Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Beijing World Championships: 10 Races to Watch Japanese Athletes In (updated)

by Brett Larner
updated throughout World Championships as start lists are posted

Although its medal chances are slim, with three looking solid, a chance for five and even six conceivable, in many events Japan is sending one of its best-ever teams to the Aug. 22-30 Beijing World Championships.  The potential medal count may not be that large, but the real measurement of success will be progress at the next level down as everything in the Japanese industry focuses toward Tokyo 2020.  The stakes are high for Japanese athletes, as in every individual event the top-placing Japanese will secure a place on the Rio de Janeiro Olympic team if they make the top 8 in their final.  Based on the entry lists released by the IAAF on Aug. 15, with the possibility of breakthroughs into the top 10 and in a few cases the magic top 8 these ten events in Beijing are especially worth watching for fans of Japan at home and abroad:
  1. Men's 20 km Race Walk: World record holder Yusuke Suzuki is the heavy favorite for what would probably be Japan's only gold medal in Beijing, his 1:16:36 record from this spring nearly a minute and a half ahead of his closest rival, Zhen Wang (China), and Suzuki's teammate Eiki Takahashi who comes in ranked #3.  Suzuki has had injury troubles the last few months but still managed to set Japanese national records for track race walk 5000 m and 10000 m in July, so his chances are still looking good.  Third Japanese man Isamu Fujisawa is ranked 7th, making it possible for Japan to have three inside the top ten, two in medal positions.
  2. Men's 50 km Race Walk: Matej Toth (Slovakia) is likewise the heavy favorite in the longer men's walk, his best of 3:34:38 far ahead of Japan's #2 and #3-ranked men Takayuki Tanii (Japan) and Hirooki Arai (Japan).  Both Tanii and Arai just missed the 3:40:12 national record this spring and are likewise well ahead of Aleksandr Yargunkin (Russia) and Jared Tallent (Australia).  National record holder Yuki Yamazaki is ranked 6th, again setting up Japan to score two medals and three inside the top ten.
  3. Men's 4x100 m Relay: Japan won Olympic bronze in the men's 4x100 m at the Beijing Olympics and has stayed solid since, its secret strength coming in its flawless exchanges.  This time the team comes to Beijing ranked 5th, the U.S.A. and Jamaica predictably occupying the top two positions and home squad China a surprising 3rd after running 37.99 to win last fall's Asian Games.  It will take a bit of luck, say Team U.S.A.'s typical baton work, for Japan to squeeze into the medals, but it has happened before.  The popular 2015 World Youth Games 100 m and 200 m double gold medalist Abdul Hakim Sani Brown has reportedly struggled to measure up in exchange practice and may not run on the Japanese relay team.
  4. Women's Marathon: Collegiate marathon national record holder and joint mother-daughter combo marathon world record holder Sairi Maeda turned in the best Japanese women's marathon performance in many a long year in Nagoya in March, running an all-time Japanese #8 2:22:48 despite falling midway through the race and badly bloodying both knees.  Mai Ito also broke into the all-time Japanese top 25 in the same race, running 2:24:42 to make the Beijing team.  The selection of all-time Japanese #10 Risa Shigetomo over Yokohama selection race winner Tomomi Tanaka can be taken as a sign that there's as much corruption in the JAAF as anywhere else, but bad vibes aside it's a good team.  They're up against not only tough Ethiopian and Kenyan squads but also both of the women who beat Maeda in Nagoya, 2014 Asian Games gold medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) and 41-year-old Russian (!) Mariya Konovalova, but if Kayoko Fukushi could slog her way through dangerously hot conditions into bronze in Moscow there's no reason to think Maeda couldn't pull it off too.  The main question is whether she will try as top 8 is a relatively low-hanging fruit in the marathon.  The last time a Japanese woman didn't make the top 8 at the World Championships was 1995, and with Maeda ranked 9th on qualifying time she may well focus on making the Olympics instead of risking a shot at a medal.  At least Ito is likely to follow suit.
  5. Men's 5000 m: Japan's medal chances peter out with the women's marathon, but the 5000 m features newly-crowned national record holder Suguru Osako and 2015 national champion Kota Murayama, and at least the Alberto Salazar-trained Osako looks to have a shot at making the top 10.  Osako's 13:08.40 NR puts him at 11th by qualifying time and he'll no doubt be looking to join his Nike Oregon Project training partners a little higher up in the field than that, with the top 8 and a place in Rio dangling just beyond.  Murayama ran an all-time Japanese #8 13:19.62 in May and outkicked Osako for the win at Nationals in June, but he'll need another jump in quality to factor into the final.
  6. Men's Marathon: After running an all-time Japanese 6th-best 2:07:39 in Tokyo in February Masato Imai, coached by Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita, looked like a lock for a top 8 finish and a place on the Rio Olympic team, but a recent illness is keeping him home from Beijing.  With no alternate lined up Japan will field only two men, Moscow team veterans Masakazu Fujiwara and Kazuhiro Maeda.  Collegiate and debut marathon national record holder Fujiwara's 2:09:06 in Fukuoka last December ranks him 12th in the field on qualifying time.  2:08:00 man Maeda, all-time Japanese #14, is much further down the field with only a 2:11:46 at Lake Biwa in March.  As such, Fujiwara, all-time Japanese #18, looks like the better bet to make the top 8 and the Rio team, but along with the likes of defending gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda and current and former world record holders Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, they will have to deal with the top non-African in the race, Mongolia's Ser-Od Bat-Ochir who beat Fujiwara in Fukuoka and Maeda at Lake Biwa.
  7. Women's 10000 m: The Japanese women's 10000 m team is comparatively the weakest of its distance squads, with no women ranked in the all-time Japanese top 25 and none in the top 10 in the field, but they're not far. Yuka Takashima is the fastest of the three at 31:37.32, with Rei Ohara, the other runner involved in the fall with marathoner Maeda in Nagoya last March, running a do-or-die PB of 31:48.31 in mid-July to make the team and national champion Kasumi Nishihara rounding it out.  All three would need big PBs to make the top 10, but each looks to still have room to grow, especially Ohara.
  8. Men's 200 m: The Usain Bolt record-smashing 2015 World Youth Games gold medalist Abdul Hakim Sani Brown will be drawing most of the media attention, but at just 16 it will be a big achievement if he can make even the semi-final against genuine big boy competition.  Kenji Fujimitsu and Kei Takase will be going for a place in the final, where they would be likely to face not only Bolt but convicted American dopers Justin Gatlin and Wallace Spearmon.  A repeat of Shingo Suetsugu's 2003 bronze medal doesn't look likely, but even one Japanese athlete making the final and guaranteeing himself a place in Rio would be a good sign of forward motion.
  9. Men's 10000 m: In absolute terms, the best 10000 m squad Japan has ever fielded at the world level.  National champion Tetsuya Yoroizaka is ranked all-time Japanese #5 at 27:38.99, Kenta Murayama, the twin brother of 5000 m national champion Kota, #6 at 27:39.95 and Yuta Shitara, also a twin, #12 at 27:42.71.  A top 10 finish by any of them would be a major breakthrough, but with Yoroizaka having also qualified for the 5000 m and opting to run only the 10000 m there's hope that he is going to bring something special.  Fans will be filling up Tokyo sports bars to watch the trio run on the first day of the World Championships, also cheering on Japan-based Kenyans Paul Tanui and Bedan Karoki as they try to topple defending champion Mo Farah and training partner Galen Rupp.
  10. Women's 5000 m: Another solid team by Japanese standards, featuring all-time Japanese #12 Ayuko Suzuki, #17 Misaki Onishi, and #20 Azusa Sumi.  Onishi is the two-time defending national champion, while Suzuki and Sumi are two of the most high-potential young women runners in Japan.  Just 18, Sumi's come-from-behind PB run for 2nd over Suzuki was one of the highlights at June's National Championships, and her follow-up PB to crack the Beijing qualifying standard in July marked her as a name to definitely remember.  Top 10 looks out of reach for all of them on paper, but with all three still improving they should move up the ranks if they bring their best.

15th IAAF World Championships
Beijing, China, August 22-30, 2015
click here for complete timetable
click here for complete entry lists
rankings are by best time within relevant qualification window

Men's Marathon - Aug. 22 a.m.
Dennis Kimetto (Kenya) - 2:02:57
Wilson Kipsang (Kenya) - 2:04:29
Berhanu Lemi (Ethiopia) - 2:05:28
Mark Korir (Kenya) - 2:05:49
Lelisa Desisa (Ethiopia) - 2:05:52
Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:06:33
Shumi Dechasa (Bahrain) - 2:06:43
Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 2:06:51
Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) - 2:07:47
Amanuel Mesel (Eritrea) - 2:08:18
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Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:08:50
Masakazu Fujiwara (Japan) - 2:09:06
Kazuhiro Maeda (Japan) - 2:11:46
Ali Hasan Mahbood (Bahrain) - 2:12:38

Men's 10000 m - Aug. 22 p.m.
Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 26:44.36
Paul Tanui (Kenya) - 26:49.41
Mo Farah (Great Britain) - 26:50.97
Bedan Karoki (Kenya) - 26:52.36
Geoffrey Kamworor (Kenya) - 26:52.65
Cam Levins (Canada) - 27:07.51
Muktar Edris (Ethiopia) - 27:17.18
Imane Merga (Ethiopia) - 27:17.63
Mosinet Geremew (Ethiopia) - 27:18.86
Ali Kaya (Turkey) - 27:24.09
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Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Japan) - 27:38.99
Kenta Murayama (Japan) - 27:39.95
Yuta Shitara (Japan) - 27:42.71

Men's 20 km Race Walk - Aug. 23
Yusuke Suzuki (Japan) -  1:16:36 - WR
Zhen Wang (China) - 1:18:00
Eiki Takahashi (Japan) - 1:18:03
Ruslan Dmytrenko (Ukraine) - 1:18:37
Ding Chen (China) - 1:18:44
Zelin Cai (China) - 1:18:52
Isamu Fujisawa (Japan) - 1:19:08
Hyunsub Kim (South Korea) - 1:19:13
Miguel Angel Lopez (Spain) - 1:19:21
Ivan Losev (Ukraine) - 1:19:33

Women's 10000 m - Aug. 24
Sally Kipyego (Kenya) - 30:42.26
Molly Huddle (U.S.A.) - 30:47.59
Gelete Burka (Ethiopia) - 30:49.68
Alemitu Heroye (Ethiopia) - 30:50.83
Belaynesh Oljira (Ethiopia) - 30:53.69
Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) - 30:55.56
Betsy Saina (Kenya) - 30:57.30
Shalane Flanagan (U.S.A.) - 31:09.02
Sara Moreira (Portugal) - 31:12.93
Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) - 31:13.29
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Yuka Takashima (Japan) - 31:37.32
Rei Ohara (Japan) - 31:48.31
Kasumi Nishihara (Japan) - 31:53.69

Men's 200 m - Heat: Aug. 25 - Semifinals: Aug. 26 - Final: Aug. 27
Justin Gatlin (U.S.A.) - 19.57
Rasheed Dwyer (Jamaica) - 19.80
Alonso Edward (Panama) - 19.90
Isiah Young (U.S.A.) - 19.93
Roberto Skyers (Cuba) - 20.02
Wallace Spearmon (U.S.A.) - 20.03
Julian Forte (Jamaica) - 20.04
Anaso Jobodwana (South Africa) - 20.04
Miguel Francis (Antigua) - 20.05
Zharnel Hughes (Great Britain) - 20.05
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Usain Bolt (Jamaica) - 20.13
Kenji Fujimitsu (Japan) - 20.13
Kei Takase (Japan) - 20.14
Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (Japan) - 20.34

Men's 5000 m - Heats: Aug. 26 - Final: Aug. 29
Yomif Kejelcha (Ethiopia) - 12:58.39
Hagos Gebrhiwet (Ethiopia) - 12:58.69
Imane Merga (Ethiopia) - 12:59.04
Ali Kaya (Turkey) - 13:00.31
Dejen Gebremeskel (Ethiopia) - 13:00.49
Illias Fifa (Spain) - 13:05.61
Bashir Abdi (Belgium) - 13:06.10
Ben True (U.S.A.) - 13:06.15
Albert Rop (Bahrain) - 13:06.74
Isian Koech (Kenya) - 13:07.33
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Suguru Osako (Japan) - 13:08.40 - NR
Mo Farah (Great Britain) - 13:11.77
Edwin Soi (Kenya) - 13:11.97
Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 13:12.36
Kota Murayama (Japan) - 13:19.62
Caleb Ndiku (Kenya) - 13:32.35

Women's 5000 m - Heats: Aug. 27 - Final: Aug. 30
Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia) - 14:14.32
Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 14:15.41
Meseret Defar (Ethiopia) -14:32.83 (2013)
Mercy Cherono (Kenya) - 14:34.10
Violet Kibiwot (Kenya) - 14:34.22
Senbere Teferi (Ethiopia) - 14:36.44
Irene Cheptai (Kenya) - 14:53.32
Mimi Belete (Bahrain) - 14:54.71
Goytom Gebreslase (Ethiopia) - 14:57.33
Abbey D'Agostino (U.S.A.) - 15:03.85
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Azuko Suzuki (Japan) - 15:14.96
Misaki Onishi (Japan) - 15:16.82
Azusa Sumi (Japan) - 15:17.62

Men's 50 km Race Walk - Aug. 29
Matej Toth (Slovakia) - 3:34:38
Takayuki Tanii (Japan) - 3:40:19
Hirooki Arai (Japan) - 3:40:20
Aleksandr Yargunkin (Russia) - 3:42:26
Jared Tallent (Australia) - 3:42:48
Yuki Yamazaki (Japan) - 3:43:40
Rafel Augustyn (Poland) - 3:43:55
Ivan Banzeruk (Ukraine) - 3:44:49
Lukasz Nowak (Poland) - 3:44:53
Marco De Luca (Italy) - 3:45:25

Men's 4x100 m Relay - Heats: Aug. 29 a.m. - Final: Aug. 29 p.m.
U.S.A. - 37.38
Jamaica - 37.68
China - 37.99
Antigua & Barbuda - 38.14
Japan - 38.20
Great Britain - 38.21
Trinidad and Tobago - 38.32
Canada - 38.33
France - 38.34
Germany - 38.48

Women's Marathon - Aug. 30
Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:19:52
Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) - 2:20:18
Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:20:21
Jemima Sumgong (Kenya) - 2:20:41a
Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia) - 2:21:52
Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:22:08
Mariya Konovalova (Russia) - 2:22:27
Berhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:22:30
Sairi Maeda (Japan) - 2:22:48
Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:24:03
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Mai Ito (Japan) - 2:24:42
Risa Shigetomo (Japan) - 2:26:39

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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