Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Top Ten Japanese Men of 2013

by Brett Larner
click here for Japanese women's 2013 rankings

2013 continued Japanese men's upward trend, the fifth year in history that the country has produced at least ten sub-2:10 marathon performances and the all-time second-best average of its top ten fastest marathons, all-time top ten performances over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, new world records for depth at several races, just shy of a World Championships marathon medal, incredible growth among its collegiates, and a charismatic and independent star to drive the sport's popularity.

One of the most important things to happen this year was the nearing of parity between the collegiate and corporate systems.  In JRN's top ten rankings, scored using a system that takes into account quality, placing and competitiveness relative to other ranked athletes, only five of the overall top ten hailed from the corporate leagues, with four university men and one indy filling out the list.  Collegiates and said indy occupied places in the year's top three over 5000 m, 10000 m, half marathon and marathon.  This could be taken as a sign that the corporate team system is losing potency, but considering that the front edge of the wave of new talent coming up is just now hitting age 22 and graduation we could well see an entirely new level of Japanese men's distance running over the next seven to ten years, both in the corporate leagues and among the increasing number of independents. It's an exciting time to be watching what is happening here.  Look for more on the growth of Japanese university men's distance running in our preview of next week's Hakone Ekiden.



1. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 229.5 pts.

5000 m: 13:20.80 - 5th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials, 11/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013, #6 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 27:38.31 - 2nd, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #4 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
2nd, Hakone Ekiden Third Stage (21.5 km), 1/2/13 - 1:04:44
1st, National Men's Ekiden Third Stage (8.5 km), 1/20/13 - 23:39
2nd, Fukuoka Int'l Cross Country Meet Senior Men's 10 km, 2/23/13 - 29:50
7th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Four, 5/11/13 - 13:43.05
2nd, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DI 5000 m, 5/26/13 - 13:34.30
2nd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:25.84
DNF, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 5000 m, 6/29/13
17th, KBC Nacht 5000 m, 7/13/13 - 13:27.54
21st, Moscow World Championships 10000 m, 8/10/13 - 28:19.50
2nd, National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/7/13 - 13:47.21
3rd, Izumo Ekiden Sixth Stage (10.2 km), 10/14/13 - 30:00
1st, National University Ekiden Championships Second Stage (13.2 km), 11/3/13 - 38:08
4th, International Chiba Ekiden First Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 13:48

Spending time with Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project on and off through the year, Waseda University senior Osako made it into the all-time Japanese top ten for both 5000 m and 10000 m in 2013, running a Japanese collegiate record 27:38.31 at Payton Jordan in April and popping up midway through fall ekiden season with the second-fastest 5000 m time ever by a Japanese collegiate, 13:20.80.  #2-ranked Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) had greater range and #3-ranked Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) was both faster for 5000 m and beat Osako for the 10000 m national title, but Osako's greater impact on the record books and his beating Ugachi at the National Championships and Sato at the Moscow World Championships was enough for him to earn JRN's top ranking for the year.

In 2013 Osako had trouble winning, finishing 2nd in five key races and scoring only one clear victory, a stage win at the Jan. 20 National Men's Ekiden, but his steady march forward in ability was clear and at just age 22 he is right on the cusp of moving into national record territory over a range of distances.  Following his graduation in March he will join Sato on the Nissin Shokuhin corporate team with plans to be based mostly in the U.S., but before that he will make his last appearance on the Big Three University Ekiden circuit as he tries to lead Waseda to Hakone Ekiden victory on Jan. 2 and 3.

2. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 217.8 pts.

5000 m: 13:30.77 - 4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet, 6/29/13, #4 Japanese, 2013
10000 m: 27:50.79 - 15th, Moscow World Championships, 8/10/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013
half-marathon: 1:01:16 - 3rd, Marugame Int'l Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
2nd, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:03:20
6th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 13:50.67
12th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, 4/28/13 - 27:55.27
4th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 13:49.21
3rd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:27.00
2nd, East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage (15.3 km), 11/3/13 - 44:20 (CR)
2nd, International Chiba Ekiden Third Stage (10.0 km), 11/23/13 - 28:07 (CR)

Throughout 2013 Ugachi was slightly off his level from the last two years, but he still performed well enough to be ranked in the top four over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, with stronger performances as the distance increased, and to beat both Osako and Sato in the Moscow World Championships 10000 m.  Ekiden season saw him carry on strong with two 2nd-place stage finishes under the old stage records in the leadup to the New Year Ekiden national championships.  In February he paced the Tokyo Marathon through 30 km, and it's not a surprise that 2014 will see him make an early marathon debut in Dubai where he hopes to break 2:07.  It's a longshot that he'll make it in his first try in an overseas marathon, but there's no doubt that Ugachi is one of Japan's best prospects in the marathon over the next few years.

3. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 168 pts.

5000 m: 13:13.60 - 8th, KBC Nacht, 7/13/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #3 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 27:39.50 - 3rd, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
10th, New Year Ekiden Sixth Stage (12.5 km), 1/1/13 - 38:24
31st, Tokyo Marathon, 2/24/13 - 2:16:31
1st, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:24.94
DNF, Moscow World Championships 10000 m, 8/10/13
11th, Moscow World Championships 5000 m Heat Two, 8/13/14 - 13:37.07
7th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/21/13 - 13:54.58
1st, East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage (15.3 km), 11/3/13 - 44:18 - CR
7th, International Chiba Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 11/23/13 - 30:10

Sato was inconsistent and mostly off his game in 2013, following up a bad New Year Ekiden and weak marathon debut in Tokyo with a 27:39.50 at Payton Jordan in April, a 10000 m national title in June, and an all-time Japanese #3 13:13.60 for 5000 m in July before bombing out in the Moscow World Championships.  He popped back up with a new stage record at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden but three weeks later was back down the ranks at the International Chiba Ekiden. Sato, like Osako a graduate of Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S., is without a doubt one of the best track athletes Japan has produced, but after being in the same position in which Osako now finds himself Sato has had trouble breaking through to national record level.  Will 2014 be his year or another see-saw?

4. Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) - 120 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:15 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #8 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
5th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 38:11
2nd, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:34
12th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 14:04.21
11th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Two, 5/11/13 - 14:03.71
7th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:46.34
17th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 29:15.23
13th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 29:43.43
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Two Third Stage (15.3 km), 10/28/13 - 45:51
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Seven Third Stage (13.0 km), 11/2/13 - 39:32

Then 22, Maruyama was a virtual unknown until the Feb. 17 Kumanichi 30 km Road Race where he dropped two of Japan's best under-22 athletes, Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.), to go head-to-head with indy Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) for the win.  He finished 2nd in the last sprint, but his time of 1:29:34 was more than enough to put him on the radar.  Four weeks later he confirmed that it wasn't a fluke when he won the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships in 1:01:15, the best Japanese time of the year and all-time 8th-best by a Japanese man on a record-legal course.  The rest of the year was a bust as he never broke either 14:00 for 5000 m or 28:45 for 10000 m, but after turning 23 Maruyama returned with two stage wins in the final running of the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu ekiden.  Plenty of other Japanese men have turned in surprise breakthroughs at a young age only to never follow up, but Maruyama looks set to find himself on the right side of that equation in 2014.

5. Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.) - 93.6 pts.

5000 m: 13:28.79 - 2nd, Nittai Univ. Time Trials, 9/29/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
7th, Hakone Ekiden Fourth Stage (18.5 km), 1/2/13 - 58:21
1st, Izumo Ekiden Second Stage (5.8 km), 10/14/13 - 16:32
11th, National University Ekiden Championships Second Stage (13.2 km ), 11/3/13 - 39:47

Yagisawa was a high school star who has had trouble transitioning to the longer distance of the Japanese university circuit, but this fall he broke through without warning with one of the best times ever by a Japanese collegiate man, 13:28.79, to find himself ranked #3 for the year.  Two weeks later came a stage win at the Izumo Ekiden, but over a longer distance at the National University Ekiden Championships he struggled again and finished only 11th.  As the fastest of Meiji University's eleven sub-14 men Yagisawa plays a key role in the team's chances for success next week at the Hakone Ekiden, but without improved stamina over double-digit distances he'll be hard-pressed to live up to expectations. Beyond that awaits spring track season and the promise of better in Yagisawa's preferred distance.

6. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 86.4 pts.

marathon: 2:08:35 - 2nd, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
9th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:04:32
26th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 39:10
10th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:59.14
5th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:10:50
12th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 29:27.10
4th, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fourth Stage (12.2 km), 11/23/13 - 35:26

Nakamoto is arguably Japan's best current marathoner, with PBs every year since his debut and not a single bad marathon performance yet in his career, staying out of the spotlight and quietly doing the work needed for complete reliability.  His weakness has long been his finish, and after coming 6th at the London Olympics he completely reworked his marathon training program to focus on more speed work and a faster finish.  It partially paid off at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon where he ran a PB of 2:08:35, but despite better finishing speed he fell victim to Kawauchi's strength after 40 km.  In Moscow he was even stronger, hanging with the lead pack until late in the race and almost catching 2013 World Marathon Majors champion Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) for 4th.  He has said that he understands now what he needs to get to 2:07 next year, and if his past is any indication it is on the way.

7. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 84 pts.

marathon: 2:08:00 - 4th, Tokyo Marathon, 2/24/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:04:55
12th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 14:07.46
12th, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 28:32.23
3rd, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Two, 5/11/13 - 13:52.66
6th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:45.37
17th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:15:25
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Four Fourth Stage (17.0 km), 10/30/13 - 51:16 - CR
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Eight Sixth Stage (14.5 km), 11/3/13 - 42:25
1st, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fourth Stage (12.2 km), 11/23/13 - 34:46

Maeda ran the fastest Japanese men's marathon of the year at Tokyo, 2:08:00, barely missing the Federation's sub-2:08 criterion for automatic World Championships team placement.  Post-race he had words for Kawauchi, speaking out against his rival's comments about Japan's corporate league system and its runners.  Maeda was picked for Moscow, but late spring he underwent ankle surgery and was not ready in time to run up to potential at the World Championships.  He ran only 2:15:25 for 17th but had the satisfaction of finishing 10 seconds and one place ahead of Kawauchi.

Since then Maeda has been undefeated on the roads, winning two stages, one a course record, at the Grand Tour Kyushu and taking another stage win three weeks later at the Kyushu Corporate Ekiden.  With two PBs in a row at Tokyo 2:07 is beckoning him back in February.

8. Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 77 pts.

10000 m: 27:51.54 - MR - 1st, Golden Games in Nobeoka, 5/11/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
3rd, Hakone Ekiden Second Stage (23.2 km), 1/2/13 - 1:10:29
4th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 38:05
4th, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:55 - collegiate NR
9th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 13:54.74
6th, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 28:23.95
1st, Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat Ten, 4/28/13 - 14:10.53
1st, Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat Twelve, 4/28/13 - 13:53.44
5th, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DI 10000 m, 5/19/13 - 28:40.44
11th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:50.24
4th, National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/7/13 - 14:00.58
2nd, Izumo Ekiden Sixth Stage (10.2 km), 10/14/13 - 29:59
5th, National University Ekiden Championships Eighth Stage (19.7 km), 11/3/13 - 59:06

One of Hakone Ekiden course record holder Toyo University's star Shitara twins, Keita was one of the few to put a serious challenge to Osako's position as Japan's #1 collegiate this year.  After strong runs at Hakone and the National Men's Ekiden he ran a collegiate national record 1:29:55 at February's Kumanichi 30 km Road Race before turning his focus along with his brother Yuta to breaking 28 minutes for 10000 m.  At the May 11 Golden Games in Nobeoka the pair achieved that goal, becoming just the second set of identical twins in world history to both break 28 as they went 1st and 3rd on either side of 2007 World Championship2 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) in 27:51.54 and 27:54.82, Keita's winning time a meet record.

Not many coaches would have runners in another 10000 m just eight days later, but on May 19 both twins lined up for Toyo in the 10000 m at the Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships, where Keita took 5th in 28:40.44.  Following that he went into something of a slump, not returning to normal quality until October's Izumo Ekiden where he took 2nd on the Izumo Ekiden's anchor stage.  With the Shitara twins set to graduate in March the 2014 Hakone Ekiden will be Toyo's last chance for several years to score its first Big Three win since the graduation of its uphill great Ryuji Kashiwabara (Team Fujitsu) two years ago, so look for big things next week.  Post-graduation the twins will split up, Keita going to 2013 national champion Konica Minolta and Yuta to Japan's #1 marathon team, Honda.  Look for an early marathon debut from Keita.

9. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 75.6 pts.

marathon: 2:08:14 - 4th, Seoul International Marathon, 3/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, Egyptian Marathon, 1/18/13 - 2:12:24 - ACR
1st, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2/3/13 - 2:08:15 - CR
1st, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:31 - CR
2nd, Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, 3/3/13 - 1:03:12
1st, Nagano Marathon, 4/21/13 - 2:14:27
10th, Sendai International Half Marathon, 5/12/13 - 1:03:30
1st, Kurobe Meisui Half Marathon, 5/26/13 - 1:03:58 - CR
1st, Chitose International Marathon, 6/2/13 - 2:18:29 - CR
1st, Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon, 6/16/13 - 2:57:28
1st, Gold Coast Marathon, 7/7/13 - 2:10:01 - CR
1st, Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km Road Race, 728/13 - 1:33:27 - CR
18th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:15:35
8th, Great North Run Half Marathon, 9/15/13 - 1:04:08
2nd, Melbourne Marathon, 10/13/13 - 2:11:40
11th, New York City Marathon, 11/3/13 - 2:12:29
20th, Ageo City Half Marathon, 11/17/13 - 1:03:06
3rd, Fukuoka International Marathon, 12/1/13 - 2:09:05
2nd, Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, 12/15/13 - 2:09:15

Yuki Kawauchi was the face of Japanese distance running in 2013 as he tested the limits of what is possible at the elite level and won worldwide popularity.  The story of his 2013 season, which featured multiple world records for quantity and recovery, has already been told in a separate article.  JRN readers named Kawauchi's Fukuoka-Hofu double, a world record for the shortest time ever between sub-2:10 marathons, the Japanese men's distance performance of the year.  Despite his many achievements, Kawauchi came up short in many of his biggest races of the year, including the Moscow World Championships Marathon where he was the last finisher on the Japanese team, beaten when it most counted by others who ended up higher in the rankings.  For all of his accomplishments he still has work to do on being competitive overseas and against first-rate fields.  Look for him to run at least five overseas marathons again in 2014 and to take steps to improve the shortcomings exposed this year.

10. Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 67.2 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:19 - 4th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
8th, Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage (23.4 km), 1/2/13 - 1:24:25
2nd, National Men's Ekiden Third Stage (8.5 km), 1/20/13 - 23:57
10th, New York City Half Marathon, 3/17/13 - 1:02:02
1st, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Asics Challenge, 4/20/13 - 28:18.11
6th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, 5/11/13 - 28:21.53
8th, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DII 5000 m, 5/26/13 - 14:11.79
10th, World University Games 10000 m, 7/8/13 - 30:02.46
2nd, National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/6/13 - 28:43.89
1st, Izumo Ekiden Third Stage (7.9 km), 10/14/13 - 22:36 - CR
1st, National University Ekiden Championships Fourth Stage (14.0 km), 11/3/13 - 39:24 - CR
2nd, International Chiba Ekiden First Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 13:40

Sub-29 in high school and the first college first-year since marathon great Toshihiko Seko to win the National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 2013 marked the year that Murayama, another identical twin, stepped up to the front ranks of Japanese distance running.  After decent performances at Hakone and the National Men's Ekiden he tore up February's Marugame International Half Marathon, finishing 4th in 1:01:19 at age 19, at the time the all-time tenth-best time by a Japanese man.  Running March's New York City Half Marathon with support from JRN after winning the 2012 Ageo City Half Marathon, Murayama was the one who broke the race open after a slow first 5 km, eventually finishing 10th in a solid 1:02:02.  Post-race track great Bernard Lagat (U.S.A.) generously spent time talking with Murayama about training, motivation and longevity, and after returning to Japan and spending a few months putting Lagat's advice into action he hit fall ekiden season hard.  Very hard.

At October's Izumo Ekiden Murayama ran a 22:36 course record for the 7.9 km Third Stage, powering Komazawa University to an overall course record win.  Three weeks later he delivered JRN's pick for the best Japanese men's performance of 2013, a searing 39:24 course record for the 14.0 km Fourth Stage at the National University Ekiden Championships, breaking the existing record set by Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu who had run sub-60 half marathons three times by the time he set that record.  Extrapolate Murayama's time from 14 km out to 15 km and 10 miles and those national records are his the first time he tries for them.  Look toward the half marathon and who knows what is possible?  National record?  Sub-60?  If Murayama lives up to the potential he showed at Nationals then that run will someday be recognized for the historical significance it held.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2 comments:

Metts said...

Brett,
Can you explain the recent surge in Japanese collegiate running, and the reasons for this? Excellent articles as always.

Brett Larner said...

Thank you. I'll have more on that topic in the Hakone Ekiden preview due up shortly and in a post-Hakone article looking at the 23 teams running there compared with the top 23 teams at this year's NCAA XC championships.