No real surprises in the men's marathon to wrap up the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Berlin and London Marathon winner Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) for gold, Tokyo Marathon winner Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) for silver, Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) stepping up for a medal in bronze, world champion Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) just missing the podium, DNFs for Kenyan and Ethiopian B-men Stanley Biwott and Tesfaye Abera, and irrelevant performances from the Japanese men. The Japanese men finished in PB order, Satoru Sasaki and Suehiro Ishikawa hanging on to the pack for a while until fading to 16th and 36th, Hisanori Kitajima never in it and finishing 94th in 2:25:11.
Four men born outside Africa qualified for Rio with sub-2:10 times. The Japanese men were three of them. Sasaki was the only non-African-born athlete to have qualified sub-2:09. This was a good team, one of the best in the field. And yet, they were irrelevant, again. Hats off to the less accomplished athletes like Alphonce Felix Simbu (Tanzania), Jared Ward (U.S.A.), Callum Hawkins (Great Britain) and Eric Gillis (Canada) who made the top ten. Sasaki's 2:13:57 for 16th, the 9th-fastest ever by a Japanese man at the Olympics, was exactly in line with most of the rest of Japanese long distance in Rio, a mid-to-high-teens placing and a time just inside the ten fastest-ever Japanese times at the Olympics:
- men's marathon: 16. Satoru Sasaki, 2:13:57 - JPN Olympic #9
- women's marathon: 14. Kayoko Fukushi, 2:29:53 - JPN Olympic #8
- women's 10000 m: 18. Yuka Takashima, 31:36.44 - JPN Olympic #8
- women's 5000 m: 15. Miyuki Uehara, 15:23.41 (h) - JPN Olympic #8
- men's 3000 mSC: 11(h). Kazuya Shiojiri, 8:40.98 - JPN Olympic #7
U.S.-based Suguru Osako, part of the Alberto Salazar-led Nike Oregon Project alongside Rupp and Rio gold medalists Matt Centrowitz (U.S.A.) and Mo Farah (Great Britain), deserves credit for beating that curve somewhat, his 13:31.45 the second-fastest 5000 m time ever by a Japanese athlete at the Olympics and his 27:51.94 the third-fastest 10000 m, but even those landed him only 16th in his 5000 m heat and 17th in the 10000 m. Except for his 10000 m and Uehara's surprising 5000 m performance, none of them made the Japanese Olympic top ten for placing,
So pretty well across the board in Rio, the Japanese spectrum ranged from Sasaki and the other top Japanese athletes running OK times nowhere near what they needed to be competitive and downwards from there. These are good athletes. Especially given the strength of the men's marathon team, how could this be? Brainstorming possible reasons of varying plausibility:
- The JAAF and coaches are setting the wrong goals.
- The JAAF and coaches are instilling the wrong mentality.
- The JAAF and coaches are stuck in the past.
- The JAAF and coaches don't know how to cultivate their best talent.
- Their coaches don't know how to peak them for an international championships.
- They are overtraining for the Olympics (subset of the above).
- They don't know how to compete internationally.
- They don't have competitive psychology or can't handle stress.
- They don't care about medalling or running seriously.
- They have other reasons for being at the Olympics.
- Their PBs from domestic races are not what they seem.
- There are problems with the selection system.
- Add your theory here.
Exploring those would be another article or two, or three. Maybe later this week. But whatever the reasons, the consistent level of Japanese distance performances shows exactly where its bar is being set. Overall Rio was Japan's best-ever Olympics, 6th overall in the medal count with 12 gold, 8 silver and 21 bronze, medals and podium near-misses coming in a range of sports and events including many outside Japan's traditional strengths. That's great news with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon, but the men's 4x100 m silver medal aside, the contrast between most of the rest of the Japanese Olympic team and its athletics squad couldn't have been starker. It's clearly not the case that the Japanese athletes aren't good enough, but it's equally clear that they're not getting what they need to be their best when it counts most. Other sports have cleaned house and represented Japan in a way that made the country proud. It's time for athletics to do the same.
Rio de Janeiro Olympics
Aug. 21, 2016
click here for complete results
1. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) - 2:08:44
2. Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) - 2:09:54
3. Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 2:10:05
4. Ghirmay Ghebreslassie (Eritrea) - 2:11:04
5. Alphonce Felix Simbu (Tanzania) - 2:11:15
6. Jared Ward (U.S.A.) - 2:11:30
7. Tadesse Abraham (Switzerland) - 2:11:42
8. Munyo Solomon Mutai (Uganda) - 2:11:49
9. Callum Hawkins (Great Britain) - 2:11:52
10. Eric Gillis (Canada) - 2:12:29
16. Satoru Sasaki (Japan) - 2:13:57
36. Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan) - 2:17:08
94. Hisanori Kitajima (Japan) - 2:25:11
© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved