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Chicago Marathon - Japanese Elites

by Brett Larner
photo by Dr. Helmut Winter

Five Japanese men and one woman are scheduled to run Sunday's Chicago Marathon led by two members of the Japanese Federation's new National Team project, Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) and Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei).  Coached by 2:08:49 marathoner Wataru Okutani, Kobayashi has been improving gradually since his 2:12:52 debut at the 2012 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon, running 2:10:40 in Chicago later that year and 2:11:31 the next in Berlin before taking it down to 2:08:51 in Tokyo this spring.  Sasaki, a graduate of Daito Bunka University and guided by the legendary Takeshi Soh, has progressed even more steadily since his 2:14:00 debut in 2009, outrunning Daegu World Championships silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) for 2nd in 2:09:47 at March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  Of the 146 sub-2:10 marathons run so far by Japanese men only 22 have ever been done outside Japan, but although they will likely end up running most of the race solidly in the gap between the course record-targeting lead pack and the large home soil group Kobayashi and Sasaki, with an emphasis on Kobayashi, should have a chance of adding to that list on the course where the current Japanese national record of 2:06:16 was set a dozen years ago.

Along with two others who have withdrawn, the other three Japanese men in the field, Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team Honda), Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Rui Yonezawa (Team Chugoku Denryoku), are part of a group sent to Chicago each year to get "keiken," "experience."  Less the experience of racing your best against international competition than simply the experience of travelling overseas, being there, finding conveniently-located laundromats, and running with jet lag with other Japanese athletes in an unfamiliar environment, the idea being that this "experience" is eventually going to translate into a World Championships or Olympic medal.  The athletes in this category in Chicago are typically at the 2:12-2:15 level and usually perform about the same.  Kobayashi was one example of someone who took the opportunity to really try hard when he first ran Chicago as part of this program in 2012 and at the 2:10-2:12 level the three athletes this year are one notch higher than usual, but while that may raise hopes of an overall solid showing by the Japanese contingent the overwhelming mediocrity of the performances by similar group junkets this fall at the Great North Run, Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon and Berlin Marathon doesn't do much to suggest that the fires that seem to have been lit by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are likely to translate into a drive to represent overseas.  Time will tell, but it's just as likely they will serve as cannon fodder for the large number of Americans at the 2:13-2:16 level.  Of the three Yonezawa, with just a 2:11:59 debut from this spring, seems the best bet for a breakthrough, his teammate Okamoto having struggled to make it happen in the marathon despite solid improvement at shorter distances and Fukuyama approaching the twilight of his career.

The lone Japanese woman in the field, Yuri Yoshizumi (Aoyama Care Support), is a high-level amateur who won a place at Chicago by finishing 2nd in 2:41:00 at last fall's Kobe Marathon.  Yoshizumi, a Yuki Kawauchi-style full-time-working high-volume racer, gained some fame by winning the 2012 Hokkaido Marathon in 2:39:07 alongside Kawauchi, returning there a year later to run a PB 2:37:56 for 5th.  A bike accident around the time of last January's Osaka International Women's Marathon has left Yoshizumi somewhat struggling to get back to full fitness, her best since then just a 2:52:20 for 10th in Hokkaido in August.  Anything under 2:50 would be a good day for her this time around.  Under 2:40 a miracle.

Chicago Marathon - Japanese Entrants
Chicago, U.S.A., 10/12/14
click here for complete elite field listing

Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) PB: 2:08:51 (Tokyo, 2014)
marathon history:
2:08:51 - 9th, 2014 Tokyo Marathon
2:11:31 - 8th, 2013 Berlin Marathon
2:14:11 - 20th, 2013 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:10:40 - 14th, 2012 Chicago Marathon
2:12:52 - 4th, 2012 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon

Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) PB: 2:09:47 (Lake Biwa, 2014)
marathon history:
2:09:47 - 2nd, 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:13:12 - 9th, 2013 Fukuoka International Marathon
2:11:28 - 16th, 2013 Tokyo Marathon
2:12:42 - 14th, 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:14:00 - 7th, 2009 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon

Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team Honda) PB: 2:10:59 (Lake Biwa, 2013)
marathon history:
2:11:18 - 5th, 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:23:48 - 25th, 2013 Hokkaido Marathon
2:10:59 - 11th, 2013 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:15:49 - 6th, 2012 Muenster Marathon
2:13:55 - 18th, 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:18:32 - 19th, 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

Rui Yonezawa (Team Chugoku Denryoku) PB: 2:11:59 (Lake Biwa, 2014)
marathon history:
2:11:59 - 6th, 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon

Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) PB: 2:12:31 (Lake Biwa, 2012)
marathon history:
2:14:08 - 17th, 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:12:31 - 15th, 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon
2:13:54 - 13th, 2011 Tokyo Marathon

Yuri Yoshizumi (Aoyama Care Support) PB: 2:37:56 (Hokkaido, 2013)
marathon history:
2:52:20 - 10th, 2014 Hokkaido Marathon
3:00:25 - 1st, Kasumi Geopark Marathon
2:57:48 - 11th, 2014 Wanjinshi Marathon
2:45:13 - 19th, 2014 Osaka International Women's Marathon
2:46:21 - 1st, 2013 Nara Marathon
2:41:00 - 2nd, 2013 Kobe Marathon
2:37:56 - 5th, 2013 Hokkaido Marathon
2:39:07 - 1st, 2012 Hokkaido Marathon
2:40:31 - 3rd, 2011 Osaka Marathon
2:43:14 - 7th, 2010 Hokkaido Marathon
2:42:15 - 1st, 2009 Fukuchiyama Marathon

text (c) 2014 Brett Larner, all rights reserved 
photo (c) 2012 Dr. Helmut Winter, all rights reserved 


Anna N said…
you had me laughing silly at laundromats lol
Those are some inspiring times from Yoshizumi. I hope she runs well, or at least use this experience (the "race as best as you can" kind) to inform her future training.

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