translated and edited by Brett Larner
In the Aug. 21 men's marathon on the final day of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics the Japanese men suffered a crushing defeat. Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) was the top Japanese man at 16th overall, while Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) was 94th, falling below even Kenjiro Jitsui's 93rd-place finish at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. JAAF director of men's marathoning Takeshi Soh, 63, held his head in his hands as he said, "I guess maybe all we can do is try to get our fastest runners to come to the marathon and then build up their stamina." But with the heavy emphasis placed on running ekidens wearing sponsor company logos, training and development are left up to each individual team. Lamenting the way they are mired in lasting, deep-rooted tradition, Soh said, "At the present time we just can't seem to do that. We need the JAAF, the corporate leagues and the university association to come together and talk heart to heart."
Coming from a sprint background, Strengthening Committee Director and coach Kazunori Asaba, 55, was also upset. Results were poor across the athletics team, not just in the marathon. Of the 30 Japanese athletes entered in individual events just three, Ryohei Arai (men's javelin throw), Daichi Sawano (men's pole vault) and Miyuki Uehara (women's 5000 m), made the final in their event, with an additional three, Asuka Cambridge (men's 100 m), Keisuke Nozawa (men's 400 m hurdles) and Ryota Yamagata (men's 100 m), making it only as far as the semifinals. In the shadow of the brilliance radiating from the men's 4x100 m relay silver and men's 50 km race walk bronze medals, the problems faced in the lead-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stand out in stark relief.