by Brett Larner
After biding her time throughout the race, two-time Nagoya Women's Marathon winner Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) made the move that decided the medal winners in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics women's marathon. Having lost to Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) in a sprint finish at last year's Beijing World Championships, Kirwa went for a long surge that shook it down to a race between her, Dibaba and London Marathon winner Jemima Sumgong (Kenya). Kirwa read Dibaba right, getting away from her in the long straight to the finish, but Sumgong read them both better. 4th in Beijing, Sumgong made a last push to score Kenya's first-ever women's marathon gold. The three medalists came through 26 seconds apart, Sumgong's 2:24:04 the third-fastest winning time in the Olympic women's marathon's nine-race history. Another 17 seconds back, Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) held off second-half agente provocatrice Volha Mazuronak (Belarus) by one second for 4th, Mazuronak seeming to lack the rocket finish that put her faster than all but the top five men from 40 km to the finish at April's London Marathon.
Like Kirwa a Kenyan-born Bahraini, Rose Chelimo took 8th to put three Kenyan athletes in the top ten. The U.S.A. team of Shalane Flanagan, Desi Linden and Amy Cragg did it for real, rising to the day, running like the Olympics mattered and landing 6th, 7th and 9th. Linden ran impervious to the caprices of the pack, deserving credit for making the first move to the front after a moderate start and unfazed whether she was out front or behind. Training partners Flanagan and Cragg stayed together up front through much of the race before Cragg faltered, Flanagan lasting almost until Kirwa's move. Flanagan was 6th, Linden 42 seconds back in 7th. Cragg shook off a threat from North Korean twins Hye-Song and Hye-Gyong Kim to stay in the top 10, 9th in 2:28:25.
And Japan? The American women were what Japan imagines itself to be. The romantic memory of the heyday of Paris and Athens. This was a good team. Kayoko Fukushi, 2:22. Tomomi Tanaka, 2:23. Mai Ito, 2:24. No cracks in that lineup. And yet, nothing. Ito was never in it. Fukushi and Tanaka didn't go with the pack's first move to follow Linden, then spent time catching up, then fell off one at a time. Fukushi, saying she was there to win gold, 14th in 2:29:53. Tanaka 19th in 2:31:12. Ito 46th in 2:37:37. Where the American women performed above themselves, all three Japanese women placed far lower than their pre-race rankings, even with a number of DNFs among the top-level competition. The mid-to-high-teens placings matched those in the women's and men's 10000 m, and like Yuka Takashima, Hanami Sekine and Suguru Osako in those races Fukushi's time put her into the all-time Japanese Olympic top ten, but whatever the strength of their credentials from carefully controlled domestic races it was clear that the Japanese athletes simply couldn't race in this kind of environment. The one that matters.
It's not hard to think of several reasons ranging from charitable to skeptical, let's say, why this could be the case. Over the first week of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics the Japanese national team was enthusiastic and determined across all sports, an impressive 3rd in the gold medal count at that point behind the U.S.A. and China. Compare it to the sheer overwhelming averageness of the athletics squad so far. Sports like swimming, rugby, even judo, have gone from periods of weakness, made major changes to their administration, methodology, their psychology, taken steps to adapt to the changing landscape of modernity, and have scintillated this Olympics. If something as conservative as judo can do it, why not athletics? If the U.S.A. can get it right, why not Japan? Japan, it's over. That nice dream you've been living in is over. It's time to wake up and do your laundry.
Fukushi was one of Japan's only medal prospects in athletics in Rio. With the men's 4x100 m relay now shouldering more of the weight of expectation sprinters Ryota Yamagata and Asuka Cambridge faced the best in the world in the 100 m semi-finals. National champion Cambridge faltered, slightly slower than in his opening heat as he ran 10.17 (+0.0 m/s) for last in his semi. Yamagata, 2nd in his heat with a fast start, delivered the best Japanese performance on the track so far this Olympics. Facing the likes of Usain Bolt (Jamaica), Andre de Grasse (Canada) and Trayvon Bromell (U.S.A.), Yamagata was again quickest out of the blocks with a reaction time of 0.109 despite a prior false start by another athlete. Ranked last in his semi and one of only two athletes never to have broken 10, Yamagata delivered a PB of 10.05 (+0.2 m/s) for 5th, missing the final by 0.04 but coolly bringing his best under the highest pressure. No shame in his game. He can hold his head high.
Rio de Janeiro Olympics
Aug. 14, 2016
click here for complete results
1. Jemima Sumgong (Kenya) - 2:24:04
2. Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:24:13
3. Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:24:30
4. Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) - 2:24:47
5. Volha Mazuronak (Belarus) - 2:24:48
6. Shalane Flanagan (U.S.A.) - 2:25:26
7. Desi Linden (U.S.A.) - 2:26:08
8. Rose Chelimo (Bahrain) - 2:27:36
9. Amy Cragg (U.S.A.) - 2:28:25
10. Hye-Song Kim (North Korea) - 2:28:36
14. Kayoko Fukushi (Japan) - 2:29:53
19. Tomomi Tanaka (Japan) - 2:31:12
46. Mai Ito (Japan) - 2:37:37
Men's High Jump Qualification Group A
1. Mutaz Essa Barshim (Qatar) - 2.29 m - q
1. Bohdan Bondarenko (Ukraine) - 2.29 m - q
3. Andriy Protsenko (Ukraine) - 2.29 m - q
18. Takashi Eto (Japan) - 2.17 m
Men's 100 m Semi-Final 2 +0.2 m/s
1. Usain Bolt (Jamaica) - 9.86 - Q
2. Andrew De Grasse (Canada) - 9.92 - Q, PB
3. Trayvon Bromell (U.S.A.) - 10.01 - q
5. Ryota Yamagata (Japan) - 10.05 - PB
Men's 100 m Semi-Final 3 +0.0 m/s
1. Justin Gatlin (U.S.A.) - 9.94 - Q
2. Yohan Blake (Jamaica) - 10.01 - Q
3. Christophe Lematire (France) - 10.07
7. Asuka Cambridge (Japan) - 10.17
© 2016 Brett Larner
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