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The New Kid in Town - Yamato Yoshii

Track season has been edging toward starting back up in Japan, but since March in the absence of formal races many of the top university and corporate teams have been holding intramural time trials, some done up to World Athletics standards, others more informal hand-timed events. More than any other name, the one that's come to the surface through these time trials is Chuo University first-year Yamato Yoshii.

In March Yoshii graduated from Sendai Ikuei H.S., alma mater of 2008 Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru among others. At Sendai Ikuei he wasn't a brilliant ekiden runner, his best performance a 2nd-place finish his first year on the 3.0 km Second Stage at the National High School Ekiden Championships that helped Sendai Ikuei finish 3rd overall. He followed that up with a disastrous 42nd place finish out of 47 on the prestigious 10 km First Stage the next year, then wrapped his high school ekiden career with an 8th-place finish on the 8.1075 km Third Stage this past December to help Sendai Ikuei score the national title in one of the fastest team performances in history.

On the track he showed more promise, in his senior year last year finishing 3rd in the National High School Championships and PBs of 3:48.71 for 1500 m, 13:55.10 for 5000 m, and, most impressively, an all-time Japanese high schooler #4 time of 8:06.44. All this at age 17.

After turning 18 in February, he turned up early at Chuo University ahead of formally entering the university at the start of the academic year in April to run a team 10000 m time trial on Mar. 8 that was set up for people who had been planning to run the National University Half Marathon Championships and other races that got canceled. Yoshii won it in 28:35.65, the 5th-fastest time ever by a Japanese high schooler. That time trial was done per World Athletics regulations, and it's on his profile now as his official PB.

After graduating in March and entered Chuo in April, Yoshii came under the coaching of collegiate marathon national record holder Masakazu Fujiwara. The national government's declaration of a state of emergency meant that the team couldn't have organized practice sessions in April and May, but as soon as it was lifted in June they hit the track for an informal 5000 m time trial on June 6.

Yoshii won it again in 13:42.6, an unofficial time but almost 13 seconds under his PB. A week later on June 13 Chuo did an informal 1500 m time trial in heavy rain, with Yoshii winning yet again in 3:44.9, also unofficial but less than two seconds off the Chuo school record and way under his legal PB. So far under that it lands him just outside the Japanese U20 all-time top ten.

Yoshii is bound to turn up at next month's Hokuren Distance Challenge, and whether there or somewhere this fall, expect to see him get those marks officially, and then some. It may be too early for him to make much impact on the university ekiden circuit, if there is one this year, but Yoshii seems set to have a big one over the next few years.

© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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