japanese 5000 m time.  Post-Olympics she was at full strength, running a stage record at the West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden in her final tuneup for the New York City Marathon.  When that race was cancelled she switched plans to take a third stab at Osaka and used her NYC fitness to take Niiya on for the crown at the National Corporate Women's Ekiden.  In their last race of the year Fukushi beat Niiya by nearly 30 seconds over 10.9 km, setting a new stage record despite running straight into headwinds as strong as 55 kph and sealing the question of who was #1.  The Osaka International Women's Marathon has been unlucky for Fukushi so far, but hopefully three is a charm.

2. Hitomi Niiya (Team Universal Entertainment) - 289.875 pts.

5000 m: 15:10.20 - 10th, London Olympics Heat 1, 8/7/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012, #7 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 30:59.19 - 9th, London Olympics, 8/3/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012, #3 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden 9th Stage, 10.0 km, Kyoto, 1/15/12 - 32:06 - 1st
Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet 6000 m, Fukuoka, 2/25/12 - 20:18 - 1st
Asian Cross-Country Championships 8000 m, Quingzhen, 3/24/12 - 27:03 - 4th
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 31:28.26 - 1st - PB
National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Osaka, 6/10/12 - 15:17.92 - 1st
Akasaka 5-Chome Mini-Marathon, 5.1 km, Tokyo, 9/29/12 - 2nd
National Sports Festival 5000 m, Gifu, 10/5/12 - 15:17.79 - 1st - MR
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 12.2 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 38:21 - 1st - CR
International Chiba Ekiden 6th Stage, 7.195 km, Chiba, 11/23/12 - 22:26 - 2nd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 35:31 - 2nd

Niiya was the most consistently bright spot in Japan this year, on-target in every race she ran and setting a precedent as she formally joined the Universal Entertainment team in a sponsorship deal that lets her train independently of the rest of the team, only joining them for ekidens.  With an Olympic A-standard 10000 m best in April she was picked for both the 5000 m and 10000 m teams after beating Fukushi in the National Championships 5000 m, and at the Olympics she formed the face of Japanese distance running for the year.  Running a perfectly even-paced Olympic 10000 m that JRN readers picked as the performance of the year, she clocked a 3:06 opening split and frontran the entire race, outkicked in the end to finish 9th but becoming only the third Japanese women to ever break 31 minutes.  Four days later she ran the same way in her 5000 m heat and, while not making the final, she still marked the all-time 7th-best Japanese time.  Through the fall ekiden season she was still strong, setting a course record at the East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden despite running alone in front, but at the National race she could not match Fukushi and was consigned to the runner-up spot.  An iconoclast who won the first Tokyo Marathon at age 18, turned away from longer distances after a string of failures to focus successfully on track and cross-country where others would have quit, Niiya still looks to have room for improvement.  2013 may be the year where she finally topples Fukushi.

3. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - 182 pts.

5000 m: 15:16.77 - 13th, London Olympics Heat 1, 8/7/12 - #3 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 31:28.71 - 1st, National Championships, 6/8/12 - #3 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
National Corporate 10 km Road Championships, Yamaguchi, 3/18/12 - 32:59 - 1st
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 31:58.73 - 2nd
Tokai University Time Trials 3000 m, Kanagawa, 4/29/12 - 9:03.72 - 1st
East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Saitama, 5/20/12 - 15:33.48 - 1st
National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Osaka, 6/10/12 - 15:37.67 - 4th
London Olympics 10000 m, London, 8/3/12 - 31:47.67 - 16th
National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Fukuoka, 9/21/12 - 32:09.10 - 5th
International Chiba Ekiden 2nd Stage, 5.0 km, Chiba, 11/23/12 - 15:22 - 2nd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 36:29 - 5th

Five-time 1500 m national champion Yoshikawa stepped up for real in 2012, winning the national corporate 10 km road title and running the 3rd-best Japanese time of the year to win the 10000 m national title over a field including Fukushi, junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno), collegiate national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto (Team Yamada Denki), defending national champion Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) and more.  Looking slightly past her peak at the Olympics she still ran the year's 3rd-best 5000 m time after having already run sub-32 in the 10000 m.  In the fall she was running below her summer fitness level but still ranked among the best in the country.  Will 2013 see her focus on the track or continue to move toward longer distances?  With her junior teammate Asami Kato on a clear progression toward an early marathon debut the motive and opportunity for an ideal training partner are both there.

4. Ai Igarashi (Team Sysmex) - 173.25 pts.

5000 m: 15:31.72 - 2nd, Shizuoka International Meet, 5/3/12 - #6 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 32:17.58 - 1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet, 7/7/12 - #6 Japanese, 2012
half-marathon: 1:10:48 - 3rd, National Corporate Championships, 3/18/12 - #9 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Chiba International Cross-Country Meet 8000 m, Chiba, 2/12/12 - 27:31 - 6th
Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m B-heat, Kumamoto, 4/7/12 - 15:50.47 - 1st
Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, Nobeoka, 5/12/12 - 15:33.80 - 3rd
Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet 3000 m, Kitami, 7/5/12 - 9:07.21 - 1st - PB
Shibetsu Road Race 10 km, Shibetsu, 7/22/12 - 33:38 - 1st
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 2nd Stage, 3.5 km, Munakata, 10/28/12 - 11:41 - 10th

Igarashi, a junior teammate of marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi, did not turn many heads in 2012 but she was there throughout the spring and summer running quality performances on the track, on the roads and in cross-country.  Her range was good enough to give her the #4 spot in the overall rankings above better-known runners with only one solid run.  After a win at the Shibetsu Road Race 10 km in late July she disappeared from the circuit until the West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden three months later where her sub-standard 10th-place run suggested injury problems.  This seemed to be confirmed when she was not on the Sysmex team entry roster for December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden.

5. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 146.25 pts.

half-marathon: 1:09:56 - 1st, Sanyo Ladies', 12/23/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012
marathon: 2:26:08 - 8th, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/11/12 - #8 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Sapporo International Half-Marathon, Sapporo, 7/1/12 - 1:12:07 - 5th
Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 10000 m, Abashiri, 7/7/12 - 33:08.59 - 20th
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 12.2 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 40:26 - 2nd
Yokohama International Women's Marathon, Yokohama, 11/18/12 - 2:31:43 - 8th
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 37:55 - 19th

2012 was a bad year for Akaba, one of the country's best for the last four years.  Having originally planned to retire to have another child after running the London Olympics marathon, she finished only 8th at the final Olympic team selection race in Nagoya and stayed home.  Cycling through the lower end of the condition scale for the rest of the year, she had another disappointing 8th-place finish at November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon and ran flat-out badly at the National Corporate Women's Ekiden. Miraculously, she returned a week after the ekiden to defend her Sanyo Ladies' Half Marathon title in 1:09:56, one of only two Japanese women to break 70 minutes this year. She's not done yet.  Look for Akaba in Boston or London this April as she goes for a 2013 World Championships team place.

6. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 130 pts.

marathon: 2:23:23 - 1st, Osaka International Women's Marathon, 1/29/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012, #9 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Hiroshima, 5/19/12 - 33:25.48 - 1st - PB
Bupa London 10000 Road Race, London, 5/27/12 - 33:20 - 4th
London Olympics Marathon, London, 8/5/12 - 2:40:06 - 79th
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 5th Stage, 10.8 km, Munakata, 10/28/12 - 36:50 - 7th
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 5th Stage, 10.0 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 33:23 - 1st

Shigetomo split the uprights in 2012, her best performances coming in her first and last races of the year. Unfortunately the Olympics came in between.  She got the year off to a great start with a win at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, fading off the 2:21 first half pace but still getting into the all-time Japanese top ten with a 2:23:23.  In a pattern characteristic of coach Yutaka Taketomi's athletes she then jumped straight back into training and got injured.  At the Olympics she was visibly unfit and could only manage a 2:40:06.  Coming back in the fall ekiden season she built up to a successful defense of her National Corporate Women's Ekiden 5th Stage win in December, an encouraging sign that she is back to where she was a year ago and ready for another shot at the marathon. Tenmaya's history is against her on that count but hopefully she beats the odds. Japanese women's marathoning needs her.

7. Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 128.625 pts.

5000 m: 15:23.88 - 8th, Nittai University, 5/27/12 - #4 Japanese, 2012
10000 m: 31:51.91 - 2nd, National Corporate Championships, 9/21/12 - #4 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Shizuoka International Meet 5000 m, Fukuroi, 5/3/12 - 15:30.95 - 1st
Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Hiroshima, 5/13/12 - 15:39.62 - 1st
National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, Osaka, 6/10/12 - 15:33.21 - 3rd
Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 10000 m, Abashiri, 7/7/12 - 32:21.03 - 2nd - debut
Central Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 4th Stage, 4.6 km, Gifu, 10/21/12 - 14:34 - 1st - CR
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 36:03 - 4th

Like Yoshikawa, 1500 m national record holder Kobayashi moved up in distance this year, debuting at 10000 m and making her way up to 4th-best for the year at both that distance and 5000 m.  Taking on the National Corporate Women's Ekiden's longest stage, 10.9 km, she was again 4th.  She may have missed making the London team but after a few lackluster seasons 2012 was an encouraging time for Kobayashi.  Look for her to move toward the all-time Japanese top 10 for 10000 m in 2013.

8. Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 110 pts.

half-marathon: 1:09:47 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/18/12 - #1 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m, Kobe, 4/21/12 - 32:36.45 - 6th - PB
East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Saitama, 5/19/12 - 32:31.04 - 2nd
National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Fukuoka, 9/21/12 - 32:27.70 - 6th
World Half Marathon Championships, Kavarna, 10/6/12 - 1:11:09 - 8th
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 5th Stage, 10.0 km, Saitama, 11/3/12 - 34:00 - 3rd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 1st Stage, 7.0 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 22:21 - 3rd

Known mostly for being a Masako Chiba lookalike during her time at Tamagawa University, Tanaka came into her own in 2012 with a year-leading 1:09:47 to win the National Corporate Half-Marathon Championships.  Consistent throughout the year, she was the top Japanese woman at October's World Half Marathon Championships before running well in ekiden season.  At Nationals she got the defending champion Daiichi Seimei team off to a good start, running 3rd on the opening leg.  Plenty of headroom on this one.

9. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 97.2 pts.

marathon: 2:24:14 - 2nd, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/11/12 - #2 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Bupa London 10000 Road Race, London, 5/27/12 - 33:17 - 3rd
London Olympics Marathon, London, 8/5/12 - 2:27:43 - 19th

2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Ozaki was not seen much this year. After bombing at the November, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon Olympic selection race she angrily said that she would not try again, but in Nagoya in March she was back with the #2 Japanese time of the year, 2:24:14 for 2nd. A cursory course tour run at May's Bupa London 10000 led in to her Olympic buildup, which included runs as tough as 50 km at altitude. The Olympics didn't go well, and since then Ozaki has not been seen, absent from the Daiichi Seimei roster throughout ekiden season. She has to be feeling some serious disappointment, but with any luck she'll be back next year

10. Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) - 79.2 pts.

half-marathon: 1:10:06 - 2nd, Sanyo Ladies', 12/23/12 - #3 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Nagoya Women's Marathon, Nagoya, 3/11/12 - 2:29:20 - 13th - PB
Bolder Boulder 10 km, Boulder, CO, 5/28/12 - 36:01 - 19th
Hiroshima Cross-Country Meet 8000 m, Hiroshima, 8/18/12 - 27:52 - 1st
Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half-Marathon, Virginia Beach, 9/2/12 - 1:19:06 - 6th
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.2 km, Munakata, 10/28/12 - 33:42 - 6th
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.9 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 37:34 - 17th

Relative unknown Watanabe was nondescript for most of the year.  Coached by Second Wind AC head coach Manabu Kawagoe at Edion, she ran a marathon best of 2:29:20 in Nagoya, her most noteworthy achievement until the very last elite Japanese race of 2012, the Sanyo Ladies' Half Marathon.  There she was a close 2nd behind Akaba in 1:10:06, the 3rd-best time of the year.  With another marathon lined up next month in Osaka she could be ready to run at the 2:25-2:27 level.

Honorable Mention: Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex)

marathon: 2:25:33 - 6th, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/11/12 - #7 Japanese, 2012

Other major performances:
Rock 'n' Roll Lisbon Half-Marathon, Lisbon, 9/30/12 - 1:12:20 - 4th
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 10.2 km, Munakata, 10/28/12 - 33:03 - 2nd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden 5th Stage, 10.0 km, Sendai, 12/16/12 - 34:22 - 12th

National record holder and Athens Olympics gold medalist Noguchi's return to the marathon after a 4 1/2 year absence was the feel-good story of the year.  An endless series of injuries after her 2005 national record meant that her last marathon had been her 2:21:37 course record at the dearly departed Tokyo International Women's Marathon in November, 2007.  Most people would have lost the fire years ago, and after backing out of the December, 2011 National Corporate Women's Ekiden and January's Osaka International Women's Marathon Noguchi's was up against the wall for her goal of returning to the Olympics.  But against all expectations Noguchi ran Nagoya, and while she was never in contention for the Olympic team her 2:25:33 was good enough to be the 5th-best of her career and the 7th-best of the year for a Japanese woman.  Few performances this year said more about the human spirit.  Never give up.  Never surrender.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Waseda Ace Osako to Join Salazar's Nike Oregon Project

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2012/12/25/kiji/K20121225004849190.html
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/sports/etc/news/20121225-OHT1T00207.htm

translated and edited by Brett Larner

In a Dec. 25 interview about the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, Waseda University junior Suguru Osako, Japan's #1 collegiate runner and one of the brightest hopes of Japanese men's distance running, revealed that he will join the 2012 national champion Nissin Shokuhin team following his graduation in 2014.  Osako's long list of achievements includes the 2011 National University Championships 1500 m title, the 2011 World University Games 10000 m gold medal, and the Asian junior half marathon record.  He chose the Nissin team, he said, "because they are going to give me the freedom to do what I want to do."  According to Waseda head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe, Osako plans to move to Portland, Oregon to be coached by one of marathon legend Toshihiko Seko's great rivals, American Alberto Salazar.

Coach Watanabe revealed, "Starting next year Osako is going to be based in the U.S.A. for his training."  His destination is the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Oregon.  The pride of Waseda, Osako has been accepted into a special program for advanced students. Beginning in 2013, while continuing on as a member of the Waseda long distance team and as a student he will go to Oregon on a short-term foreign study program.  Following his graduation in 2014 he will join the Nissin Shokuhin team for competitions but plans to relocate to Oregon on a more permanent basis for training.

The Nike Oregon Project has the reputation of being one of the world's leading training environments, coached by the ruthlessly competitive Seko-era Salazar.  The group includes London Olympics double gold medalist Mo Farah (GBR) and London 10000 m silver medalist Galen Rupp (U.S.A.), one of only two non-African runners to have broken 27 minutes.

At this year's National Championships 10000 m Osako lost out to future Nissin teammate and fellow Saku Chosei H.S. graduate Yuki Sato by 0.38 seconds, missing a place on the Olympic team as a result.  Looking toward the 2013 Moscow World Championships and 2016 Rio Olympics teams, Osako was emphatic about his intentions, saying, "To be able to compete with the best in the world I have to train with a group that's strong on the track."

When Seko was unable to pass Waseda's entrance exams he spent time at America's University of Southern California before matriculating, but it is a truly exceptional case for a long-distance athlete to relocate abroad while still an active student.  It's a mark of how high Osako's hopes are.  Asked whether he thinks Osako has the ability to break the Japanese national records for 5000 m and 10000 m, 13:13.20 and 27:35.09, coach Watanabe said, "He is an athlete who is trying with all his heart to become one of the best in the world.  This will give him the chance to do the training that will let him target 26 minutes."  Maintaining his supervision of Osako during this time, Watanabe himself hopes to absorb some of the long-distance knowhow to improve his own coaching.

Before he sets off to pursue his dreams Osako will spend the New Year taking on Hakone. As a sophomore last year he won the First Stage.  All of his competitors from rival schools will no doubt be keying off him.  Coach Watanabe said, "He'll run either the First or Second Stage," but Osako himself said, "If I can, I want to be put on the Second or Third Stage. Whichever one I run I want to set a new course record.  The team atmosphere is as good as when we set all three university ekiden course records [2010-11], so I want to give us the momentum we'll need."  For Japan's #1 university runner Hakone's roads look set to lead on to the wide world beyond.

Suguru Osako - 3rd year, Waseda University.  Born 5/23/91 in Machida, Tokyo.  
1500 m: 3:42.68   5000 m: 13:31.27   10000 m: 27:56.94   half-marathon: 1:01:47

Translator's note: Osako was to have joined the Seko-led S&B team, which late in the summer abruptly announced its dissolution this coming March.  The second article linked above erroneously states that Rupp was the first non-African to have broken 27 minutes.  I have corrected the mistake in my translation.

2012 As Seen By JRN Readers

JRN's most-read articles of 2012 by month:

January
Toyo University takes eight minutes off Hakone Ekiden course record in historic win.Jan. 3
Russian Tatyana Aryasova stripped of 2011 Tokyo Marathon title after testing positive for masking agent. - Jan. 24

February
Kisorio wins deepest-ever Marugame International Half-Marathon. - Feb. 5
2012 Tokyo Marathon preview. - Feb. 23
Kipyego, Habtumu win Tokyo Marathon, Fujiwara back with 2:07:48. - Feb. 26
Kawauchi, 14th in 2:12:52: "I do not think I will be picked" for Olympics; shaves head. - Feb. 27
Gebrselassie gives words of support to Kawauchi. - Feb. 28
Fujiwara's high school coach, hometown supporters delighted with Tokyo performance. - Feb. 28

March
Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon preview. - Mar. 2
Takehiro Deki ahead of Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon debut: "That's where my talent is." - Mar. 2
Ndungu wins debut at Lake Biwa, Szost 2:07:39 sets Polish NR, Yamamoto takes probable Olympic spot. - Mar. 4
Nagoya Women's Marathon preview. - Mar. 9
Russian Mayorova wins largest-ever women-only marathon, Ozaki takes top Japanese spot in Nagoya. - Mar. 11
Japan names London Olympics men's and women's marathon teams. - Mar. 12
Toyo in New York - Kento Otsu, Yuta Shitara and Coach Sakai talk pre-NYC Half. - Mar. 16
Comedian Neko tapped for Cambodian Olympic team in marathon; official announcement due in April. - Mar. 26

April
Top three break course record at Yaizu Minato Half-Marathon. - Apr. 8

May
800 m runner Kieng Samorn chosen for Cambodian Olympic team. - May 22

June
Japan announces complete London Olympics athletics team. - June 11

July
From the Hakone Ekiden to the Olympic marathon - a manifesto. - July 25

August
Arata Fujiwara - his Olympic marathon defeat in his own words. - Aug. 22

September
Kawauchi runs double 1500 m and 5000 m PBs, targets 1500 m at 2013 National Championships. - Sept. 23

October
Kawauchi at the World Half: "My goal is 61 minutes."Oct. 2
Japanese women bronze, Kawauchi shames the system again at World Half-Marathon Championships. - Oct. 6
Izumo Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University head coach Susumu Hara: "We're not quite there yet but we can see it glittering up ahead now." - Oct. 9
The U.S. team talks after second-straight Izumo Ekiden top eight finish. - Oct. 11

November
Tokyo Marathon officially joins World Marathon Majors. - Nov. 1
2009 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Abitova given two-year doping suspension. - Nov. 8
Fujiwara's goal in Fukuoka: "Defeat Kawauchi." - Nov. 10
Hyundai, Adidas-sponsored IAAF gold label Beijing Marathon bans Japanese citizens "for their own safety." - Nov. 10
Strong New York ties in Yokohama and Ageo as Moscow World Championships campaign kicks off. - Nov. 15
2012 NCAA XC and 2012 National University Ekiden Championships top five teams compared. - Nov. 20
International Chiba Ekiden preview. - Nov. 22
Kenya over Japan for second-straight International Chiba Ekiden win. - Nov. 23
'Rupp, Puskedra and Japanese distance running.' - Nov. 27
A bolder Arata Fujiwara talks about the training and psychology behind his return from Olympic breakdown. - Nov. 28
2012 Fukuoka International Marathon preview. - Nov. 30

December
Joseph Gitau takes surprise win in Fukuoka in 2:06:58. - Dec. 2
Fukuoka Marathon post-race comments. - Dec. 3
Collegiate 5000 m and 10000 m national champion Omwamba wins Kumamoto Kosa 10-miler. - Dec. 3
Kawauchi wins Hofu in 2:10:46 two weeks after 2:10:29 in Fukuoka, Hosaka gets age 63 world record. - Dec. 16
How I learned to love the ekiden and why you should too. - Dec. 20
Waseda ace Osako to join Salazar's Nike Oregon Project. - Dec. 26

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved