Monday, March 14, 2016

Understanding the Japanese Women's Olympic Team Selection Standings

by Brett Larner

Japan's qualification process for the Rio Olympics marathon wrapped up with a bang at yesterday's Nagoya Women's Marathon, with Tomomi Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) getting payback for being left off of last year's Beijing World Championships team in favor of a runner from the Tenmaya corporate team by beating Tenmaya's Rei Ohara by one second in 2:23:19 to take what is almost definitely the last place on the Rio team.  Last week JRN detailed the situation regarding the Rio men's team candidates.  The women's situation looks more clear-cut but it's worth a quick review to see who the most likely names are for Thursday's Olympic team lineup announcement.  Click any race for detailed results.

Beijing World Championships Women's Marathon, Aug. 30
7. Mai Ito (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:29:48
13. Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu) - 2:31:46
14. Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) - 2:32:37

Under the JAAF's selection criteria this time around the only chance Japanese women had to guarantee themselves a place on the Rio team was by making the top eight at August's Beijing World Championships, a bafflingly easy target considering their history.  Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) duly pulled off a 7th place finish to secure a position.

Saitama International Women's Marathon, Nov. 15
2. Kaori Yoshida (Runners Pulse) - 2:28:43 - PB
4. Yoko Shibui (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:31:06

Moving out to the suburban wildlands of Saitama this year from its past homes in downtown Yokohama and Tokyo, the first women's domestic selection race was mostly ignored by even B-level corporate runners.  Returning from a two-year EPO suspension Kaori Yoshida (Runners Pulse) ran a PB 2:28:43 to take the top Japanese position, but with the JAAF setting an Olympic standard of 2:22:30, only two spots left on the team and two more selection races still to come, nobody expected her to make the Rio team.

Osaka International Women's Marathon, Jan. 31
1. Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) - 2:22:17 - PB
2. Misato Horie (Noritz) - 2:28:20

Fukushi dropped the best Japanese women's marathon performance in many years with her 2:22:17 win in Osaka, clearing the JAAF's Olympic standard.  On the podium Fukushi shouted to the audience, "I gots Rio in my pocket, y'all!" and many people in the media and public assumed she was on the team for sure, but the JAAF's refusal to confirm her position due to the wording of the selection rules kicked off weeks of controversy that saw Fukushi enter, then ultimately withdraw from, the final selection race in Nagoya.

Nagoya Women's Marathon, Mar. 13
2. Tomomi Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:19 - PB
3. Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) - 2:23:20 - PB

Tanaka, left off the Beijing team last year in favor of Tenmaya runner Risa Shigetomo despite winning the Yokohama Women's selection race, ran side-by-side with Ohara over the last 5 km, the two pushing each other to negative split PBs as they tried to outdo one other.  In the last few hundred meters Tanaka finally kicked away from Ohara, taking the top position by 1 second.

You can never really put your full trust in the JAAF's decision-making, but there doesn't seem to be much question about the team lineup.  Ito is on for certain.  Yoshida's result doesn't measure up to those in Osaka and Nagoya.  With a time under the JAAF's standard and a win there is no reason Fukushi would be omitted, JAAF executive Katsumi Sakai's brilliant proclamation "It's not about winning" notwithstanding.

Is it possible, could it be possible, that there is any question between Tanaka and Ohara for the third spot?  Tanaka, coached by the most successful female coach in Japan, 1991 World Championships silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, and Ohara, whose coach Yutaka Taketomi is one of the JAAF's senior directors of its marathon program and who has had his women on the last four Olympic marathon teams?  Any flaw the JAAF might come up with in Tanaka's run?  Anything in the way that Ohara ran in the front row of the lead pack the whole race up to 30 km while Tanaka often hung back in the second row?  Anything in how when winner Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) made her move at 30 km Ohara was the first one to go after her while Tanaka took some time to react?  Anything at all?  Impossible, you say?  Agreed, but let's wait until Thursday night to pop the cork on the champagne.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

4 comments:

Metts said...

Impossible you say? How about the possibility of Ito being left off the team?

Brett Larner said...

No chance Ito is left of the team. That one is 100% set. They would have to break the first rule of the selection criteria to do that, and that is not going to happen.

Eryn said...

So it will be Ito and Fukushi. No replacement. No third runner, as everyone else failed the time mark. JAAF's logic is quite solid.

Skooby said...

I think the 3rd runner will be Tanaka Tomomi, who came in 2nd place, top among japanese runners, in the Nagoya Women's marathon on last Sunday, March 13th.