translated and edited by Brett Larner
On Aug. 3 the JAAF announced that Beijing World Championships men's marathoner Masato Imai (31, Team Toyota Kyushu) has withdrawn from the Beijing team due to meningitis. According to his corporate management, Imai began to complain of a fever and headaches while training in Hokkaido and was diagnosed with meningitis. He was hospitalized on July 30 and is expected to remain in the hospital for treatment for roughly two weeks.
In a statement released through the JAAF Imai said, "For myself, I am devastated after all my training for the World Championships has gone perfectly with the single goal of finally being competitive on the world level. But this doesn't mean that the road to the top is closed now. I want to get better as soon as I can and make a fresh start toward my next marathon with a refreshed and reinspired mind and body."
Imai's coach, 1992 Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita, 47, commented, "Imai has overcome many setbacks up to now and always come out stronger. I fully believe that he will also overcome this one and return even stronger."
Imai finished 2nd at this February's Tokyo Marathon in 2:07:39, making him the sixth-fastest Japanese marathoner ever. With no alternate named for the men's marathon team at the Beijing World Championships only two Japanese men, Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko, 2:08:00) and Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda, 2:08:12) will now run the marathon on August 22nd.
JRN wishes Imai, who we interviewed in 2011 about his former training partner Samuel Wanjiru, a quick recovery. His withdrawal has strong implications for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic team. The JAAF has established that it will give one of the three places on the Rio team to the top-placing Japanese marathoner inside the top 8 in Beijing, a bafflingly low bar considering that Japanese men have made the top 8 at the World Championships every time since 1999, when they placed 3rd, 6th and 7th, and Japanese women every time since 1991 except for 1995, when the top Japanese woman finished 9th.
As the top man on this year's Japanese team in Beijing Imai was generally considered a lock for a spot on the Rio team, with the remaining two spots to be decided between the top Japanese men at this year's Fukuoka and next's year's Tokyo and Lake Biwa selection races. It's possible that the other two members of the Beijing team, Maeda and Fujiwara, could still make the top 8, taking an Olympic spot they would otherwise have difficulty securing. However, it is now more likely that the Rio team will be decided between the three domestic selection races, hopefully reducing room for the kind of under-the-table decision making that went into the selection for the Beijing team and in particular the women's marathon team.