Skip to main content

Know Your Japanese Runners in Chicago

Motivated in part by the legacy of Toshinari Takaoka's longstanding former national record of 2:06:16 at its 2002 race, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon has long been a draw for top-level Japanese athletes male and female. Few men have made much of an impact in Chicago, with none making the top five in the last 14 years and only two, Hiroaki Sano and Koji Kobayashi, breaking 2:11 in the same time period. But they still keep coming, and this year's crew of five looks to have the best chance of bettering the results of the last decade and a half.


Taku Fujimoto (Toyota)

PB: 2:15:30 (15th, Lake Biwa Marathon, 2018)
Major recent results:
7:59.30 - PB (6th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa meet 3000 m, 2018)

Fujimoto got a flash of international attention back in 2010 when as a complete unknown he won the Kanto Regionals 5000 m, Japan's most competitive university 5000 m, in 13:38..68. He's never taken that mark further since joining the Toyota corporate team but has gone as fast as 28:20.96 for 10000 m and 1:01:31 for the half marathon in the years since then. His marathon debut this spring at Lake Biwa resulted in only a 2:15:30, but with teammate Yuma Hattori having gone sub-2:10 in Tokyo last year and 2:10:26 in Prague this year with a similar 1:01:40 half best Fujimoto should have the potential for better.

Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't)
Best in last 3 years: 2:09:01 (2nd, Gold Coast Marathon, 2016)
PB: 2:08:14 (4th, Seoul Int'l Marathon, 2013)
Major recent results:
2:15:58 (1st, Boston Marathon, 2018)
2:11:46 - CR (1st, Kitakyushu Marathon, 2018)
2:18:59 - CR (1st, Marshfield NYD Marathon, 2018)

Kawauchi arrives in Chicago, his third American marathon of the year, as Japan's first and only Abbott World Marathon Majors race winner male or female. On the one hand that brings its share of pressure, but on the other it's pretty clear what would constitute a successful run in Chicago.

In his 85 marathons to date Kawauchi has broken 2:11 twenty times, the second-most in history, but he has never done it in the fall season. In that it's easy to see the impact of not being able to get away somewhere cooler to train during the summer months due to his full-time job, and with a brutally hot summer behind him this year it would be one of the better performances of his career if he were to clear the 2:11 hurdle in Chicago. Even bettering his fastest time of the year, his solo 2:11:46 CR at February's Kitakyushu Marathon, would be a good day regardless of how fast anyone else runs, a time that would put him among the ten fastest Japanese performers ever in Chicago.

Ryo Kiname (MHPS)
PB: 2:08:08 (7th, Tokyo Marathon, 2018)
Major recent results:
2:10:30 (3rd, Beppu-Oita Marathon, 2017)
2:13:16 (1st, Hokkaido Marathon, 2016)

A training partner of 2018 Asian Games gold medalist and 2:06:54 man Hiroto Inoue and 2014 Asian Games silver medalist and 2:08:09 man Kohei Matsumura, Kiname has been on a solid trajectory since his 2:12:48 debut at Beppu-Oita in 2014, winning his follow-up at the 2016 Hokkaido Marathon, taking his PB to the 2:10 level at Beppu last year, then dropping a 2:08:08 in Tokyo this year. Chicago will be his international marathon debut. A 29:35.42 for 9th in the 10000 m B-heat at last week's National Corporate Track and Field Championships wasn't encouraging, but if Kiname managed to get under 2:08:00 in Chicago he would earn a 5,000,000 yen bonus, ~$44,000 USD at the current exchange rate, under the corporate league's Project Exceed high performance program.

Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project)
PB: 2:07:19 (3rd, Fukuoka Int'l Marathon, 2017)
Major recent results:
1:01:01 - CR (1st, Redmond Labor Day Half Marathon, 2018)
29:53 (1st, National XC Championships 10 km, 2018)
2:10:28 (3rd, Boston Marathon, 2017)

After a solid 2017 that saw him take 3rd in both Boston and Fukuoka Osako had a patchy spring, winning the National Cross Country Championships and taking the top Japanese spot at the World Half Marathon Championships but DNFing a planned shot at the 10000 m national record and pulling out of the National Track and Field Championships. In early September paced by two bicycles he soloed a 1:01:01 PB to move up to all-time Japanese #9 for the half marathon. Last year he did something similar a month out from Fukuoka, soloing a 1:02:15 in Phoenix before running 2:07:19. Naturally his fans in the Japanese media are looking at those numbers, the 1:01:01 in Redmond this time, doing the math, and anticipating the Rapture. But whether the Labor Day mark shows genuine improvement or is simply bringing his half PB into line with his other marks, which rank him all-time JPN #6 for 10000 m and #7 for the marathon, remains to be seen. Sixteen Japanese men have broken 2:08, but only one, Takaoka, has ever done it more than once. Regardless of whether he takes himself further even a sub-2:08 would be a great day for Osako. If he makes it as far as the NR Project Exceed will be there waiting with a 100,000,000 yen payday.

Yohei Suzuki (Aisan Kogyo)
PB: 2:14:53 (2nd, Ehime Marathon, 2017)
Major recent results:
2:15:16 (14th, Lake Biwa Marathon, 2018)
1:01:53 (9th, Kagawa Marugame Int'l Half Marathon, 2018)
17:34 - CR (1st, Izumo Ekiden 4th Stg. - 6.2 km, 2016)

In his last race at Waseda University the likable Suzuki made his marathon debut at age 22 at his hometown Ehime Marathon in hopes of breaking its 1965-era course record of 2:16:49. Kawauchi was also in the race, and when Suzuki set out fast the pair pushed it to 2:07 pace in the early going. Suzuki lasted until 20 km, but although Kawauchi went on to take 7 minutes off the CR Suzuki succeeded in his original goal of clearing the old CR, celebrating as he came in to finish 2nd in 2:14:53. Since joining the corporate leagues he has been one of the most entertaining people on the circuit and taken his half marathon PB down to 1:01:53. Last week he ran 29:12.98 to win the same Corporate Nationals 10000 m B-heat that Kiname ran.  Two years almost to the day since he set the CR on the Izumo Ekiden's Fourth Stage he hopes to take his marathon PB further too in Chicago.



Kawauchi photo © 2013 Arata Fujiwara, all rights reserved
text © 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Buy Me A Coffee

Comments

Unknown said…
Thanks for this great info!! I only knew about Kawauchi and Osako coming to Chicago this year. It's so awesome to have them come and go for their best race on our pancake-flat course! I'll be volunteering at Aid Station 13 (mile 17) this year and sure look forward to cheering on these Japanese runners! The weather is a bit weird/unstable this week here in Chicago. It got super warm today (86F/30C) all of a sudden and the temps will drop tomorrow again (58F/14C overcast, perfect marathon weather!). Hopefully it'll stay somewhat cool and no rain/wind at least while the elites run Sunday!
Anonymous said…
Wow sub 2:06! I definitely didn't see that coming.

Most-Read This Week

Toyota On Fire - Weekend Road Race Roundup

Everything right now in Japanese distance is about qualifying for September's MGC Race 2020 Olympic marathon trials. On the men's side Toyota currently leads the way, Yuma Hattori running 2:07:27, Taku Fujimoto 2:07:57 and Chihiro Miyawaki 2:08:45 last year to qualify. Five more Toyota runners ran big today to set up some exciting last-shot bids at qualifying in Tokyo and Lake Biwa.

The National Corporate Half Marathon men's race went out relatively conservatively with a pack of 30 rolling through 10 km in 29:28. A series of runners including 35-year-old full-time-working amateur Takahiro Nakamura (Kyocera Kagoshima) took turns trying to get it moving before Amos Kurgat (Chudenko) took off for good to win unchallenged in 1:01:06. Along with Kenyans Paul Kuira (Konica Minolta) and Patrick Muendo Mwaka (Aisan Kogyo) Toyota's trio of Hideyuki Tanaka, Tsubasa Hayakawa and Minato Oishi emerged at the front of a chase group of 14.

As the pace picked up over the last 5 km th…

Endo and Matsuzaki Break National Records in Boston

Indoor track is pretty much non-existant in Japan, but in the last few years more Japanese athletes have been heading to the States after ekiden season to give it a go and coming back with national records. Two more records fell at Friday's David Hemery Valentine Invitational in Boston.

First up, in his indoor debut 20-year-old Hyuga Endo (Sumitomo Denko) ran 13:27.81 to break the indoor 5000 m national record set five years ago in New York by Suguru Osako by 0.19. Endo was one of Japan's all-time best high schoolers. Now in his second year in the corporate leagues after opting to skip university he is coached by Yasuyuki Watanabe, Osako's former coach at Waseda University. Also in the same race, Hiroki Matsueda (Fujitsu) was 6th in 13:47.64.

Three hours later, Riko Matsuzaki (Sekisui Kagaku) ran 9:00.86 in the women's 3000 m, taking 0.53 off the national record set way back in 1999 by Akiko Kawashima at the Maebashi World Indoor Championships. Matsuzaki is in the mid…

Beppu-Oita Marathon to Review Staff Training After Interpreter Refers to African Athletes as "Chimpanzees"

On Feb. 14 the organizers of the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon confirmed that a local woman in her fifties who served as an interpreter at this year's race had published a blog post in which she referred to the African athletes on whose behalf she had worked as "chimpanzees." The woman said she had no malicious or racist intent behind her comments, but a spokesperson for the organizers called her choice of words "inappropriate." Organizers plan to review their training and guidance procedures for all race management staff members.

The Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon took place in the two cities on Feb. 3. According to the spokesperson, the blog to which the woman posted the comments is for members of a sports club to which she belongs to report on what they have been doing. On Feb. 10 she wrote about her work with the African athletes, posting it with public access so that anyone could read it. She described the struggle of talking to the African athletes, saying …