translated and edited by Brett Larner
After Aoyama Gakuin University second-year Yuta Shimoda, 19, ran a 2:11:34 debut to finish 10th overall as the second Japanese man in Sunday's Tokyo Marathon, AGU head coach Susumu Hara called for Shimoda to be put on the Rio team, calling it essential for Shimoda's development before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. While Katsumi Sakai, one of the JAAF executives in charge of team selection, responded flatly, "We do not take the future into account," two of Japan's marathon greats, Olympians Takeyuki Nakayama and Hiromi Taniguchi, gave more nuanced views on Hara's statement.
Takeyuki Nakayama, 4th place, 1988 Seoul Olympics and 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathons
I can understand how Hara feels, but there are a lot of opportunities to get marathon experience even without the Olympics. Get Shimoda racing in Europe and around the world, not in Japan. There's nothing in the selection criteria about future potential, so it would set a bad precedent for other runners. You have to look more at the big picture.
Hiromi Taniguchi, 1991 Tokyo World Championships marathon gold medalist, 1992 Barcelona Olympics and 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathoner
It was a truly superb performance for Shimoda to run 2:11:34 at age 19. But I think it is premature for Coach Hara to be asserting, "Shimoda should be made a major favorite for the team."
Shimoda got into his own rhythm in the mostly-Japanese second pack, then dropped them. That's a very different thing from going into the lead pack and trying to survive. A 2:11 says that he doesn't have the speed to target track races yet either. Rather than using the Olympics to gain experience, I think it would be enough to get experience running other Japanese and international races.
This trend we are seeing of university runners including Shimoda trying marathons while still students will have an impact on the future. The marathon requires profound mental strength and is not something coaches should force. It is more important that it come from the will of the athlete. No mistakes should be made with timing.