translated by Brett Larner
With regard to her entry in the final Rio de Janeiro Olympics women's marathon selection race, the Mar. 13 Nagoya Women's Marathon, on Feb. 21 JAAF Strengthening Committee Chairman Kazunori Asaba, 55, sent a message to Kayoko Fukushi (33, Team Wacoal): "We do not want you to run."
Fukushi won the second Rio selection race, January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, in 2:22:17, one of the fastest times ever run by a Japanese woman, but because the JAAF would not confirm her spot on the Rio team, the next day she indicated that she would run Nagoya as well. Chairman Asaba seeks to persuade Fukushi that if she hopes to contend for an Olympic medal she should not run Nagoya, but at the same time refuses to change the JAAF's stance that it will not confirm that she is definitely on the Rio team.
Attending the 20 km racewalk national championships in Kobe, Chairman Asaba issued the highly unusual request when he spoke for the first time about Fukushi feeling forced to run in Nagoya despite knowing the risk of injury. "Fukushi met all of our criteria with a superb, flawless run," he said. "We do not want her to run Nagoya. If there were anything we could do to make that happen, we would do it. She has reached the level of being a medal contender. If she is going to go for an Olympic medal then we want to see her preparation be rock-solid."
It is very unusual for JAAF executives to touch upon the race plans of individual athletes let alone try to talk someone out of running a race. Saying both, "Nothing has been decided for certain," and "We can't just stand by and do nothing about this," Asaba showed the first signs of trying to influence Fukushi.
He also admitted the lack of definitive and clear qualification criteria in the Olympic selection guidelines. Fukushi cleared the JAAF's sub-2:22:30 Olympic qualifying standard in winning Osaka, meaning that realistically she should be a lock for the Olympic team. However, the JAAF's Olympic selection guidelines do not specify a procedure for what would happen if multiple people cleared the JAAF's Olympic standard, and as a result the JAAF cannot confirm Fukushi's position on the team.
With regard to the possible scenario in which two Olympic team members are chosen from Nagoya after running fast times there, Fukushi's coach Tadayuki Nagayama has stated the problem clearly: "The second Japanese finisher in Nagoya will have lost to the first Japanese finisher. There is no way it should even be possible that the 2nd-placer in Nagoya could be picked over Fukushi, who won." Chairman Asaba commented, "I can understand that line of thought," and, admitting that there was a gap in the rules, said, "With the level of Japanese running in mind we set 2:22:30 as the standard. We did not put anything into place to account for the possibility that more than one athlete might run that time."
But with regard to giving Fukushi a green light Asaba remained unmoved from the JAAF's position. "That is a difficult area," he said. "We cannot say that we will choose her for the team. Other athletes are still going to run Nagoya. Until all three selection races are finished we cannot do that, but we do want to do everything we can right up to the end of the end." Just like in politics, even if you are the frontrunner, when it comes down to the rules a lot of things can end up being empty promises.
A timeline of the women's marathon Olympic selection problem:
Jan. 31: Fukushi solos a win at the Osaka International Women's Marathon. Her time of 2:22:17 clears the JAAF's sub-2:22:30 Olympic standard.
Feb. 1: Fukushi's camp indicates she is considering running the Nagoya Women's Marathon. Coach Nagayama says, "The JAAF hasn't said a word to us about her being on the [Olympic] team."
Feb. 6: At an event the day before the Marugame International Half Marathon, JAAF Strengthening Committee Vice-Chairman Katsumi Sakai says, "We can't say that she will be on the team. Under the selection guidelines there is a possibility she might not be chosen."
Feb. 8: Coach Nagayama announces that preparations are underway for Fukushi's training for Nagoya, saying, "This is life or death for us. All we can do is go on the offense."
Feb. 21: JAAF Strengthening Committee Chairman Asaba makes the unusual request for Fukushi not to run Nagoya.
Feb. 25: Announcement of Nagoya Women's Marathon entry list.
Mar. 13: Nagoya Women's Marathon
Mar. 17: JAAF executive council meeting, Olympic team lineup expected to be decided.