Thursday, March 3, 2016

With Fukushi's Withdrawal the Storm is Over for Women's Olympic Selection - But What About the Men?

an editorial by Ryosuke Sugimoto
translated by Brett Larner

It's official, Kayoko Fukushi has backed out of her plans to run the Nagoya Women's Marathon.  As a result there's not much doubt that the Rio de Janeiro Olympic women's marathon team will be made up of Mai Ito for placing 7th in the Beijing World Championships, Fukushi for breaking the JAAF's 2:22:30 Olympic qualifying standard when she won the Osaka International Women's Marathon in 2:22:17, and the top Japanese finisher in Nagoya.

The storm has pretty much passed for women's selection, but what about the men?  Among the entries for the final men's selection race, this weekend's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, is civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi.  No men qualified for Rio in Beijing, so essentially the top three Japanese finishers in the three domestic selection races will be chosen.  At December's Fukuoka International Marathon Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) was the first Japanese man in 2:08:56.  Kawauchi was fourth Japanese in 2:12:48.

In the JAAF's selection criteria it specifies that if athletes run more than one selection race only the results from their first run will be considered.  The only exception is if they break the men's JAAF qualifying standard, 2:06:30, in their second (or third) attempt.  At the present time Kawauchi is outside the ring for consideration for the team, so the only route open to him is to break 2:06:30 at Lake Biwa.  With a PB of 2:08:14 it's very unrealistic to think he could break the JAAF qualifying standard.

Kawauchi's goals in running Lake Biwa are to get payback for Fukuoka and to get a foothold to start his campaign for the 2017 London World Championships.  He has already pretty much given up on making the Olympic team.  So why am I writing this closeup on him at this point?  Because of the totally unexpected results among all the favorites to make the Rio team in Tokyo last weekend.  The top Japanese man was Yuki Takamiya (Team Yakult) in 2:10:57.  The chance of making the Olympic team with that time is, to put it bluntly, zero.

If two Japanese men run 2:08 in Lake Biwa then everything can be settled smoothly with Sasaki and the two of them.  But, what if Kawauchi is the top Japanese man?  If he breaks 2:06:30 then there's no issue, but if he doesn't break it and still runs a faster time than Sasaki then he'll have beaten the fastest Japanese man among all the domestic selection races.  If he doesn't break 2:06:30, the JAAF won't pick Kawauchi.  You can say that with confidence.  It's in the rules.

But as was all too painfully clear during the mess surrounding Fukushi, not many people completely understand the rules.  You can be totally sure that if Kawauchi is the top Japanese man there will be an uproar.  "Why aren't you choosing Kawauchi!?!  He was the fastest!!!"  And the JAAF will completely ignore it.  You can say that with total confidence too.  For good or bad, they'll never bend.  Because they're the JAAF.

Needless to say, if a whole bunch of corporate runners show some guts then the storm will blow over for the men too.  But if Kawauchi runs big then even if the selection goes strictly according to procedure it's inevitable that the JAAF is going to be called into question.  In closing, allow me to bring you a few words from Kawauchi's youngest brother Koki: "Times like this bring out strong feelings in my brother.  He's the challenger in this fight, and I think that's when you see his rebellious spirit at its best."  For my part, I couldn't agree more.

1 comment:

Scott Brown said...

I like what his brother Koki said and it also seems to me that being "the challenger" suits Kawauchi's personality down to the ground. I heard on the "Marathon Talk" podcast the other day them saying how much they were wanting him to make the Olympic team too. He has such great support overseas and in Japan, we are all rooting for him.