The 101st edition of Japan's National Track and Field Championships takes place Friday through Sunday at Osaka's Yanmar Stadium Nagai. It's a strange time in some ways. Despite the overall upward trend spurred on by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the count of athletes who might make the London World Championships off their performances at Nationals is low. The marathon, walks, combined events and relays aside, based on current qualifying times only the men's 100 m, women's 5000 m and women's 10000 m could field full three-member squads, and not many events look set to join that list. The progress over the last few years in men's distance on the track seems to have stalled, with nobody qualified for London in the 5000 m and the only man qualified in the 10000 m already a scratch. Is it a just a hiccup or a sign of problems in the buildup to 2020?
Visit the JAAF's National Track and Field Championships website for entry and start lists, live results, photos and video. JRN will be on-site in Osaka to cover the action live throughout the weekend. Follow @JRNHeadlines and @JRNLive for more. Event previews:
SprintsIt's pretty safe to say that there's nothing that could happen in Osaka that people would want to see more than Japan's first legal sub-10 in the men's 100 m, and just as safe to say that if it doesn't happen the headlines will all start with, "No sub-10, but...." Rio 4x100 silver medalists Yoshihide Kiryu (Toyo Univ.), Ryota Yamagata (Seiko) and Aska Cambridge (Nike) are all getting close, under 10 with illegal tailwinds, under 10.05 for real, or both, and they have fresh competition from 20-year-old Shuhei Tada (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) who ran a wind-aided 9.94 and a legit 10.08 earlier this month in university competition. Throw in 2015 national champion Kei Takase (Fujitsu) and 2015 World Youth gold medalist Abdul Hakin Sani Brown (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) and the 100 m becomes one of the best fields of the weekend.
Sani Brown is the only Japanese man who currently has the 200 m London standard, and in the 200 m he's set to face the fourth member of the Rio team, defending champion Shota Iizuka (Mizuno) who is sitting the 100 m out despite a brand-new 10.08 PB. Takase, Kiryu and Cambridge are entered to double, with only Yamagata opting out from the Rio lineup. 2014 champ Shota Hara (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and 2015 champ Kenji Fujimitsu (Zenrin) are also at the top of the list.
The women's 100 m and 200 m have been a one-woman show for a lifetime, Chisato Fukushima (Sapporo T&F Assoc.) scoring eight national titles in the 100 m over the last nine years and seven in eight years in the 200 m. Things look set to continue that way, Fukushima 0.2 seconds faster than her nearest competition over 100 m and almost 0.6 faster in the 200 m. Fukushima doesn't currently have the standard in either event, so although there are options to chase standards simply winning in Osaka won't be enough.
Defending women's 400 m champion Seika Aoyama (Osaka Seikei Univ.) is the favorite to repeat, but with a best of 52.85 she's still a way off the 52.10 London standard. After eleven straight men7s 400 m titles Yuzo Kanemaru (Otsuka Seiyaku) lost out to newcomer Julian Walsh (Toyo Univ.) last year, Walsh going on to Rio thanks to his 45.35 win. Both are entered this time around, Walsh topping the last despite being mostly out of competition this spring and Kanemaru ranked last. Some pressure could come from Takeshi Fujiwara (Yumeomirai) with a 45.44 best putting him close behind Walsh.
Middle DistanceFour-time defending men's 800 m champ Sho Kawamoto (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) has cleared the 1:45.90 standard before and is close enough that it wouldn't be a surprise to see him get under. With a 1 1/2 second lead over his nearest competition he's bound to win a fifth national title even if it's not even to get him to London. The top of the entry list packed with university and high school runners, nobody in the women's 800 m is within 3 1/2 seconds of the London standard. 2015 runner-up Yume Kitamura (Nittai Univ.) is ranked #1 with a best of 2:04.57, but 2015 winner and last year's runner-up Hana Yamada (Warabeya Track Team) could give Kitamura trouble.
Despite quality performances at the high school level, the push toward ekiden distances keeps the 1500 m weaker than it should be. It's a rarity to see a Japanese man go under 3:40, and last year's national champion Masaki Toda (Nissin Shokuhin) is the only on the entry list this time to have done it. There are plenty of others with potential, though, especially 3:42.44 Chuo University first-year Kazuyoshi Tamogami and his former Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. teammate Hyuga Endo (Sumitomo Denko). London is a distant dream for the 1500 m women, top two Maya Iino (Daiichi Seimei) and Chiaki Morikawa (Uniqlo) a full five seconds off the standard and defending champion Tomoka Kimura (Universal Entertainment) almost seven seconds off.
Long DistanceIt's strangely bleak on the men's side in the long distance events. Four men in the 5000 m have broken the 13:22.60 London standard before, most not too long ago but all outside the qualifying window. Defending champ and national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) is closest with a 13:25.56 two weeks ago in Portland, but without a fast race in Osaka or at July's Hokuren Distance Challenge none of them will be in London.
Likewise in the 10000 m. Six men on the entry list have cleared the 27:45.00 London standard but only national record holder Kota Murayama (Asahi Kasei) has done it within the qualifying window, and with Murayama scratch due to injury a strategic race could keep everyone home unless they come through later at Hokuren. Along with Osako, all-time Japanese #2 Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei) is a favorite for the win. Outside contenders include 2015 National XC champion Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei), with only a 27:53.59 best but fresh off a new 5000 m best, 2017 Tokyo Marathon debut daredevil Yuta Shitara (Honda), and Murayama's twin brother Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei), all three alumni of the Ageo City Half Marathon - NYC Half partnership program.
Although women's long distance has struggled to find leadership in the last few years, this year things are looking very decent. Three women have the 15:22.00 London standard, Tomoka Kimura (Universal Entertainment), Riko Matsuzaki (Sekisui Kagaku) and Kaori Morita (Panasonic), and all three are entered. Four-time national champ Misaki Onishi (Sekisui Kagaku) lacks the standard but is also set to run along with Rio Olympians Miyuki Uehara (Team Daiichi Seimei), Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) and Hanami Sekine (Japan Post).
The women's 10000 m is a bit of an anomaly with sixteen women holding London qualifying marks, possibly suggesting the standard is too easy compared to others. Of those only thirteen made the final start list, London marathon team members Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Mao Kiyota (same), but even so it will be the toughest team to make. Rio 10000 m squad members Suzuki, Sekine and Yuka Takashima (Shiseido) are the probable favorites, but Uehara, Hisami Ishii (Yamada Denki) and Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) all look capable of taking down one of the Olympians.
Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) and Anju Takamizawa (Matsuyama Univ.) both made the Rio team in the 3000 m steeplechase, and both Shiojiri and two-time defending national champion Hironori Tsuetaki (Fujitsu) have cleared the generous 8:32.00 London standard recently enough to have a chance of doing it in Osaka. Although he has only run the steeplechase once, clocking 8:40.29 last summer in a shot at a wildcard spot on the Rio team, Ichida is choosing to double in the steeple instead of the 5000 m and has to be considered dangerous. On the women's side Takamizawa and #2-ranked Chikako Mori (Sekisui Kagaku) are both just a few seconds off the 9:42.00 London standard and could push each other under.
HurdlesThree-time men's 110 mH national champion Wataru Yazawa (Descente TC) and #2-ranked Hideki Omuro (Otsuka Seiyaku) have both hit the 13.48 London standard in the past but currently lack a qualifying mark. Yazawa's teammate Takatoshi Abe is the only man with the 400 mH standard, but last year's winner Keisuke Nozawa (Mizuno) and his teammate Yuki Matsushita should make it a three-man squad in London.
No women have broken the London standards in either the 100 mH or 400 mH, leaving both to be strictly domestic championships. 100 mH top two Hitomi Shimura (Toho Ginko) and Ayako Kimura (Edion) have had a good rivalry going over the last eight years, Shimura taking the national title twice and Kimura six times. With the absence of nine-time national champ Satomi Kubokura (Niigata Albirex RC) the 400 mH is wide open, 2015 winner Manami Kira (Art Home) ranked only 4th. With a 55.94 best Sayaka Aoki (Toho Ginko) is the favorite.
JumpsFour men have cleared the London standards in jumps, Takashi Eto (Ajinomoto) in the high jump, Seito Yamamoto (Toyota) and Hiroki Ogita (Mizuno) in the pole vault, and Shiojiri's teammate Ryoma Yamamoto (Juntendo Univ.) in the triple jump. There aren't really any other contenders in the high jump or long jump, but both in the men's pole vault and triple jump Japan could end up fielding complete squads.
In the pole vault, meet record holder and eleven-time national champion Daichi Sawano (Fujitsu) has yet to clear the London standard within the window but should be a lock. Masaki Ejima (Nihon Univ.) has also cleared it in the past and could step up should one of the three big names falter. Along with 2016 national champ Yamamoto in the triple jump, last year's runner-up Daigo Hasegawa (Yokohama T&F Assoc.) and newcomer Kohei Yamashita (Fukushima T&F Assoc.) have bettered the London standard before and could join Yamamoto in London if they can repeat.
No women hold London qualifying marks in jumps, and with the defending national champion ranked #1 only in the triple jump, where last year's winner Kaede Miyasaka (Nippatsu) has improved 8 cm since last year with a new best of 13.52 m, most of the events are set for changes.
ThrowsWith the departure of Koji Murofushi from the men's hammer throw the javelin is left as the stronghold of Japanese throw, but this year things are in a dire situation. No Japanese athletes male or female currently hold qualifying marks for London in any throw event. In the discus and hammer throws the top-ranked men haven't even cleared the women's standards. Suzuki Hamamatsu AC teammates Ryohei Arai and Yukifumi Murakami have won sixteen of the last seventeen national titles between them, and it would be a surprise not to see one of them make the cut. The only man to have interrupted their streak, 2012 national champion Genki Deen (Mizuno), has struggled since graduating from Waseda University and going pro, but coming in with a #4 ranking behind independent Kohei Hasegawa (Fukui T&F Assoc.) a comeback performance could be in range.
The women's javelin is likewise the only realistic hope of seeing a Japanese woman make it to London in the throws. National record holder Yuki Ebisawa (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) has gotten over the 61.40 m standard in the past, and collegiate champ Haruka Kitaguchi (Nihon Univ.) is right on the cusp with a 61.38 m best.
© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved