Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Kayoko Show: Fukushi One Step Closer to Rio - Osaka International Women's Marathon and Osaka Half Marathon Results

by Brett Larner

At last.

Eight years after Osaka knocked her to the ground, age 33, her last chance for the Olympics before her, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) finally threw aside the half-assed smirk, the waving, the smile, the shell of cool aloofness that has surrounded her in just about every race in memory, bearing down in a race that mattered, through halfway in 1:10:28 in a race where she had to run sub-2:22:30, wearing down the lead pack, alone after 30 km, no Eastern Europeans to steal the win and break her heart again, a gaunt, gritting, from the heart expression never before seen on her face as she came onto the track, gunning it when her coach lied to her and told her she was 5 seconds behind target, crossing the line in 2:22:17 and turning to check the clock before pumping her first in the air and shouting, "I DID IT!"  Longtime TV announcer and L.A. Olympian Akemi Masuda weeping on the air.  And crying too, Kayoko Fukushi, crying on the track.  Never seen before.  Never again.  Clearing the 2:22:30 JAAF Olympic qualifying standard with the win to all but seal her place in Rio, barring something even more spectacular in Nagoya the oldest-ever female Japanese Olympic marathoner in her fourth-straight Olympics, a 2-minute PB and the best Japanese women's time since 2007.

Carnage among those who tried to go with her.  2014 World Half Marathon Championships bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) lying face down on the road past 30 km and taken away in an ambulance.  2015 Gold Coast Airport Marathon winner Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) dropping to  2:29:14 after going through halfway ahead of Fukushi in 1:10:27.  2012 London Olympian Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) and debuting Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) going over 2:30 after running up front through the first half.  A six-minute+ margin of victory for Fukushi, strong, majestic, confident, what all of Japan has hoped to see for a decade.

Fukushi's future Rio Olympic teammate Mai Ito (Otsuka Seiyaku) scored the win in the accompanying half marathon, beating 2015 Rotterdam Marathon winner Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) and marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) in 1:10:27, exactly tying Takenaka's first half split in the marathon.  Ryoichi Matsuo (Team Asahi Kasei) did the same with the win in the men's half in 1:04:13, but Fukushi picking up the mantle at long, long last was what the day will mean in Japan for many years to come.

Osaka International Women's Marathon
Osaka, 1/31/16
click here for complete results

1. Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) - 2:22:17 - PB - all-time Japanese #7
2. Misato Horie (Noritz) - 2:28:20
3. Risa Takenaka (Shiseido) - 2:29:14
4. Diana Lovacevske (Lithuania) - 2:30:09
5. Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) - 2:30:40
6. Misaki Kato (Kyudenko) - 2:31:04 - debut
7. Aya Higashimoto (Juhachi Ginko) - 2:31:28
8. Hiroki Miyauchi (Hokuren) - 2:32:40
9. Hitomi Nakamura (Panasonic) - 2:33:23
10. Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:33:29
-----
DNF - Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko)
DNF - Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich (Kenya)
DNF - Karolina Nadolska (Poland)

Osaka Half Marathon
Osaka, 1/31/16
click here for complete results

Men
1. Ryoichi Matsuo (Asahi Kasei) - 1:04:13
2. Kazuki Muramoto (Hyogo Kenritsu Univ.) - 1:04:13
3. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:04:13
4. Shusei Ohashi (JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:04:17
5. Hiroaki Sano (Honda)  - 1:04:18
6. Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:04:22
7. Tadashi Suzuki (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:04:24
8. Shuji Takada (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:04:34
9. Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business) - 1:04:43
10. Daichi Nasu (Sumitomo Denko) - 1:04:53

Women
1. Mai Ito (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:10:27
2. Asami Kato (Panasonic) - 1:10:30
3. Keiko Nogami (Juhachi Ginko) - 1:11:52
4. Madoka Nakano (Noritz) - 1:12:37
5. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Noritz) - 1:13:02
6. Mizuki Noguchi (Sysmex) - 1:13:28
7. Megumi Hirai (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:13:33
8. Chisaki Takegami (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:13:46
9. Ami Utsunomiya (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:13:59
10. Megumi Amako (Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:14:03

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Igarashi Breaks Katsuta Marathon Course Record

by Brett Larner

29-year-old Shingo Igarashi, a former Subaru corporate runner now working as an assistant coach for Josai University's Hakone Ekiden team, ran a PB 2:13:15 to break the 16-year-old course record at the 64th edition of the Katsuta Marathon, one of Japan's biggest marathons.  Igarashi and Naoki Inoue ran alone out front of the field, accompanied a short way by veteran corporate runner Norio Kamijo, but Igarashi, running his third marathon in just over two months, proved to have the best command of the course's hilly sections as he dropped both competitors to seal the win.  Igarashi's time was a PB by 31 seconds and took over a minute and a half off the 2:14:54 course record.  Inoue just missed joining him under the record, taking 2nd in a solid 2:15:05, with Kamijo fading to 2:20:15 for 3rd.

The women's race saw local Hitachi corporate runners go 1-2, Kana Kurosawa getting the win in 2:43:40 over teammate Yuka Mikami, who ran 2:46:22.  Just behind Mikami, local amateur Minami Yamanouchi (Runs AC), who made headlines for fast marathons in high school, took 3rd in 2:46:45.

Local runners from Suijo H.S. won the 10 km, Katsuya Kawasumi taking the men's race in 30:17 and Ryo Koido the women's race in an impressive 33:30.

64th Katsuta Marathon
Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, 1/31/16

Men's Marathon
1. Shingo Igarashi (Josai Univ. Coaching Staff) - 2:13:15 - CR, PB
2. Naoki Inoue (unattached) - 2:15:05
3. Norio Kamijo (Omokawa Zaimokuten) - 2:20:15

Women's Marathon
1. Kana Kurosawa (Hitachi) - 2:43:40
2. Yuka Mikami (Hitachi) - 2:46:22
3. Minami Yamanouchi (Runs AC) - 2:46:45

Men's 10 km
1. Katsuya Kawasumi (Suijo H.S.) - 30:17
2. Takuma Nagai (unattached) - 31:04
3. Tomohiko Oka (Hitachi Kogyo H.S.) - 31:04

Women's 10 km
1. Ryo Koido (Suijo H.S.) - 33:30
2. Risa Kikuchi (Hitachi) - 34:24
3. Mari Tayama (Hitachi) - 34:25

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Kayoko Show: Long-Term Consequences of Agonistic Interactions Between Lobsters, and the Osaka Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner

Back during my time at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, at the urging of Dr. David Bodznick I attended a lecture by the great Harvard University neurobiologist Dr. Edward Kravitz on social interaction and competitive behavior between lobsters, and its underlying biochemistry.  "Aggression is a nearly universal feature of the behavior of social animals," Dr. Kravitz said.  He explained how lobsters have a complex social hierarchy based on individual interactions, how when two lobsters meet for the first time they go through a ritualistic series of increasingly aggressive fight behaviors to establish a winner and a loser.  Once that dichotomy is established it doesn't change.  The winner remembers that it is a winner, the loser that it is a loser, they don't forget that relationship, and those roles affect their future chances of winning and losing against other lobsters.  "Memory of status lasts longer in losers of fights than in winners," Dr. Kravitz wrote in his groundbreaking 2004 paper Long-Term Consequences of Agonistic Interactions Between Socially Naïve Juvenile American Lobsters (Homarus americanus).

Dr. Kravitz went on to discuss how levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin appeared to be a key factor.  When lobsters won a fight, their serotonin levels increased.  When they lost, the levels decreased.  Experience caused a biochemical change that affected their future chances of being a winner or loser.  He found that by injecting the lobsters with serotonin you could artificially alter their abilities as a competitor.  When he introduced performance-enhancing levels of serotonin into a losing lobster and put it back into interaction with a winning lobster, the previous loser would aggressively attack the previous winner until it won or was killed.  The naturally superior lobster would exhibit signs of confusion at the unnatural aggression and competitiveness of the lobster it had previously easily beaten, and when it lost its serotonin levels would drop and it would become a loser.  Its own performance level artificially enhanced, the newly-crowned winner, naturally an inferior competitor, would experience a rise in its natural serotonin levels, effectively coming to believe that it was genuinely a winner.

Sunday's Osaka International Women's Marathon is the Kayoko show.  The Rio Olympics on the line.  Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), half marathon national record holder, Moscow World Championships marathon bronze medalist, the great hope for the future of Japanese women's marathoning who just can't seem to live up to that expectation.  Beaten down by Liliya Shobukhova at the 2011 Chicago Marathon in a Russian national record performance that was later revealed to be bullshit.  Coming back this year to Osaka as the 2013 winner, but having again been beaten down in that race by Ukranian Tetyana Gamera in the first of three-straight Gamera wins that were likewise revealed a few months ago to have all been bullshit.  Fukushi has never looked like she really believed herself to be a marathon winner.  How different would she be if she had actually won that fight against Gamera?  When you frontrun a race the entire way only to lose to someone who seemingly effortlessly blows by, the damage is done, you believe yourself a loser even if the other person is later revealed to have had their performance levels artificially enhanced. It's not easy to simply talk yourself past that even if you are not a lobster. "Changes in gene expression might underlie these changes in behavior, since it is unlikely that purely second-messenger-mediated mechanisms would last for days," wrote Dr. Kravitz.

So, with a spot on the Rio Olympic team up for grabs in Osaka this weekend, it's Fukushi's for the taking.  Sub-2:22:30 is the hoop to jump for selection.  There's nobody else her caliber in the field with the possible exception of 2014 World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko).  Can a win in Osaka undo the changes caused by having been the superior athlete and still losing to a weaker athlete whose performance was artificially enhanced?  And what of the people who had responsibility for the artificially enhanced athlete(s)?  The Guardian has seemed to show signs of already wanting to rehabilitate Russian Andrey Baranov, agent to Gamera, Shobokhova and a seemingly infinite list of other banned athletes, for his role in revealing the Russian Federation and IAAF's shaking down of Shobukhova and other Russian athletes to conceal their drug use.  Whether you think Henry Hill was a hero or lowlife scum depends on your personal values, but this glosses over the fact that three-time Osaka winner Gamera was not Russian, and neither was Baranov-represented runner Aliaksandra Duliba of Belarus, suspended earlier today for biological passport violations just like Gamera and Shobukhova.  Whoever in Russia was ultimately behind its doping program may well have been influencing other former Soviet nations, but whatever the truth is it's clearly more complicated, and Baranov remains the link.

Gamera and other suspended Baranov athletes didn't come to Japan on their own either.  Osaka and other races continued to invite them, as recently as the end of last year.  In November one Japanese race official and IAAF-licensed athletes' representative with a long history of working with Baranov emailed a prominent formerly Japan-based athlete who has been vocal about the Russian and his crew, defending Baranov in an apparent effort to apply pressure on the athlete for speaking out.  Whether complicit or hopelessly naive, as the resignation of Economy Minister Akira Amari earlier today over a bribery scandal shows there are sketchy mofos in Japan just like anywhere else.  How much damage have they done in reinforcing the mindset among Japan's athletes that they can't compete against foreigners, that they are losers? 

Despite all that, let's hope for the best for Osaka.  A solid race by Fukushi with good competition, from the promising Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) and Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion), from the debuting Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) or her teammate Chepyego, or from one of the scad of university runners running the marathon for the first time.  A race that can undo some of the damage in time for Fukushi to face the bigger fish waiting in Rio.

Osaka International Women’s Marathon Elite Field
Osaka, Jan. 31, 2016
click here for complete field listing
times listed are 2013-2015 best marks except where noted

Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) – 2:24:21 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) – 2:25:56 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Karolina Nadolska (Poland) – 2:26:31 (Osaka Int’l 2014)
Risa Shigetomo (Japan/Tenmaya) – 2:26:39 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Mari Ozaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:26:41 (Osaka Int'l 2013) - withdrawn with injury
Sally Kaptich Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) – 2:26:43 (Tokyo 2015)
Seong Eun Kim (South Korea) – 2:27:20 (Seoul Int’l 2013)
Misato Horie (Japan/Noritz) – 2:27:57 (Nagoya Women’s 2014)
Risa Takenaka (Japan/Shiseido) – 2:28:09 (Nagoya Women’s 2015)
Diana Lobacevske (Lithuania) – 2:28:57 (Hamburg 2015)
Chieko Kido (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:29:08 (Osaka Int’l 2015)
Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich (Kenya) - 2:29:22 (Toronto Waterfront 2013)
Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:40 (Toronto Waterfront 2015)
Yuka Takemoto (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:31:02 (Kita-Kyushu 2014)
Shoko Mori (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) – 2:34:28 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) – 2:35:03 (Osaka Int'l 2014)
Kanae Shimoyama (Japan/Noritz) – 2:35:26 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hisae Yoshimatsu (Japan/Shunan City Hall) – 2:35:46 (Hofu 2015)
Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Yotsukaichi Wellness) – 2:36:29 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Chihiro Tanaka (Japan/Athlec RC) – 2:36:53 (Kobe 2013)
Chiyuki Mochizuki (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:40:11 (Beppu-Oita 2013)

Debut
Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) – 1:09:49 (Osaka Half 2015)
Sakurako Fukuuchi (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) – 1:11:44 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Aiko Sakata (Japan/Ritsumeikan Univ.) – 1:14:08 (Marugame Int’l Half 2014)
Mai Nagaoka (Japan/Osaka Gakuin Univ.) – 1:15:08 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Haruna Horikawa (Japan/Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) – 1:15:53 (Tachikawa City 2014)
Haruka Hanada (Japan/Osaka Geidai Univ.) – 1:16:08 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Saki Tokoro (Japan/Kansai Gaikokugo Univ.) - 1:16:28 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Aya Higashimoto (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) – 1:16:29 (Osaka Half 2013)
Eri Utsunomiya (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) - 33:47.97 10000 m (Keio Univ. 2014)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kumanichi 30 km Road Race Elite Field

http://kumanichi.com/fsports/marathon/2016/kiji/20160116001.xhtml
http://kumanichi.com/fsports/marathon/2016/kiji/20160127001.xhtml

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The organizers of the 5th Kumamoto-jo Marathon have announced the elite field for the Feb. 21 Kanaguri Memorial Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, held alongside the Kumamoto-jo Marathon as its elite race. Celebrating Kumanichi's 60th anniversary running, this year’s elite men’s field features strong young athletes who made an impact on the competitive Third and Fourth Stages at the New Year Ekiden corporate men’s national championships on Jan. 1. With university runners having won Kumanichi the last two years the corporate runners’ battle to get back on top will be one of the main draws this year.

The fresh young corporate league contingent is led by two members of the New Year Ekiden runner-up team Konica Minolta, Masato Kikuchi and Keita Shitara, along with local Chiharadai H.S. graduate Kento Otsu of New Year Ekiden 3rd-placer Toyota Kyushu. Last year Kikuchi ran the third-fastest half marathon ever by a Japanese man, 1:00:32. Shitara finished 4th in Kumanichi three years ago during his third year at Toyo University in a then-university national record 1:29:55. With Shota Hattori (Honda) having led Nittai University to its first Hakone Ekiden win in 30 years three years ago the domination of former Hakone stars in this year’s field is obvious.

At the same time, current Hakone stars are looking to extend their Kumanichi winning streak to three, with Ryo Kuchimachi and Shun Sakuraoka of this year’s Hakone runner-up Toyo leading the way.

Sayo Nomura and Sakiko Matsumi of the Daiichi Seimei corporate team top the women’s field. Kumamoto Chuo H.S. graduate Seika Nishikawa (Sysmex) will be making her 30 km debut on home ground.

One other top-level invited male athlete, Akinobu Murasawa (Nissin Shokuhin) has withdrawn with injury. Along with the invited athletes, 100 corporate and amateur runners including 11 women are entered in the general division. With an eye toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, anticipation is high that this year’s race will see the birth of a new star. The race begins at 9:00 a.m.

60th Kumanichi 30 km Road Race Elite Field
Kumamoto, 2/21/16
click here for complete field listing
all times are 2013-2015 half marathon bests except where noted

Men
Hiroki Kadota (Kanebo) – 2:10:46 (Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon 2015)
Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) – 1:29:55 (Kumanichi 30 km 2013)
Masaki Ito (Konica Minolta) - 1:30:21 (Ome 30 km 2013)
Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta) – 1:00:32 (Nat’l Corp. Half 2015)
Shota Hattori (Honda) – 1:01:25 (Nat’l Corp. Half 2015)
Tomohiro Shiiya (Toyota Boshoku) – 1:02:15 (Nat’l Corp. Half 2013)
Ryo Matsumoto (Toyota) – 1:02:32 (Nat’l Corp. Half 2013)
Hidehito Takamine (Fujitsu) - 1:02:42 (Marugame Half 2014)
Shun Sakuraoka (Toyo Univ.) – 1:02:53 (Ageo Half 2014)
Shoya Kurokawa (JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:03:22 (Ageo Half 2015)
Daisuke Koyama (Chudenko) – 1:03:22 (Marugame Half 2014)
Ryota Yabushita (Meiji Univ.) - 1:03:23 (Marugame Half 2015)
Ryo Kuchimachi (Toyo Univ.) – 1:03:29 (Ageo Half 2015)
Kento Otsu (Toyota Kyushu) – 1:03:29 (Tamana Half 2015)
Yuko Matsumiya (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 1:03:30 (Marugame Half 2013

Women
Sayo Nomura (Daiichi Seimei) – 1:10:03 (Sanyo Ladies’ Half 2013)
Sakiko Matsumi (Daiichi Seimei) – 1:10:10 (Marugame Half 2013)
Mami Onuki (Sysmex) - 1:11:37 (Matsue Ladies' Half 2015)
Yoko Miyauchi (Hokuren) - 1:12:22 (Sanyo Ladies' 2015)
Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) – 1:12:57 (Matsue Ladies’ Half 2015)
Seika Nishikawa (Sysmex) – 1:18:28 (Nat’l Corp. Half 2015)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

The proving ground marathon in Japan's Eugene, Athlete Town Nobeoka's Nishi Nippon Marathon hosts its 54th running on Feb. 14.  Proving among other things that change can come even to the most conservative parts of Japan, for the second year in a row Nobeoka will feature a women's field, small and entry-level but still a sign of positive change.  Like the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon a week earlier, Nobeoka's men's field suffers a bit in the face of the Olympic selection races at Tokyo and Lake Biwa just a few weeks later, but it does feature a large lineup of promising first-timers who should help fulfill Nobeoka's original purpose as the race where future marathoners are made.

The local Asahi Kasei team fields the top three entrants.  Its Ryoichi Matsuo and Taiki Yoshimura lead the way with recent bests of 2:12:11 and 2:13:12, but the most exciting on the list is Asahi Kasei's Fumihiro Maruyama, 1:29:34 at the 2013 Kumanichi 30 km and 1:01:15 for the half marathon just a few weeks later and coming in strong off a win at the Oita City Half a few weeks ago.

The Asahi Kasei trio's toughest competition comes from two first-timers from the team that rivals them for the claim of being the best Japanese marathon team, Honda.  Former Komazawa University captain Wataru Ueno will be debuting for Honda with a 1:02:39 half marathon best in 2014, joined by teammate Yuki Maeda.  With weaker credentials Honda's Hiroaki Sano popped a 2:12:14 debut for the win in Nobeoka two years ago, going on to run 2:09:12 in Tokyo last year.

Having run 1:02:27 at last year's National Corporate Half Marathon Shusei Ohashi of the JR Higashi Nihon Team, another team producing good numbers of 2:09-2:10 marathoners, stands as another top contender for a breakthrough debut.  Four other runners on the entry list have recent half marathon times under 1:03:00, suggesting sub-2:12 potential.  Times in Nobeoka have been getting consistently faster over the last six years, and with any luck someone may get close to the 2:11:05 course record.

54th Noboeka Nishi Nippon Marathon 
Elite Field Highlights
Nobeoka, Miyazaki, 2/14/16
click here for complete field listing
all times listed are 2013-2015 bests except where noted

Men
Ryoichi Matsuo (Asahi Kasei) - 2:12:11 (Nobeoka 2014)
Taiki Yoshimura (Asahi Kasei) - 2:13:12 (Hofu 2015)
Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business) - 2:13:38 (Nobeoka 2013)
Shoji Takada (Suzuki Hamamatsu) - 2:17:05 (Shizuoka 2015)
Sora Tsukada (SGH Group) - 2:17:52 (Izumisano 2015)
Wataru Yamaguchi (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:18:25 (Tokyo 2015)
Masaki Hori (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:18:55 (Nagano 2014)
Yuya Ito (Toyota) - 2:18:58 (Hokkaido 2015)
Fumihiro Maruyama (Asahi Kasei) - 1:29:34 (Kumanichi 30 km 2013)
Shusei Ohashi (JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:02:27 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Wataru Ueno (Honda) - 1:02:39 (Marugame 2014)
Shuji Yoshikawa (Kyudenko) - 1:02:43 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2013)
Kenta Matsubara (Toyota) - 1:02:50 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Shinichiro Tai (Fujitsu) - 1:02:54 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2013)
Shogo Sekiguchi (Subaru) - 1:02:57 (Ageo 2013)
Daichi Kato (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:03:01 (Tamana 2013)
Kazuya Namera (Subaru) - 1:03:10 (Marugame 2015)
Naoki Nishio (Chudenko) - 1:03:23 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2014)
Tetsuya Sasaki (Chudenko) - 1:03:25 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2014)
Takahiro Gunji (Komori Corp.) - 1:03:25 (Ageo 2013)
Yuki Maeda (Honda) - 1:03:31 (Marugame 2015)

Women
Misato Hokama (Starts) - 1:17:15 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Misaki Yoshida (Shoin Univ.) - 1:23:12 (Tachikawa 2015)
Yurika Sakai (Saitama T&F Assoc.)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Aichi Men Make it a National Title Double - National Men's Ekiden Results

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of race broadcaster NHK

The men of Aichi returned from the embarrassment of disqualification for an illegal handoff at last year's National Men's Ekiden to join their women and seal a double national title Sunday in Hiroshima.  Like the women's race last weekend, the National Men's Ekiden featured teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures, each made up of top junior high school, high school, university and pro runners representing their home ground.

On-and-off snow meant shifting conditions throughout the seven-stage, 48.0 km race.  With corresponding ups and downs in the pacing, the 7.0 km high schooler First Stage was a bloodbath with three separate falls involving at least four teams.  Undefeated against other Japanese runners in the 2015-16 school year, Hyuga Endo (Fukushima) waited until the final sprint to take the lead, handing off 1 second ahead of more well-known rival Shota Onizuka (Fukuoka).  Gunma prefecture took over on the 3.0 km junior high school Second Stage thanks to a stage win from Yusuke Osawa and held on through the end of the Third Stage, but after a stage win on the 8.5 km Third Stage from Hideyuki Tanaka and another on the 5.0 km Fourth Stage by Norimichi Miwa Aichi took the lead and was never again challenged. 

Aichi's anchor Shuhei Yamamoto looked back repeatedly to check on the progress of hometown man Naoki Kudo (Hiroshima) but despite advancing in the first half of the stage the younger Kudo fell behind over the second half, ensuring that Yamamoto and the rest of the Aichi men would join their women in celebrating the national title.  Aichi crossed the line in 2:20:12, Kudo and Hiroshima 2nd in 2:20:43.  Shota Hattori, anchor for defending champion Saitama, faced a tough climb against his former university teammate Keigo Yano and track ace Yuki Sato (Shizuoka) but held on to take 3rd in 2:20:59.

And with that, and the cancellation of the Kitakyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden to the south due to heavy snow, championship ekiden season came to an end.  From here Japan's distance runners move in different directions, some pursuing cross country, others the half marathon, and the top echelon the marathon and the Rio Olympics.  Come April they reunite on the track in preparation for June's National Track and Field Championships Rio qualifier and for next fall's championship ekiden season kicking off at the Izumo Ekiden.

21st National Men's Ekiden
Hiroshima, 1/24/16
47 teams, 7 stages, 48.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Aichi - 2:20:12
2. Hiroshima - 2:20:43
3. Saitama - 2:20:59
4. Shizuoka - 2:21:03
5. Nagano - 2:21:09
6. Fukushima -2:21:17
7. Gunma - 2:21:50
8. Fukuoka - 2:21:50
9. Hyogo - 2:22:10
10. Kanagawa - 2:22:12

Top Individual Stage Results

First Stage (7.0 km, high school)
1. Hyuga Endo (Fukushima) - 20:04
2. Shota Onizuka (Fukuoka) - 20:05
3. Takumi Yokokawa (Gunma) - 20:09

Second Stage (3.0 km, junior high school)
1. Yusuke Osawa (Gunma) - 8:38
2. Shungo Yokota (Niigata) - 8:41
3. Kota Maegaichi (Hiroshima) - 8:42

Third Stage (8.5 km, university/pro)
1. Hideyuki Tanaka (Aichi) - 24:39
2. Kazuharu Takai (Fukuoka) - 24:43
3. Keita Shitara (Saitama) - 24:44
4. Masato Kikuchi (Hokkaido) - 24:48
5. Shuho Dairokuno (Kagoshima) - 24:50
6. Ikuto Yufu (Oita) - 24:51
7. Yasunari Kusu (Ibaraki) - 24:53
8. Kaido Kita (Hiroshima) - 24:55
8. Hikaru Kato (Tokyo) - 24:55
10. Masahiro Takaya (Kanagawa) - 24:58
10. Chiharu Nakagawa (Shiga) - 24:58
10. Daisuke Koyama (Okayama) - 24:58

Fourth Stage (5.0 km, high school)
1. Norimichi Miwa (Aichi) - 14:17
2. Ryunosuke Chigira (Saitama) - 14:21
3. Ren Yonemitsu (Fukuoka) - 14:25

Fifth Stage (8.5 km, high school)
1. Hayato Seki (Nagano) - 24:21
2. Yuto Aoki (Aichi) - 24:34
3. Keita Yoshida (Hiroshima) - 24:41

Sixth Stage (3.0 km, junior high school)
1. Takehiro Sekiguchi (Saitama) - 8:47
2. Soshi Suzuki (Shizuoka) - 8:48
3. Hiroki Arai (Gunma) - 8:50
3. Hironori Kishimoto (Niigata) - 8:50

Seventh Stage (13.0 km, university/pro)
1. Keijiro Mogi (Tokyo) - 37:56
2. Yuki Sato (Shizuoka) - 38:00
3. Keisuke Nakatani (Hyogo) - 38:03
3. Yuki Oshikawa (Gifu) - 38:03
5. Kazuki Tamura (Yamaguchi) - 38:09
6. Ryu Takaku (Tochigi) - 38:14
7. Aritaka Kajiwara (Kanagawa) - 38:25
8. Shuhei Yamamoto (Aichi)- 38:31
8. Akihiko Tsumurai (Fukushima) - 38:31
10. Naoki Kudo (Hiroshima) - 38:34
10. Shota Hattori (Saitama) - 38:34

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Two-Time Olympian Hanada to Step Down as Jobu University Head Coach

http://www.jomo-news.co.jp/ns/2014532978453725/news.html
http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20160121-00000179-sph-spo

translated and edited by Brett Larner

After leading Jobu University to eight-straight Hakone Ekiden appearances, head coach Katsuhiko Hanada, 44, has announced that he will step down from his position and leave Jobu University at the end of March following the end of the academic year.  In an interview with the Jomo Newspaper coach Hanada said, "In the future I would like to continue to be involved with developing athletes," but he declined to discuss the reason for his resignation or his specific future plans. Jobu finished last at this year's Hakone Ekiden.

During his time as an athlete at Waseda University Hanada set the stage record on the Hakone Ekiden's Fourth Stage, contributing to Waseda's overall win.  At the S&B corporate team he ran the 10000 m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2000 Sydney Olympics.  After his retirement as an athlete Hanada left athletics, but after receiving an email from the student manager of Jobu University's track and field team asking if he would become their coach Hanada began leading the team in April, 2004.  In 2008 a Jobu runner made Hakone for the first time as part of the Kanto Region Select Team, and the following year Jobu finished 3rd at the Yosenkai qualifier to seal its first Hakone appearance.  Hanada developed a reputation for enthusiastic leadership and for being able to turn athletes who had been nobodies in high school into solid Hakone runners.

Following Hanada's departure assistant coach Shigekatsu Kondo, 41, will take over as head coach.  At Kanagawa University Kondo ran the Hakone Ekiden's uphill Fifth Stage all four years, winning the stage twice and helping Kanagawa score its first-ever overall Hakone win his senior year in 1997.  After running for S&B he worked as head coach at Shoin University from 2005 to 2011 before joining the Jobu coaching staff in 2012.  In an unusual step, Jobu University is publicly advertising an opening for a new assistant coach to work alongside Kondo.  A university spokesperson commented, "Kondo is looking for someone with a similar positive mindset.  Looking at a wide range of people will help find the best talent and bring the best support to the team."


Translator's note: One of the most dramatic parts of this year's Hakone Ekiden was when Jobu University first-year Yuya Tanaka nearly collapsed on the Seventh Stage.  Tanaka's alarming struggle was omitted from the "Mo Hitotsu no Hakone Ekiden" documentary, suggesting it may have had a serious impact on Hanada's future at Jobu.  Jobu's Hollywood sports movie plotline rise partially inspired the movie adaptation of "Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru," with real footage of Jobu's 2009 Hakone debut used for scenes of the fictional team running in the movie.  When Jobu qualified for the 2009 Hakone Ekiden at the Yosenkai it was the first team to have its top ten cross the finish line.  On the broadcast when someone told Hanada this he giddily answered, "What!?!  Seriously?  This is a dream, right?"

Hanada was greatly respected by other coaches and runners.  Following the news of his stepping down Kansuke Morihashi, a senior at Daito Bunka University, tweeted: "Hanada is retiring?  Man, it's a tough world out there.  At Hakone this year he called out to me, a rival team's runner, over his coach's car loudspeaker and said, 'Come on, Morihashi, this is your last Hakone too!  Don't leave any regrets behind!  Run!'  I'll never forget him saying that."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Japan Surpasses U.S. as World's Largest Amateur Marathon Market

by Brett Larner

For more than 50 years the United States has led the world as its largest amateur marathon market, more people from around the world finishing marathons in the U.S. than in any other country.  Always a strong home for elite marathoning, the launch of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007 sparked an incredible amateur running boom in Japan that coincided with a worldwide growth in the popularity of marathons.  The Association of Road Racing Statisticians website tracks the number of marathon finishers by country worldwide, listing all marathons with results it can document.  Below are the total number of marathon finishers worldwide, in the U.S.A. and in Japan over the last ten years using the ARRS numbers.  Totals are number of finishers, not number of unique individuals to finish.  Chinese and Korean races are relatively under-documented. 


During the ten years from 2006 to 2015 the number of marathon finishers worldwide more than doubled from more than a million to well over two million.  The worldwide market grew at an almost constant rate.

During this time total finisher numbers in all U.S. marathons grew by over 30%, but over the same period of time the United States' worldwide market share fell from nearly 40% to less than 25%.  The divot in 2012 was due to the cancellation of the New York City Marathon, the world's single largest, and the 2013 numbers are likewise missing the significant part of the Boston Marathon field that could not finish after the bombings that year.  Accounting for the missing 2012 New York and 2013 Boston numbers, it becomes evident that participation in U.S. marathons hit a plateau in 2012-2014.  In 2015 marathons of all sizes in the U.S. experienced a small but widespread decline in participation; among the roughly 100 U.S. marathons documented to have had 1000 or more finishers in 2014, over 75% had lower finisher numbers in 2015.  The 25 largest of them totalled 292,491 finishers.

In the same ten years the number of marathon finishers in Japan grew from just over 100,000 to nearly 600,000, its worldwide market share climbing from less than 10% to over 25%.  In 2015 its 25 largest marathons totalled 366,066 finishers.  Even taking into account missing Chinese and Korean totals, Japanese races accounted for more than 40% of the worldwide growth during the last decade.  The slight dent in the graph in 2010 was caused by the cancellation of the Itabashi City Marathon due to bad weather and the postponement of the Shonan International Marathon thanks to that year's Yokohama G8 summit, but growth was so strong that the cancellation of most of Japan's March and April marathons following the 2011 disasters was hardly noticeable in the finisher totals.  Weather-related cancellations and the absence of the bi-annual Chiba Aqualine Marathon also held back the 2013 numbers somewhat.

In 2015 more people finished marathons in Japan than in the United States, the first time since 1961 that any country surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest amateur marathon market.  With U.S. growth having slowed and even showing signs of saturation the rapid rate of growth in the Japanese marathon market means it is likely to continue to occupy that position for at least the next few years, only China, #3 in the world in 2015, in a position to conceivably overtake it.


Not just the number of finishers but also the number of major marathons, those with 10,000 finishers or more, has grown rapidly over the same decade from 2006 to 2015, rising from around 20 to nearly 50.  Chinese and Korean marathons are again relatively under-documented.  In 2015 the number of major marathons fell slightly, with France's Medoc Marathon, the Singapore Marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon in the U.S. and Japan's Fujisan Marathon all dropping from over 10,000 finishers in 2014 to fewer in 2015.  Japan's bi-annual Chiba Aqualine Marathon, with more than 11,000 finishers in 2014, was not held in 2015, its next running set for October this year.

In the U.S.A. the number of major marathons has been almost flat over the last ten years, trending slightly downward from nine in 2006 to seven in 2015.  In the same period Japan rose from just a handful of documented races in 2006 to nineteen in 2015 even without Chiba, nearly half the worldwide number and representing roughly 50% of the worldwide growth.  With four more marathons in 2015 with over 9,000 finishers and at least one more big new race, the Kagoshima Marathon, set to kick off this year the number of major Japanese marathons could grow even further.

A large part of the U.S. finisher totals is made up of international marathon tourists, giant races like New York, Boston, Chicago and Honolulu famous as major international draws.  Japanese races have always been limited by a lack of English-language entry or even entry services being able to handle addresses outside Japan.  In recent years some races have started to offer foreign-language entry, and with the Japanese government pushing to increase its inbound foreign tourism beyond 2015's record-setting numbers online entry services are starting to welcome more runners from abroad to what is now the world's largest amateur marathon market.

Samurai Running Japan is a long-standing entry service that focuses on smaller races to help overseas visitors "experience the 'real' Japan."  Along with entry it assists with accommodations and transportation.

Launched in September, 2015, Runnet Japan is an English-language branch of Runnet, Japan's dominant online entry service, catering to the international community.  The number of races offered on Runnet Japan is still limited but constantly expanding.

Other entry services like Sports Entry, TecNet and the new Sportsnavi Do still offer only Japanese-language and domestic address service, but with swelling numbers of international runners at races across Japan they are bound to get in on the action soon.

Japan's 25 Biggest Marathons
2015 finisher totals except where noted
1. Tokyo Marathon - 35,293
2. Osaka Marathon - 29,680
3. Yokohama Marathon - 21,561
4. Naha Marathon - 18,326
5. Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon - 18,150
6. Nagoya Women's Marathon - 17,231 (women only)
7. Kobe Marathon - 17,087
8. Shonan International Marathon - 16,173
9. Kasumigaura Marathon - 15,601
10. Kyoto Marathon - 15,452
11. Itabashi City Marathon - 14,119
12. Okayama Marathon - 12,412
13. Tsukuba Marathon - 12,290
14. Katsuta Marathon - 11,808
15. Hokkaido Marathon - 11,778
16. Kanazawa Marathon - 11,447
17. Nara Marathon - 11,244
18. Chiba Aqualine Marathon - 11,066 (2014, bi-annual)
19. Kumamoto-jo Marathon - 10,959
20. Toyama Marathon - 10,483
21. Tokushima Marathon - 9,738
22. Fukuoka Marathon - 9,360
23. Ehime Marathon - 9,074
24. Shizuoka Marathon - 9,035
25. Kitakyushu Marathon - 8,957

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tokyo Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

Hot on the heels of Tuesday's announcement of the elite men's field for April's London Marathon comes the Tokyo Marathon's release of the men's and women's fields for its tenth running at the end of February.  Sporting six men recently under sub-2:06, the world record holder, 2015 world champion and reigning winners of four of the six World Marathon Majors, on paper London's field may be sexier up front than Tokyo's, but with defending Olympic gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda), 2015 Chicago Marathon and 2014 Tokyo Marathon winner Dickson Chumba (Kenya), a raft of recent WMM top-3 placers including Kiprotich, Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya), Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya), and Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia), two-time defending Amsterdam Marathon winner Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) and the one thing none of the other WMM can deliver, a world-class domestic field, Tokyo more than holds its own.  For the last two years Tokyo has produced more gold label men's times, sub-2:10, than any other marathon in the world, and this year's field could do it again. 

Despite its hilly last 6 km the Tokyo Marathon has become the place for Japanese men to run fast, and with Tokyo counting in Olympic selection for men most of the ones who have done that in the last few years are back.  Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), 2:07:39 last year.  Arata Fujiwara (Miki House), 2:07:48 to make the London Olympic team.  Kohei Matsumura (Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki), 2:08:09 two years ago.  Hiroaki Sano (Team Honda) and Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon), 2:09:12 and 2:09:21 last year behind Imai.  The enigmatic Takehiro Deki (Team Chugoku Denryoku), winner of last summer's Gold Coast Half Marathon.  All know the course, all want Rio, all have deep competition for the Olympic team right behind them with ten Japanese men at the 2:10~2:12 level.

And that competition also includes not one, not two, not three or four or five but six ravenously anticipated debuts from some of the best of the new generation that is redefining Japanese distance running.  30 km national university record holder and 2015 and 2016 Hakone Ekiden Second Stage winner Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.).  First-year pro Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei), the fastest-ever Japanese university half marathoner at 1:00:50 and twin brother of newly-crowned 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama.  2015 World University Games half marathon gold medalist and 2016 Hakone Ekiden Seventh Stage winner Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.).  Silver medalist behind Ogura and 2015 National University Half Marathon champion Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.).  2016 Hakone Ekiden Eighth Stage winner and fastest-ever 18-year-old Japanese half marathoner Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), making his debut at the tender age of 19.  Satoshi Kikuchi (Josai Univ.), runner-up at last year's Ome 30 km.  As Hakone fever burns brighter and hotter than ever before after Aoyama Gakuin's second-straight win earlier this month you can bet viewership will be setting new records.  With any luck they'll see a race that topples the legendary 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon, where three Japanese men ran 2:07, two 2:08 and one more 2:09, from the record books.

With Tokyo joining the Osaka, Nagoya and former Yokohama women's marathons in having been burned by Eastern European winners whose results were later annulled due to doping violations, one thing viewers won't see is any Eastern European women.  Another thing they won't see is any Japanese women.  The Tokyo women's field is again likely to be the strongest of the year on Japanese soil, but without it counting toward women's Olympic selection there's not one Japanese women to be found among the invited elites.  2014 London Marathon winner Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), 2015 Berlin Marathon runner-up Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) and 2015 Toronto Waterfront Marathon winner Shure Demise (Ethiopia) lead the way with recent sub-2:21 times, another four women weighing in under 2:25.  You have to go down to the general division, however, to find a Japanese woman, with #1-ranked amateur Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) topping the home soil list at 2:31:28 in Tokyo three years ago.  Coming in off a long injury, Yoshitomi faces good competition from another high-level amateur, 2015 Zurich Marathon winner Yoshiko Sakamoto (Y.W.C.), for the title of Japan's best indy.

10th Tokyo Marathon Elite Field Highlights
Tokyo, 2/28/16
click here for complete field listing
times listed are 2013-2015 best times except where noted

Men
Emmanuel Mutai (Kenya) - 2:03:13 (Berlin 2014)
Dickson Chumba (Kenya) - 2:04:32 (Chicago 2014)
Eliud Kiptanui (Kenya) - 2:05:21 (Berlin 2015)
Bernard Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:06:19 (Amsterdam 2015)
Stephen Kiprotich (Uganda) - 2:06:33 (Tokyo 2015)
Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) - 2:06:35 (Dubai 2015)
Masato Imai (Japan/Toyota Kyushu) - 2:07:39 (Tokyo 2015)
Kohei Matsumura (Japan/Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 2:08:09 (Tokyo 2014)
Samuel Ndungu (Kenya) - 2:08:21 (Lisbon 2014)
Abel Kirui (Kenya) - 2:09:04 (Tokyo 2014)
Hiroaki Sano (Japan/Honda) - 2:09:12 (Tokyo 2015)
Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) - 2:09:18 (Tokyo 2015)
Koji Gokaya (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:09:21 (Tokyo 2015)
Javier Guerra (Spain) - 2:09:33 (London 2015)
Chiharu Takada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:03 (Fukuoka Int'l 2014)
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:10:50 (Fukuoka Int'l 2014)
Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Sunbelx) - 2:11:02 (Tokyo 2013)
Takehiro Deki (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:14 (Tokyo 2015)
Shun Sato (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:11:39 (Tokyo 2015)
Yoshiki Otsuka (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 2:11:40 (Fukuoka Int'l 2014)
Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:11:48 (Beppu-Oita 2015)
Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House) - 2:11:50 (Hofu 2015)
Tatsunori Hamasaki (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:12:12 (Tokyo 2015)
Masashi Hayashi (Japan/Yakult) - 2:12:17 (Biwako 2013)
Hiroki Yamagishi (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:12:48 (Sydney 2015)
Kazuaki Shimizu (Japan/Yakult) - 2:12:49 (Nobeoka 2013)
Keiji Akutsu (Japan/Subaru) - 2:13:26 (Tokyo 2015)
Johana Maina (Kenya/Fujitsu) - 2:13:46 (Fukuoka Int'l 2014)
Yasuyuki Nakamura (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:48 (Hofu 2015)
Yasuhiro Ikeda (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:13:49 (Tokyo 2014)
Etsu Miyata (Japan/Saitama T&F Assoc.) - 2:14:09 (Nobeoka 2013)
Atsushi Hasegawa (Japan/Kawasaki T&F Assoc.) - 2:14:20 (Kasumigaura 2014)
Takanori Ide (Japan/Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:14:22 (Biwako 2014)
Shingo Igarashi (Japan/Josai Univ. Coaching Staff) - 2:14:24 (Hofu 2015)
Kazuyoshi Tokumoto (Japan/Monteroza) - 2:14:35 (Berlin 2014)
Makoto Harada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:40 (Tokyo 2013)
Yuya Shiokawa (Japan/Subaru) - 2:14:49 (Tokyo 2013)
Ryota Matoba (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:15:00 (Nobeoka 2015)
Saeki Makino (Japan/DNPL Ekiden Club) - 2:15:22 (Seoul 2015)
Kenichi Jiromaru (Japan/Obirin Univ. Coaching Staff) - 2:15:24 (Biwako 2014)
Tomohiko Takenaka (Japan/NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:15:28 (Beppu-Oita 2014)
Yusuke Sato (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:15:30 (Biwako 2015)
Yuki Takamiya (Japan/Yakult) - 2:15:38 (Biwako 2014)
Satoru Kasuya (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 2:16:47 (Biwako 2013)
Aritaka Kajiwara (Japan/Kanagawa T&F Assoc.) - 2:18:01 (Biwako 2013)
Yuki Nanba (Japan/Kameoka AC) - 2:20:37 (Beppu-Oita 2015)

Debut
Yuma Hattori (Japan/Toyo Univ.) - 1:28:52 (Kumanichi 30 km 2014)
Kenta Murayama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:00:50 (Marugame Half 2014)
Teklemariam Medhin (Eritrea) - 1:01:47 (Lisbon Half 2014)
Yusuke Ogura (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:03 (Marugame Half 2015)
Tadashi Isshiki (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:09 (Marugame Half 2015)
Yuta Shimoda (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:22 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Satoshi Kikuchi (Japan/Josai Univ.) - 1:02:23 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Soufiane Bouchikhi (Belgium) - 1:03:45 (Den Haag Half 2015)

Women
Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:20:21 (London 2014)
Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:20:48 (Berlin 2015)
Shure Demise (Ethiopia) - 2:20:59 (Dubai 2015)
Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:22:30 (Tokyo 2014)
Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:23:29 (Paris 2015)
Ashete Bekele Dido (Ethiopia) - 2:23:43 (Dubai 2015)
Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:24:03 (Tokyo 2015)
Isabellah Andersson (Sweden) - 2:26:05 (Dubai 2013)
Maja Neuenschwander (Switzerland) - 2:26:49 (Berlin 2015)
Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/First Dream AC) - 2:31:28 (Tokyo 2013)
Winfridah Kebaso (Kenya/Nittori) - 2:32:08 (Saitama 2015)
Yukiko Okuno (Japan/Shiseido) - 2:32:41 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hiroko Shoi (Japan/Denso) - 2:33:06 (Nagoya Women's 2014)
Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Y.W.C.) - 2:36:29 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Kana Unno (Japan/Noritz) - 2:36:48 (Paris 2015)
Madoka Nakano (Japan/Noritz) - 2:37:43 (Izumisano 2015)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

For its 70th edition the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon has wheeled out another quality field of top-level domestic elites peppered with an international seasoning to meet IAAF labelling requirements.  Like the United States' Houston Half Marathon, Marugame is a surprisingly fast race where many run lifetime bests they never approach again, enough of them to set world records for depth.  For Japanese men this year it serves as one of the selection races for the 2016 World Half Marathon team while for the women it's simply a day at the races.

Five athletes with recent sub-70 marks make up the top tier in the women's race.  2014 Asian Games gold medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) leads the way with a best of 1:08:31, followed closely by Diane Nukuri (Burundi) and the top female Japanese half marathoner of 2015, Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya).  Just under the 70-minute mark with PBs at December's Sanyo Ladies' Half are the promising Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and last year's Marugame winner Eloise Wellings (Australia).  Wellings will need to improve on the 1:10:41 she ran last year to have a shot at repeating.  Other notable names include 2015 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Ayumi Uehara (Matsuyama Univ.) and internationals Anna Incerti (Italy) and Natasha Wodak (Canada).

For the last two years Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta) has doubled at Marugame and the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships two weeks later.  In 2014 he ran PBs of 1:01:50 and 1:01:17.  Last year he ran PBs of 1:00:57 and 1:00:32, missing the national record by 7 seconds but becoming the first Japanese man to break 1:01 twice in his career.  Kikuchi comes back the #1 seed, his main competition coming from 2013 winner Collis Birmingham (Australia) and Kikuchi's Konica Minolta teammates Keita Shitara and Tsuyoshi Ugachi.  With good weather there's a pretty good chance we'll see a shot at the national record, bolstered by the long-awaited serious half marathon debut of track star and aspiring marathoner Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin).  Further support comes from recent sub-1:02 men Goitom Kifle (Eritrea), Taku Fujimoto (Team Toyota), Kenji Yamamoto (Team Mazda) and Fabiano Sulle (Tanzania).

Other interesting names include 2015 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia), top-level Hakone Ekiden collegiate runners Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.), Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.), Kazuki Tamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) and Yuhi Akiyama (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), debuting Japan-based Kenyans James Mwangi (Team NTN) and Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), London Olympics marathoners Ryo Yamamoto (Team SGH Group) and Arata Fujiwara (Miki House), 2015 World University Games 10000 m bronze medalist Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.), ekiden favorites Shuho Dairokuno (Team Asahi Kasei) and Akinobu Murasawa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and cancer survivor Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku).

70th Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon
Elite Field Highlights
Marugame, Kagawa, 2/7/16
click here for complete elite field listing
times listed are 2013-2015 bests except where noted.

Women
Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 1:08:31 (Luanda 2014)
Diane Nukuri (Burundi) - 1:09:12 (NYC 2013)
Rei Ohara (Japan/Tenmaya) - 1:09:17 (Sanyo Ladies 2015)
Yuka Ando (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:09:51 (Sanyo Ladies 2015)
Eloise Wellings (Australia) - 1:09:56 (Sanyo Ladies 2015)
Anna Incerti (Italy) - 1:10:10 (Verona 2014)
Kotomi Takayama (Japan/Sysmex) - 1:10:47 (Matsue Ladies 2015)
Ayumi Uehara (Japan/Matsuyama Univ.) - 1:11:19 (Sanyo Ladies 2015)
Natasha Wodak (Canada) - 1:11:20 (NYC 2015)
Rika Shintaku (Japan/Shimamura) - 1:11:23 (Sanyo Ladies 2013)
Yukiko Okuno (Japan/Shiseido) - 1:11:28 (Matsue Ladies 2015)
Noriko Higuchi (Japan/Wacoal) - 1:11:28 (Sendai 2013)
Mami Onuki (Japan/Sysmex) - 1:11:37 (Matsue Ladies 2015)
Miya Nishio (Japan/Hokuren) - 1:12:24 (Matsue Ladies 2015)
Erika Ikeda (Japan/Higo Ginko) - 1:12:38 (Sanyo Ladies 2015)
Kanae Imai (Japan/Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:47 (Matsue Ladies 2015)
Aki Odagiri (Japan/Tenmaya) - 1:12:58 (Matsue Ladies 2013)

Men
Masato Kikuchi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 1:00:32 (Nat'l Corp. 2015)
Collis Birmingham (Australia) - 1:00:56 (Marugame 2013)
Keita Shitara (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 1:01:12 (Nat'l Corp. 2015)
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 1:01:16 (Marugame 2013)
Goitom Kifle (Eritrea) - 1:01:18 (Lisbon 2013)
Taku Fujimoto (Japan/Toyota) - 1:01:31 (Nat'l Corp. 2015)
Kenji Yamamoto (Japan/Mazda) - 1:01:47 (Nat'l Corp. 2014)
Fabiano Sulle (Tanzania) - 1:01:59 (Incheon 2015)
Masaki Ito (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 1:02:00 (Marugame 2013)
Ryo Yamamoto (Japan/SGH Group) - 1:02:05 (Marugame 2013)
Naoki Kudo (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:12 (Nat'l Univ. 2015)
Tomohiro Shiiya (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:15 (Nat'l Corp. 2013)
Ryo Shirayoshi (Japan/Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:16 (Nat'l Univ. 2015)
Hiromitsu Kakuage (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 1:02:20 (Marugame 2013)
Kazuki Tamura (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:22 (Nat'l Univ. 2015)
Shuho Dairokuno (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:22 (Marugame 2013)
Chiharu Takada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:02:22 (Marugame 2013)
Gen Hachisuka (Japan/Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:26 (Marugame 2015)
Suehiro Ishikawa (Japan/Honda) - 1:02:26 (Marugame 2013)
Yemane Tsegay (Ethiopia) - 1:02:29 (Marugame 2014)
Yuichiro Ogawa (Japan/NTN) - 1:02:30 (Marugame 2013)
Hideaki Tamura (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:02:37 (Marugame 2013)
Keigo Yano (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:02:38 (Ageo 2013)
Kazuaki Iwami (Japan/Kyudenko) - 1:02:38 (Marugame 2013)
Yuta Katsumata (Japan/Nittai Univ.) - 1:02:39 (Marugame 2014)
Hidehito Takamine (Japan/Fujitsu) - 1:02:42 (Marugame 2014)
Kazuyoshi Shimozato (Japan/Press Kogyo) - 1:02:44 (Nat'l Corp. 2015)
Arata Fujiwara (Japan/Miki House) - 1:02:44a (Great North Run 2013)
Tomoya Shirayanagi (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:45 (Nat'l Corp. 2015)
Soma Ishikawa (Japan/Nihon Univ.) - 1:02:46 (Marugame 2015)
Rei Omori (Japan/Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:47 (Nat'l Univ. 2015)
Hiroki Yamagishi (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 1:02:51 (Nat'l Univ.) - 2013)
Satoru Kasuya (Japan/Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:53 (Marugame 2013)
Keita Shioya (Japan/Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:57 (Nat'l Univ. 2014)
Keijiro Mogi (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:03:11 (Tamana 2015)
Yuhi Akiyama (Japan/Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:00 (Setagaya 246 2015)
Keisuke Nakatani (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:46 (Ageo 2013)
Akinobu Murasawa (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 59:08 (Yosenkai 20 km 2009)
Takuya Tanabe (Japan/Juntendo Univ.) - 59:38 (Yosenkai 20 km 2015)
James Mwangi (Kenya/NTN) - 27:23.66 (Abashiri 10000 m 2014)
Yuki Sato (Japan/Nissin Shokuhin) - 27:39.50 (Stanford 10000m 2013)
Dominic Nyairo (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 28:11.00 (Abashiri 10000 m 2015)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Antiterrorism Drill Held for Tokyo Marathon'

http://www.japantoday.com/category/crime/view/antiterrorism-drill-held-for-tokyo-marathon

Monday, January 18, 2016

2016 Japanese Distance Rankings

Updated 12/26/16

JRN's 2016 Japanese track and road distance running rankings. Overall rankings are calculated using runners' times and placings in races over 5000 m, 10000 m, half-marathon and marathon and the strength of these performances relative to others in the top ten in each category. Unlisted distances will be added as the season progresses. Click any image to enlarge.


Past years: 2015 ・ 2014 ・ 2013 ・ 2012 ・ 2011

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Miwa and Higuchi Win Okukuma Half Marathon

by Brett Larner
videos by you?_yu


In cold conditions corporate runners Shintaro Miwa (Team NTN) and Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) turned in winning runs at the 4th edition of the Okukuma Road Race half marathon in Kumamoto.  In the men's race Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) did most of the leading, pushing the first 10 km through in 30:06 and gradually shaving down the lead pack from 20 to 7.  In the final kilometers he and Miwa broke away, but with a course record win at last weekend's Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon still in his legs Kawauchi couldn't match the fresher Miwa.  Miwa broke the tape in 1:03:58 with Kawauchi two seconds back.  Yuya Ito (Team Toyota) was 3rd in 1:04:06.


Reflecting Kumamoto's conservative reputation, in its first three runnings the Okukuma Road Race limited women to 5 km with high school boys running 10 km and the half marathon only open to men.  This year it got with the times, allowing women into the half.  2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Higuchi rose to the challenge, outrunning her Wacoal teammates Yuki Kodama and Ai Migita and rival Misato Horie (Team Noritz) for the win in 1:13:22.  Ryota Takemoto (Omuta H.S.) tied the 10 km course record in 30:09, with Mashiro Mori (Ariake H.S.) topping the women's 5 km in 16:43.

4th Okukuma Road Race
Kumagun, Kumamoto, 1/17/16
click here for complete results

Men's Half Marathon
1. Shintaro Miwa (NTN) - 1:03:58
2. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 1:04:00
3. Yuya Ito (Toyota) - 1:04:06
4. Junichi Tsubouchi (Kurosaki Harima) - 1:04:08
5. Daisuke Watanabe (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:04:11

Women's Half Marathon
1. Noriko Higuchi (Wacoal) - 1:13:22
2. Yuki Kodama (Wacoal) - 1:13:25
3. Misato Horie (Noritz) - 1:13:30
4. Ai Migita (Wacoal) - 1:13:35
5. Chika Ihara (Higo Ginko) - 1:14:16

High School Boys' 10 km
1. Ryota Takemoto (Omuta H.S.) - 30:09 - CR tie
2. Ren Yonemitsu (Omuta H.S.) - 30:24
3. Daisuke Ando (Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S.) - 30:27

Women's 5 km
1. Mashiro Mori (Ariake H.S.) - 16:43
2. Reina Takano (Ariake H.S.) - 16:48
3. Sena Komori (Isahaya H.S.) - 16:49

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Suzuki Delivers on Anchor Stage for Aichi Prefecture's First-Ever National Women's Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK

One of the only bright lights for Japanese long distance at last summer's Beijing World Championships, 2015 national corporate 10000 m champion Ayuko Suzuki delivered an incredible anchor run in Kyoto on Sunday, making up more than a minute and a half over 10 km to give Aichi its first-ever National Women's Ekiden title.  The peak of the women's ekiden season, the National Women's Ekiden features teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures all made up of top local junior high school, high school, university, club and pro runners.

The race got off the track start and onto the roads safely without any falls, but a few km into the 6.0 km First Stage Naoko Koizumi (Niigata), a stage record setter at last month's National Corporate Women's Ekiden, tripped in the front row and went down.  The lead pack went by before Koizumi could get to her feet, but she quickly shot back to the front row in time for the big move from last year's First Stage winner Yuka Ando (Shizuoka).  Fresh off a solid 1:09:51 half marathon debut a few weeks ago at the Sanyo Ladies Half, Ando had no trouble holding off the competition to put Shizuoka into the Second Stage in 1st.  Favorite Kyoto was 7 seconds back in 6th, with last year's winner Osaka 26 seconds behind in 21st amidst top-level teams Hyogo, Aichi and Gunma.

Kyoto's next runner Fukiko Ando put the team 3 seconds out front on the 4.0 km Second Stage, a lead that stretched out to 6 seconds on the 3.0 km Third Stage, but on the 4.0 km Fourth Stage Hyogo's Kotona Ota ran a stage best 12:52 to overtake Kyoto's Kureha Seki and take over the lead by a second.  Heading into the second half of the race Aki Manabe turned Kyoto's luck back around with a Fifth Stage win and a lead of 15 seconds over Hyogo, a lead that Kyoto's next three runners stretched out to 1:13 partly thanks to a stage record-tying run from junior high schooler Ayaka Murao on the 3.0 km Eighth Stage.

Kyoto anchor Yukiko Okuno started the 10.0 km Ninth Stage 5 seconds up on overall course record pace with a reasonable margin of safety, but behind her the race had set up for something dramatic.  Yamada Denki corporate teammates Shiho Takechi (Hyogo) and Kasumi Nishihara (Gunma) started three seconds apart, 2015 national 10000 m champion Nishihara quickly making up the gap and the two working together to try to cut down the 73-second distance to Okuno.  As the kilometers went by they were making up 10 seconds per km, but even when it was clear they were going to catch Okuno the race's outcome was getting less and less so.

Starting 21 seconds behind Nishihara, Suzuki was advancing on the two chasers even as they made up the ground to the leader.  Nishihara lost touch with Takechi and was immediately swallowed up by Suzuki who stared straight ahead with determination and focus.  At 8 km Suzuki went by Takechi, and 400 m later she flew past Okuno to take the lead.  Never looking back, she narrowly missed tripping over a spectator's dog heading onto the track but had no trouble pushing on to give Aichi its first-ever national title in 2:16:02, her time of 31:30 putting Suzuki at all-time #4 for the 10.0 km stage.

Takechi overtook Okuno for 2nd at 8.7 km and held that position the rest of the way, crossing the line in 2:16:22.  Okuno was next onto the track but was run down by a hard-kicking Nishihara who gave Gunma 3rd in 2:16:28, a disappointed Okuno coming through 7 seconds later.  The top six teams all beat last year's winning time of 2:17:26.  Tokyo moved up to 6th in 2:17:25 thanks to a sensational run from anchor Hanami Sekine, a teammate of Suzuki's at the young Japan Post corporate team.  As amazing as Suzuki's performance was Sekine was 12 seconds faster, replacing Suzuki at all-time #4 in 31:18.  The pair's domination of the stage had strong implications for Japan Post's future in the corporate leagues.

Further back on the anchor stage, Rio Olympics marathon team member Mai Ito ran 32:38, the 17th-fastest time in the 47-deep field, to bring Tokushima home in 32nd.  Amateur Hiroko Yoshitomi ran 34:03 to anchor the Saga team in 38th after having set a course record at the Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon last Sunday and then winning the Imari Half Marathon the next day on Monday's national holiday.

Some women will line up one more time next weekend at the Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden, but for most today's race marked the end of ekiden season before shifting focus to open road races through the end of March.  The men's counterpart race, the National Men's Ekiden, takes place next Sunday in Hiroshima with a live commercial-free broadcast on NHK.  JRN will cover the race live @JRNLive.

34th National Women's Ekiden
Kyoto, 1/17/16
47 teams, 9 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Aichi - 2:16:02
2. Hyogo - 2:16:22
3. Gunma - 2:16:28
4. Kyoto - 2:16:35
5. Chiba - 2:16:59
6. Tokyo - 2:17:25
7. Fukuoka - 2:17:39
8. Nagasaki - 2:17:47
9. Kanagawa - 2:17:52
10. Shizuoka - 2:17:58

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage - 6.0 km
1. Yuka Ando (Shizuoka) - 19:19
2. Yukari Abe (Saitama) - 19:24
3. Sae Hanada (Fukuoka) - 19:25

Second Stage - 4.0 km
1. Rika Kaseda (Chiba) - 12:36
1. Nana Kuraoka (Fukushima) - 12:36
3. Yuna Wada (Nagano) - 12:37
3. Fukiko Ando (Kyoto) - 12:37

Third Stage - 3.0 km
1. Aika Nishihara (Ehime) - 9:20 - all-time #7
1. Ririka Hinonaka (Nagasaki) - 9:20 - all-time #7
3. Shuri Ogasawara (Ishikawa) - 9:23
3. Yuki Kanemitsu (Okayama) - 9:23

Fourth Stage - 4.0 km
1. Kotona Ota (Hyogo) - 12:52
2. Risa Shibuya (Akita) - 12:55
3. Yuka Mukai (Hiroshima) - 12:55

Fifth Stage - 4.1075 km
1. Aki Manabe (Kyoto) - 13:03
2. Kumi Ogura (Aichi) - 13:16
3. Natsuko Goto (Chiba) - 13:18

Sixth Stage - 4.0875 km
1. Sakiho Tsutsui (Gunma) - 12:37 - CR
2. Yumika Katayama (Kyoto) - 12:50
3. Yumi Yoshikawa (Aichi) - 12:57

Seventh Stage - 4.0 km
1. Yukari Wada (Kyoto) - 12:31
2. Yuka Mukai (Aichi) - 12:36
3. Madoka Mitsueda (Kagoshima) - 12:39

Eighth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Ayaka Murao (Kyoto) - 9:41 - CR tie
2. Ayuka Kazama (Chiba) - 9:53 - all-time #5
3. Akari Yamamoto (Okayama) - 9:55 - all-time #10

Ninth Stage - 10.0 km
1. Hanami Sekine (Tokyo) - 31:18 - all-time #4
2. Ayuko Suzuki (Aichi) - 31:30 - all-time #5
3. Mao Kiyota (Shizuoka) - 31:55 

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, January 15, 2016

Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee Calls WADA Report of Sponsorhip Payments to IAAF "Different From Our Understanding"

http://www.jiji.com/jc/zc?k=201601/2016011500412&g=spo
http://www.jiji.com/jc/zc?k=201601/2016011500418&g=spo

translated by Brett Larner

In response to a statement in a report published by WADA on Jan. 14 saying that Tokyo had paid sponsorship money to the IAAF and others during its bid for the 2020 Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee spokesperson Hikariko Ono expressed the committee's view that, "What is written [in the report] represents is different from our understanding."  Ono stressed the legitimacy of Tokyo's bid activities, saying, "The plans Tokyo presented were evaluated as the best and that is why the IOC Assembly selected them."

Former JAAF director Katsuyuki Tanaka, who served on the IAAF Council from 2007 until last summer, commented, "There's no doubt that former president [Lamine] Diack was sympathetic to Tokyo from the start, but I don't think what they have written is true."  With a large number of its companies sponsoring the IAAF Diack was said to have been favorable to Japan, but as Tanaka pointed out, "He was always lobbying people around him that he wanted it to be in Tokyo.  I think that was only because he thought Tokyo was the best, not because he was getting something."

JAAF managing director Mitsugi Ogata also commented on the report of sponsorship payments to the IAAF, saying, "I knew nothing at all about such information."  With regard to the confirmation of the reality of the IAAF's actions to hide Russian doping violations and the proliferation of other problems Ogata expressed a sense of crisis, saying, "We have to make a fresh start.  We must take steps against fraud and to improve integrity.

'Bidding Process for 2020 Tokyo Olympics Dragged Into IAAF Scandal'

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/jan/14/bidding-2020-tokyo-olympics-iaaf-scandal?CMP=share_btn_tw

Thursday, January 14, 2016

'Japan Sports Council "Refusing to Pay" British Architect for 2020 Tokyo Olympics Stadium Designs'

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/12097541/Japan-Sports-Council-refusing-to-pay-British-architect-for-2020-Tokyo-Olympics-stadium-designs.html

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

The 65th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon has announced the elite field for its 65th running on Feb. 7.  Coming just before the second and third selection races for Japan's Olympic marathon team it's small up front but features a solid mid-pack of relatively young runners including some good first-timers.

Evans Ruto (Kenya) leads the internationals with a 2:08:55 at last year's Gold Coast Airport Marathon, with competition from sub-2:10 men Hailu Shume (Ethiopia) and Anthony Maritim (Kenya).  Japan-based Ethiopian Melaku Abera (Team Kurosaki Harima), the course record holder at Oita's Half Marathon, is scheduled to debut and should be another to watch.

On the home front, Kenichi Shiraishi (Team Asahi Kasei) is the only Japanese man on the list sub-2:11 recently with a 2:10:36 in Beppu-Oita two years ago.  High-volume marathoner Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) follows close behind with a 2:11:15 in Tokyo in 2013.  Most interesting among the debuting Japanese runners is Hiroto Kanamori (Takushoku Univ.), holding a half marathon PB of only 1:03:14 but having run 1:02:00 for 3rd on the ultra-competitive 21.3 km First Stage at the Hakone Ekiden earlier this month, worth 1:01:25 for the half marathon.

Japan's #1 amateur Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) leads the small women's field with a 2:31:28 best in Tokyo 2013.  Yoshitomi has won her last three marathons, all since the beginning of November, and last weekend pulled off a crazy double with a 2:45:22 course record win at the Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon on Sunday followed by a 1:17:27 win the next day at Monday's Imari Half Marathon.  Yoshitomi's competition comes from Mayumi Uchiyama (Yamanashi Gauin Univ.), 2:39:54 in Tokyo last year, and Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita), 2:41:56 in Beppu-Oita two years ago.

65th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon
Elite Field Highlights
Oita, 2/7/16
click here for complete field listing
times listed are 2013-15 bests except where noted

Men
Evans Ruto (Kenya) - 2:08:55 (Gold Coast 2015)
Hailu Shume (Ethiopia) - 2:09:27 (Nice-Cannes 2014)
Anthony Maritim (Kenya) - 2:09:39 (Linz 2015)
Kenichi Shiraishi (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:36 (Beppu-Oita 2014)
Taiga Ito (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:15 (Tokyo 2013)
Kiflom Sium (Eritrea) - 2:11:39 (Prague 2013)
Ihor Olefirenko (Ukraine) - 2:12:04 (Bila Tserkva 2015)
Tatsunari Hirayama (Japan/Yasukawa Denki) - 2:12:38 (Nobeoka 2013)
Keita Akiba (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:13:12 (Biwako 2014)
Son Myeong Jun (South Korea) - 2:13:30 (Seoul 2015)
Kim Young Jin (South Korea) - 2:13:49 (Seoul 2013)
Kenta Chiba (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:14:00 (Nobeoka 2015)
Shogo Kanezane (Japan/Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:14:22 (Nobeoka 2015)
Yudai Yamakawa (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:14:28 (Nobeoka 2014)
Naoya Hashimoto (Japan/Chudenko) - 2:14:36 (Beppu-Oita 2013)
Junichi Tsubouchi (Japan/Kurosaki Harima) - 2:14:37 (Beppu-Oita 2015)
Yuji Iwata (Japan/Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 2:14:46 (Nobeoka 2014)
Sho Matsueda (Japan/Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 2:14:50 (Nobeoka 2015)

Debut
Melaku Abera (Ethiopia/Kurosaki Harima) - 1:02:47 (Oita City Half 2015)
Salah Bounasr (Morocco) - 1:03:01 (Casablanca Half 2011)
Hiroto Kanamori (Japan/Takushoku Univ.) - 1:03:14 (Ageo City Half 2014)
Yuta Takahashi (Japan/DeNA) - 1:03:23 (Hakodate Half 2006)
Keisuke Kusaka (Japan/Hitachi Butsuryu) - 1:03:44 (Ageo City Half 2012)
Yuki Munakata (Japan/Kanebo) - 1:03:58 (Ageo City Half 2009)

Women
Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/First Dream AC) - 2:31:28 (Tokyo 2013)
Mayumi Uchiyama (Japan/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 2:39:54 (Tokyo 2015)
Haruka Yamaguchi (Japan/AC Kita) - 2:41:56 (Beppu-Oita 2014)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Shape of Things to Come: Hakone, Where Things Are and Where They're Going

by Brett Larner
special thanks to Dr. Helmut Winter for assistance with graphics

The Hakone Ekiden, Japan's most watched, most loved, most prestigious road race, grabbed my attention when I first moved to Japan in the late 90's.  I started JRN in the summer of 2007 at the time of the Osaka World Championships, and from the beginning one of its main focuses has been trying to make this race, one that I've come to believe stands next to the Boston Marathon and Comrades ultramarathon as one of the world's three great races, visible and understandable to an outside world that for the most part had never heard of it before.  It's starting to take hold; in the lead-up to and after Aoyama Gakuin University's successful title defense at last week's 2016 Hakone Ekiden, print and web publications in Germany, Poland, Italy, the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere picked up on JRN's work with coverage of this year's race, one Norwegian journalist even travelling to Japan to see Hakone live for a feature article.  I couldn't be happier.

Hakone is the most exciting race there is, presented that way by Nihon TV with the best live broadcast in the sport, but another part of what I'm interested in about it is the numbers.  It seems like just about every year that I've written about Hakone I've said that the teams are the best ever, that things just keep getting better and better.  That's been my impression, but what do the numbers really show?  For several years I've been researching the last 20 years of Hakone, every team roster, every athlete who has run it during that time, to find answers to this and a lot of the common questions and claims I hear about Japanese distance running.  With this year's race on the books here are the numbers, what they say about Japanese marathoning, and what they suggest is about to happen.

The Numbers


I've broken down the typical ability range of Hakone-level university men over half marathon, 20 km, 10000 m and 5000 m into 12 levels, 20 km getting into the counting thanks to October's Yosenkai 20 km, the Hakone Ekiden qualifier for second-tier schools.  With the exception of the spectacularly talented Mekubo Mogusu, a Kenyan who ran three sub-60 minute half marathons his third year at Yamanashi Gakuin University, the 12 levels take in everyone from the very best Hakone runners in the last 20 years at level 11, running under 1:01:00 in the half marathon, 27:30 for 10000 m or 13:20 for 5000 m, to alternates on the weakest teams at level 1 or even slower.  Media and fans love to talk about ace runners, the best athletes on most teams.  In the graphs below ace runner refers to anyone at level 7 or above.

Team levels were calculated based on the number of runners at each level in each school's top ten.  The times within each level are not really equivalent to each other in terms of quality, but they do give an indication of how runners will affect their team's performance at Hakone.  With an average stage length of 21.7 km, someone who can break 1:03:00 for the half marathon is more likely to have an impact at Hakone than someone who can break 29:00 for 10000 m but doesn't have half marathon credentials.

This graph shows the number of runners in the Hakone Ekiden field each year who had PBs at level 7 or better. Here and below, numbers have been normalized to account for small changes in the numbers of teams in the Hakone field from year to year.  After some growth from 1997 to the early part of the 2000s there was little overall change in the decade or so until 2012, apart from a small peak around 2006-2008 when Mogusu and many of today's best marathoners and corporate distance runners including Masato Imai, Yuki Kawauchi, Satoru Sasaki, Yuki Sato, Kensuke Takezawa, Yuichiro Ueno, Tsuyoshi Ugachi and others were running Hakone.  In the 2012-2013 school year the number of athletes at this level exploded and has continued to grow at an accelerating rate.

Hakone teams are made up of ten runners plus up to six alternates.  A similar pattern is seen in the average level of the tenth-best runner on each team, with some growth from 1997 to the early part of the millennium, limited change in the decade or so from 2002-03 to 2012 apart from a small peak from 2006-08, then explosive growth from 2013 on.  This shows that the growth is not limited to the best of the best but runs deeper.

Looking the same way at the average level of each team's best runner, apart from the 2006-2008 peak, distorted here by Mogusu's 59-minute half marathons in the 2007-08 academic year, the progression has been closer to linear.  The best have continued to get better at a steady rate, showing that the improvement has not only been a case of more people approaching a ceiling.  On average, the tenth-best runners on Hakone teams now are almost as good as the best runners were 20 years ago.

Like the level of the best athletes, the average level of the best teams has followed a different pattern while continuing to improve.  Yamanashi Gakuin's 1999 Hakone team and Tokai University's 2006 lineup both broke new ground in quality, and in exactly the same interval of 7 years in 2013 Komazawa University produced a team far better than any ever seen before.  But where the level dropped back toward more normal levels after 1999 and 2006, this time it has continued to trend upward.  Komazawa in 2014 and 2015 and Aoyama Gakuin in 2016 were all better than any pre-2013 teams, and even #2 and #3-ranked teams like Toyo University and Waseda University's 2014 lineups, Waseda's 2015 team, and Waseda and Komazawa this year were better than Tokai's 2006 team.  Not just single star athletes but entire star teams are better now than ever before.

Putting everything together, over the last 20 years the average team level for the entire Hakone field follows the same pattern seen twice above: moderate growth from 1997 to the early 2000s, little change over the next decade except for a peak from 2006-2008, and explosive growth since 2013.  A revolution happened in the 2012-13 school year and it was televised, live and nationwide, with spectacular production values and professionalism.

The Revolution of 2013

After a decade or more of relative stasis, in the four years that this year's graduating class have been in action this revolutionary change has pushed Hakone and Japanese university men's distance running where it has never been, and while there are some signs that it is slowing down by most measures it is still on the way up.  What happened?  I think there were three main catalysts.
  1. Toyo University's 2012 Hakone Ekiden course record win.  Masato Imai achieved national stardom thanks to his uphill Fifth Stage heroics for Juntendo University from 2005 to 2007, sparking greater mass popularity for Hakone.  Under young head coach Toshiyuki Sakai, Toyo's Ryuji Kashiwabara achieved superstardom, celebrity, even, by breaking Imai's Fifth Stage record as a first-year in 2009 and going on to win Hakone's greatest stage the next three years.  In 2012, his last year, Toyo's team banded together to try to deliver the win to Kashiwabara, winning on the strengths of every team member without relying just on him.  In doing this Toyo became the first team to break 3:00/km for the entire 217 km-plus Hakone course.  Sakai's explanation was simple.  "Everybody talks about 3-minute pace," he said.  "I told them to think of a number starting with 2."  A young coach focusing not just on training but on psychology, positivity, on looking past the accepted standards at something higher, all in the glow of national stardom.  A number starting with 2.  Everyone responded, not just the Toyo runners.  Komazawa, coached by conservative old guard Hiroaki Oyagi, came back the next season with the best lineup ever seen up to that point, and it has only gone up from there.  The Hakone Ekiden Museum claims that the modern era of Hakone started with Aoyama Gakuin's 2015 win under young head coach Susumu Hara, but that was an evolutionary development.  The real era-changing revolution came from Toyo and Sakai in 2012.
  2. The NYC Half Marathon.  After Toyo's 2012 win the New York Road Runners invited two of its best runners, Yuta Shitara and Kento Otsu, who had been the top two Japanese collegiate finishers at November's super-deep Ageo City Half Marathon, to the NYC Half Marathon along with coach Sakai.  Japanese corporate runners rarely race seriously when they're outside Japan, but with little to no international experience Shitara and Otsu ran fearlessly.  Just 20 years old, Shitara outkicked World Half Marathon bronze medalist Dathan Ritzenhein (U.S.A.) to finish in 1:01:48, still the best time ever by a Japanese man of any age on U.S. soil.  The reaction back home was huge.  Knowing now that the NYC Half invite was up for grabs, at the next Ageo in November, 2012 Komazawa's coach Oyagi put two of his best runners, Kenta Murayama and Ikuto Yufu, into Ageo for the first time.  Average times at Ageo were almost one minute faster as all the Hakone-bound runners chased NYC invites, a trend that has been true every year since then.  Where only 36 runners had broken 1:03 in Ageo in its first 25 years, 18 more did it in one race.  More high level half marathoners meant more high level teams at Hakone, and the effects spread to the other university ekidens, to the National University Half Marathon, and beyond.  Komazawa publicly credited Murayama's experience at the 2013 NYC Half with inspiring the team to become what it did in 2014 and 2015.
  3. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  The September, 2013 announcement of Tokyo winning the 2020 Olympics bid came well after the big change was underway but had a massive impact as Hakone runners realized that they would be at their peak for a home soil Olympics.  In almost every interview since then, virtually every student athlete has said the same thing: "My life goal is to run the marathon at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics."  Course records and world records for depth suddenly became the norm in almost every major university race and even down to the high school level as the competition for the 2020 team got started early. What is it going to take to make that team, not just in terms of times but mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
The Shape of Things to Come

Looking at the average of the ten fastest marathon times in Japan and worldwide each year, up until about the time of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Japanese marathoning developed at the same rate as it did worldwide.  After Barcelona, where Koichi Morishita won Japan's last Olympic men's marathon medal, the progression in the world standard continued at the same rate as Kenya and Ethiopia really came to the forefront, but Japanese marathoning abruptly flatlined.  Despite a string of 2:06 national records between 1999 and 2002, in the last 20-25 years the average top ten Japanese marathon times have stalled at around 2:10:00.

The possible reasons for this, a physiological ceiling, limitations of training approaches and the corporate team system, limitations of psychology, sociopolitical changes, would take up another article.  But it is notable that, as shown above, for much of the same period of time there was limited progression in quality at Hakone.  Zooming in on the last 20 years in Japanese marathoning and Hakone, the Y-axis inverted for Hakone data for ease of comparison, a possible pattern emerges.


It's not a perfect comparison as the Hakone numbers include some Kenyans, not all marathoners ran Hakone, and Olympic selection years like 2008 cause spikes in performance that aren't reflected at Hakone, but in general, over the last 20 years when there have been more university runners at the ace level, sub-1:03:00 half marathon and the like, 4 to 6 years later Japanese marathoning has been faster on average.  When Hakone fields have been weaker, 4-6 years later Japanese marathoning has been slower.  Researching the Hakone numbers further back past 1997 would take time and funding beyond the scope of this article and the correlation may not survive more rigorous statistical analysis, but it does look like there is a relationship there, and one that makes sense.

Going back to the full graph of the number of ace runners, then, suggests what we are going to see in the next few years.  There have never been anywhere near as many Japanese university runners anywhere near as good as right now.  The runners who were part of the 2013 revolution haven't started running marathons yet.  2016 is an Olympic selection year, so marathon times should be faster than usual.  Four years after the revolution is 2017, six years is 2019, the start of qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  Four years from now is 2020, still in range of this year's biggest Hakone names.  If the trends of the last 20 years mean anything, in the next 4-6 years we are going to see a lot more Japanese marathoners running fast times, the first really significant overall change in Japanese men's marathoning since Barcelona.

How fast?  One criticism often given is that Hakone runners are simply hitting the ceiling, physiological or otherwise, at a younger age and that they're not going to go anywhere past that.  Given the apparent ceiling in men's marathon performances over the last 20+ years that's possible, but with the steady increase in quality of the best Hakone runners shown above in mind, a look at the all-time Japanese top ten lists for the four major distances suggests otherwise.


Athletes in green are people who graduated in 2013 or later, while athletes in yellow set all-time top ten marks in 2013-2016 but graduated earlier.  Things have been bubbling toward longstanding national records since the generation of Sato and Imai, part of the 2006-2008 spike in Hakone performances, took over, but nobody could break through the ceiling, not one of them could take one of the major national records.  This would give support to the idea that Japanese running has hit its limits, that Hakone is an illusion and that university athletes are just moving toward those limits earlier with nowhere to go.

But the new generation who have come up as part of the post-2013 explosion look different, more confident, ambitious, already raising the ceiling.  Suguru Osako, Tetsuya Yoroizaka and Kota Murayama all broke national records on the track in 2015, Masato Kikuchi just missing joining them in the half marathon after tying the 20 km NR en route.  It's possible that the number of high-level performances at the shorter distances may be partially due to previous underdevelopment as a consequence of focus on the marathon and the times are still a long way from being globally competitive, but Osako thinks he can go sub-13 and sub-27 on the track and a sub-hour half marathon doesn't seem far away.  None of the major runners in this generation has done a marathon yet.  What will happen when they do?  Kenta Murayama plans to run his first at Tokyo next month along with three of the biggest performers at Hakone this year, Toyo's Yuma Hattori and Aoyama Gakuin's Tadashi Isshiki and Yuta Shimoda.  Maybe they will all burn out and have short careers, but given the numbers above it's reasonable to think that once that ball gets rolling we should see an impact on the all-time marathon lists, and when that happens you are talking real times.  There's nothing to suggest Japanese men are going to start running 2:03 or 2:04 marathons, but given the numbers involved 2:07 and 2:08 should become normal, with 2:06 in range of the top men the way 2:07 is now.  Given how much Kota Murayama and Yoroizaka took off 2:06:16 man Toshinari Takaoka's 10000 m national record last fall, maybe 2:05 is possible after all.

They face the major problem of the slow-moving and conservative corporate system adapting its attitudes and practices to cope with the massive wave of talent coming in, and in some respects it's not encouraging.  Despite both Yuta Shitara and Kenta Murayama having proved at the NYC Half that they had no fear about racing internationally against the best in the world as university students, in the early days of their careers in the corporate leagues they ran with unbelievable timidity at the Beijing World Championships, taking the last two places in the 10000 m after kicking ass domestically.  There's an obvious problem with the psychology the older corporate coaches are instilling relative to what's happening with younger coaches like Toyo's Sakai and Aoyama Gakuin's Hara, but no matter how high and how strong you build the wall, if the wave is big enough, powerful enough, it's coming over.

On the all-time lists above, every single athlete who has set an all-time top ten mark since 2013 was a Hakone star, an ace runner.  Nobody in these last two generations who didn't excel at Hakone has risen to the top level of current Japanese men's long distance.  It's hard to overstate how much it resonated with the public when Imai, the first modern Hakone star, ran 2:07:39 in Tokyo last year.  Some people say that Hakone, created to cultivate Olympic marathoners, has become too big, that too many runners are doing too much too young, that it is burning them out mentally and physically and distracting them from aspiring to the Olympics.  Who knows, that may end up being the case with this new generation, but the numbers simply don't back those claims up.  With the massive popularity of the Hakone Ekiden and the chance it gives for young, innovative coaches to do their thing and for more than just the three elite who someday make the Olympic marathon to have their own day in the sun there have never been so many runners so good in Japan, and it looks like the best is just around the corner.  Will the revolution bring a new golden era or a wasteland?  Let's talk again in another 4 to 6 years and see how things have played out.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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