Thursday, May 5, 2016

Golden Games in Nobeoka Preview

by Brett Larner

Held in Athlete Town Nobeoka, Japan's Eugene, Saturday's Golden Games in Nobeoka are one of the highlights of outdoor track season.  Fans line the outer lane of the track, banging on metallic sponsor boards to create a rhythmic roar that follows athletes all the way through the race and the great Soh twins working the field, calling to each athlete by name over loudspeakers to urge them on and welcoming them to the finish.  Every year it produces some of the fastest Japanese times of the year, and in an Olympic year that's going to be more true than ever.

Last year the men's 10000 m was little more than a time trial for Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) with pacing from double World Championships bronze medalist Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko), both breaking 27:45.  This year it's big, arguably the main race of the day as Olympic team hopefuls look to join the eleven Japanese men already under the 28:00.00 Rio standard in the lead-up to June's National Championships.  60-61 minute half marathoners Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta), Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta), Daichi Kamino (Konica Minolta), Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.), Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.), Taku Fujimoto (Team Toyota) and Shogo Nakamura (Team Fujitsu) are all entered along with Yuta Shitara, the only man in the field who already holds a Rio standard time apart from pacer Tanui.  One name to watch out for is 2016 national XC champion Takashi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei), the top Japanese man in the 10000 m at last month's Hyogo Relay Carnival where he scored a potential in for the Rio team if he breaks 28.

The men's 5000 m A-heat's main draw is 17-year-old Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. senior Hyuga Endo, red-hot lately with wins in four of his last five races including a 13:48.13 PB for 5000 m in his first race this outdoor season to move up to all-time #7 among Japanese high schoolers.  13:39.87 is the mark to beat for #1.  As with last year, the C-heat is the real A-heat as a few ambitious Japanese line up among almost all the best Japan-based Africans to try to get pulled to fast times.  It worked for Kota Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei) last year with a rare Japanese sub-13:20, and this year the likes of 2016 year leader to date Takanori Ichikawa (Team Hitachi Butsuryu), 2015 national university 5000 m champion Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) and 5000 m national collegiate record holder Kensuke Takezawa (Team Sumitomo Denko) hope to follow suit.  13:25.00 is the time to beat for Rio, a time three Japanese men currently hold.

Seven women have cleared the 15:24.00 Rio standard so far.  Three of the five fastest so far this year without Rio marks are entered, Hisami Ishii (Team Yamada Denki), Sakie Arai (Osa Gakuin Univ.) and Risa Kikuchi (Team Hitachi), but the best chance of a Rio-qualifying mark may come from #1-ranked high schooler Yuka Mukai (Sera H.S.), 15:31.92 last fall for all-time H.S. #6.  Look also for U-20 marathon record holder Reia Iwade (Team Noritz) hitting the track after missing Rio in the marathon despite a 2:24:38 PB at March's Nagoya Women's Marathon.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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