Thursday, August 4, 2016

Japan's Rio de Janeiro Olympics Distance Roster - Profiles

by Brett Larner

Japan's long distance roster at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics features 16 athletes from 10 corporate teams and 2 universities, with athletes entered in the men's and women's 3000 m steeplechase, 5000 m, 10000 m and marathon.  Below are profiles of each member of the long distance squad.  Click here for a detailed look at the Hakone Ekiden histories of the 7 men on the Rio team.

Kayoko Fukushi (34, Wacoal)
Women's Marathon

PB: 2:22:17 (Osaka Women's 2016) - all-time JPN #7

Last five races:
  • 1st, 13:35 - Avery Brewing Company 4 km, Boulder, USA, 7/4/16
  • 6th, 1:12:04 - Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, Gifu, JPN, 5/15/16
  • 1st, 2:22:17 - Osaka International Women's Marathon, Osaka, JPN, 1/31/16
  • 12th, 35:34 - National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), Sendai, JPN, 12/13/15
  • 2nd, 32:22 - Princess Ekiden Third Stage (10.3 km), Munakata, JPN, 10/25/15
Fukushi is a multiple national record holder and the bronze medalist in the marathon at the 2013 Moscow World Championships.  Having already demonstrated her ability in hot championship conditions she went on to win January's Osaka International Women's Marathon in a PB of 2:22:17, a run which sparked a clash with the JAAF over its Olympic selection policies. Problems with the fifth metatarsal in her right foot forced her to cancel plans to run June's Hakodate Half Marathon.  Her most recent race was a win in a low-key 4 km road race in Boulder, CO on July 4 where she won her weight in beer.  Despite the foot issues Fukushi may remain Japan's best hope for a distance medal.

Suehiro Ishikawa (36, Honda)
Men's Marathon

PB: 2:09:10 (Lake Biwa 2013)
Best in last three years: 2:09:25 (Lake Biwa 2016)

Last five races:
  • 2nd, 1:04:02 - Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, Duluth, USA, 6/18/16
  • 18th, 30:46 - Bolder Boulder 10  km, Boulder, USA, 5/30/16
  • 4th, 2:09:25 - Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Otsu, JPN, 3/6/16
  • 25th, 1:02:49 - Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon, Marugame, JPN, 2/7/16
  • 3rd, 37:59 - New Year Ekiden Sixth Stage (12.5 km), Maebashi, JPN, 1/1/16
Along with Kitajima and Shitara, Ishikawa is one of three graduates of Toyo University on the Rio distance team.  If he starts the race he will become Japan's oldest-ever Olympic marathoner, male or female.  In early 2013 his then-coach Kiyoshi Akimoto threatened to cut Ishikawa from the Honda corporate team roster if he didn't perform well at that year's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  Ishikawa responded by breaking 2:10 for the first time with a 2:09:10 that remains his career best.  In 6 career marathons to date including two runs at the Berlin Marathon he has never run slower than 2:11:46. The only question mark: Ishikawa was a DNS at the July 24 Shibetsu Half Marathon, his last planned race before Rio.

Mai Ito (32, Otsuka Seiyaku)
Women's Marathon

PB: 2:24:42 (Nagoya Women's 2015)

Last five races:
  • 1st, 1:13:31 - Shibetsu Half Marathon, Shibetsu, JPN, 7/24/16
  • 1st, 33:02.94 - Kansai Corporate Championships 10000 m, Osaka, JPN, 5/20/16
  • 10th, 1:12:02 - National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, Yamaguchi, JPN, 2/14/16
  • 1st, 1:10:27 - Osaka Half Marathon, Osaka, 1/31/16
  • 17th, 32:28 - National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), Kyoto, JPN, 1/17/16
Ito was the only marathoner on either the women's or men's teams to clear the JAAF's criteria for auto-selection to the Rio de Janeiro team, guaranteeing herself a place by making the top 8 in last summer's Beijing World Championships marathon.  She has been running well so far this year with wins in 3 of her last 4 races, the most recent being a win in hot temperatures at the Shibetsu Half Marathon on July 24.

Hisanori Kitajima (31, Yasukawa Denki)
Men's Marathon

PB: 2:09:16 (Lake Biwa 2016)

Last five races:
  • 2nd, 2:09:16 - Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Otsu, JPN, 3/6/16
  • 6th, 1:03:38 - New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), Maebashi, JPN, 1/1/16
  • 2nd, 42:07 - Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Seventh Stage (14.2 km), JPN, 11/23/15
  • 1st, 2:12:44 - Sydney Marathon, Sydney, Australia, 9/20/15
  • 13th, 28:24.89 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 10000 m, Fukagawa, JPN, 7/9/15
Another graduate of Toyo University, Kitajima has had a short but successful marathon career so far.  He scored 2:12 wins in his first two marathons in Nobeoka and Sydney before running a 2:09:16 PB at Lake Biwa in March, coming just 5 seconds short of running down winner Lucas Rotich of Kenya.  A training partner of Moscow World Championships 5th placer and London Olympics marathon 6th placer Kentaro Nakamoto, Kitajima races sparingly and hasn't produced race results since Lake Biwa.

Kota Murayama (23, Asahi Kasei)
Men's 5000 m, 10000 m

PBs: 5000 m: 13:19.62 (Nobeoka 2015) - all-time JPN #8
10000 m: 27:29.69 (Hachioji 2015) - national record

Last five races:
  • 2nd, 28:16.54 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 2nd, 13:35.06 - Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 6/5/16
  • 1st, 3:44.78 - Setagaya Time Trials 1500 m, 5/28/16
  • 14th, 38:39 - National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), Hiroshima, JPN, 1/24/16
  • 24th, 23:36 - New Year Ekiden Second Stage (8.3 km), Maebashi, JPN, 1/1/16
Murayama performed badly in the 5000 m at last summer's Beijing World Championships before breaking the long-standing 10000 m national record in November with a brilliant sprint finish.  Right afterward he suffered setbacks that meant poor races during ekiden season and his absence through much of the spring outdoor track season.  He took a step back with two low-key time trial races in May before taking 2nd in June's National Championships 10000 m to make the Rio team.  In that race, however, he slowed almost to a dead standstill at the top of the last 100 m with what looked like leg pain, then pulled out of the 5000 m where he was the defending national champion.

Misaki Onishi (31, Sekisui Kagaku)
Women's 5000 m

PB: 15:16.82 (Stanford 2015)

Last five races:
  • 1st, 15:19.37 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 9th, 15:24.10 - Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 5000 m, Palo Alto, USA, 5/1/16
  • 8th, 12:19 - National Corporate Women's Ekiden Second Stage (3.9 km), Sendai, JPN, 12/13/15
  • 1st, 22:50 - Princess Ekiden First Stage (7.0 km), Munakata, JPN, 10/25/15
  • 2nd, 15:34.21 - National Sports Festival 5000 m, Wakayama, JPN, 10/2/15
The four-time defending 5000 m national champion, Onishi ran the 5000 m at both the Moscow and Beijing World Championships.  She sat on Sekine and Suzuki throughout the 5000 m at this year's National Championships, taking advantage of their lingering fatigue from the 10000 m to kick away on the last lap for her fourth-straight title.  Her 15:19.37 from that race remains her season best.

Suguru Osako (25, Nike Oregon Project)
Men's 5000 m, 10000 m

PBs: 5000 m: 13:08.40 (Heusden 2015) - national record
10000 m: 27:38.31 (Stanford 2013) - all-time JPN #6
Best in last three years: 10000 m: 27:45.24 (Eugene 2015)

Last five races:
  • DNF - Hokuren Distance Challenge 5000 m, Kitami, JPN, 7/14/16
  • 1st, 3:40.49 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 1500 m, Kitami, JPN, 7/14/16
  • 1st, 13:37.13 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 1st, 28:07.44 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • DNF - Prefontaine Classic 10000 m, Eugene, USA, 5/27/16
Coached by Alberto Salazar in Oregon, Osako broke the 5000 m national record last summer.  After a credible sub-28 performance at Stanford this spring he was a DNF at the Prefontaine Classic 10000 m.  Having been outkicked for national titles for years by the likes of Murayama and Yuki Sato, Osako finally got it right at this year's Nationals with long surges to score wins in both the 5000 m and 10000 m.  He came up well short in a shot at the 1500 m national record in July, then had another DNF in the 5000 m at the same meet.

Satoru Sasaki (30, Asahi Kasei)
Men's Marathon

PB: 2:08:56 (Fukuoka International 2015)

Last five races:
  • 7th, 14:02.87 - Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, Nobeoka, JPN, 5/7/16
  • 2nd, 14:02.97 - Nobeoka Time Trials 5000 m, Nobeoka, JPN, 4/29/16
  • 18th, 1:02:59 - National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, Yamaguchi, JPN, 2/14/16
  • 7th, 47:43 - New Year Ekiden Seventh Stage (15.5 km), Maebashi, JPN, 1/1/16
  • 3rd, 2:08:56 - Fukuoka International Marathon, Fukuoka, JPN, 12/6/15
Coached by Takeshi Soh, Japan's fastest-ever marathoner at the Olympics, Sasaki is one of two Asahi Kasei corporate runners on the Rio team along with Murayama.  A garden-variety Japanese marathoner for much of his early pro career, Sasaki broke 2:10 for the first time at the 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.  Unable to follow that performance up, he made radical changes to his diet and lifestyle last fall that he later credited for his 2:08:56 PB for 3rd at last December's Fukuoka International Marathon.  Sasaki has raced little this year but recently said he thinks he can PB in Rio.

Hanami Sekine (20, Japan Post)
Women's 10000 m

PB: 31:22.92 (Nagoya 2016)

Last five races:
  • 3rd, 15:24.74 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 2nd, 31:22.92 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 2nd, 15:28.88 - Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 5/14/16
  • 12th, 31:48.90 - Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, Palo Alto, USA, 5/1/16
  • 1st, 31:18 - Natonal Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), Kyoto, JPN, 1/17/16
A junior teammate of Suzuki at the Japan Post corporate team, Sekine had a massive breakthrough when she beat Suzuki on the anchor leg of January's National Women's Ekiden.  Suzuki paced her for the Rio 5000 m standard in a May time trial, then again acted as her pacer in both the 5000 m and 10000 m at the National Championships.  Sekine more than met the mark in the 10000 m but couldn't crack the 5000 m standard, meaning she will run only the 10000 m in Rio.

Kazuya Shiojiri (19, Juntendo University)
Men's 3000 mSC

PB: 8:31.89 (Chiba 2016)

Last five races:
  • 1st, 8:31.89 - Juntendo University Time Trials 3000 mSC, Chiba, JPN, 7/7/16
  • 2nd, 8:36.45 - National Championships 3000 mSC, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 14th, 29:42.82 - National University Ekiden Kanto Region Qualifier 10000 m, Urawa, JPN, 6/18/16
  • 1st, 8:37.84 - Kanto Region University Championships D1 3000 mSC, Yokohama, JPN, 5/21/16
  • 3rd, 28:42.56 - Kanto Region University Championships D1 10000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 5/19/16
Shiojiri is a late addition to the Rio team, his place announced only on Aug. 3 after he earned an invitation from the IAAF.  The youngest member of Japan's Rio distance squad at age 19, he has developed into Japan's top male steepler over the last two years, clipped at the line for the national title in June by defending national champion Hironori Tsuetaki but coming back in early July with an 8:31.89 time trial that ultimately got him into the Olympics.  A second-year at Juntendo University, he is the first current Hakone Ekiden runner to make an Olympic team since 2008.

Yuta Shitara (24, Honda)
Men's 10000 m

PB: 27:42.71 (Nobeoka 2015)

Last five races:
  • 2nd, 27:48.35 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 10000 m, Abashiri, JPN, 7/11/16
  • 1st, 13:38.47 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 5000 m, Fukagawa, JPN, 7/7/16
  • 8th, 13:48.71 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 3rd, 28:17.51 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 1st, 28:39.33 - Nittai University Time Trials 10000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 6/4/16
A teammate of Ishikawa's at Honda, Shitara is yet another Toyo University graduate.  An inconsistent runner internationally, Shitara is both the fastest-ever Japanese half-marathoner on U.S. soil with a 1:01:48 at the 2012 NYC Half and the last-place finisher in the 10000 m at last summer's Beijing World Championships. Building back from his Beijing defeat he has taken a gradual approach this spring, his 10000 m performances from early June to mid-July showing a nice progression from 28:39.33 to 28:17.51 to 27:48.35.  Ideally that would be leading to a peak in Rio.

Ayuko Suzuki (24, Japan Post)
Women's 5000 m, 10000 m

PBs: 5000 m: 15:08.29 (Beijing 2015) - all-time JPN #5
10000 m: 31:18.16 (Stanford 2016) - all-time JPN #8

Last five races:
  • 2nd, 15:24.47 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 1st, 31:18.73 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 1st, 15:26.28 - Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 5/14/16
  • 3rd, 31:18.16 - Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, Palo Alto, USA, 5/1/16
  • 2nd, 31:30 - National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), Kyoto, JPN, 1/17/16
Suzuki looks set to be Japan's next great female distance runner, aggressive at last summer's Beijing World Championships where she became the all-time 5th-fastest Japanese woman over 5000 m and continuing to improve since then.  In 8 races since Beijing, including May's Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m where she was 3rd, Suzuki has only finished outside the top 3 once, and despite running close to her PB at the National Championships she had the margin and self-control to pacemake teammate Sekine to hit the Rio standard.

Anju Takamizawa (20, Matsuyama University)
Women's 3000 mSC

PB: 9:44.22 (Nagoya 2016) - collegiate national record

Last five races:
  • 1st, 9:44.22 - National Championships 3000 mSC, Nagoya, JPN, 6/25/16
  • 1st, 9:57.69 - National University Individual Championships 3000 mSC, Hiratsuka, JPN, 6/12/16
  • 1st, 4:26.88 - Shikoku-Chugoku Region University Championships 1500 m, 5/27/16
  • 7th, 9:53.82 - Seiko Golden Grand Prix Kawasaki, Kawasaki, JPN, 5/8/16
  • 1st, 10:00.94 - Hyogo Relay Carnival 3000 mSC, Kobe, JPN, 4/24/16
The collegiate and junior national record holder, Takamizawa's race at June's National Championships was arguably the performance of the meet.  On track to break the 9:45.00 Rio standard for the first time with a lap and a half to go, she clipped her foot on the barrier at the end of the back straight and landed on the ground on both knees.  Quickly bouncing up she ran down leader Chikako Mori in the home straight and kicked hard for the win in a large PB of 9:44.22.  Takamizawa hopes to take another chunk off her PB in Rio.

Yuka Takashima (28, Shiseido)
Women's 10000 m

PB: 31:35.76 (Nagoya 2016)

Last five races:
  • 3rd, 31:35.76 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 1st, 34:30 - National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), Sendai, JPN, 12/13/15
  • 3rd, 15:44.09 - Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m, Yokohama, JPN, 11/14/15
  • 20th, 32:27.79 - Beijing World Championships 10000 m, 8/24/15
  • 2nd, 32:07.91 - National Championships 10000 m, Niigata, JPN, 6/26/15
One of the top Japanese women in the first half of 2015 with a 2nd-place 10000 m finish at the National Championships and a spot at the Beijing World Championships, Takashima left her corporate team early this year and didn't race again before popping up at the National Championships in June wearing the Shiseido corporate uniform.  There she ran a PB 31:35.76 for 3rd to make the Rio team behind Suzuki and Sekine.

Tomomi Tanaka (27, Daiichi Seimei)
Women's Marathon

PB: 2:23:19 (Nagoya Women's 2016)

Last five races:
  • 10th, 33:39 - New York Mini 10 km, New York, USA, 6/11/16
  • 2nd, 2:23:19 - Nagoya Women's Marathon, Nagoya, 3/13/16
  • 8th, 2:28:00 - Berlin Marathon, Berlin, GER, 9/27/15
  • 5th, 15:37.59 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 5000 m, Abashiri, JPN, 7/16/15
  • 3rd, 32:08.74 - Hokuren Distance Challenge 10000 m, Fukagawa, JPN, 7/9/15
Coached by 1991 Tokyo World Championships marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, Tanaka was the only Japanese woman to win one of the Beijing World Championships selection races but was controversially left off the team in favor of an athlete coached by Yutaka Taketomi, the JAAF director of women's marathoning.  At Nagoya this year Tanaka was in a head-to-head sprint finish with another Taketomi athlete, Rei Ohara, with only one of them standing to be picked for the Rio team.  Tanaka got there first, and to the general relief she was named to the national team this time.  If Fukushi falters Tanaka may be Japan's next best hope for a distance medal.

Miyuki Uehara (20, Daiichi Seimei)
Women's 5000 m

PB: 15:21.40 (Kitami 2015)

Last five races:
  • 6th, 15:33.49 - National Championships 5000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/26/16
  • 7th, 32:18.09 - National Championships 10000 m, Nagoya, JPN, 6/24/16
  • 2nd, 34:16 - Bolder Boulder 10 km, Boulder, USA, 5/30/16
  • 7th, 31:38.80 - Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, Palo Alto, USA, 5/1/16
  • 13th, 19:35 - National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), Kyoto, JPN, 1/17/16
Another Yamashita-coached athlete, Uehara was only 6th in the 5000 m at June's National Championships but earned her place on the Rio team through the JAAF's complex selection algebra.  Only 20, she already has a pretty decent record of racing overseas including a 15:40 at last year's Carlsbad 5 km, a 31:38.80 at this year's Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational and a 2nd in this year's Bolder Boulder 10 km.  That record suggests good things may be possible in Rio.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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