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Imai Wins Second-Straight Shibetsu Half

by Brett Larner

Continuing a solid 2014 that saw him break 2:10 for the first time at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, course record holder Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) returned to successfully defend his title at Sunday's Shibetsu Half Marathon.  Running in sunny and humid conditions with temperatures around 30 degrees, Imai had no trouble dropping main competition Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) and 5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) late in the race to take the win in 1:04:07, 43 seconds off his record last year but still the 4th-fastest winning time in Shibetsu's 28-year history.  Ogura, only 14th in 1:05:56 last year, held off Matsumiya for 2nd in 1:04:21, the veteran Matsumiya ten seconds back.  Japan-based since April, 2014 Incheon Asian Games marathon medal contender Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN) was 6th in 1:04:57.

The women's field was split between the half marathon and 10 km divisions.  A regular in the 10 km in Shibetsu, Misato Horie (Team Noritz) moved up to the event's half this year with a win in 1:14:37.  13 seconds back, Yui Okada (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) outkicked Horie's teammate Kikuyo Tsuzaki by 1 second for 2nd in 1:14:50.  Team Daihatsu runners dominated the 10 km with three of the top five places, Mizuki Matsuda getting the win in 33:50.

More important than the relatively slow times was the focus on running in heat and humidity.  As part of its mission, the new marathon National Team program, of which Imai is part, records detailed physiological data on athletes' performances in heat in an attempt to identify those most likely to perform well in the conditions they will face in summer international championships marathons leading up to the big one, Tokyo 2020.   Summertime Tokyo can have extreme humidity and temps in the 30s, and if last year's Moscow World Championships, where the mid-afternoon start times brought the worst conditions for the competitors, prime-time broadcasts in Japan for major IAAF sponsor TBS, a medal in the women's marathon and nearly another in the men's, are any indication there will be no mercy for the rest of the world weather-wise at the Tokyo Olympics.  Don't act surprised if it's another sauna.  Until then Japan's best will be trained and studied to maximize every advantage to bring a medal on home soil.  Everyone else has six years to figure out how to cope.

28th Shibetsu Half Marathon and 10 km
Shibetsu, Hokkaido, 7/20/14

Men's Half Marathon
1. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 1:04:07
2. Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:21
3. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:04:31
4. Takuji Morimoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:04:55
5. Yuma Morii (Team SGH Group Sagawa) - 1:04:56
6. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN) - 1:04:57
7. Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team Honda) - 1:05:22
8. Kohei Ogino (Team Fujitsu) - 1:05:26
9. Yu Chiba (Team Honda) - 1:05:37
10. Shoya Kurokawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:05:41

Women's Half Marathon
1. Misato Horie (Team Noritz) - 1:14:37
2. Yui Okada (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:14:50
3. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Team Noritz) - 1:14:51
4. Ai Migita (Team Wacoal) - 1:14:58
5. Yuka Hakoyama (Team Wacoal) - 1:16:26

Women's 10 km
1. Mizuki Matsuda (Team Daihatsu) - 33:50
2. Ayumi Sakaida (Team Daihatsu) - 34:04
3. Kotomi Takayama (Team Sysmex) - 34:14
4. Ayaka Inoue (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 34:28
5. Sayaka Murakami (Team Daihatsu) - 34:31

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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