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Really, Honestly, the Last Chance to Make the 2020 Olympic Team - Nagoya Women's Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon Previews

Even as question marks bubble to the surface about whether the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will go ahead as planned amid the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus, Japan is preparing for what will really, honestly, be the end of qualification for its all-important home soil Olympic marathon teams this Sunday. It's been a long process, with a two-year qualification window for last September's MGC Olympic trials race, where the top two in the women's and men's races scored places on the 2020 teams while the 3rd-placer was put in a wait-and-see position pending the outcome of the Final Challenge.

That was the name given to the usual winter 2019-20 circuit of domestic races, the Saitama International, Osaka International and Nagoya Women's Marathon for women, and Fukuoka International, Tokyo and Lake Biwa Marathon for men. If anyone at one of these races broke the fastest time run during the MGC qualifying window they'd replace the 3rd-placer at the MGC race on the 2020 team.

For whatever that took away from the MGC race itself, it created a lot of excitement about the Final Challenge races. Nothing happened in Saitama or Fukuoka, but at the second race on each side people cleared the bar. In Osaka in January, MGC 4th placer Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) won in 2:21:47 to replace 3rd-placer Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) in the provisional 3rd spot on the 2020 team. In Tokyo last week, MGC 3rd-placer Suguru Osako (Nike) was 4th in 2:05:29, bettering his own national record to solidify his provisional spot.

And those are the times that need to be beaten on Sunday at the Nagoya Women's Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon, 2:21:47 and 2:05:29. The international competition is there in both races to help pace someone to do it, and if the weather plays out favorably, with rain forecast in Nagoya post-race but during the race in Lake Biwa, it will all come down to whether anyone in either race has the talent, training and motivation to get it done.

Chances of it happening look higher in Nagoya. 2:21:47 is not an easy mark, but it's conceivably doable. One contender, Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu), is out with injury, but Yuka Ando (Wacoal) has run faster than that before, and in Nagoya, and her teammates Kayoko Fukushi and Mao Ichiyama both make the short list of people who might pull it off. Despite her last-place finish at the MGC race independent Reia Iwade (Under Armour) is another. Likewise for last year's National Corporate Half Marathon champion Sayaka Sato (Sekisui Kagaku) in her debut. Fuji TV will broadcast all the action starting at 9:00 a.m. Japan time Sunday, with live coverage on @JRNLive. You might be able to get the broadcast internationally on TVJapanlive.com or mov3.co.

Moving to the same day as Nagoya as a side-effect of the Imperial succession, last year Lake Biwa went down with its traditional noon start right after Nagoya finished. This year they're head-to-head, with NHK broadcasting Lake Biwa commercial-free starting at 9:00 a.m. As with Nagoya, you might be able to catch it on TVJapanlive.com or mov3.co, and you can follow it for sure on @JRNLive.

2:05:29 is a pretty tall order for the Lake Biwa field. The withdrawal of Dutch national record holder Abdi Nageeye and Kiwi national record holder Zane Robertson don't really impact the Japanese field's chances, it's more a question of whether there's anyone lining up who's capable of doing it. With the possible exception of Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu) all of the sub-2:10 Japanese men look to be past their peak, so you have to go further down the list to find anyone remotely likely.

Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko)? Only a 2:10:12 PB, but he ran a 1:01:09 PB at the Marugame Half last month, only 8 seconds off Osako's best. Kengo Suzuki (Fujitsu)? Only a 2:10:21 PB from his debut in Tokyo two years ago while still in college, but he was the one who took charge of the MGC race in September and led the chase pack with a 14:48 split mid-race. Natsuki Terada (JR Higashi Nihon)?  A breakthrough 2:10:55 in Fukuoka in December and running great since then. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota)? A training partner of MGC runner-up Yuma Hattori and all-time Japanese #2 half-marathoner Taku Fujimoto.

And that's about it. You might think on paper that none of these guys is good enough to challenge Osako's new NR, but things are wild these days, and as we saw in Marugame last month and Tokyo last week, people are running big right now, the shoes, the belief, and, especially this weekend, the knowledge that this is it. This is the Olympics or bust. If they all go for it all-in maybe one of them will hang on til the end. You can extend that to Nagoya too. It might not be likely, but anything could happen here. Thumbs up to the Final Challenge and the buildup of hype around an improbable but tantalizing outcome in the face of an uncertain time.


Nagoya Women's Marathon Elite Field Highlights

Nagoya, 3/8/20
complete field listing
times listed are best in last three years except where noted

Purity Cherotich Rionoripo (Kenya) - 2:20:39 (Valencia 2019)
Helen Tola (Ethiopia) - 2:21:01 (Tokyo 2019)
Yuka Ando (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:21:36 (Nagoya 2017)
Nancy Jepkosgei Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:22:12 (Vienna 2019)
Helaila Johannes (Namibia) - 2:22:25 (Nagoya 2019)
Stellah Barsosio (Kenya) - 2:23:36 (Rotterdam 2019)
Betsy Saina (Kenya) - 2:22:43 (Toronto Waterfront 2019)
Birke Debele (Ethiopia) - 2:23:19 (Toronto Waterfront 2019)
Hirut Tibebu Damte (Ethiopia) - 2:23:35 (Shanghai 2017)
Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:23:47 (Nagoya 2017)
Reia Iwade (Japan/Under Armour) - 2:23:52 (Nagoya 2019)
Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:24:09 (Nagoya 2019)
Mao Ichiyama (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:24:33 (Tokyo 2019)
Ayano Ikemitsu (Japan/Noritz) - 2:26:07 (Nagoya 2019)
Keiko Nogami (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) - 2:26:33 (Nagoya 2018)
Truphena Chepchirchir (Kenya) - 2:27:52 (Dongying 2019)
Mao Uesugi (Japan/Starts) - 2:28:02 (Nagoya 2019)
Natsuki Omori (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:29:15 (Osaka Women's 2019)
Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:29:22 (Nagoya 2018)
Ai Hosoda (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:29:27 (Nagoya 2019)
Chika Ihara (Japan/Higo Ginko) - 2:31:32 (Osaka Women's 2019)
Rie Kawauchi (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:31:37 (Nagoya 2019)
Misato Horie (Japan/Noritz) - 2:32:01 (Nagoya 2019)
Anke Esser (Germany) - 2:32:06 (Chicago 2019)
Anna Matsuda (Japan/Kyocera) - 2:32:22 (Nagoya 2019)
Yomogi Akasaka (Japan/Saitama Ika Univ. Group) - 2:32:28 (Nagoya 2018)
Yui Okada (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:32:45 (Nagoya 2017)

Debut
Sayaka Sato (Japan/Sekisui Kagaku) - 1:09:27 (National Corporate Half 2019)

75th Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon Elite Field Highlights

Otsu, Shiga, 3/8/20
complete field listing
times listed are best in last three years except where noted

Evans Chebet (Kenya) - 2:05:00 (Buenos Aires 2019)
Felix Chemonges (Uganda) - 2:05:12 (Toronto Waterfront 2019)
Felix Kiprotich (Kenya) - 2:05:33 (Daegu 2019)
Samuel Ndungu (Kenya) - 2:06:02 (Lisbon 2019)
Salah-Eddine Bounasr (Morocco) - 2:07:52 (Lake Biwa 2019)
Macharia Ndirangu (Kenya/Aichi Seiko) - 2:07:53 (Lake Biwa 2018)
Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) - 2:07:58 (Lake Biwa 2019)
Alphonce Simbu (Tanzania) - 2:08:27 (Lake Biwa 2019)
Takuya Noguchi (Japan/Konica Minolta) - 2:08:59 (Gold Coast 2017)
Byambajav Tseveenravdan (Mongolia) - 2:09:03 (Beppu-Oita 2020)
Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) - 2:09:18 (Gold Coast 2017)
Michael Githae (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:09:21 (Lake Biwa 2018)
Kohei Ogino (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:09:36 (Tokyo 2018)
Fumihiro Maruyama (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:39 (Lake Biwa 2016)
Shohei Otsuka (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:10:12 (Beppu-Oita 2018)
Kengo Suzuki (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:10:21 (Tokyo 2018)
Derlys Ayala (Paraguay) - 2:10:27 (Buenos Aires 2019)
Natsuki Terada (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:55 (Fukuoka Int'l 2019)
Kohei Matsumura (Japan/MHPS) - 2:11:04 (Lake Biwa 2017)
Naoya Sakuda (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:11:21 (Nagano 2019)
Liam Adams (Australia) - 2:11:36 (Gold Coast 2019)
Paul Kuira (Kenya/JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:11:58 (Hokkaido 2018)
Tsubasa Hayakawa (Japan/Toyota) - 2:12:01 (Lake Biwa 2019)
Yukio Fujimura (Japan/Sumitomo Denko) - 2:12:13 (Lake Biwa 2019)
Shinichi Yamashita (Japan/Takigahara SDF Base) - 2:12:28 (Hofu 2018)
Ayumu Sato (Japan/MHPS) - 2:12:37 (Lake Biwa 2018)
Takahiro Gunji (Japan/Komori Corp.) - 2:12:55 (Nobeoka 2019)

Debut
Patrick Mwaka (Kenya/Aisan Kogyo) - 1:00:53 (National Corporate Half 2020)

© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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