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Okamoto and Suzuki Qualify for 2020 Olympic Trials With Hokkaido Marathon Wins

A veteran and a first-timer made the headlines from the opposite ends of the spectrum at Sunday's Hokkaido Marathon in Sapporo, Hokkaido, the first race in the second season of qualifying for the MGC Race, Japan's new 2020 Olympic trials race to be held in September next year. A passing typhoon brought cooler than usual weather to Hokkaido and a better-than-usual chance of hitting the sub-2:13 and sub-2:30 qualifying marks most Olympic aspirants would have to clear.

The men's race was simply a race of attrition, with no dramatic changes in pace or sudden moves, just a large pack of motivated people going out mid-2:11 pace in a race where only two men have ever cleared 2:12, neither of them Japanese. In the pack, 59:47 Kenyan Paul Kuira (Konica Minolta), the promising young Shohei Otsuka (Kyedenko), championships marathoner extraordinaire Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki),2016 Sydney Marathon winner Tomohiro Tanigawa (Konica Minolta), luckless veteran Naoki Okamoto (Chugoku Denryoku) and many more. The pace and conditions, still summer-warm even if below usual, wore most of them down. Late in the second half it was still a pack of five until Nakamoto and Tanigawa came undone, leaving the likely winner Kuira and Otsuka, and right there with them Okamoto.

A 34-year-old member of the Chugoku Denryoku team that produced one of Japan's great marathon trios more than a decade ago, Okamoto had never gotten the marathon right, unable to crack 2:12 no matter how many times he tried. Running Boston this year after winning February's Ome 30 km, he was one of the casualties of the weather there. Here he was unfazed by the 1:05:33 first half holding steady all the way until 40 km when he found himself with a 5-second lead over Kuira. Hammering home with a 6:41 closing split, by far the fastest int he field, he put 24 seconds on Kuira to win in 2:11:29 and claim a spot at the MGC Race. "I DNFd in Boston, so I told myself I was going to finish this one hard no matter what," he said post-race.

Kuira also cleared 2:12 with a 2:11:58 for 2nd. Otsuka, who ran a  2:10:12 PB at Beppu-Oita in February, looked set for 3rd but was outkicked by Tanigawa 2:12:02 to 2:12:07. Nakamoto, who was supposed to run Boston but pulled out at the last minute with a stress fracture, took 5th in a decent comeback time of 2:12:54. MGC qualifying guidelines give spots to the Hokkaido winner if under 2:15 and next 5 Japanese men if under 2:13, meaning all but Kuira added their names to the list.

The next Japanese man Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) ran a PB of 2:14:05 but was well off the standard. Also coming up short were Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu), who needed to run 2:12:08 in Hokkaido to qualify under the two-race sub-2:11 option after a 2:09:52 breakthrough at the Gold Coast last month but somewhat predictably blew up and finished 29th in 2:21:28, and the two-time New Year Ekiden champion Asahi Kasei team, who have yet to qualify a single runner after their three in Hokkaido ended up over 2:20, a DNF and a DNS.

In the women's race, Mizuki Tanimoto (Tenmaya) attempted to follow the example of her teammate Honami Maeda, who won Hokkaido last year to seal up MGC qualification. Tanimoto went out alone through a 1:14:03 first half while the rest of the main group of women, including London World Championships team member Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), collegiate record holder Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu) and 26-year-old debuting track star Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) hung back 40 seconds. After 25 km Suzuki was ready to go on the hunt, dropping a 17:21 5km split to 30 km that got rid of the others and cut 19 seconds off Tanimoto's lead.

It was a risky move for a first-timer to surge that early, but with her confidence boosted by the superb 2:2307 by her teammate Hanami Sekine in Nagoya this spring Suzuki had even more in reserve. With a 17:12 split to 35 km she blew by the fading Tanimoto to go into the top spot, slowing slightly near the end but completely unchallenged as she rolled on to win in 2:28:32 easily inside the 2:32 time standard for the Hokkaido winner to claim MGC qualification.

The next 5 women had to clear 2:30 to join her. Tanimoto looked in range of it, but after 35 km she was down to almost 4:00/km, putting her in range of Maeda who went by near 39 km. On the comeback this year from a long period of injury, Maeda came up just short of the MGC standard as she finished 2nd in 2:30:56. Tanimoto took 4 minutes off her PB but could only manage to shuffle across the line in 2:31:34.

While 4 men joined the entry list for the MGC Race, Suzuki was the only woman. With their addition the numbers now stand at 17 men and 7 women. Suzuki and Sekine are the only teammates to have made the women's list yet, an interesting situation given that their team is one of the newest on the circuit and that their debuts were the first two marathons anyone on the team has run. Head coach Masahiko Takahashi seems to know what he's doing. With Okamoto's breakthrough and Suzuki and Tanimoto putting in quality runs Japan now has 26 men under 2:12 and 24 women under 2:32 this year, both the most at least since JRN started keeping track, probably ever. Hopefully by the qualifying deadline in March next year the Olympic trial qualifier numbers show something closer to the same kind of parity.

2018 Hokkaido Marathon

Sapporo, Hokkaido, 8/26/18

1. Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) - 2:28:32 - debut
2. Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu) - 2:30:56
3. Mizuki Tanimoto (Tenmaya) - 2:31:34 - PB
4. Michi Numata (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:34:35
5. Saki Tokoro (Kyocera) - 2:37:16
6. Misaki Kato (Kyudenko) - 2:37:36
7. Chika Ihara (Higo Ginko) - 2:40:32
8. Eriko Kushima (Noritz) - 2:43:17
9. Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) - 2:43:26
10. Yuko Watanabe (Edion) - 2:43:38
11. Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:45:28
13. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Noritz) - 2:46:57
16. Sakie Arai (Higo Ginko) - 2:49:59
17. Yukiko Okuno (Shiseido) - 2:50:30
116. Ayano Ikemitsu (Kagoshima Ginko) - 3:33:31
DNF - Ayaka Inoue (Otsuka Seiyaku)

1. Naoki Okamoto (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:11:29 - PB
2. Paul Kuira (Konica Minolta) - 2:11:58 - PB
3. Tomohiro Tanigawa (Konica Minolta) - 2:12:02
4. Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko) - 2:12:07
5. Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki) - 2:12:54
6. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) - 2:14:05 - PB
7. Yuji Iwata (MHPS) - 2:15:09
8. Ryo Matsumoto (Toyota) - 2:15:31 - PB
9. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Konica Minolta) - 2:15:57
10. Ryohei Nishiyama (Toyota Boshoku) - 2:16:01
14. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:18:20
17. Shingo Igarashi (Josai Univ. Staff) - 2:19:22
25. Ryoichi Matsuo (Asahi Kasei) - 2:20:47
29. Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu) - 2:21:28
33. Shogo Kanezane (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:22:26
36. Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:23:10
37. Soji Ikeda (Yakult) - 2:23:33
44. Yuta Shimoda (GMO) - 2:25:02
62. Yusuke Ogura (Yakult) - 2:29:09
71. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Nanji AC) - 2:32:12
126. Tadashi Suzuki (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:41:22
DNF - Takuya Fukatsu (Asahi Kasei)
DNF - Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta)

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Andrew Armiger said…
Great report, any other intriguing debutants for Japan Post to come?
Brett Larner said…
Their other top-level woman is Rina Nabeshima who ran a couple of Diamond League meets this season and is going the 5000m in Jakarta.

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