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Kim Sets Korean 5000 m National Record, Tsuetaki Clears Steeple Standard, Osako Comes Up Short - Abashiri Highs and Lows

The final meet in Japan's Hokuren Distance Challenge series, Thursday's Abashiri meet was set up to give people one last chance to clear the qualifying standards for next month's London World Championships ahead of the fast-approaching deadline. Temperatures were far above normal for northern Hokkaido through much of the day, the mid-afternoon peak reported at over 36C at the time of the men's 800 m A-heat and still at 25C at the start of the five standard-chasing races in the evening.

The best race of the day was the women's 5000 m A-heat. With two women already confirmed for London the third spot on the team was up for grabs. First in line under the JAAF's criteria for addition, top three at Nationals and under the 15:22.00 standard, was 16-year-old Shuri Ogasawara (Yamanashi Gakuin H.S.), 3rd at Nationals in an U18 national record of 15:23.56. Next in line would be anyone else who could clear the standard if Ogasawara missed, priority going to 10000 m team member Miyuki Uehara (Daiichi Seimei), a finalist in the 5000 m in Rio. If nobody cleared the standard, whichever of the two women in the race who already held the standard, National Championships 7th-placer Tomoka Kimura (Univ. Ent.) and 8th-placer Kaori Morita (Panasonic), finished first would have a chance.

From the start a pack of four Japan-based Africans led by Ethiopian Shuru Bulo (Toto) ran just under 15:00 pace, with the Japanese pack more cautiously running right on standard pace at 3:04~05/km. Bulo and Kenyan Pauline Kamulu (Route Inn Hotels) kept it moving despite the conditions, pushing each other sub-15 for the first time with Bulo taking the win in 14:58.20 and Kamulu just behind in 14:58.82. The Japanese pack lost seconds off standard pace at the race went on, and with a lap to go they would have had to close in under 60 to make it. Kimura had the strongest kick, taking the top Japanese spot at 4th overall in 15:27.39 to put her name in as a candidate for the third spot on the team.

But there was another. Four days ago at the HDC Kitami meet, Riko Matsuzaki (Sekisui Kagaku) ran an all-time Japanese #2 8:49.61 for 3000 m. Matsuzaki also holds the London standard in the 5000 m with a 15:19.91 from this year's Payton Jordan vs. Kimura's 15:18.08 from December. Matsuzaki beat Kimura at Nationals, 15:29.74 for 6th to Kimura's 15:34.64 for 7th, and her 3000 m time equates to about 15:11.63 for 5000 m on IAAF scoring tables vs. Kimura's 15:27.39 today. Since neither made top three and Nationals they fall under the final JAAF selection criterion,  "whoever we feel like adding." Going strictly by standard time Kimura has the edge, but in every other way Matsuzaki looks like the logical choice. Ten more days til they find out.

The 5000 m also delivered one more piece of news. After working their way up the South Korean women's 5000 m all-time rankings in two earlier HDC meets to all-time  #2 and #4, K-Water teammates Do Yeon Kim and Da Eun Jeong hung tough in the midst of the main Japanese pack to both break the 15:38.60 national record. Kim, who missed it by 0.52 in her last attempt on Sunday, was the faster, setting a new record of 15:34.17. Jeong was right behind her, chopping 12 seconds off her 4-day-old PB to also go under the old national record in 15:36.74.

The men's 5000 m was tame by comparison. With no Japanese men under the 13:22.60 London standard inside the qualifying window and only two, national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and national champion Hiroki Matsueda (Fujitsu) having gone under 13:30 it was wide open, and with Osako giving the 5000 m a miss Matsueda was the only realistic possibility. Despite a good first 3000 m that left him the only Japanese man in the lead pack, overall it wasn't a race for that kind of time. Richard Kimunyan (Hitachi Butsuryu) took the win with a PB of 13:28.26, Matsueda dropping to 4th in 13:37.41.

The lone sure addition to the Japanese team for Worlds came in the men's 3000 m steeplechase. With pacing from Kenyan high schooler Philemon Kiplagat (Kurashiki H.S.), national champion Hironori Tsuetaki (Fujitsu) shaved 0.73 off his all-time Japanese #7 PB of 8:29.78 for the win in 8:29.05, clearing the London standard by almost 3 seconds. For most of the race he had company from ambitious Tokai University second-year Ryohei Sakaguchi, who lasted on London standard pace past 2000 m in the first steeple of his life before fading to 2nd in 8:37.64. Tsuetaki will have to wait until the July 24 full team announcement to find out whether he is on the London team for certain, but having met both the JAAF's criteria for addition, it's hard to see him being left behind.

In the women's 3000 m steeplechase, Rio Olympian Anju Takamizawa (Matsuyama Univ.) and #2-ranked Chikako Mori (Sekisui Kagaku) tried to push each other under the 9:42.00 standard, just faster than either's PB. A slow 3:19 opening km put that in danger, and when Takamizawa pushed the second 1000 m to 3:07 it was too much for Mori, who tripped on a barrier just over 4 minutes in and fell hard enough to take her out of the race. Takamizawa only needed a 3:16 for the final 1000 m to make it, but now completely on her own she couldn't maintain pace in the heat and slowed to a 9:54.69 win.

Hopes were highest for the day's final event, the men's 10000 m. After incredible progress in 2015, when four men cleared the 27:45.00 London standard, two of them taking Japan under 27:30 for the first time, no Japanese man in the race held a valid London qualifying mark inside the window. The only man to have dropped a standard, national record holder Kota Murayama (Asahi Kasei), suffered a stress fracture earlier in the year and has been out of competition most of the season. The three men besides Murayama to have cleared 27:45 in 2015, his twin brother Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei), all-time #2 Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei), and daredevil Yuta Shitara (Honda) were all there along with national champion Osako, who last broke 27:45 in 2013, and a raft of men between 27:45 and 28:00.

A massive African pack rolled smoothly through 6000 m on 27:30 pace, with Osako the only Japanese man able to stay with them, a second pack led by Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) drifting backward but still on track for the London standard. It looked like Osako would easily avoid a repeat of his 2015 disappointment when he missed qualifying for the Beijing World Championships 10000 m by 0.24, but as the race hit its toughest point past 7000 m everything began to change.

The second pack fell off qualifying pace, and Osako began to falter. Needing to maintain 2:48/km for the last 4000 m, he ran 2:48, 2:51 and 2:53 through 9000 m, looking almost dead on his feet when it came down to the last lap. He was able to kick past most of the remaining Africans, but again Osako came up painfully short as he crossed the line in 27:46.64 for 2nd, the win going to Bernard Kimani (Yakult) in 27:37.41.

Osako and the others missing the London standard in the 5000 m and 10000 m means that for the first time in the history of the World Championships there will be no Japanese men in either distance. The 5000 m has always been hit and miss, but they've had someone in the 10000 m in every World Championships until now. Given all the recent progress and the hype surrounding the buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics that's  a pretty major setback. How could it have happened?

As always there's an element of back luck with injuries, Kota Murayama having clearing both standards in 2015 and his teammate Yoroizaka, who did the same, not making it back from a 2016 injury to 100% in time. The push for early marathon debuts also plays a role, Osako and Shitara returning from good and great marathon debuts respectively this season and Kenta Murayama struggling on the track since his marathon debut in Tokyo last year. There's a distantly possible scenario where the JAAF adds a moderately-fit Kota Murayama in the 10000 m, but with all the depth and rise in quality since Tokyo scored the next Olympics the absence of any new blood to take their spots on the starting line in London is a major blow to the Japanese system.

Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet Highlights

Abashiri, Hokkaido, 7/13/17
click here for complete results

Men's 800 m A-Heat
1. Daichi Setoguchi (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:48.95 - PB
2. Leo Manzano (U.S.A.) - 1:49.54
3. Miran Saito (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:49.91
4. Tatsuya Nishikubo (Waseda Univ.) - 1:50.43
5. Naoto Arayasu (Fujitsu) - 1:51.32

Men's 1500 m
1. Ko Kobayashi (Tsukuba Univ.) - 3:41.81 - PB
2. Riku Kimura (Tokai Univ.) - 3:42.82 - PB
3. Keisuke Morita (Tsukuba Univ.) - 3:43.01 - PB
4. Hazuma Hattori (Toenec) - 3:43.04
5. Yasunari Kusu (Komori Corp.) - 3:44.96

Women's 3000 mSC
1. Anju Takamizawa (Matsuyama Univ.) - 9:54.69
2. Ayaka Koike (Edion) - 10:12.67
3. Misaki Sango (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 10:12.93
DNF - Chikako Mori (Sekisui Kagaku)

Men's 3000 mSC
1. Hironori Tsuetaki (Fujitsu) - 8:29.05 - PB
2. Ryohei Sakaguchi (Tokai Univ.) - 8:37.64 - debut
3. Kosei Yamaguchi (Aisan Kogyo) - 8:39.50
4. Seiya Shigeno (Seisa Doto Univ.) - 8:40.59 - PB
5. Yasutaka Ishibashi (SGH Group) - 8:42.00 - PB

Women's 5000 m A-Heat
1. Shuru Bulo (Toto) - 14:58.20 - PB
2. Pauline Kamulu (Route Inn Hotels) - 14:58.82 - PB
3. Grace Kimanzi (Starts) - 15:19.96
4. Tomoka Kimura (Universal Entertainment) - 15:27.39
5. Marta Mokaya (Oita Tomei H.S.) - 15:29.50
6. Yukari Abe (Shimamura) - 15:29.96
7. Misaki Onishi (Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:30.32
8. Nana Kuraoka (Denso) - 15:31.39 - PB
9. Miyuki Uehara (Daiichi Seimei) - 15:32.25
10. Kaori Morita (Panasonic) - 15:33.14
11. Do Yeon Kim (K-Water) - 15:34.17 - NR
12. Da Eun Jeong (K-Water) - 15:36.74 (NR)
14. Shuri Ogasawara (Yamanashi Gakuin H.S.) - 15:49.07

Men's 5000 m A-Heat
1. Richard Kimunyan (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 13:28.26 - PB
2. Charles Ndungu (Komori Corp.) - 13:29.79
3. Willy Kipselem (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 13:30.99 - PB
4. Hiroki Matsueda (Fujitsu) - 13:37.41
5. Benuel Mogeni (Oita Tomei H.S.) - 13:39.73 - PB

Men's 10000 m A-Heat
1. Bernard Kimani (Yakult) - 27:37.41
2. Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) - 27:46.64
3. David Njuguna (Yakult) - 27:55.04
4. Nicholas Kosinbei (Toyota) - 28:09.87
5. Abiyot Abinet (Yachiyo Kogyo) - 28:12.05
6. Patrick Mathenge Wambui (Nihon Univ.) - 28:15.67
7. Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) - 28:16.01
8. Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 28:22.12
9. Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 28:24.60
10. Mitsunori Asaoka (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 28:26.05
16. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei) - 28:49.58
21. Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) - 29:04.76

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


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