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Japanese Marathon Teams Face Difficult Situation in Rio Olympics With Tough Competition and Deteriorating Security

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Japan's Rio de Janeiro marathon teams face a tough challenge in the Olympic races, the women's race scheduled for Aug. 14 and the men's race for the final day of the Games, 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 21 Japan time.

For the men, top eight looks like a realistic goal.  Among the three, Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei), Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda), Sasaki has the fastest PB at 2:08:56.  In comparison, Kenyan Olympic team member Eliud Kipchoge won April's London Marathon in an all-time #2 time of 2:03:05.  The gap in ability between the Africans and the Japanese men is enormous.

Among the women, a three-time Olympian on the track, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) is one of Japan's best medal prospects in her first time in an Olympic marathon.  But not all has gone according to plan in her preparations.  Suffering inflammation of the fourth metatarsal in her right foot in May, Fukushi sat out the June 26 Hakodate Half Marathon.  "In order to be ready [for the Olympic women's marathon on] August 14 we decided not to overdo it at this point," said Fukushi's coach Tadayuki Nagayama, emphasizing the minor nature of her injury.  In her final month of preparation Fukushi is training overseas, winning a 4 km road race in Boulder, U.S.A. on July 4.

Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) ran a 10 km road race in the U.S.A. in June, clocking a passable 33:39.  After doing training designed to deal with changes in pace she will head to the U.S.A. for altitude training.  Last year Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) finished 7th in the Beijing World Championships marathon without doing altitude training.  This year she is again basing her training in Hokkaido.

But there is another major challenge to deal with, the possibility of major constraints on the marathon men and women's final preparations in Rio itself.  Although they have made their own hotel arrangements in the vicinity of the marathon start point, the security of the surrounding area has been deteriorating.  At the JAAF's official Olympic Team sendoff party July 15 in Tokyo, an official commented, "It is dangerous, and we will make adjustments to plans in consultation with local staff."  The consequences look impossible to avoid.

The majority of the course is made up a 10 km seaside loop, but the security problems exist primarily in the urban section between the start and the coast, roughly the portions from the start to 5 km and from 35 km to the finish.  The official commented, "They might have to tour the course by car."  Of the Japanese marathoners, only Ito is considering running on the course.  There have been two recent changes to the urban portion of the course, and it does not appear possible to gain much intel by running on the course.

The coastal circuit section of the course is considered safe, but since various details such as security enforcement in the early morning are still unclear it is essentially not possible for athletes to do normal activities like going running by themselves.  The JAAF's official team camp facilities are located at a military base 20 km away, creating other difficulties.  Sasaki said simply, "You just have to roll with it."  Security looks likely to be one of the team's main adversaries.


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