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Beating History – The Japanese Team at the London World Championships

The Japanese team at the London World Championships has few real medal prospects. Its best chances come in the men’s 4x100 m, where the roster includes ever newer and faster blood than last year’s Olympic silver medal-winning team in 18-year-old Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) and 21-year-old Shuhei Tada (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.), and the men’s race walks, where the 20 km features Eiki Takahashi (Fujitsu), #2 in the world this season, and Hirooki Arai (SDF Academy), the 50 km Rio bronze medalist.

If there is another solid medal prospect it comes in the women’s marathon, where Japanese athletes have won eleven medals in fifteen World Championships to date. Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) ran the fastest-ever debut by a Japanese woman with a 2:21:36 at March’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon, putting her at 5th on the London entry list. There have been calls for her to be cautious in coming back with another hard marathon so soon after her first, but a run anything like what she did in March should put her in reach of at least bronze. Her mid-2:23 teammates Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) should play important supporting roles and factor into a slower race.


The Japanese men have the best team outside of Ethiopia and Kenya with 2:08 men Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t), Hiroto Inoue (MHPS) and Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki), but they face a tougher battle to break into the medals with three minutes separating them from #3-ranked Daniel Wanjiru (Kenya). Kawauchi is on his game this season and dead focused but has been only mediocre in his other World Championships races. Inoue shows a lot of promise with a 2:08:22 best of a sub-63 first half in just his second marathon in Tokyo this spring and could be the favorite for the top Japanese spot. Nakamoto is the best Championships marathoner of his generation, with a 6th-place finish in the London Olympics, a 5th in Moscow a year later, and two of the ten fastest times ever by a Japanese man at Worlds. Equally true for all three, a top ten finish would be good, top eight very good, top five excellent, and, if everything went perfectly, maybe better.


No Japanese men qualified for the 10000 m this year, a first in World Championships history, and with none in the 5000 m either it’s a pretty sorry state just three years out from a home soil Olympics. Mitigating that slightly is Hironori Tsuetaki (Fujitsu) in the 3000 m steeplechase. Only one Japanese man has ever made a World Championships steeple final, once, and fresh off an 8:29.05 PB there’s not much hope of Tsuetaki adding to that. But any further improvement to that and he’ll be on for one of the fastest Japanese steeple times ever at Worlds.


While the men are staying home, Japanese women will be at work in both the 5000 m and 10000 m. Two years ago in Beijing Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) ran one of the best-ever 5000 m at Worlds by a Japanese woman, 15:08.29 for 9th. She’s still working back from an injury and hasn’t hit peak form, beaten by junior teammate Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post) at Nationals, but things look to be headed in the right direction. The JAAF surprisingly didn’t name a third woman to the team despite multiple solid candidates, leaving it up to Suzuki and the very promising Nabeshima.


One of the best Japanese performances in recent memory was Hitomi Niiya’s brilliant and career-ending 5th place in the Moscow World Championships 10000 m. The days where Japanese women could medal in the 10000 m are 20 years distant, but again Suzuki looks like a contender to carry her generation. Beating her at Nationals, Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) is young, strong and still on the upward curve, and Miyuki Uehara (Daiichi Seimei) joins them to form a very solid team, moving up in distance after becoming just the second Japanese woman to make an Olympic 5000 m final with her fearless frontrunning in Rio last year.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Kawauchi Wins 7th-Straight Okinoshima 50 km

Running the Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon on his late father's home island of Oki for the eighth year in a row, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran 2:52:55 to win it for the seventh straight time. Starting strong on the relatively flat first 10 km where he clocked 33:26, low-2:47 pace, Kawauchi slowed to just over 2:50 pace on the course's toughest hills between 10 and 30 km. A sub-2:50 was still in range at that point, but over the last 20 km he faded further to finish in the second-slowest of his Okinoshima wins.



The day before the race Kawauchi paced children in Okinoshima's kids' run. Following that he greeted participants and local supporters at an expo event where he was hailed onstage as the Boston Marathon winner. As per his usual routine, his next race will be the July 1 Gold Coast Marathon in Australia.

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Kipchirchir and Chebii Take on Three Gold Coast Winners

The men's race at Australia's Gold Coast Marathon is usually a Kenya-Japan head-to-head, Kenya taking six wins and Japan three in the last ten years. With not a single Ethiopian in the field for this year's 40th edition it looks set for it to happen yet again.

Sub-2:10 Kenyans Victor Kipchirchir, Douglas Chebii, Philip Sanga and the Japan-based Michael Githae will line up to take on three of the race's last four winners, 2017 champ Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta), 2015-16 winner and course record holder Kenneth Mungara (Kenya) and 2013 champ and perpetual top three placer Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't). Give the advantage to team Kenya in this bout, but as Noguchi and Kawauchi have proven Gold Coast is a race where Japanese men are legit contenders.

With the window for getting qualifying times for next year's MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials starting to close, the powers that be in Japan have taken note of the success of Noguchi and Kawauchi on the Gold Coast…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …