Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Tokyo Marathon Announces Major Course Change for 2017

http://www.marathon.tokyo/news-media/news/news_000062.html

translated by Brett Larner
click here for a map of the 2017 Tokyo Marathon course

Thanks to your support, last month the Tokyo Marathon celebrated its tenth edition as an annual event since its first running in 2007.  During those ten years the landscape has changed dramatically, from redevelopment in the city center that has brought about a spectacular new Tokyo cityscape to the evolution of the marathon as a high-speed event and the rise to international prominence of wheelchair racing.  Thus, from the twin perspectives of showing the best of modern Tokyo inside and out and of offering a course capable of producing the fastest times in the world, the Tokyo Marathon will feature a new course beginning with 2017's race.

Translator's note:  Roughly 13-14 km of the 2017 course will cover new and flatter ground, the rest representing a shuffling of current segments.  The new course keeps the same starting point at Tokyo city hall but eliminates the unpopular hilly and barren last 6 km, moving the finish point to its originally envisioned location between the western side of Tokyo Station and the eastern side of the Imperial Palace.  

To achieve this the course will no longer pass the Imperial Palace between 5 and 10 km, instead heading through more nondescript business districts to a new 10 km point at Nihonbashi.  There it picks up the out-and-back to Asakusa that formed the third quarter of the old course, with the addition of an entirely new ~9 km out-and-back segment on the eastern side of the Sumida River between 16 and 25 km before returning through Ginza.  The ~10 km long out-and-back to Shinagawa that formed the second quarter holding pattern of the old course now makes up its last 10 km, with the finish outside Tokyo Station offering the only glimpse of the Imperial Palace.  

As such the new course is both a win and a loss, doubtlessly succeeding in the goal of being faster but pretty questionable on the other goal of showcasing the best of Tokyo despite the elimination of the bridges-and-landfill blight of the old finish.  The politics of dealing with the Tokyo police department and the Imperial Household Agency are complex, but while it's not the best remix that could have been done the new course should at the very least make up for its shortcomings by offering the average runner better crowd support late in the race and far more convenient post-race logistics.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Kawauchi Calls for JAAF Executive Committee to Get Itself Together

http://www.tokyo-sports.co.jp/sports/othersports/523466/

translated by Brett Larner

Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (29, Saitama Pref. Gov't) has expressed his full withdrawal from future Olympic opportunities.  On March 27 Kawauchi won the Nerima Kobushi Half Marathon in 1:05:32.  Just a week earlier on March 20 he ran Taiwan's Wanjinshi Marathon.  He came down with food poisoning afterward but it didn't seem to impact his run in Nerima. 

Kawauchi believes that he can still make a full comeback and win a medal at next year's London World Championships.  "People might think I'm well past my peak, but I'll only be 30 when the World Championships happen," he said.  On the other hand, he downplayed talk about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, preemptively raising the white flag given his history running in heat.  "Honestly, in those kinds of temperatures there's no way," he said.  "I don't want to do something where I know I can't compete."  Having missed making the Rio Olympic team, of making future Olympic teams Kawauchi says, "There's no chance.  London will be the last time I go for the Japanese team."

Instead, Kawauchi wants to focus his attention on the Olympic team selection process.  After the controversy raised by Kayoko Fukushi (34, Team Wacoal) surrounding the Rio selection system, where the three members of the team were chosen from four races, Kawauchi instead wants to see the Olympic team chosen on the basis of results at just two races, the World Championships and a newly-created National Championships marathon single trial race. 

But, he pointed out, other changes have to take place before there can be a single trial race.  "It's a mess right now," he said.  "Some JAAF executives were saying, "We don't want Fukushi to run," and others were saying, "Go ahead and do it."  Who is telling the truth?  Who should we believe?  The problem is that they can't communicate their own intentions internally.  That's why the National Team project fell apart."  More than a unification of the selection races, Kawauchi is calling for the JAAF executive committee to get itself together.

Hakone Champion Aoyama Gakuin University Graduate Ryotaro Otani Starts Transition to Triathlon in Time for Tokyo 2020

by Brett Larner

Fired from the Toyota Boshoku corporate team last month after asking its head coach for more flexibility, Ryotaro Otani, a 2013 graduate of two-time Hakone Ekiden champion Aoyama Gakuin University, took fans by surprise when he won Sunday's Japan Triathlon Union Qualifying Time Trial in one of the fastest times in the event's history.


Before becoming a runner Otani was a youth swimmer, making it to the national level before switching over to his junior high school's track and field team full-time. Alongside Takehiro Deki, at Aoyama Gakuin he was one of the star runners who helped turn AGU into national names, beating top-level men Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) to break the Fourth Stage course record and pave the way for AGU to score its first-ever Big Three University Ekiden win at the 2012 Izumo Ekiden and placing 5th on the Hakone Ekiden's most competitive stage three months later.  In between he set his 10000 m best of 28:46.02, and a few months after graduating and joining Toyota Boshoku he ran a 13:51.86 best for 5000 m.

Friction with the conservative environment at Toyota Boshoku and frustration at its remote location in Aichi made it difficult for Otani to keep the same kind of enthusiasm and motivation he had felt at AGU, and he began going for long bike rides in the countryside to escape.  A year ago at the Marugame Half Marathon he set his half marathon PB of 1:02:48, his best result post-university, but for the most part he was a failure as a corporate runner.  Feeling the clock ticking with his 26th birthday approaching, shortly after this year's New Year Ekiden corporate national championships Otani talked to the Toyota Boshoku head coach about trying to make changes to his approach and environment.  A few days later he received notification of the termination of his position on the Toyota Boshoku team.

Otani in green on the anchor stage of the 2012 Hakone Ekiden.

Otani returned to Tokyo full of questions about his own future.  What next?  Quit?  Find another team?  Everyone in the Japanese distance running industry has talked about nothing but the 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon ever since Japan won the bid in 2013.  The marathon.  Is that it?  All there is?  Do you only have the options in life that everyone else is aiming for, that the system is pushing you toward?  Or is there more to be had?  What if you did something nobody had ever thought of?  He had swim experience.  He was used to biking over 100 km at a time.   What if a top-level Hakone star made the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in triathlon?

Looking up PBs he found that among current world-class triathletes only London Olympics gold medalist Alistair Brownlee (Great Britain) had run faster for 10000 m.  None of them was better for 5000 m, London bronze medalist Jonathan Brownlee (Great Britain) coming closest with a 14:00.2 road 5 km best.  It was a lot of work to get done in a short time, but what if he didn't just make the team?  What if he medaled?  A Hakone star, medaling in the Tokyo Olympics.  The dream of every runner in Japan under age 30 and of all the coaches and bureaucrats in the system.  But not their way.  Not in the marathon.  In triathlon.  The idea and its implications made Otani giddy with excitement in a way he hadn't felt since the peak of his AGU days.


On Sunday, Mar. 27, Otani took part in the official Japan Triathlon Union (JTU) Qualifying Time Trial.  Clearing 4:43 for a 400 m swim and 16:25 for 5000 m on the track would meet the minimum standards for competing as an elite in official JTU Japan Cup events, his minimum goal.  4:29 twice and 15:35 would make him eligible for the ITU World Cup series.  On just a few practice swim sessions Otani clocked 4:40 for the 400 m swim, then ran 14:22 for 5000 m, his combined times the third-fastest in the event's history.  The door had opened for a possible pro triathlon career.  "With serious training and more experience I think I can improve my swim and run times a lot more," Otani tweeted afterward.  "I hope that you'll all keep cheering on Ryotaro Otani's next big challenge!"  A runner of Otani's ability backed by the power of Hakone Ekiden fandom and the Aoyama Gakuin University name value.  The impact on the Japanese triathlon scene could be huge.  Maybe on the world scene too.  Sponsors are already lining up.  In Japan they love to use the phrase "From Hakone to the World."  Otani is on his way from Hakone to another world.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Japanese Women Win Team Bronze at Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships

by Brett Larner

Led by a 10th-place overall finish by Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) with support from top-20 placings by Miho Shimizu (Team Hokuren) and Mizuki Matsuda (Team Daihatsu), the Japanese women narrowly held off Australia to score the team bronze medal at the 2016 World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff.  All three scoring members turned in solid runs, Ando and Matsuda seconds off their bests and Shimizu, the fastest on the team with a PB of 1:09:41 at last month's National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, just over a minute off hers.

Likewise bronze medal quality on paper with one runner with a 1:00:54 best, two under 1:01:30 and a fourth at 1:01:53, the Japanese men left their races at home as they struggled to make the top five.  Komazawa University second-year Naoki Kudo, 5th in last year's World University Games Half Marathon, was the top Japanese man and the only one to break 64 minutes as he finished 22nd in 1:03:41.  The other two scoring members, Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) and Keijiro Mogi (Team Asahi Kasei), ran 1:04:11 and 1:04:19 for 28th and 29th, outrunning the U.S.A. by just 17 seconds to keep a place in the top five.  Tokyo-based Bedan Karoki (Kenya) of the DeNA corporate team took 2nd overall in 59:36, his first-ever half marathon loss, with former Mazda runner Abayneh Ayele just out of the individual medals in 4th in a PB of 59:59.

World Half Marathon Championships
Cardiff, Great Britain, 3/26/16
click here for complete results

Women
1. Peres Jepchirchir (Kenya) - 1:07:31
2. Cynthia Jerotich Limo (Kenya) - 1:07:34
3. Mary Wacera Ngugi (Kenya) - 1:07:54
4. Netsanet Gudeta (Ethiopia) - 1:08:01
5. Genet Yalew (Ethiopia) - 1:08:01
6. Gladys Chesir Kiptagelai (Kenya) - 1:08:46
7. Pascalia Chepkorir Kipkoech (Kenya) - 1:09:44
8. Dehininet Demsew (Ethiopia) - 1:10:13 - PB
9. Gladys Tejeda (Peru) - 1:10:14 - AR
10. Yuka Ando (Japan) - 1:10:34
-----
14. Miho Shimizu (Japan) - 1:10:51
17. Mizuki Matsuda (Japan) - 1:11:00
36. Hisami Ishii (Japan) - 1:13:41
68. Mirai Waku (Japan) - 1:17:30

Team Scoring
1. Kenya - 3:22:59
2. Ethiopia - 3:26:29
3. Japan - 3:32:25
4. Australia - 3:32:48
5. U.S.A. - 3:34:26

Men
1. Geoffrey Kamworor (Kenya) - 59:10
2. Bedan Karoki (Kenya) - 59:36
3. Mo Farah (Great Britain) - 59:59
4. Abayneh Ayele (Ethiopia) - 59:59 - PB
5. Tamirat Tola (Ethiopia) - 1:00:06 - PB
6. Simon Cheroot (Kenya) - 1:00:12
7. Abrar Osman (Eritrea) - 1:00:58
8. Mule Wasihun (Ethiopia) - 1:01:11
9. Edwin Kiptoo (Kenya) - 1:01:21
10. Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) - 1:01:27
-----
22. Naoki Kudo (Japan) - 1:03:41
28. Minato Oishi (Japan) - 1:04:11
29. Keijiro Mogi (Japan) - 1:04:19
35. Keisuke Nakatani (Japan) - 1:04:43
36. Shogo Nakamura (Japan) - 1:04:49

Team Scoring
1. Kenya - 2:58:58
2. Ethiopia - 3:01:16
3. Eritrea - 3:06:18
4. Great Britain - 3:07:00
5. Japan - 3:12:11

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, March 25, 2016

Japanese World Half Marathon Championships Roster

by Brett Larner

Japan is sending one of its better teams in recent World Half Marathon Championships history to Saturday's race in Cardiff.  20-year-old Keijiro Mogi, a training partner of 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama at the Asahi Kasei corporate team, leads the men's roster with a 1:00:54 best.  Hakone Ekiden powerhouse Komazawa University features heavily, with current Komazawa runners Keisuke Nakatani and Naoki Kudo and 2015 graduate Shogo Nakamura (Team Fujitsu) making up the core of the men's team. 

The women's team includes three sub-70 runners led by Miho Shimizu (Team Hokuren) with support from Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Mirai Waku (Team Univ. Ent.).  With the exception of Mizuki Matsuda (Team Daihatsu), all will be making their international road debuts.

World Half Marathon Championships
Cardiff, U.K., 3/26/16 
click here for timetable and complete rosters

Men
Keijiro Mogi (Asahi Kasei) - 1:00:54 (Marugame Half 2016)
Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:21 (Marugame Half 2016)
Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:25 (Marugame Half 2016)
Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) - 1:01:53 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2016)
Minato Oishi (Toyota) - 1:02:06 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2013)

Women
Miho Shimizu (Hokuren) - 1:09:41 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2016)
Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:09:51 (Sanyo Ladies Half 2015)
Mirai Waku (Universal Entertainment) - 1:09:56 (Sanyo Ladies Half 2015)
Hisami Ishii (Yamada Denki) - 1:10:09 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2016)
Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) - 1:10:25 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2016)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Toyo University's Yuma Hattori to Shoot for Rio Olympics on the Track After Missing in Marathon Debut

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20160322-00000175-sph-spo

translated by Brett Larner

After finishing 12th overall as the 4th Japanese man in his debut at the Feb. 28 Tokyo Marathon, 4th-year Yuma Hattori of 2015 National University Ekiden champion Toyo University indicated on Mar. 22 that he plans to run both the 5000 m and the 10000 m at June's National Track and Field Championships, the qualifying event for the Rio Olympic team.

Hattori's 5000 m and 10000 m bests are 13:36.76 and 28:09.02.  The Olympic qualifying marks for those distances are 13:25.00 and 28:00.00.  Along with clearing those times Hattori faces the tough hurdle of winning the National Championships.  "The marathon and the track are totally different so it'll be tough for me to make the Olympic team," he said coolly, "but as long as there's a chance I want to go for it."

Hattori's former Sendai Ikuei H.S. teammate Tadashi Isshiki, a 3rd-year at 2016 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University who outkicked Hattori for 11th and 3rd Japanese in Tokyo, will also be trying for the Rio team in the 10000 m.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Five Years of Japanese University Runners at the NYC Half in Review


Yuta Shitara, Kento Otsu and Coach Sakai at the 2012 NYC Half


Sunday's United Airlines NYC Half marked the fifth year that the NYRR has invited the top two Japanese university finishers from November's Ageo City Half Marathon to run against top international competition in New York, a concept JRN proposed in 2011 and continues to help oversee.  For decades Japan's corporate leagues have sent runners to races like Philadelphia, San Diego and Virginia Beach, but relative to their pro elders the eight university men who have run a total of ten times in New York so far have represented themselves well with consistently serious and fast performances on a course with a challenging first half.

Otsu, Bernard Lagat and Kenta Murayama in 2013


The ten fastest times ever run in the United States by Japanese corporate league runners to date:

1:02:28 - Yasuaki Yamamoto (Tokyo Metro) - Philadelphia 1999
1:02:50 - Yoshinori Oda (Toyota) - Virginia Beach 2007
1:02:59 - Yoichiro Akiyama (Honda) - Virginia Beach 2005
1:03:50 - Noritaka Fujiyama (Sumco) - Virginia Beach 2009
1:03:57 - Kazuhiro Matsuda (Sagawa Express) - San Diego 2003
1:03:57 - Takayuki Matsumiya (Konica Minolta) - Virginia Beach 2010
1:04:24 - Yuko Matsumiya (Konica Minolta) - Virginia Beach 2009
1:04:32 - Tetsuo Nishimura (YKK) - Virginia Beach 2006
1:04:32 - Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - San Diego 2015
1:04:33 - Hironori Arai (Chugoku Denryoku) - Virginia Beach 2011

average: 1:03:48

The ten Japanese university runner results in New York to date:

1:01:48 - Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 2012
1:02:02 - Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 2013
1:02:50 - Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 2014
1:03:11 - Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 2014
1:03:15 - Kento Otsu (Toyo Univ.) - 2012
1:03:21 - Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) - 2015
1:03:21 - Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 2015
1:03:37 - Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 2016
1:03:40 - Haruki Minatoya (Tokai Univ.) - 2016
1:04:03 - Kento Otsu (Toyo Univ.) - 2013

average: 1:03:07

Ikuto Yufu and Takashi Ichida in 2014


With the NYC Half invite serving primarily as a developmental program, most of its alumni have already gone on to upper levels of the corporate leagues in their fledgling pro careers.  In both 2015 and 2016 Shitara broke the course record on the longest stage at the New Year Ekiden corporate national championship.  Murayama ran 1:00:50 to qualify for the World Half Marathon Championships the year after running in NYC, getting some notice in his marathon debut this year as the only Japanese man to go with the lead pack at the Tokyo Marathon.

Ichida and Koki Takada in 2015


Both he and Shitara made the 10000 m at last year's Beijing World Championships, although both ran poorly.  Ichida became the first of them to win a national title when he won the 2016 Japanese National Cross-Country Championships.  Yufu struggled to make the transition to the corporate leagues but finally got it right with a win at the high-level Karatsu 10-Miler in February. Otsu has made steady progress, finishing 2nd in his 30 km debut at this year's Kumanichi Road Race, the world's most competitive race at that distance.

Haruki Minatoya, Yusuke Nishiyama and Coach Fujita in 2016


With all them of prime age to be on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team, the opportunity to have met, talked to and run against the best in the world when they were still at the peak of their Hakone fitness, to see things from an angle they would otherwise never experience in the Japanese system, is bound to prove invaluable in changing their thinking, and maybe someday that system, for the better.

42nd Street photo © 2012 Victah Sailer, Photo Run, all rights reserved
Lagat photo © 2013 Chris Lotsbom, all rights reserved
Revlon photo © 2015 Takashi Ichida, all rights reserved
text and other photos © 2012-2016 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Monday, March 21, 2016

Shimokado and Obare Win at Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon

http://www.sankei.com/region/news/160321/rgn1603210010-n1.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On a course through the oldest and most scenic parts of town, the Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon held its 37th running on Mar. 20.  Serving as the National University Women's Half Marathon Championships, Matsue hosted 2363 runners from elementary school students to the corporate leagues to the best of the university circuit.  Local supporters turned out all along the course to cheer on the women whose run welcomes spring back to Matsue every year.

The Matsue Ladies Road Race featured four divisions starting one after another, the half marathon followed by the 3.2 km division, a 1.0 km children's race and the 10 km division.  153 women including 94 university runners were entered in the half marathon.  Taking control of the race after just 3 km, invited athlete Miharu Shimokado (Team Shimamura) won in 1:11:48.  "I was able to make it my own race," she said confidently.  Shimokado used Matsue as a tuneup for next month's Boston Marathon.  Runner-up Misaki Ogata (Matsuyama Univ.) was the top collegiate finisher in 1:11:50, taking the National University title by 3 seconds over teammate Ayumi Uehara.

Kenyan Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi), a regular in Matsue, broke the course record in the 10 km, winning in 32:33.  In both the half marathon and 10 km divisions the cutoff times were extended by 20 minutes, allowing many more amateur runners to take part.  Each of them running her own race and her own pace, they enjoyed the scenic castle and waterside views that Matsue has to offer before sampling nearby Lake Shinji's famous freshwater clams post-race.

37th Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon
Matsue, Shimane, 3/20/16
click here for complete results

Women's Half Marathon
1. Miharu Shimokado (Shimamura) - 1:11:48
2. Misaki Ogata (Matsuyama Univ.) - 1:11:50
3. Ayumi Uehara (Matsuyama Univ.) - 1:11:53
4. Yomogi Akasaka (Meijo Univ.) - 1:11:55
5. Honoka Tanaike (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:21
6. Sakie Arai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:12:45
7. Wakana Itsuki (Fukuoka Univ.) - 1:12:49
8. Mizuki Tanimoto (Tenmaya) - 1:13:06
9. Kanade Furuya (Matsuyama Univ.) - 1:13:52
10. Maho Shimizu (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:14:42

Women's 10 km
1. Doricah Obare (Kenya/Hitachi) - 32:33 - CR
2. Yuko Kikuchi (Hokuren) - 33:16
3. Rina Kurosawa (Hitachi) - 34:44

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Chebor Over Kawauchi for New Taipei City Course Record

by Brett Larner
photos by Mika Tokairin

In hopes of breaking their year-old 2:13:14 course record the organizers of Taiwan's New Taipei City Wanjinshi Marathon brought in three 2:08 men, Kenyans William Chebon Chebor and Julius Ndiritu Karinga and Japan's Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), to give it a go.  Running to show his support for the victims of last month's Tainan earthquake, Kawauchi took the challenge to heart.  With a tough uphill first 5 km including a long tunnel he pushed things at sub-2:10 pace, unusually aggressive against tough competition and quickly disposing of everybody but Chebor and Karinga.  Both took turns attacking, Chebor in particular matching Kawauchi's aggression with multiple hard surges.  The lead changed countless times between all three but nobody got away cleanly.

At halfway Kawauchi led in 1:05:15, Karinga a second behind and Chebor one more back.  Around 23 km Chebor threw in another hard surge and this time neither Kawauchi nor Karinga could stay with him.  It looked like too much too far out, but Chebor's judgment proved sound as he ran the rest of the way in unthreatened.  A hard kick coming out of the tunnel was enough to score him a new course record as he won in 2:13:05.  Kawauchi and Karinga stuck together through 35 km before Kawauchi said goodbye, putting in a long surge that brought him closer to Chebor and gave him 2nd in 2:14:12.  Karinga faded to 3rd in 2:14:52, nearly run down by Ethiopian Belay Mamo Abadoyo on the last downhill.

Kenyan Hellen Wanjiku Mugo also took the women's race out aggressively, on 2:25-flat pace with a lead of over a minute and a half by 10 km and stretching it out to a lead of almost four minutes before things started to fall apart.  Between 30 km and 35 km Mugo was so spent that she actually stopped to turn around and look to see if anyone was catching her, barely shuffling when she turned back around to start running again.  Ukrainian Olha Kotobska quickly gunned her down, coming up just short of the course record to win in 2:36:38.  An Ethiopian trio led by Bentu Shiferaw Wodajo likewise overtook Mugo to sweep the next three spots, Mugo staggering in to finish 5th in 2:40:14.  Masters runner Chihiro Tanaka (AthlecAC), like Kawauchi appearing with support from JRN, was 9th overall as the top Japanese woman.


New Taipei City Wanjinshi Marathon
New Taipei City, Taiwan, 3/20/16
click here for complete results

Men
1. William Chebon Chebor (Kenya) - 2:13:05 - CR
2. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:14:12
3. Julius Ndiritu Karinga (Kenya) - 2:14:52
4. Belay Mamo Abadoyo (Ethiopia) - 2:14:55
5. Getu Nigussie Demie (Ethiopia) - 2:18:35

Women
1. Olha Kotobska (Ukraine) - 2:36:38
2. Bentu Shiferaw Wodajo (Ethiopia) - 2:38:11
3. Meseret Godana Agama (Ethiopia) - 2:38:14
4. Abiyot Eshetu Deme (Ethiopia) - 2:39:26
5. Hellen Wanjiku Mugo (Kenya) - 2:40:14
-----
9. Chihiro Tanaka (Japan/Athlec AC) - 2:58:53

text © 2016 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
photos © 2016 Mika Tokairin, all rights reserved

United Airlines NYC Half - Japanese Results

by Brett Larner

For the last five years JRN has worked with the NYRR to bring the fastest two Japanese university men at November's Ageo City Half Marathon, one of the world's absolute deepest races, to the United Airlines NYC Half.  The program has had a big impact on the runners who have qualified, Yuta Shitara and Kenta Murayama both making the Beijing World Championships last year and Murayama turning some heads with his marathon debut in Tokyo this year, two-time NYC runner Takashi Ichida winning the 2016 Japanese XC national title and Ikuto Yufu, the highest placer in New York to date at 9th, winning the prestigious Karatsu 10-Miler last month.  This year Komazawa University third-year Yusuke Nishiyama and 19-year-old Tokai University first-year Haruki Minatoya made the trip, both running in the U.S.A. for the first time and Nishiyama accompanied by Komazawa coach and former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita.

Both chugged along in the main pack through the slow first 5 km in 15:18 before the race really began.  When the pace picked up Nishiyama was quick to fall off, but the young Minatoya stayed in contact with the lead group through 10 km before last year's runner-up Stephen Sambu of Kenya dropped a 13:58 split between 10 and 15 km to blow the race apart and seal the win in 1:01:16.  Minatoya opened a 20-second lead over Nishiyama mid-race, but Nishiyama rallied to overtake him at 18 km.  Working together they closed on European marathon champion Daniele Meucci of Italy late in the race but came up just short of catching him.  Meucci took 9th in 1:03:35, Nishiyama coming just shy of tying his former Komazawa teammate Yufu's placing as he finished 10th in 1:03:37.  Minatoya, a last-minute replacement for Ageo winner Kenya Sonota of Komazawa, was right behind in 11th in 1:03:40.

"That was hard," Nishiyama said post-race.  "I had a hard time going from so slow to so fast, and my hamstrings felt really tight in the cold."  Minatoya, a native of Akita in northern Japan, said, "It wasn't as cold as back home so it didn't bother me that much, although I wouldn't usually run in this kind of weather in just singlet and shorts.  The hardest part for me was running alone the whole second half of the race."  Both runners head back to Japan on Monday, Nishiyama targeting the 5000 m and Minatoya the 10000 m at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships in hopes of making June's National Track and Field Championships for a shot at the Rio Olympic team.

United Airlines NYC Half
New York, U.S.A., 3/20/16
click here for complete results

Men
1. Stephen Sambu (Kenya) - 1:01:16
2. Wilson Chebet (Kenya) - 1:01:35
3. Sam Chelanga (U.S.A.) - 1:01:43
4. Juan Luis Barrios (Mexico) - 1:02:02
5. Diego Estrada (U.S.A.) - 1:02:15
6. Lusapho April (South Africa) - 1:02:28
7. Byron Piedra (Ecuador) - 1:02:35
8. Zane Robertson (New Zealand) - 1:02:37
9. Daniele Meucci (Italy) - 1:03:35
10. Yusuke Nishiyama (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:37
11. Haruki Minatoya (Japan/Tokai Univ.) - 1:03:40

Women
1. Molly Huddle (U.S.A) - 1:07:41 - CR
2. Joyce Chepkirui (Kenya) - 1:07:41
3. Diane Nukuri (Burundi) - 1:09:41
4. Fionnuala McCormick (Ireland) - 1:10:44
5. Caroline Rotich (Kenya) - 1:10:45

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

Nishiyama and Minatoya to Make U.S. Debut at United Airlines NYC Half

by Brett Larner

coach Atsushi Fujita, Yusuke Nishiyama and Haruki Minatoya in New York

For the fifth year in a row the NYRR have invited the top two Japanese university finishers at November's Ageo City Half Marathon to make their U.S. debuts at the United Airlines NYC HalfLast year in Ageo Kenya Sonota and Yusuke Nishiyama from four-time National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University went 1-2 in 1:02:48 and 1:02:52 to seal up their invites to New York, just outkicking Japan's best first-year Haruki Minatoya of Tokai University.  Three weeks ago Sonota sustained an injury that forced him to withdraw.  19-year-old Minatoya, already entered for the National University Half Marathon, was ready to take over.

In New York with support from JRN and Komazawa coach Atsushi Fujita, the former Japanese marathon national record holder at 2:06:51, Nishiyama was a star runner at Iga Hakuho H.S. with a win on the First Stage at the 2012 National High School Ekiden Championships his senior year.  He comes to New York off a strong junior year at Komazawa, winning the Fifth Stage at October's Izumo Ekiden and taking first in the university race at last month's Chiba X-Run cross country meet.

Minatoya coach Hayashi Morozumi was the high school coach of Yuki Sato, the Nike Oregon Project's Suguru Osako, and other current top-level Japanese men before taking over at Tokai.  Under his coaching Minatoya ran 13:54.07 for 5000 m, 28:46.59 for 10000 m and 1:02:54 in his half marathon debut in Ageo, the only Japanese first-year to clear 14 minutes, 29 minutes and 1:03:00 this year.

With past Komazawa runners Kenta Murayama and Ikuto Yufu having run 1:02:02 and 1:02:50 in New York Nishiyama hopes to break 1:02:30.  Minatoya, the first runner from Tokai to make it to New York, looks to end his first college season with a new PB.  With possible snow forecast for the day a lot will depend on the weather.  JRN will be on-hand to cover their performances.  Watch live on ABC7 starting at 7:30 a.m. local time.

United Airlines NYC Half 
Elite Men's Field
New York City, 3/20/16

Wilson Chebet (Kenya) - 59:15
Zane Robertson (New Zealand) - 59:47
Stephen Sambu (Kenya) - 1:00:41
Juan Luis Barrios (Mexico) - 1:00:46
Diego Estrada (U.S.A.) - 1:00:51
Sam Chelanga (U.S.A.) - 1:01:04
Daniele Meucci (Italy) - 1:01:06
Lusapho April (South Africa) - 1:01:16
Kevin Chelimo (Kenya) - 1:01:21
Girma Mecheso (U.S.A.) - 1:02:16
Jordan Chipnagama (Zambia) - 1:02:24
Yusuke Nishiyama (Japan/Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:43
Ian Burrell (U.S.A.) - 1:02:51
Haruki Minatoya (Japan/Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:54
Yonas Mebrahtu (Eritrea) - 1:02:59
Herbert Okuti (Uganda) - 1:03:52
Matthew Kiplagat (Kenya) - 1:03:59
Byron Piedra (Ecuador) - 1:04:09
Lee Merrien (Great Britain) - 1:04:12
John Beattie (Great Britain) - 1:04:48

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, March 17, 2016

JAAF Announces Japanese Women's and Men's Marathon Teams for Rio Olympics

by Brett Larner

The JAAF announced the Japanese women's and men's marathon team lineups for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics at a press conference on Mar. 17 streamed live worldwide.  Surprisingly there were no surprises, no controversial calls, the athletes chosen for the team the most likely based on the complicated selection criteria.

The women's team includes 2016 Osaka Women's winner Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), 2016 Nagoya Women's runner-up Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) and 2015 World Championships 7th-placer Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku).  The men's team is made up of 2015 Fukuoka 3rd-placer Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei), 2015 Lake Biwa runner-up Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) and 4th-placer Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda).  No alternates were named in the event, likely given recent history, that any of the team members does not make the starting line, and no one was named to the team from two of the selection races, last year's Saitama International Women's Marathon and this year's Tokyo Marathon, where the top Japanese finishers were Kaori Yoshida (Runners Pulse), 2nd in a PB of 2:28:43, and Yuki Takamiya (Team Yakult), 8th in a PB of 2:10:57.

With only Tanaka still in her 20s the teams have average ages of 31 for the women and just over 32 for the men, Ishikawa at 36 being the oldest Japanese man ever to break 2:10 with his 2:09:25 two weeks ago at Lake Biwa.  Of the six Fukushi looks like the best medal prospect, a bronze medal at the 2013 Moscow World Championships and a 2:22:17 win in Osaka in January, all-time #7 among Japanese women, to her name.  Tanaka, controversially left off of last year's Beijing World Championships team despite winning one of the selection races in a quality time, showed tremendous improvement with her all-time Japanese #11 2:23:19 last weekend in Nagoya and could be a top-eight contender.  Ito, 7th in Beijing, has never been flashy but has shown a lot of stability and should play a solid support role.

Among the men Kitajima has the slowest PB at only 2:09:16 two weeks ago in Lake Biwa, but given his success so far in just over a year as a marathoner, winning his debut in February last year in 2:12:28, winning again in Sydney in September in 2:12:44 on a tough course and then coming just 5 seconds short of winning Lake Biwa, and his status of training partner to London Olympics 6th-placer and Moscow World Championships 5th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto, he's likely to be Japan's top man in Rio.  Ishikawa has proven himself to be competent and reliable at home and abroad and should have top ten potential, three of his six marathons having been 2:09s in Japan and the others a 2:10 and a 2:11 in Berlin and a 2:11 debut.  Fastest of the three on paper, Sasaki is more of a wildcard, his marathon career not especially impressive before diet and training changes helped him break 2:09 in Fukuoka last December.  If he really did hit on something with the changeup to his regimen then expect a strong team run from all three Japanese men come August.

Women

Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - D.O.B. Mar. 25, 1982
P.B.: 2:22:17 (2016 Osaka International Women's Marathon)

Marathon History
1st - 2016 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:22:17
4th - 2015 Chicago Marathon - 2:24:25
6th - 2014 Berlin Marathon - 2:26:25
3rd - 2013 Moscow World Championships Marathon - 2:27:45
1st - 2013 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:24:21
8th - 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:37:35
2nd - 2011 Chicago Marathon - 2:24:38
19th - 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:40:54

Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - D.O.B. Sept. 25, 1988
P.B.: 2:23:19 (2016 Nagoya Women's Marathon)

Marathon History
2nd - 2016 Nagoya Women's Marathon - 2:23:19
8th - 2015 Berlin Marathon - 2:28:00
1st - 2014 Yokohama International Women's Marathon - 2:26:57
4th - 2014 Nagoya Women's Marathon - 2:26:05

Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - D.O.B. May 23, 1984
P.B.: 2:24:42 (2015 Nagoya Women's Marathon)

Marathon History
7th - 2015 Beijing World Championships Marathon - 2:29:48
3rd - 2015 Nagoya Women's Marathon - 2:24:42
7th - 2014 Vienna Marathon - 2:35:15
7th - 2014 Tokyo Marathon - 2:28:36
3rd - 2013 Hokkaido Marathon - 2:32:54
7th - 2013 London Marathon - 2:28:37
5th - 2012 Yokohama International Women's Marathon - 2:27:06
5th - 2012 Nagoya Women's Marathon - 2:25:26
22nd - 2011 Daegu World Championships Marathon - 2:35:16
2nd - 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:26:55
4th - 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - 2:29:13

Men

Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - D.O.B. Oct. 16, 1985
P.B.: 2:08:56 (2015 Fukuoka International Marathon)

Marathon History
3rd - 2015 Fukuoka International Marathon - 2:08:56
9th - 2015 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:14:27
17th - 2014 Chicago Marathon - 2:15:25
2nd - 2014 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:09:47
9th - 2013 Fukuoka International Marathon - 2:13:12
16th - 2013 Tokyo Marathon - 2:11:28
14th - 2011 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:12:42
20th - 2010 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon - 2:19:23
7th - 2009 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:14:00

Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) - D.O.B. Sept. 27, 1979
P.B.: 2:09:10 (2013 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon)

Marathon History
4th - 2016 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:09:25
13th - 2014 Tokyo Marathon - 2:09:29
7th - 2013 Berlin Marathon - 2:10:24
6th - 2013 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:09:10
11th - 2012 Berlin Marathon - 2:11:46
13th - 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:11:13

Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) - D.O.B. Oct. 16, 1984
P.B.: 2:09:16 (2016 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon)

Marathon History
2nd - 2016 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon - 2:09:16
1st - 2015 Sydney Marathon - 2:12:44
1st - 2015 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon - 2:12:28

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, March 14, 2016

Understanding the Japanese Women's Olympic Team Selection Standings

by Brett Larner

Japan's qualification process for the Rio Olympics marathon wrapped up with a bang at yesterday's Nagoya Women's Marathon, with Tomomi Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) getting payback for being left off of last year's Beijing World Championships team in favor of a runner from the Tenmaya corporate team by beating Tenmaya's Rei Ohara by one second in 2:23:19 to take what is almost definitely the last place on the Rio team.  Last week JRN detailed the situation regarding the Rio men's team candidates.  The women's situation looks more clear-cut but it's worth a quick review to see who the most likely names are for Thursday's Olympic team lineup announcement.  Click any race for detailed results.

Beijing World Championships Women's Marathon, Aug. 30
7. Mai Ito (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:29:48
13. Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu) - 2:31:46
14. Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) - 2:32:37

Under the JAAF's selection criteria this time around the only chance Japanese women had to guarantee themselves a place on the Rio team was by making the top eight at August's Beijing World Championships, a bafflingly easy target considering their history.  Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) duly pulled off a 7th place finish to secure a position.

Saitama International Women's Marathon, Nov. 15
2. Kaori Yoshida (Runners Pulse) - 2:28:43 - PB
4. Yoko Shibui (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:31:06

Moving out to the suburban wildlands of Saitama this year from its past homes in downtown Yokohama and Tokyo, the first women's domestic selection race was mostly ignored by even B-level corporate runners.  Returning from a two-year EPO suspension Kaori Yoshida (Runners Pulse) ran a PB 2:28:43 to take the top Japanese position, but with the JAAF setting an Olympic standard of 2:22:30, only two spots left on the team and two more selection races still to come, nobody expected her to make the Rio team.

Osaka International Women's Marathon, Jan. 31
1. Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) - 2:22:17 - PB
2. Misato Horie (Noritz) - 2:28:20

Fukushi dropped the best Japanese women's marathon performance in many years with her 2:22:17 win in Osaka, clearing the JAAF's Olympic standard.  On the podium Fukushi shouted to the audience, "I gots Rio in my pocket, y'all!" and many people in the media and public assumed she was on the team for sure, but the JAAF's refusal to confirm her position due to the wording of the selection rules kicked off weeks of controversy that saw Fukushi enter, then ultimately withdraw from, the final selection race in Nagoya.

Nagoya Women's Marathon, Mar. 13
2. Tomomi Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:19 - PB
3. Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) - 2:23:20 - PB

Tanaka, left off the Beijing team last year in favor of Tenmaya runner Risa Shigetomo despite winning the Yokohama Women's selection race, ran side-by-side with Ohara over the last 5 km, the two pushing each other to negative split PBs as they tried to outdo one other.  In the last few hundred meters Tanaka finally kicked away from Ohara, taking the top position by 1 second.

You can never really put your full trust in the JAAF's decision-making, but there doesn't seem to be much question about the team lineup.  Ito is on for certain.  Yoshida's result doesn't measure up to those in Osaka and Nagoya.  With a time under the JAAF's standard and a win there is no reason Fukushi would be omitted, JAAF executive Katsumi Sakai's brilliant proclamation "It's not about winning" notwithstanding.

Is it possible, could it be possible, that there is any question between Tanaka and Ohara for the third spot?  Tanaka, coached by the most successful female coach in Japan, 1991 World Championships silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, and Ohara, whose coach Yutaka Taketomi is one of the JAAF's senior directors of its marathon program and who has had his women on the last four Olympic marathon teams?  Any flaw the JAAF might come up with in Tanaka's run?  Anything in the way that Ohara ran in the front row of the lead pack the whole race up to 30 km while Tanaka often hung back in the second row?  Anything in how when winner Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) made her move at 30 km Ohara was the first one to go after her while Tanaka took some time to react?  Anything at all?  Impossible, you say?  Agreed, but let's wait until Thursday night to pop the cork on the champagne.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Kirwa Defends in Nagoya, Tanaka and Ohara to the Line for Rio Team

by Brett Larner

Again this week, what a race.

Defending champion Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) led the largest women-only marathon field in the world through a tense and thrilling race at today's Nagoya Women's Marathon, tailed closely by a large Japanese group that collectively broke through to new ground in the race for the last spot on the Rio Olympics team.

With some erratic pacing in the early kilometers the race soon settled down in the mid-to-high 2:23 range, slow of the JAAF's sub-2:22:30 Olympic standard but still uncharted territory for almost every Japanese woman in the field.  National record holder and Athens gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), trying one last time to return to the Olympics, was the first to fall off, losing touch with the lead group after 5 km.  The trickle of stragglers continued as the pace held steady around 2:23:30-40 until a core group of 11 remained behind the pacers when they hit halfway in 1:11:45.

Kenyan Monica Jepkoech was the first to crack, abruptly stopping at 25 km without having shown much sign of distress.  Ethiopians Betelhem Moges and Bekelech Daba and debuting Japanese runner Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) repeatedly faded off the back of the pack, but only Daba was gone for good when the pacers stepped off at 30 km and Kirwa shot ahead to get the race started for real.

From 30 to 31 km Kirwa, the 2014 Asian Games gold medalist, 2015 World Championships bronze medalist and Nagoya course record holder, dropped a 3:13 km.  Only Japan's Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), controversially left off the Beijing team last year despite winning the Yokohama International Women's Marathon selection race, was able to cover it, with Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) a few strides back and the rest of the chase pack tumbling in the turbulence.  Another 3:13 and Tanaka was still there.  Sensing the challenge Kirwa ratcheted it up to 3:11 for the next km, but Tanaka still managed to deliver another 3:13 before the connection severed.

From there it was smooth sailing all the way to the end for Kirwa, who scored her second-straight Nagoya title in 2:22:40.  Tanaka slowed to a more sustainable pace around 3:20/km, but when she did so Ohara began to regain ground.  Ohara, the fastest Japanese woman over the half marathon distance in 2015, debuted in Nagoya last year but suffered a bad fall at an early water station and finished in 3:05:21.  Like Tanaka, she had something to show.  Gritting down, she closed the gap to Tanaka and went wide as she passed just before 37 km, taking Tanaka by surprise.

The Japanese Olympic team selection process has rarely been as criticized and scrutinized as this year.  Going in to Nagoya Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) had one spot on the Rio team sealed up after her 7th-place finish in Beijing last summer.  Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) was a virtual lock for the second spot with her 2:22:17 win in Osaka, although the JAAF's refusal to say so caused a firestorm of angry public opinion.  That left one place, one place for the two women side-by-side on 2:23:30 pace with 5 km to go.

Tanaka latched on to Ohara, staying right behind her for the next 2 km before drawing up next to her at 39 km.  Still side-by-side with 2 km to go.  The pace getting faster.  Still with 1 km to go.  Faster.  Still with 500 m to go.  Ohara, last year's fall and the weight of four-straight Olympic team appearances by runners from her Tenmaya corporate team upon her, Tanaka, driven by the knowledge that she was left off the Beijing team in favor of another Tenmaya runner whose coach just happened to be a senior JAAF executive.

No. Freaking. Way. was Tanaka going to let someone from Tenmaya take it away again.  The last turn into the stadium and finally, her kick!  Ohara trying to cover but half a stride behind, into the dome for the last straight and the margin widening to a stride.  Tanaka across the line in 2:23:19 in ecstasy, Ohara in 2:23:20 and flat onto the ground.  Both crying.  Validation and a probable place in Rio for Tanaka and her coach Sachiko Yamashita, the 1991 World Championships silver medalist.  Devastation for Ohara and the end of the Tenmaya reign even with one of the best runs in its history.  What more could you ask for in an Olympic qualifying race?


And whether you asked for it or not, there was more.  The debuting Kiyota held on for 4th, cracking the all-time Japanese top 25 as she finished in 2:24:32.  Two other first-timers, Sayaka Kuwahara (Team Sekisui Kagaku) and Michi Numata (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) joined her in the top ten, Kuwahara 6th in 2:25:09 and Numata 9th in 2:27:27.  Japanese under-20 record holder Reia Iwade (Team Noritz) returned to form with a nearly 3-minute PB of 2:24:38 for 5th, Shiho Takechi (Team Yamada Denki) running an even bigger best of 2:25:29 for 7th.  Japan's best amateur runner, Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) ran a strong and steady race in her sixth marathon in four months, running down Noguchi for 21st in 2:33:04.  Noguchi, saying beforehand that this would be her last time trying for an Olympic team, 23rd in 2:33:54 and coming just short of saying she was retiring in a televised interview right after she finished.

All told it was one of the best women's marathons in Japan in recent memory.  A fast winning time and a fast and furious battle between the best young Japanese women.  All that could spoil it would be for the JAAF to find some rationale for putting Ohara on the Rio team in favor of Tanaka.  Don't expect that to happen, though, not this time.  Even JAAF senior director Mitsugi Ogata was smiling after the race.  The women's and men's Olympic marathon team lineup announcement comes this Thursday.  Let's hope there's just cause for more smiles then.

Nagoya Women's Marathon
Nagoya, 3/13/16
click here for complete results

1. Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:22:40
2. Tomomi Tanaka (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:19 - PB
3. Rei Ohara (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:23:20 - PB
4. Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:24:32 - debut
5. Reia Iwade (Japan/Noritz) - 2:24:38 - PB
6. Sayaka Kuwahara (Japan/Sekisui Kagaku) - 2:25:09 - debut
7. Shiho Takechi (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:25:29 - PB
8. Betelhem Moges (Ethiopia) - 2:26:36
9. Michi Numata (Japan/Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:27:27 - debut
10. Ryoko Kizaki (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:28:49
11. Asami Kato (Japan/Panasonic) - 2:29:33
12. Bekelech Daba (Ethiopia) - 2:29:50 - PB
13. Iwona Lewandowska (Poland) - 2:30:15
14. Kaoru Nagao (Japan/Univ. Ent.) - 2:30:54
15. Haruna Takada (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:31:17 - PB
16. Eri Hayakawa (Japan/Toto) - 2:31:47
17. Sakiko Matsumi (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:32:09 - PB
18. Yuka Takemoto (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:32:21
19. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:32:23 - PB
20. Rie Uchida (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:32:25 - PB
21. Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/First Dream AC) - 2:33:04
22. Yuko Mizuguchi (Japan/Denso) - 2:33:20
23. Mizuki Noguchi (Japan/Sysmex) - 2:33:54
24. Saki Tabata (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:34:20 - PB
25. Mei Matsuyama (Japan/Noritz) - 2:34:35 - PB
-----
32. Jenna Challenor (South Africa) - 2:37:09 - PB
34. Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) - 2:37:52
36. Lydia O'Donnell (New Zealand) - 2:39:38
121. Azusa Nojiri (Japan/Hiratsuka Lease) - 3:48:39
-----
DNF - Marisa Barros (Portugal)
DNF - Monica Jepkoech (Kenya)

Nagoya Half Marathon
Nagoya, 3/13/16
click here for complete results

Men
1. Courtney Carter (Australia) - 1:05:51
2. Norio Kamijo (Japan) - 1:06:04
3. Masahiro Kinoshita (Japan) - 1:09:35

Women
1. Lexy Gilmour (Australia) - 1:16:28
2. Satoko Uetani (Japan) - 1:23:42
3. Sayaka Kazaoka (Japan) - 1:26:19

Men's Quarter Marathon
1. Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Japan) - 32:53
2. Satoshi Kato (Japan) - 32:54
3. Yu Hiraoka (Japan) - 33:03

Women's Quarter Marathon
1. Mina Takahashi (Japan) - 42:09
2. Sachiko Tsutsumi (Japan) - 43:31
3. Mirai Jinno (Japan) - 45:04

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kawauchi Breaks World Record for Half Marathon in a Suit by 18 Minutes

by Brett Larner


A week after his Olympic dreams ended with a 2:11:53 finish at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) took to the streets of his hometown of Kuki, Saitama to run the Kuki Half Marathon.  A special guest of race organizers, Kawauchi treated local fans by portraying his role as the Civil Servant Runner in a literal way, running the race wearing a full suit including tie, vest, belt and dress socks.


The official Guinness World Record for a half marathon in a suit is 1:24:41 by American Gihan Amarasiriwardena last December.  Dueling with his longtime friend and rival Saeki Makino (DNPL), runners from Heisei Kokusai University and his younger brothers Yoshiki and Koki, Kawauchi ran 1:06:42 for 3rd behind Makino and one HKU runner.  "Kuki isn't a certified course, so this won't be an official Guinness World Record," Kawauchi told JRN post-race.  "But I'm glad that I could break the Guinness World Record unofficially.  I got pretty sweaty and tired out there, but the people along the course loved it."


Race organizers also set up a display of Kawauchi's bib numbers from his races around the world to showcase a local boy's achievements for his fans. Two bibs from his youngest brother Koki also made the display.


Left two columns, top to bottom: "From Hakone to the World."
  • 2011 Daegu World Championships, South Korea
  • 2012 Kavarna World Half Marathon Championships, Bulgaria
  • 2013 Moscow World Championships, Russia
  • 2014 Incheon Asian Games, South Korea
  • 2007 and 2009 Hakone Ekiden, Japan
 Third column, top to bottom: "America and Africa"
  • 2013, 2014 and 2015 New York City Marathon, U.S.A.
  • 2015 Cape Town Marathon, South Africa
  • 2013 Luxor Marathon, Egypt
Fourth column, top to bottom: "Australia"
  • 2013, 2014 and 2015 Gold Coast Marathon
  • 2012 Sydney Marathon
  • 2014 City to Surf Perth Marathon
  • 2013 Melbourne Marathon
Fifth and sixth columns: "Europe and Asia"
  • 2015 Zurich Marathon, Switzerland
  • 2014 Hamburg Marathon, Germany
  • 2013 Great North Run half marathon, U.K.
  • 2014 Athens Classic Marathon (Koki Kawauchi), Greece
  • 2015 Ankor Empire Marathon (Koki Kawauchi), Cambodia
  • 2015 Bitburger Silvesterlauf 8 km, Germany
  • 2013 Seoul Marathon, South Korea
  • 2012 Dusseldorf Marathon, Germany
  • 2013 San Silvestre Vallecana 10 km, Spain
  • 2014 Cursa dels Nassos 10 km, Spain
Kawauchi's next addition to that board comes next weekend at Taiwan's New Taipei City Wanjinshi Marathon.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

World University Cross Country Championships - Results

by Brett Larner

Japan's contingent ran well at Saturday's World University Cross Country Championships in Cassino, Italy, scoring two individual and two team medals in a field made somewhat softer by the absence of South Africa, whose team management reportedly forgot to apply for visas, and the United States which elected not to send a team to compete internationally. 

In the women's 6.2 km, Moeno Shimizu (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) and Maki Izumida (Rikkyo Univ.) were part of a tight four-way battle for the podium, both outlasting Jennifer Louise Nesbitt (Great Britain) but unable to top winner Sevilay Eytemis (Turkey).  Eytemis scored gold in 21:57, Shimizu taking silver three seconds back and Izumida bronze a stride behind.  With women's team scoring based on the first three of six finishers Japan took the gold thanks to Shimizu, Izumida and Nanako Kanno (Ritsumeikan Univ.), 8th overall in 22:27.  Nesbitt's 4th-place finish led Great Britain to the team silver, with hosts Italy winning bronze.

In the men's 10.7 km, Morocco swept the first four places, Hicham Amghar scoring gold in 33:46.  Japan landed three men in the top ten led by first-year Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) at 5th in 33:56, just five seconds out of an individual bronze.  With men's team results scored by the first four of six finishers Morocco earned a perfect gold, Japan taking silver with 5th, 6th, 8th and 12th-place finishes.  Turkey won bronze with two in the top ten.

20th World University Cross Country Championships
Cassino, Italy, 3/12/16
click here for complete results

Women's 6.2 km
1. Sevilay Eytemis (Turkey) - 21:57
2. Moeno Shimizu (Japan) - 22:00
3. Maki Izumida (Japan) - 22:01
4. Jennifer Louise Nesbitt (Great Britain) - 22:05
5. Laura Donegan (Australia) - 22:12
6. Philippa Ruth Woolven (Great Britain) - 22:20
7. Danielle Allen (Australia) - 22:26
8. Nanako Kanno (Japan) - 22:27
9. Ai Hosoda (Japan) - 22:32
10. Valeria Roffino (Italy) - 22:34
-----
13. Kanna Tamaki (Japan) - 22:37
14. Ayumi Uehara (Japan) - 22:41

Team Results
1. Japan - 13
2. Great Britain - 22
3. Italy - 41

Men's 10.7 km
1. Hicham Amghar (Morocco) - 33:46
2. Reda Jaafar (Morocco) - 33:49
3. Youssef Ben Had (Morocco) - 33:51
4. Mohamed Agourram (Morocco) - 33:53
5. Kazuya Shiojiri (Japan) - 33:56
6. Hideaki Sumiyoshi (Japan) - 33:58
7. Takieddine Hedeili (Algeria) - 34:08
8. Yusuke Nishiyama (Japan) - 34:08
9. Sabahattin Yildirimci (Turkey) - 34:13
10. Alper Demir (Turkey) - 34:19
-----
12. Kenta Ueda (Japan) - 34:26
20. Kai Takeshita (Japan) - 35:01
35. Hiroya Inoue (Japan) - 35:47

Team Results
1. Morocco - 10
2. Japan - 31
3. Turkey - 62

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Asics and Waseda University Announce Partnership Aimed at College Sports Industry

https://www.wwdjapan.com/business/2016/03/03/00019811.html

translated by Brett Larner

Asics has formed a comprehensive partnership with Waseda University, a five-year agreement beginning March 2, 2016.  The three main objectives of the collaboration include research and development in sports products and sports medicine, sports-related human resources development and international exchange, and social contribution actions including volunteer activities and event organization.  The views and opinions of students on Waseda's 44 sports teams including its track and field and rugby programs will be incorporated in designing and developing the training gear and uniforms that they will actually use.

Asics CEO Motoi Oyama enthusiastically commented, "Although we have given partial support in the past, this is the first time that we have formed a partnership with a university as a whole.  Partnering with a school like Waseda University with high name recognition value and organization will not only increase brand value but, I am convinced, bring about new areas of future value.  Together with Waseda University we hope to help further develop Japanese university sports and to revolutionize the university sports industry.  Examining the situation of on-campus retail outlets, we may look at opening off-campus stores as well.  As just one university and one company it may be difficult to bring about a university sports industrial revolution, but I hope that we will be able to sow the seeds that lead to that happening."

In 2002 Waseda University signed a partnership agreement with Adidas Japan.  In October, 2014 Adidas opened a Waseda Sports Official Partner Shop on the Waseda campus selling Adidas products.  The shop closed in February this year.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Nagoya Women's Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

The world's largest women-only marathon, Sunday's Nagoya Women's Marathon is the end of the Japanese Olympic marathon selection saga, if not the end of the drama.  2015 World Championships marathon bronze medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) is back to defend her title, and will, her last race a 1:08:06 win last month at Japan's Marugame Half in national record time.  Formerly-Japan based Betelhem Moges (Ethiopia) is her only real international competition, but it would take an off day from Kirwa for Moges to really stand a chance.

At the 2014 Asian Games Kirwa beat Japan's Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) for gold.  Kizaki comes to Nagoya with the best time in the last three years among Japanese women, 2:23:34 in Nagoya in 2013, but while Kirwa's star has only risen since then Kizaki's hit a brick wall.  In 2015 she only raced once, placing only 13th on her stage at December's National Corporate Women's Marathon.  There's nothing to go on to suggest that she can live up to her position as the best challenger for the JAAF-imposed 2:22:30 Olympic standard, part of the reason for the withdrawal of Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), winner of January's Osaka International Women's Marathon.

The general consensus is that barring a surprisingly slow race like in Tokyo two weeks ago, the top Japanese woman in Nagoya will join Fukushi and Beijing World Championships 7th-placer Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) in Rio.  Kizaki is a question mark along with #2 Japanese seed and national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), making a last stab at returning to Olympic glory.

The most likely domestic top may come from the second group of 2:25-2:27 women including 2014 Asian Games 4th-placer Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto), 2014 Yokohama Women's winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), 2015 Rotterdam Marathon winner Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) and U-20 record holder Reia Iwade (Team Noritz).  There's also a large group of good half marathoners taking a second shot at the marathon, chief among them last year's fastest Japanese woman for the half marathon, Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya), who suffered a bad fall in Nagoya last year in her debut.  Leading this year's debutantes is 2015 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Michi Numata (Team Toyota Jidoshokki).

With this kind of depth it should be a close and unpredictable race for the Olympic team, if not for the win.  Watch live on Fuji TV starting at 9:00 a.m. Japan time this Sunday, and follow @JRNLive for live coverage worldwide.  The announcement of the complete women's and men's marathon team members for the Rio Olympics is scheduled for March 17.

Nagoya Women's Marathon - Elite Field
Nagoya, 3/13/16
click here for detailed field listing
times listed are 2013-2016 bests except where noted

Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:22:08 (Nagoya 2015)
Ryoko Kizaki (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:23:34 (Nagoya 2013)
Mizuki Noguchi (Japan/Sysmex) - 2:24:05 (Nagoya 2013)
Betelhem Moges (Ethiopia) - 2:24:29 (Dubai 2015)
Eri Hayakawa (Japan/Toto) - 2:25:31 (Nagoya 2014)
Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) - 2:25:56 (Osaka Women's 2013)
Tomomi Tanaka (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:26:05 (Nagoya 2014)
Asami Kato (Japan/Panasonic) - 2:26:30 (Rotterdam 2015)
Yoko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) - 2:17:17 (Nagoya 2013)
Reia Iwade (Japan/Noritz) - 2:27:21 (Yokohama Women's 2014)
Monica Jepkoech (Kenya) - 2:27:26 (Toronto Waterfront 2015)
Iwona Lewandowska (Poland) - 2:27:47 (London 2015)
Aki Odagiri (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:30:24 (Nagoya 2015)
Mizuho Nasukawa (Japan/Univ. Ent.) - 2:30:27 (Yokohama Women's 2013)
Yuka Takemoto (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:31:02 (Kitakyushu 2014)
Shiho Takechi (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:31:18 (Nagoya 2015)
Haruna Takada (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:31:23 (Nagoya 2015)
Hiroko Yoshitomi (Japan/First Dream AC) - 2:31:28 (Tokyo 2013)
Manami Kamitanida (Japan/Hitachi) - 2:31:34 (Tokyo 2014)
Yuko Mizuguchi (Japan/Denso) - 2:31:39 (Nagoya 2014)
Bekelech Daba (Ethiopia) - 2:32:11 (La Rochelle 2015)
Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:32:37 (Nagoya 2015)
Megumi Amako (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:34:28 (Seoul 2015)
Kanae Shimoyama (Japan/Noritz) - 2:35:26 (Osaka Women's 2015)
Sakiko Matsumi (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:36:45 (Nagoya 2014)
Jenna Challenor (South Africa) - 2:41:44 (Mossel Bay 2014)
Mei Matsuyama (Japan/Noritz) - 2:42:35 (Kobe 2015)
Kaoru Nagao (Japan/Universal Entertainment) - 2:51:11 (Osaka Women's 2015)
Rei Ohara (Japan/Tenmaya) - 3:05:21 (Nagoya 2015)

Debut
Michi Numata (Japan/Toyota Jidoshokki) - 1:09:27 (Nat'l Corp. Half 2015)
Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:10:31 (Valencia 2015)
Ai Inoue (Japan/Noritz) - 1:11:02 (Matsue 2015)
Akane Sekino (Japan/Hokuren) - 1:11:17 (Marugame 2016)
Sayaka Kuwahara (Japan/Sekisui Kagaku) - 1:13:49 (Matsue 2014)

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fujiwara Announces Retirement and New Role as Chuo University Head Coach

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/1614520.html
http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/feature/hakone/20160309-OHT1T50065.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Historical Hakone Ekiden powerhouse Chuo University held a press conference on Mar. 9 to announce the retirement of three-time World Championships marathon team member and Chuo alumnus Masakazu Fujiwara, 35, from competition and his naming as new head coach of its ekiden team.  Chuo holds multiple Hakone records including 6-straight wins, 14 wins overall, 87-straight and 90 total Hakone appearances, but under former head coach Haruo Urata, 54, for the last four years it failed to make the seeded top ten.  Fujiwara commented, "I want to get us back into the seeded bracket within two or three years," showing his enthusiasm for returning Chuo to its glory days.

As a first-year at Chuo Fujiwara won the Hakone Ekiden's famed uphill Fifth Stage, placing 2nd and 3rd on the same stage as a second-year and third-year.  As a third-year he also won the gold medal in the 2001 World University Games half marathon, and as a fourth-year he won Hakone's most competitive stage, the Second Stage.  Just before his graduation he set the still-standing debut and collegiate marathon national records of 2:08:12 at the 2003 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, qualifying for the 2003 Paris World Championships team.

Fujiwara and Honda teammate Suehiro Ishikawa at the 2013 Great Manchester Run.

After graduating he joined the Honda corporate team.  Injuries prevented him from running in Paris and continued to hamper his pro career, but in 2010 he became the only Japanese man to win the Tokyo Marathon, following up with marathon national team appearances at the 2013 Moscow and 2015 Beijing World Championships.  He planned to run last weekend's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon to try to make his Olympic debut but suffered a stress fracture in his right shin that forced him to withdraw.  Missing out on his Olympic dream, he decided to retire. 

Fujiwara will leave Honda at the end of March to take over at his alma mater Chuo University in a new leadership capacity at the start of the 2016-17 academic year in April.  He departs with lifetime bests of 13:49.33 for 5000 m, 28:17.38 for 10000 m, 1:02:23 for the half marathon and 2:08:12 for the marathon.  "The Rio Olympics were my goal," he said.  "It's a shame that my dream as an athlete ended with just the World Championships, but now I want to help rebuild a powerful Chuo University and someday take the overall Hakone win."


Translator's note: JRN supported Fujiwara at the 2013 Great Manchester Run where he set his road 10 km PB of 29:32.  Among his many accomplishments, Fujiwara holds the world record for the longest time between consecutive sub-2:09, and probably sub-2:10, marathons, 10 years and 1 day, with his 2:08:12 debut at Lake Biwa on March 2, 2003 and a 2:08:51 at Lake Biwa on March 3, 2013.  It's a testament to what kind of person Fujiwara is that he never gave up hope that entire time, much of it lost to injury, when most other people would have thrown in the towel long before.

These and other articles caused a lot of hilarity on Japanese Twitter due to their use of the phrase "藤原新監督," literally "New Head Coach Fujiwara."  "新監督," new head coach, is the normal way to refer to someone in Fujiwara's position, but the character for new, 新, "shin," also has the alternate reading "arata."  This means the characters 藤原新監督 can be read as "Head Coach Arata Fujiwara."  藤原新, Arata Fujiwara, is a 2:07 Olympian still active as an athlete.  Reached for comment, Arata Fujiwara told JRN dryly, "I'll do my best."  The first article has since been edited to refer to Masakazu Fujiwara simply as "藤原," Fujiwara. 

photos © 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Deki Announces Retirement at 25: "The Hakone Ekiden Meant the Most"

https://twitter.com/soutarou_t/status/707312990672986112

translated by Brett Larner

With a record of achievement at Aoyama Gakuin University and Team Chugoku Denryoku that made him Nagasaki's star long distance runner, Takehiro Deki, 25, announced on Mar. 8 that last month's Tokyo Marathon was his final race and that he is retiring.

Deki started running during the winter of his first year at Hokuyodai H.S. and grew to become the star runner at Aoyama Gakuin, leading the team to new heights.  His third year at AGU he won the 2012 Hakone Ekiden's most competitive stage, the 23.2 km Second Stage, following up just over a month later with a marathon debut at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon where he ran 2:10:02, the third-best ever by a Japanese university runner.  Aiming for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics at the Tokyo Marathon last month he finished 26th.

Deki commented, "After entering the corporate leagues I gave my absolute best every single day, but I found that the Olympics just didn't mean that much to me.  The Hakone Ekiden meant the most.  That's what I came to feel.  I want to sincerely thank everybody, especially the people of Nagasaki, who supported me.  I'm truly grateful.  I have no regrets."

Translator's note: Sad news.  Four days before his marathon debut in 2012 JRN interviewed Deki and AGU head coach Susumu HaraRead the interview here.  Deki gets a great deal of credit from fans and fellow runners alike for being the key catalyst in helping Hara transform AGU from nothing to the best in the country.  The other runner who helped Deki lead AGU to the top, Ryotaro Otani, 25, was fired from the Toyota Boshoku corporate team last month after asking about the possibility of relocating his training base to Tokyo.  Today Otani tweeted about Deki's retirement.  His comments:

I never thought Deki and I'd be leaving the sport at the same time, no way.  It seems like these days the public is going crazy over the Aoyama Gakuin University team's two-straight Hakone Ekiden wins.  I really respect how hard the guys who have come after us have worked, and what they've done is really, truly incredible.  It's definitely the result of everything they put into it.

This is kind of talking about old times, but when Deki and I decided to enroll in AGU it was a team that wasn't at a level where it could make the Hakone Ekiden.  We said to each other, "Let's try to win the Hakone Ekiden together!"  Saying that when we were just a couple of cheeky first-years gave us the drive to work hard for four years.  We couldn't pull off the Hakone Ekiden win, and we ended up unloading that on the younger guys.

But even so, what Deki accomplished was amazing.  His junior year he won the Second Stage at the National University Ekiden Championships, won the Second Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and ran the all-time university #3 2:10:02 at the Lake Biwa Marathon.  He really was the best runner on the university scene.  We were all just talentless baggage riding on his back, and he carried us all in a truly amazing way.

I wanted to become a runner like Deki.  A colleague, a close friend, a rival, what I dreamed of becoming.  It really was my dream.

For the two of us, our lives as runners end here.  They were lives that had helping hands from a lot of people.

Winningest Hakone Ekiden Team Chuo University's Head Coach Haruo Urata to Retire

http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/etc/20160308-OHT1T50212.html

translated by Brett Larner

Chuo University, holder of the records for most Hakone Ekiden wins, 14, and most Hakone appearances, 90, announced on Mar. 8 that head coach Haruo Urata, 54, is retiring.  A Chuo alumnus with international experience as a world-class athlete is expected to be asked to be Urata's successor.

From 1959 to 1964 Chuo achieved a still-unequalled six-straight Hakone Ekiden wins, but in recent years it has fallen on harder times.  Its last Hakone title came in 1996.  This year it was only 15th, missing the seeded top ten for the fourth year in a row.  Chuo hopes that new leadership will help restore its prestige as a Hakone power.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Understanding the Japanese Men's Olympic Team Selection Standings

by Brett Larner

Japan has never been one to have a clear-cut, straightforward Olympic marathon team selection process, the JAAF preferring to put forth a complex, multitiered algebra of seemingly objective criteria that ultimately serve to give it leeway to choose its own favorites for the team.  That's rarely been more true than this time around.  The problems with the Rio selection criteria have been put in the public eye on the women's side thanks to Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), winner of the second women's selection race, and are a big topic in the media right now.  Women still have one more chance to qualify for the Rio team this Sunday in Nagoya, but for men the candidates are all down following last weekend's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon.

Essentially, men had four chances to qualify for the three spots on the Rio team.  The only option for absolutely 100% making the team was to be the first Japanese man in the top eight in the marathon at the Beijing World Championships.  Barring that, with no other definitive way to score a place on the Olympic team, running a fast time for a good placing at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, February's Tokyo Marathon or March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon would set your name rolling into the JAAF's Rube Goldberg machine.  The JAAF put up a sub-2:06:30 Olympic standard that many people interpreted as meaning you would be on the team if you broke, but as Fukushi, who cleared the women's standard of 2:22:30, brought to the public attention, all it meant was that the JAAF would give you a higher degree of consideration in however they chose to choose the team.

Now that all the men's races are done, a quick review of the results and candidates for the Mar. 17 Olympic team announcement.  Click any race for detailed results.

Beijing World Championships Men's Marathon, Aug. 22
21. Masakazu Fujiwara (Honda) - 2:21:06
40. Kazuhiro Maeda (Kyudenko) - 2:32:49
DNS - Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu)

Japanese men had to make top eight in Beijing to score a guaranteed spot on the Rio team, a stunningly low bar considering it had been nearly 20 years since that hadn't happened.  Imai was a virtual lock for top eight and a solid medal prospect after running 2:07:39 in Tokyo, but an illness shortly before the World Championships kept him home.  Fujiwara and Maeda ran poorly, Maeda running slower than all three members of the women's team.

Fukuoka International Marathon, Dec. 6
3. Satoru Sasaki (Asahi Kasei) - 2:08:56 - PB
5. Chiharu Takada (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:55

Sasaki ran the kind of race the JAAF has said it will favor in choosing the team, staying with the African leaders all the way to the end and coming home 3rd with a sub-2:09 PB.  Far off the JAAF's mandated 2:06:30 standard that only one Japanese man has ever broken, at the time everyone thought Sasaki's position precarious with faster marks sure to come in Tokyo and Lake Biwa.  As it turned out, he ended up being the fastest of all.

Tokyo Marathon, Feb. 28
8. Yuki Takamiya (Yakult) - 2:10:57 - PB
10. Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 2:11:34 - debut

Nobody foresaw the results in Tokyo, where all five experienced sub-2:10 men and star first-timer Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) faltered.  In their place, the unknown Takamiya ran a superb PB by almost five minutes to come from behind and take the top Japanese position.  19-year-old Shimoda ran well in his debut, leading his coach Susumu Hara to publicly call for the JAAF to bypass their criteria and put Shimoda on the Rio team to help develop him for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Mar. 6
2. Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:09:16 - PB
4. Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda) - 2:09:25

Kitajima and Ishikawa, both graduates of Toyo University, ran together throughout the race, displeasing the JAAF by ignoring the Africans' fast early pace but working together to run them down late in the race and ultimately coming just seconds short of the win.  Kitajima's time was a 3-minute best, and at age 36 Ishikawa was the oldest-ever Japanese man to break 2:10.  Asahi Kasei teammates Takuya Fukatsu and Fumihiro Maruyama also broke 2:10, Maruyama in his debut.

So who will the JAAF pick?  There is no way whatsoever to be 100% sure.  After the shocker in Tokyo the JAAF indicated it might not send three men to Rio, but with four men running 2:09 in Lake Biwa, three for the first time, that would be a petulant and CAS-worthy decision now.  It's hard to see a scenario in which Sasaki is not put on the team, both for the merits of how he ran and for the fact that Asahi Kasei overlord Takeshi Soh also happens to be one of the old boys in charge at the JAAF.  Kitajima also looks virtually set.  His first two marathons, both in 2015, were 2:12 wins, and despite the slow-by-JAAF-standards time he ran at Lake Biwa it was a three-minute PB, the second-best among the Rio contenders and almost got him the win.

The only possible question appears to be the third man.  Takamiya ran great and, knowing his backstory, probably has headroom for more improvement.  But with a time slower than Fukuoka's 2nd Japanese man not even he expects to see him named to the team.  Ishikawa looks more likely with the third-fastest time among candidates and a 4th-place overall finish.  His record is also impeccable: three of his last five marathons have been 2:09, the others being a 2:10 and a 2:11 both in Berlin.  The only strokes against him: the fact that he was 2nd Japanese, and his age.

The JAAF has already flatly rejected Hara's call for Shimoda's inclusion, executive Katsumi Sakai saying, "We do not take the future into account."  But whatever the merits of Hara's arguments, they are even more true when applied to Maruyama, who debuted at Lake Biwa at age 25 and actually tried to win.  A little more self-control at 30 km and he might have.  If Tokyo-oriented development is the rationale then there is no reason Shimoda should be chosen over Maruyama.

So, the most likely team lineup looks to be Sasaki, 2:08:56, Kitajima, 2:09:16, and Ishikawa, 2:09:25, all graduates of universities along Saitama's Tobu Tojo Line.  But never expect the JAAF to do the expected.  The Rio Olympics men's and women's team lineups will be announced Mar. 17.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved