With the start of the Japanese fiscal and academic year this week, outdoor track season gets rolling this Saturday at the Kanaguri Memorial Meet in Kumamoto. A distance-oriented meet with a focus on 5000 m, Kanaguri is the place where many of the top young talents make their debuts wearing new high school, university and corporate team colors.
Competition in the women's races is thin, with Kenyans Pauline Kamulu (Team Toto) and Susan Wairimu (Team Denso) leading 2014 Marugame Half Marathon winner Eri Makikawa (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and the talented Yukari Abe (Team Shimamura) as the top contenders in Heat 2 of the 5000 m. The high school girls' 3000 m, featuring a long list of top juniors, may supply the more interesting races.
The big races on the men's side are heats 4 and 5 of the 5000 m. Heat 5 features three of the very best Japan-based Kenyans, Moscow World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko), two-time 3000 mSC junior world champion Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) and 2011 World Youth 3000 m gold medalist William Malel (Team Honda). Many of the best Japanese men are on the starting list, including past distance event national champions Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku), Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), Kensuke Takezawa (Team Sumitomo Denko) and Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC), Hakone aces Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.) and Hideto Yamanaka (Nittai Univ.), and other big names including Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei), Shota Hattori (Team Honda), Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) and Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei).
Heat 4 features a mostly-African field including many of the top Japan-based Kenyans and Ethiopians including Clement Langat (Team Subaru), Edward Waweru (Team NTN), Jacob Wanjuki (Team Aichi Seiko) and Patrick Muwaka (Team Aisan Kogyo). Hakone Ekiden stars Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.), Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.), Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) and Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) are also in Heat 4 looking for early-season PBs, with 2014 Hakone champion Toyo University ace Yuta Shitara making his pro debut with the Honda corporate team.
Shitara's identical twin brother Keita Shitara will likewise make his debut for 2014 New Year Ekiden national corporate champion Konica Minolta on Saturday at the Tokyo-area Setagaya Time Trials meet, where he will run as a pacer for a university 5000 m heat. Big-name pacers in other heats include talented half marathoners Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo).
The weekend's action is not limited to the track, though. Kihara's teammate Tomoyuki Morita (Team Kanebo), all-time #4 on the Japanese marathon debut list with a 2:09:12 in heavy rain at the 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, will run Sunday's Brighton Marathon, where he is the #2 seed. Coached by Toshinari Takaoka, who debuted in 2:09:41 before running the still-standing Japanese national record of 2:06:16 a year later in Chicago, there is plenty of reason to hope that Morita will take another step forward in the Japanese ranks in Brighton.
Back on the home front, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) will run his third marathon of the year at Sunday's amateur-level Saga Sakura Marathon. Saga is the first of two marathons Kawauchi plans to run in April in preparation for next month's Hamburg Marathon, where he will face greats Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia) and Martin Lel (Kenya). Retired Berlin World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki will also appear at Saga as a special guest runner.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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