incorporates additional quotes given in interviews with Nippon TV
Taking on the marathon for the first time as a second-year at Hakone Ekiden champion Aoyama Gakuin University, Yuta Shimoda, 19, finished 10th overall and 2nd Japanese man at Sunday's Tokyo Marathon in 2:11:34, a new Japanese under-20 record. AGU head coach Susumu Hara, 48, made a strong appeal for Shimoda, already Japan's fastest-ever 18-year-old for the half-marathon, to be named to the Rio Olympics team. Among the experienced marathoners and other pre-race favorites, Beijing World Championships marathon team member Masato Imai (31, Team Toyota Kyushu), was 13th, the debuting Kenta Murayama (23, Team Asahi Kasei) was 30th, and London Olympics marathoner Arata Fujiwara (34, Miki House) finished 44th.
Speaking to Nippon TV pre-race Shimoda had said, "When I entered AGU I was third from the bottom of the new first-years. The kind of runner you can find anywhere. At that point my goal for the four years there was to run 28 minutes for 10000 m and then my senior year maybe make the Hakone squad. My first year I was just hell-bent on making my body stronger, and then I hit both of those goals this year. I haven't really thought about whether I want to keep running after graduating. Right now I'm not really interested in trying to be world-class. I think there's more to life than marathons and the Olympics."
Four of its team members debuting in Tokyo, AGU's collective concept this time, "The Great Challenge Strategy," paid off big time. With 1 km to go the 19-year-old second-year Shimoda ran down rival Toyo University captain and fourth-year Yuma Hattori, the 30 km national university record holder, to finish as the second Japanese man across the line, laughing and waving in the home straight. His time of 2:11:34 took nearly four minutes off the 2:15:30 under-20 Japanese record set in 1992 by future 100 km world record holder Takahiro Sunada. "I was going for the Japanese under-20 record, but I can't believe I was the second Japanese man!" Shimoda said with a big smile post-race.
"I wasn't thinking about the Olympics at all, just more like how far I could push it with my ability," he said. "If I kept doing this another five years I wonder if it'd work out." Shimoda's hobby is reading manga and watching anime. The Tokyo Marathon finish area, Tokyo Big Sight, is a frequent home to big comic conventions. "I dream about Big Sight, so when it came into sight all my power reserves came online," he said. The prize money for 10th place was 100,000 yen [~$900 USD]. "Maybe I'll buy a computer!" he laughed with childlike enthusiasm. "The Olympics? Who knows?"
下田くん！日本人2位おめでとう！！— メイ (@mei_ekidenlove) February 28, 2016
In contrast to Shimoda's lightheartedness about Rio, AGU head coach Hara spoke ardently. "Shimoda should be made a major favorite for the Olympic team," he said. "He's only 19. Rio is still half a year away and in that time he will only keep getting stronger. He has tremendous growth potential between now and the Tokyo Olympics, 120%, 200%. You have to count back from 2020 and ask yourself what the most important things to do before then are. There's no question that experiencing Rio is essential." JAAF Strengthening Committee Vice-Chairman Katsumi Sakai, 55, replied coolly, "We do not take the future into account. Essentially, we choose in order."
But, said, Coach Hara, the self-described maverick of Japanese long distance, "With the downturn in Japanese marathoning youth is our greatest weapon. And Shimoda has proven himself strong in heat. I would argue that logically he should be the superior candidate." As with the women's Olympic marathon selection, where Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) has not been offered a spot on the Rio team despite her landslide victory at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and as a result will run next month's Nagoya Women's Marathon, the men's selection also looks like it will be eventful to say the least.
Along with Shimoda, AGU ace third-year Tadashi Isshiki was the third Japanese man, 11th overall in 2:11:45. Fourth-year Ryo Hashimoto won the sub-elite division, 23rd overall in 2:14:38, with fourth-year Toshinori Watanabe 3rd among sub-elites at 27th overall in 2:16:01. Even Hara's wife Miho, 48, ran, finishing in 6:26:42. Aoyama Gakuin University's campaign now looks to extend beyond the mountains of Hakone and on to Rio.
Yuta Shimoda - born Mar. 31, 1996 in Oyamacho, Shizuoka. 169 cm, 54 kg. A member of his junior high school tennis team. Began running track and field after entering Kato Gakuen H.S. Ran the National High School Ekiden Championships his senior year, finishing 35th of 47 on the Third Stage. Entered Aoyama Gakuin University in 2014. Did not make AGU's starting team for the Big Three University Ekidens his first year. As a second year finished 6th on the Izumo Ekiden Fourth Stage, then won the National University Ekiden Fifth Stage and Hakone Ekiden Eighth Stage.
5000 m - 14:06.85
10000 m - 28:33.77
half marathon: 1:02:22 (best-ever mark by Japanese 18-year-old)
marathon: 2:11:34 (best-ever mark by Japanese under-20 runner)