by Brett Larner
Back during my time at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, at the urging of Dr. David Bodznick I attended a lecture by the great Harvard University neurobiologist Dr. Edward Kravitz on social interaction and competitive behavior between lobsters, and its underlying biochemistry. "Aggression is a nearly universal feature of the behavior of social animals," Dr. Kravitz said. He explained how lobsters have a complex social hierarchy based on individual interactions, how when two lobsters meet for the first time they go through a ritualistic series of increasingly aggressive fight behaviors to establish a winner and a loser. Once that dichotomy is established it doesn't change. The winner remembers that it is a winner, the loser that it is a loser, they don't forget that relationship, and those roles affect their future chances of winning and losing against other lobsters. "Memory of status lasts longer in losers of fights than in winners," Dr. Kravitz wrote in his groundbreaking 2004 paper Long-Term Consequences of Agonistic Interactions Between Socially Naïve Juvenile American Lobsters (Homarus americanus).
Dr. Kravitz went on to discuss how levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin appeared to be a key factor. When lobsters won a fight, their serotonin levels increased. When they lost, the levels decreased. Experience caused a biochemical change that affected their future chances of being a winner or loser. He found that by injecting the lobsters with serotonin you could artificially alter their abilities as a competitor. When he introduced performance-enhancing levels of serotonin into a losing lobster and put it back into interaction with a winning lobster, the previous loser would aggressively attack the previous winner until it won or was killed. The naturally superior lobster would exhibit signs of confusion at the unnatural aggression and competitiveness of the lobster it had previously easily beaten, and when it lost its serotonin levels would drop and it would become a loser. Its own performance level artificially enhanced, the newly-crowned winner, naturally an inferior competitor, would experience a rise in its natural serotonin levels, effectively coming to believe that it was genuinely a winner.
Sunday's Osaka International Women's Marathon is the Kayoko show. The Rio Olympics on the line. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), half marathon national record holder, Moscow World Championships marathon bronze medalist, the great hope for the future of Japanese women's marathoning who just can't seem to live up to that expectation. Beaten down by Liliya Shobukhova at the 2011 Chicago Marathon in a Russian national record performance that was later revealed to be bullshit. Coming back this year to Osaka as the 2013 winner, but having again been beaten down in that race by Ukranian Tetyana Gamera in the first of three-straight Gamera wins that were likewise revealed a few months ago to have all been bullshit. Fukushi has never looked like she really believed herself to be a marathon winner. How different would she be if she had actually won that fight against Gamera? When you frontrun a race the entire way only to lose to someone who seemingly effortlessly blows by, the damage is done, you believe yourself a loser even if the other person is later revealed to have had their performance levels artificially enhanced. It's not easy to simply talk yourself past that even if you are not a lobster. "Changes in gene expression might underlie these changes in behavior, since it is unlikely that purely second-messenger-mediated mechanisms would last for days," wrote Dr. Kravitz.
So, with a spot on the Rio Olympic team up for grabs in Osaka this weekend, it's Fukushi's for the taking. Sub-2:22:30 is the hoop to jump for selection. There's nobody else her caliber in the field with the possible exception of 2014 World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko). Can a win in Osaka undo the changes caused by having been the superior athlete and still losing to a weaker athlete whose performance was artificially enhanced? And what of the people who had responsibility for the artificially enhanced athlete(s)? The Guardian has seemed to show signs of already wanting to rehabilitate Russian Andrey Baranov, agent to Gamera, Shobokhova and a seemingly infinite list of other banned athletes, for his role in revealing the Russian Federation and IAAF's shaking down of Shobukhova and other Russian athletes to conceal their drug use. Whether you think Henry Hill was a hero or lowlife scum depends on your personal values, but this glosses over the fact that three-time Osaka winner Gamera was not Russian, and neither was Baranov-represented runner Aliaksandra Duliba of Belarus, suspended earlier today for biological passport violations just like Gamera and Shobukhova. Whoever in Russia was ultimately behind its doping program may well have been influencing other former Soviet nations, but whatever the truth is it's clearly more complicated, and Baranov remains the link.
Gamera and other suspended Baranov athletes didn't come to Japan on their own either. Osaka and other races continued to invite them, as recently as the end of last year. In November one Japanese race official with a long history of working with Baranov emailed a prominent formerly Japan-based athlete who has been vocal about the Russian and his crew, defending Baranov in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the athlete for speaking out. Whether complicit or hopelessly naive, as the resignation of Economy Minister Akira Amari earlier today over a bribery scandal shows there are sketchy mofos in Japan just like anywhere else. How much damage have they done in reinforcing the mindset among Japan's athletes that they can't compete against foreigners, that they are losers?
Despite all that, let's hope for the best for Osaka. A solid race by Fukushi with good competition, from the promising Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) and Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion), from the debuting Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) or her teammate Chepyego, or from one of the scad of university runners running the marathon for the first time. A race that can undo some of the damage in time for Fukushi to face the bigger fish waiting in Rio.
Osaka International Women’s Marathon Elite Field
Osaka, Jan. 31, 2016
click here for complete field listing
times listed are 2013-2015 best marks except where noted
Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) – 2:24:21 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) – 2:25:56 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Karolina Nadolska (Poland) – 2:26:31 (Osaka Int’l 2014)
Risa Shigetomo (Japan/Tenmaya) – 2:26:39 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Mari Ozaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:26:41 (Osaka Int'l 2013) - withdrawn with injury
Sally Kaptich Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) – 2:26:43 (Tokyo 2015)
Seong Eun Kim (South Korea) – 2:27:20 (Seoul Int’l 2013)
Misato Horie (Japan/Noritz) – 2:27:57 (Nagoya Women’s 2014)
Risa Takenaka (Japan/Shiseido) – 2:28:09 (Nagoya Women’s 2015)
Diana Lobacevske (Lithuania) – 2:28:57 (Hamburg 2015)
Chieko Kido (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:29:08 (Osaka Int’l 2015)
Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich (Kenya) - 2:29:22 (Toronto Waterfront 2013)
Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:40 (Toronto Waterfront 2015)
Yuka Takemoto (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:31:02 (Kita-Kyushu 2014)
Shoko Mori (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) – 2:34:28 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) – 2:35:03 (Osaka Int'l 2014)
Kanae Shimoyama (Japan/Noritz) – 2:35:26 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hisae Yoshimatsu (Japan/Shunan City Hall) – 2:35:46 (Hofu 2015)
Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Yotsukaichi Wellness) – 2:36:29 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Chihiro Tanaka (Japan/Athlec RC) – 2:36:53 (Kobe 2013)
Chiyuki Mochizuki (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:40:11 (Beppu-Oita 2013)
Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) – 1:09:49 (Osaka Half 2015)
Sakurako Fukuuchi (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) – 1:11:44 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Aiko Sakata (Japan/Ritsumeikan Univ.) – 1:14:08 (Marugame Int’l Half 2014)
Mai Nagaoka (Japan/Osaka Gakuin Univ.) – 1:15:08 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Haruna Horikawa (Japan/Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) – 1:15:53 (Tachikawa City 2014)
Haruka Hanada (Japan/Osaka Geidai Univ.) – 1:16:08 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Saki Tokoro (Japan/Kansai Gaikokugo Univ.) - 1:16:28 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Aya Higashimoto (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) – 1:16:29 (Osaka Half 2013)
Eri Utsunomiya (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) - 33:47.97 10000 m (Keio Univ. 2014)
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