translated and edited by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner
London Olympics marathon 6th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto (30, Team Yasukawa Denki) was on the losing end of a classic, historic match race against civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi (25, Saitama Pref.) at Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. The back-and-forth of the dead heat battle began at 28 km. Tirelessly answering every move and play in Kawauchi's book, Nakamoto repeatedly went to the front but could not shake him loose. Kawauchi's final volley just past 40 km was enough to send Nakamoto's ship to the bottom. On the losing end of a duel almost violent in its intensity, Nakamoto could barely mouth the words, "I'm devastated. I couldn't answer that last surge."
Kawauchi was one of Nakamoto's main rivals for the final place on Japan's Olympic marathon team last year. In the end it came down to a virtual drawing of straws, but at the Olympic main event Nakamoto justified his selection with a strong 6th-place run and came out with newfound confidence and pride. Beppu-Oita was Nakamoto's first marathon since then. He initially had difficulty in focusing on one race post-Olympics. "When I was thinking about my next goal," he said, "I settled on putting everything into one marathon." Once he decided on Beppu-Oita and aligned his schedule and program to get there, he began serious marathon training in October. "I carefully took my time and concentrated on being ready for this race. I wanted to take advantage of the confidence I earned in the Olympics."
Although his preparations were not perfect, he ran a superbly competitive race. Since he was up against Kawauchi, Nakamoto raced with a cool head and kept calm in the face of Kawauchi's wild attacks. But in the end it was all about the last 1.5 km. When Kawauchi surged going up onto Maizuru Bridge Nakamoto fell behind for the first time and the gap between them grew. "I came to Beppu-Oita planning to win with a definitive move at 40 km, but when it came down to it the opposite happened," he said. "I don't have enough of a killer instinct over the last 2 km yet and I can't be competitive in a world-level race like I am now. I need to develop the strength and the edge to win in the last battle."
In his tenth marathon Nakamoto fell short of realizing his long-held dream of a marathon win, and despite setting a new PB his disappointment at losing in the last stretch will be slow to fade. But his new PB of 2:08:35 was 2:41 better than his London time and his overall performance was definitely good enough to put him in a good position for a place on the World Championships team. "I'm in the situation where don't know if I'll be picked for Moscow, but if it ended like this it would hard to take," he said. Of Kawauchi he said, "I was able to run this time because of him, but I don't want to remain the beaten. The next time I get the chance I want payback." That chance will probably come in Moscow this August.