Skip to main content

Federation Vice Chairman of Development Katsumi Sakai: "Time is More Important Than Winning"

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Following a meeting of the JAAF's Development Committee in Tokyo on Apr. 2, Vice Chairman of Development Katsumi Sakai, 55, commented on the controversy surrounding the selection for the women's marathon team for August's Beijing World Championships.  "You absolutely have to go with the lead group from the beginning.  It's not about winning.  It's about trying to run the target time that we determine.  That is the message we have sent," he said of the Federation's exclusion of Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), winner of November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon in 2:26:57, in favor of Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), who ran 2:26:39 for 3rd more than 4 minutes behind winner Tetiana Gamera (Ukraine) after going through halfway with Gamera in 1:11:15, and who is coached by Federation Director of Women's Marathoning Development and Training Yutaka Taketomi.

Both Tanaka's coach, 1991 World Championships silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, and Federation board executive member Naoko Takahashi, the 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist and former marathon world record holder, have publicly questioned and criticized the decision and process.  Late last month Sakai spoke with Coach Yamashita directly.  Yamashita pointed out that based on the published selection criteria it was not common knowledge that the Federation would prioritize trying to run the sub-2:22:30 standard it set over trying to win the race, to which Sakai said, "That's too bad.  We assumed she knew about that."  With regard to the fact that some of the selection races had pacers while others did not and that there were differences in the target times between selection races Sakai said, "The Federation is discussing whether or not that's something we should consider making a decision about."  He indicated, however, that there will be no change in the future in the Federation prioritizing time trialling over winning.

Translator's note:  Sakai was one of the people involved in setting the sub-2:06:30 and sub-2:22:30 standards for the Beijing World Championships team, of which mention of the men's standard, which only one Japanese man has ever cleared, quickly disappeared in race broadcasts as the selection process went on.  At the Tokyo Marathon men's selection race Hiroaki Sano (Team Honda) was one of the last two Japanese men to survive in the lead pack until the very late stages of the race, running a PB of 2:09:12.  However, he was left off the team in favor of Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), a 2:08:00 runner who ran 2:11:46 for 4th a week after Tokyo at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon selection race after making no effort at all to go with Kenyan Samuel Ndungu, who won in 2:09:08.  Based on what Sakai says above Sano should have been chosen, but Maeda is a member of the high-priority National Team marathon development project, of which Sakai and Taketomi are two architects, while Sano is not, indicating that other factors are at play than just what Sakai says here.

With regard to the justification Sakai and others on the Federation team selection committee have given for excluding Tanaka that she did not try to run with the lead pack, a look at the splits from Yokohama indicates that this is not true at all.  Tanaka was part of the lead group that went through 5 km in 16:57-58, just off the target sub-2:22:30 split of 16:53.  When pacer Purity Cherotich lost control and ran the next 5 km in 16:35, 2:19:57 pace, eventual 3rd and 5th-placers Reia Iwade and Azusa Nojiri went with her to hit 10 km in 33:31 while winner Tanaka, 2nd-placer Philes Ongori and 4th-placer Caroline Rotich sped up slightly to hit 10 km in 33:47, 2:22:33 pace.  The gap between them was never more than 16 seconds, and within a few km the Kenyan pacer had slowed again and the lead group was back together.  From there on out Tanaka was among the leaders before outkicking Ongori for the win in 2:26:48.  The description Sakai and the rest of the committee have given of Tanaka's race simply does not match the facts.  Compare it to Shigetomo's performance in Osaka, where she pushed the pace against Gamera to 1:11:15 at halfway before abruptly falling off in the 22nd km to finish in 2:26:39, losing to Gamera by more than 4 minutes and to Jelena Prokopcuka, who had been over a minute behind at halfway, by more than 2 1/2 minutes.

Sakai and the committee also claimed that the Yokohama field was not as good as at the other selection races.  In Yokohama Tanaka beat defending Olympic gold medalist Tiki Gelana, three women who had run 2:23 within the two years prior to the race, and four other women with better PBs than her 2:26:05 debut.  In Osaka Shigetomo had the second-best PB in the field and there were only two women to have run 2:23 in the last two years.  Nagoya had only 40-year-old Russian Mariya Konovalova at 2:22:46 and Asian Games gold medalist Eunice Kirwa at 2:23:34 within the last two years.  Comparing the three it is clear that that description of the Yokohama field is not factually accurate either.

Nowhere that I have seen is there mention by the committee of the simple fact that the athlete chosen, Shigetomo, 79th at the London Olympics in 2:40:06, is under the care of one of its own, while Tanaka, a two-time National Corporate Half Marathon champion coached by World Championships medalist Yamashita who most recently coached Yoshimi Ozaki to a silver medal at the Berlin World Championships, is not.  Surely it's a coincidence that Yamashita is also one of the only female coaches working at the elite end of the sport.  In Sakai's statement the committee is unabashedly sending exactly the wrong message to the country's athletes, and its post hoc rationalizations of its decision are an embarrassment for everybody involved, especially for Shigetomo.  Likewise for its claim that its decision was unanimous, a claim member Naoko Takahashi has publicly denounced as untrue.  She, Yamashita and journalists like Akemi Masuda and Tadashi Imamura are right to continue to shine a light on this scandal and to call for reform of a system that, all too characteristically conforming to the worst stereotypes of Japan, attempts to hide the appearance of impropriety behind a wall of bureaucracy.


Brett Larner said…
I wish this one were an April Fool's Day joke.
Joe B said…
I wish your April Fools joke was true!
Eryn said…
The comment about time being more important than winning is directly concerning Kawauchi.
Brett Larner said…
Agreed, especially as Kawauchi had used almost identical language in talking to the media a week or two ago about the Federation's apparent priorities.
Anna Novick said…
Sakai's rationalization is an insult to anyone who can put 2 and 2 together...
If they're emphasis is on meeting a specified time qualification, they should just run a one-shot marathon on a track.

Most-Read This Week

Kawauchi and Kiyara Live Up to Expectations With Wan Jin Shi Wins

Returning to Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon after having first run it in 2016, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran 2:14:12 to score his fourth-straight marathon win in a third-straight wire-to-wire solo performance. Choosing the hilly Wan Jin Shi Marathon as his final main tuneup for next month's Boston Marathon, Kawauchi came out swinging, leading an all-African pack of seven by almost 10 seconds after the tough uphill opening 5 km and stretching that out to over two minutes by the turnaround point at halfway.

On track to break the 2:13:05 course record by more than two minutes. under sunny skies with temperatures climbing to 22C and nearly 80% humidity Kawauchi began to slow incrementally. Behind him, Johnstone Kibet Maiyo (Kenya) and Aredome Tiuyay Degefa (Ethiopia) separated from the chase pack and began to push each other in pursuit of the top spot. With every 5 km split the gap to Kawauchi narrowed. At 40 km Maiyo threw down to get rid of Degefa, blasting the dow…

Kawauchi and Kiyara Headline Wan Jin Shi Marathon

Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) returns to Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon this Sunday for his marathon of the post-Yuta Shitara era. The runner-up in Wan Jin Shi in 2016, Kawauchi is ranked #1 in the field and comes to Wan Jin Shi with wins in his last three marathons but faces a solid field including fellow sub-2:10 man Peter Kiplagat Sitenei, last year's runner-up Tsegaye Debele (Ethiopia), and the only man to beat him last time around, 2016 winner and course record holder William Chebon Chebor (Kenya). Kawauchi plans to use the hilly race as a tune-up for his main marathon of the spring season, April's Boston Marathon.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Rael Kiyara Nguriatukei (Kenya), winner of the 2012 Hamburg Marathon before being stripped of her title and suspended for a positive post-race test for norandrosterone, has the fastest recent time in the women's field with a 2:26:22 winning time at last year's Chongqing Marathon. Close behind is Chemtai …

Katanishi Scores Best-Ever Japanese Collegiate Placing at United Airlines NYC Half

Wearing bib #21 on his 21st birthday, 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa University) turned in the best-ever Japanese collegiate placing at the United Airlines NYC Half, taking 7th in 1:03:05 just 26 seconds off the win.

Katanishi and his Komazawa teammate Shogo Ise earned invites to the NYC Half by taking the top two Japanese collegiate spots at last November's Ageo City Half Marathon. Off the tougher new New York course both Katanishi and Ise ran in the lead group for the first two-thirds of the race, Ise near the front and Katanishi biding his time at the back of the pack. When the first real move came on the uphill approaching Times Square Katanishi was quick to reposition himself into the top three just off the shoulder of leader Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.), staying in the action and looking smooth through the first set of Central Park hills. "I just took the early part easy and watched the others and what was going," Kat…