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An Olympic Selection Race, With an Emphasis on Time

an editorial by Tetsuhiko Kin

Kin is a television commentator, coach, and former Waseda University ekiden runner.

The battle to determine the Japanese national representatives in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics three years from now has begun. The Marathon Grand Challenge (MGC) selection race features an unprecedented two-tier arrangement and will automatically select the Olympic team members when it is held in or after September, 2019. Athletes must first qualify in order to the run MGC race.

The first race in the MGC Series of races in which athletes can earn their spots in the MGC race took place Aug. 27 at the Hokkaido Marathon, with high school and university ekiden star Akinobu Murasawa (Nissin Shokuhin) taking the men's race and the young Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) the women's to pick up their places in the Olympic qualifier.

Both races were hesitant and passive. The men's race in particular went out slowly from the start, and with the winner needing to break 2:15 to qualify for the MGC race Murasawa barely made it, clocking 2:14:48. Maeda also ran a conservative pace from the start to win. At the Tokyo Olympics they'll need to roll right from the start to be able to get rid of their rivals, but there was none of that to be seen here.

If you think of qualifying for the MGC race as the top priority, the number of runners unwilling to aggressively go out front is bound to increase. The Series races will just become competitions between the Japanese runners, far from the current worldwide trends in marathoning.

In addition, three years is still a long way to go. This national team will have the honor of representing the Olympic host country on home soil. Athletes are going to have to expend a lot of energy on the selection race over the next two years. Even though it will be almost a year between the team lineup being set and the Olympics, there is fear that the members won't have enough time to catch their breath. The ideal solution to erase concerns is for as many athletes as possible to qualify for the MGC race on time. To do that men have to run under 2:08:30 and women under 2:24:00 at any IAAF certified race in the world.

Hopefully just making the MGC race will not prove to be a problem, and I hope to see top-level athletes, the ones with enough ability that they should be a given for the team, come forward and put all their energy into the Olympic main event. Unfortunately the results at August's London World Championships, where not a single Japanese man or woman made the top eight, and other world-level championships suggest a downward spiral. For Japan the marathon is now at the tipping point of whether it is going to become hopelessly out of range or be restored to the position of one of our national specialties.

source article: 
https://mainichi.jp/sportsspecial/articles/20170902/ddm/035/070/163000c
translated by Brett Larner

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