Thursday, December 24, 2015

JRN Readers Pick the Highlights of 2015

2015 was a threshold year in Japan, one of record highs and lows.  JRN asked a number of its prominent regular readers to give their picks for the year.

Andrew Armingerpresident, Boulder Track Club

The performance of the year had to have been the 10000 m NR by Kota Murayama with Tetsuya Yoroizaka also under the old NR. That record sat for far too long.

The performer of the year is Yuki Kawauchi, based on his typical body of work and most notably his 6th at NYC. Not only in the money in a World Marathon Major but genuinely competitive on foreign soil which is especially commendable. These both stand out for both genders, it just happens that the men really came through this year. Especially good to see going into 2016.


Jimmy Ashworth1985 Berlin Marathon winner and first man to break 2:12 in Berlin

It sounds a bit daft to narrow it down to a few athletes that have caught my eye as all the distance runners have caught my eyes. As I have said before the depth is just WOW. One name: Yuki Kawauchi. His do-or-die face. I love his commitment, his desire for victory. His race schedule has just thrown the textbook out of the window.

Ayuko Suzuki. I loved her front running in the World Championships. She laid it on the line and again committed herself to get the best result she could and from what I remember upset one American for running that way. Ha!



Kasumi Nishihara, who I follow on Twitter. She seems a solid, consistent athlete from her win in the National Championships to her run in Worlds, then her performance in the ekiden relay I think it was last month. I look forward to her moving up to the marathon.


Susan GriffenTokyo English Life Line Board of Directors member and Co-Chair of TELL Runathon

I have always liked Kayoko Fukushi. She has a fun personality and is a fun athlete to watch as well. Her marathon debut was gripping. While I wasn’t able to watch her performance in Chicago this year as I was running the race myself, I was thrilled to hear that she had run aggressively and came in 4th, finishing just 4 seconds over her PR. I sure hope she is selected to run in Rio!


Anna NovickCross-country coach, Saint Maur International School, Yokohama

A standout for me is Suguru Osako, more for what his approach to training and racing represents than for his actual performances this year, although his racing has in no way been sub-par. Osako set the NR for the 2-mile at the Armory this February, and then for the 5000 m in July. His performance at Beijing didn’t pan out as his best, but I admire his proactive step to get out of the semi-comfortable corporate team environment to a more risky global training environment to “race with the big kids” so to speak. It’s great to see a young Japanese athlete take initiative in his training.

Women’s performance of the year: Sairi Maeda’s 2:22:48 at Nagoya Women’s in March. All-time Japanese female #8 marathon and first Japanese woman under 2:23 since 2007. Enough said. She held on those last few km after her tumble earlier at the 15 km mark even though she was running alone. She seems to be another one of those runners with a will of iron. I think we can expect solid races from her in the future.


Michael PetersUniversity of Amsterdam doctoral student doing his PhD on Kenyan runners in Japan

At the IAAF World Championships, Mai Ito and Ayuko Suzuki were the “outliers” in that they delivered solid results when the rest of their Japanese teammates choked. Suzuki was clutch in the final, finishing behind three Ethiopians, four Kenyans, and one Dutch runner. If both Ito and Suzuki can continue to progress as well as they have, and set their goals to not only be “the best non-African” runners (as some Japanese athletes have been quoted by the media at pre and post race press conferences) but also “the overall winners,” then next summer in Rio may be a special one for them and fans of Japanese distance running.



At the 2015 Yosenkai (Hakone Ekiden Quailfier), Tokyo Kokusai University (TKU) was able to qualify for Hakone within five years of establishing their ekiden team, made possible by their top runner, Stanley Siteki from Kenya who ran 59:14. Without Siteki their 11th runner would have become their 10th fastest runner and the team’s aggregate time would have been 2 minutes and 42 seconds slower. This would have resulted in a 14th place team finish, failing to qualify for the 2016 Hakone Ekiden by four spots. Siteki was his team’s MVP (and mine), and more importantly the difference for his university to clinch a spot or miss out entirely in qualifying for Japan’s most revered and viewed athletic competition.


Bob PoulsonHead of Tokyo’s Namban Rengo running club

My pick for performance of the year is Suguru Osako’s 13:08.40 5000 m national record. I was very happy that this old record finally got broken, and was also happy that it was Osako who did it. It took a lot of fortitude for him to relocate to America to train with the Alberto Salazar group. Japanese runners just don’t do that kind of thing, one reason being that the team concept is so important but another being because they are simply too shy, immature and just plain scared to go off on their own. So high praise to Osako for doing that, and for making it pay off with the 5000 m record.


Noel Thatcher, MBE – Five-time Paralympic gold medalist for Great Britain

Having given it some consideration my three top performances by Japanese men in order would be:

1. Kota Murayama for his 10,000 m national record-breaking battle with Asahi Kasei teammate Tetsuya Yoroizaka. Having seen him rip through the field in Hakone, he epitomizes the new breed of young corporate runner combining the tradition of endurance with a new confidence and speed to match.

2. Daichi Kamino for re-writing Hakone history on the fifth leg and setting up Aoyama Gakuin University’s historic win. I’ve watched the ’15 Hakone Ekiden and never seen anyone run uphill like that.

3. Yuki Kawauchi in New York for not only a great run but also for being a great ambassador for Japan and Japanese endurance running.

There were many more great runs and runners but these were my personal highlights.


Mika TokairinEditor in chief, Ebisu Style magazine, and contributing writer, Triathlon Lumina magazine

Masato Imai’s 2:07 in Tokyo for men. Imai has been making steady and consistent progress since he started his marathon career, but this was a real breakthrough and everyone in Japan was waiting for this moment, a former Hakone star’s marathon success, which is very rare to be seen. I hope to see him run great in one of the Olympic selection races, then at the Olympics.

For women, I pick Ayuko Suzuki who made the final and came 9th in the 5000 m in the Beijing World Championships. Her brave and fearless race wasn’t like typical Japanese and especially after watching the disappointing men’s track races her attitude and performance was prominent.


Helmut WinterMember of official split timing crew for Dubai, London, Berlin, Chicago and Frankfurt Marathons

What happened on the Hakone Ekiden’s premier stage, the Fifth, will undoubtedly go down in the long history of that event. A few km into the serpentine ascents, as spectacular as the Tour de France’s Alpe d'Huez, a young student named Daichi Kamino of Aoyama Gakuin University quickly took the lead. The lightweight (43 kg 1.64 m tall) ran the race of his life and swept up the switchbacks in a way at which you could only marvel, improving the mythical course record by 24 seconds to 1:16:15 and thus laying the foundation for the future overall victory of his team. I have almost never seen such running as by Kamino on the Fifth Stage. World class!! I doubt whether there was another runner in the world who could have stayed with him on that day.


Mara YamauchiWinner, 2008 Osaka International Women’s Marathon, all-time GBR #2 for the marathon

My picks for performances of 2015 are the athletes who actually won major races, including Kayoko Fukushi and Yukiko Akaba, following the disqualification of doping athletes. Athletes spend their lives working 24/7 to reach their goals, and to have a major title taken from you by a cheat is heart-breaking. Even a long time after the actual race, clean athletes deserve the recognition they should have received on the day of the race.

© 2015 Brett Larner
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