by Brett Larner
photos by Dr. Helmut Winter
Chicago comes at a tough time for Japan's corporate leagues, just before the start of the fall ekiden season's regional qualifiers. Although just about every team has more than enough people to fill their lineups for these relatively minor events, head coaches will usually not let their better athletes do an October marathon, whether because of the limited recovery time in the event that they decide a big gun has to run in a qualifier, or because it would give them the hassle of explaining to the parent corporation why a star is off doing his or her own thing instead of being there for the team. As a result you typically only see Japanese runners at Chicago when they are looking to drop something big, as with Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) this year, or, like the block of Japanese men at 2:12~2:13, as part of a corporate federation junket for promising third-tier men to get the experience of running in the second pack of a race well beyond them for the benefit of hypothetical future appearances on Olympic and World Championships and for their numerous support staff to have the chance to comb the streets of foreign cities in search of laundromats.
Oda has had a very interesting domestic career, steering clear of the ekiden powerhouse universities but still making the celebrated Hakone Ekiden on the Select Team before going to the Toyota corporate team which he helped lead to the 2011 national title. His 2:09:03 a few weeks later at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon was the all-time third-fastest Japanese debut, but unfortunately he was almost completely overlooked due to the unlucky role he played in this:
He's had a streak of injuries and never been able to put another good marathon together in the two and a half years since his debut, but a 28:26.04 for 10000 m at the end of June put him back close to peak fitness. If he carried that on through the summer then Oda may be on track to finally follow up.
other performances don't give much indication that Sano has the potential for major improvement, but there's always the chance something special could happen. The man he beat in the Nobeoka sprint, Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta), is also on the list, but a 1:09:00 clocking two weeks ago at the Hakodate Half Marathon was not encouraging.
text (c) 2013 Brett Larner
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photos (c) 2013 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved