2014 was a mixed year for Japanese distance running. Most of the good came from the under-25 generation that will be at its peak at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. More than a dozen high school boys including one 16-year-old broke 14 minutes for 5000 m, and at least four high school girls ran 9:01 or better for 3000 m, one winning Youth Olympics gold while doing it. A 19-year-old woman ran an under-20 Japanese record 2:27:12, and a 22-year-old set a collegiate national record of 2:26:46. Another 22-year-old went under 9 minutes for 3000 m. Japanese university men ran times from 3:39.56 for 1500 m to 1:00:50 for the half marathon to an incredible 1:28:52 collegiate national record for 30 km by a runner just turned 20. A 23-year-old set a 3000 m NR of 7:40.09, and a 24-year-old ran the fastest 10000 m ever by a Japanese man on Japanese soil, 27:38.99. Among older runners ten Japanese men broke 2:10 for the marathon a total of eleven times, the fastest among them, 2:08:09, the best time of the year in the world by a non-African.
On the other hand, Japanese women's marathoning continued a steep decline, the average of its top ten times the furthest behind the average of the world top ten since 1989, before most of the women who ran big this year were born. The fastest time of the year, 2:25:26, would barely have made the Japanese top ten a decade ago. Only one Japanese woman broke 70 minutes for the half marathon. Japanese corporate men showed a puzzling inability, unwillingness or indifference to racing seriously overseas, with over a dozen 61-62 minute half marathoners running 65-66 minutes in four of the fall's major international half marathons and most who ran overseas marathons finishing in the mid-to-high teens far off target and farther off the times they could run inside Japan. Not a single Japanese distance athlete won a gold medal at the Asian Games, where Africans dominated.
With the Japanese Federation pushing for more centralized control and nationalistic fervor through its marathon National Team program and calling on the top young talents to move to the marathon early which way will Japan go in 2015 and beyond? Look for some answers in JRN's upcoming profiles of the top ten Japanese women and men of 2014. In the meantime, look back on the year as seen by JRN readers with our fourteen most-read stories of 2014 excluding the popular Kawauchi Counter, of which more later.
1. Some Reflections on the Ekiden - Jan. 5
Some speculation following Toyo University's 2014 Hakone Ekiden win on the continued progression of Japanese collegiate men's distance running, the popularity in Japan of ekidens and distance running as a spectator sport, and the lessons to be learned for the U.S. and elsewhere. More on Toyo's Day One and Day Two wins.
Dickson Chumba (Kenya) and Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) gave the Tokyo Marathon new course records worthy of a World Marathon Major with two of the fastest times ever run in Japan, 2:05:42 and 2:22:23. Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) ran 2:08:09 to lead five Japanese men under 2:10. Field listing and preview.
3. Limo Takes De Castella's Australian Soil Record at Gold Coast Airport Marathon - July 6
In his marathon debut, unknown Kenyan Silah Limo took down legend Rob de Castella's 32-year-old Australian all-comers' record with a 2:09:14 win at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. Defending men's champion Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) was 3rd in 2:11:27 after falling midway through the race. Japanese women took three of the top five places, Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) winning in a PB 2:28:51. Field listing and preview.
4. Toyo University Overcomes Kashiwabara's Legacy With All-Time Second-Fastest Hakone Ekiden Win - Jan. 3
Hakone Ekiden course record holder Toyo University scored its first major university ekiden win since the graduation of uphill star Ryuji Kashiwabara two years ago, breaking the Day Two course record and almost cracking the overall Hakone course record it set Kashiwabara's senior year. Race preview here. Day One results here.
5. Prefontaine Classic 10000 m Results - Sub-27 PBs by Tanui and Karoki - May 31
Kyushu-based Moscow World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) and Tokyo-based 2014 Lisbon Half Marathon and Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon winner Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) both ran PBs at Oregon's Prefontaine Classic behind American Galen Rupp, Tanui 2nd in 26:49.41 and Karoki 3rd in 26:52.36.
6. Worku Over Sasaki for Lake Biwa Win in 2:09:10 - Mar. 2
Former world junior record holder Bazu Worku (Ethiopia) won an unexpectedly slow edition of the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, with Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) joining the ranks of Japan's current sub-2:10 men by outkicking defending champion and Daegu World Championships marathon silver medalist Vincent Kipruto (Kenya) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) for 2nd in 2:09:47. Race preview here.
7. Yamanaka Sets Course Record, 207 Sub-66 at National University Half Marathon Championships - Mar. 2
19-year-old Hideto Yamanaka (Nittai Univ.), winner of the highly competitive 2014 Hakone Ekiden First Stage, set a 1:02:09 course record to win the 2014 National University Half Marathon Championships. The race set a world record for depth with 207 men breaking 1:06:00 and well over 500 under 1:10:00, surpassing November's Ageo City Half Marathon for overall depth.
8. On Crutches, Yamanashi Gakuin's Omwamba Says "I'm Sorry" - Jan. 4
2013 Kanto Region 1500 m, 5000 m and 10000 m champion Enock Omwamba of Yamanashi Gakuin University apologized to his teammates after being forced to drop out of the Hakone Ekiden's Second Stage when he suffered a stress fracture, eliminating the Yamanashi Gakuin team from Japan's most prestigious race. More on what happened.
9. Toyo University Spends $50,000 on New Downhill Track to Help Kiryu Achieve 9-Second Speed - Mar. 20
2014 Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University built a custom inclined track at its Kawagoe, Saitama campus to give incoming first-year sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu a boost in his mission of becoming the first Japanese man to break 10.00 for 100 m.
10. Hamburg Marathon Results - Kawauchi Runs Historic Seventh Sub-2:10 - May 4
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) broke Toshinari Takaoka's Japanese record of six career sub-2:10 marathons and tied Takeshi Soh's record of thirty-four career sub-2:20s when he ran 2:09:36 for 9th at Germany's Hamburg Marathon, meeting both of his pre-race goals with ease. Race preview here.
11. Makau Wins Fukuoka in 2:08:22, Mongolia's Bat-Ochir 2:08:50 National Record for 3rd - Dec. 7
Former world record holder Patrick Makau (Kenya) returned to the marathon with a win in Fukuoka. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) made the race with aggressive frontrunning that took him to a new national record of 2:08:50. Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) and Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) both broke 2:10 to make it ten Japanese men sub-2:10 for the year, a feat only matched by Kenya and Ethiopia. Click here for preview.
12. Unknown Runner Emerges, Outruns Kawauchi for Tanigawa Mari Half Course Record - Jan. 13
Independent-minded and virtually unknown, 20-year-old Hideyuki Ikegami (Kyoto Kyoiku Univ.) turned up in Tokyo to beat Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) by over a minute, running a 2 1/2 minute PB of 1:03:09 and taking more than one minute off the Tanigawa Mari Half Marathon course record. More on Ikegami's background.
13. Tomaru 2:11:43 Debut for Nobeoka Win - Feb. 9
Former Tokyo Nogyo University star Kazuki Tomaru (Team Toyota), the winner of the 2008 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km, had a good marathon debut as he won the Nobeoka Nishi Nihon Marathon in 2:11:43, one of the fastest winning times in Nobeoka's 52-year history. 9 of the top 10 finishers either debuted or ran PBs. Click here for preview.
14. "I Want to Send a Message" - Tsutomu Nagata to Make European Debut at This Weekend's 100 Meilen Berlin - Aug. 14
Left unable to fully use his right arm following an accident in 2010, Tsutomu Nagata turned to ultramarathons and found quick success, ranked #6 in the world for 100 km in 2013. He talked to JRN prior to his departure for his European debut at the 100 Meilen Berlin ultra. Race report here.