Sunday's Nagoya Women's Marathon and Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon pretty much wrapped up qualification for the Sept. 15 MGC Race, Japan's new 2020 Olympic trials in the marathon. There's still a chance for people who haven't qualified yet to get in if they can clear the wildcard standards, 2:24:00 or a two-race 2:28:00 average for women and 2:08:30 or a 2:11:00 average for men, by the end of April. At least two men with good chances of making it, Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) and Asuka Tanaka (Hiramatsu Byoin), are planning to race again in April to try to go that route, and there will probably be others. But realistically the numbers of qualifiers probably won't change too much from what they are now.
As of the end of Sunday's races, 14 women and 30 men have qualified. On the women's side, the Tenmaya corporate team, the most successful at putting women on national teams in the marathon, has produced the most qualifiers with three, Honami Maeda, Mizuki Tanimoto and Rei Ohara. On the men's side, both the MHPS and Toyota teams have put three athletes into the MGC Race, MHPS with Hiroto Inoue, Ryo Kiname and Yuji Iwata, and Toyota with Yuma Hattori, Taku Fujimoto and Chihiro Miyawaki. The Asahi Kasei team, the most old-school marathon powerhouse in Japan and the three-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion, hasn't qualified a single athlete. All its hopes now lie with Murayama.
Right after Nagoya and Lake Biwa came news of the announcement of the IAAF's new qualifying standards for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. To be sure to qualify women must clear 2:29:30 and men 2:11:30 or one of a few options based on placing in high-level races on or after Jan. 1, 2019. Otherwise it will come down to their position in the IAAF's just-officially-launched world rankings. What's the upshot for the 44 women and men currently set to run the MGC Race, where the basic idea is that the top three will make up the Japanese team for its home Olympics?
8 of the 14 women and 12 of the 30 men have cleared the IAAF Olympic standards, so they'll be safe in any case. But the 3 fastest women and 9 of the 10 fastest men haven't, all of them having qualified for the MGC Race in 2018. If they or any of the lower-tier qualifiers who haven't cleared the IAAF marks make the Japanese team they'll have three options:
- Clear the IAAF standards at the MGC Race. For top-level Japanese marathoners 2:29:30 and 2:11:30 aren't an issue, but with the Sept. 15 date of the MGC Race being chosen to try to replicate the hot and humid conditions it's going to force them to focus a little on running for time in the heat instead of only racing for place. Assuming conditions are similar to those at the late-August Hokkaido Marathon that won't be a really easy task; last year's Hokkaido winners Ayuko Suzuki and Naoki Okamoto ran 2:28:32 and 2:11:29.
- Run another marathon between the MGC Race and the Olympics. This has been kind of a question mark anyway since the announcement of the MGC Race's date. If you qualify for the Olympic team on Sept. 15 do you run a spring marathon before the Olympics the following August? Probably, but if someone who hasn't cleared the IAAF Olympic standards yet makes the team it puts pressure on them to do one to hit the standards and thereby reduces their options in how to go about preparing for the Olympics.
- Take their chances with the world rankings. Most of the top bracket people who haven't cleared the IAAF standards are ranked highly enough in the world rankings that they should be safe, but you never know. Take #1 man Suguru Osako. With a DNF in Tokyo and no other marathon likely this year apart from the MGC Race his position in the rankings is bound to drop. If the MGC Race runs slow and he doesn't clear 2:11:30 then the scenario could happen where he drops enough in the world rankings to be in danger unless he races more. Likewise for some of the lower-level people in the MGC field. Kentaro Nakamoto, Japan's best championships marathoner, hasn't cleared the IAAF standard and is currently ranked only 395th in the world. If he makes top three at the MGC Race will that be enough to get him to the Olympics? It's a question mark.
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