Yesterday was the last chance for Japanese men and women to qualify for the Sept. 15 MGC Race, Japan's new more-or-less one-shot 2020 Olympic marathon trials. Since August, 2017 they've had to meet tough standards, 2:08:30 or two races averaging 2:11:00 for men and 2:24:00 or two races averaging 2:28:00 for women with slightly easier marks in the traditional selection races like Tokyo and Nagoya. With yesterday's Hamburg and London marathons on the books a total of 34 men and 15 women made the cut.
Of the 34 men, 20 ran sub-2:10 within the qualifying window. When Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu) and Tadashi Isshiki (GMO) qualified in Hamburg yesterday it meant all 9 men who broke 2:10 at last year's Tokyo Marathon had made it. Tokyo was the race where the most qualifiers ran their fastest mark in the window, 14 between 2018 and 2019, with Beppu-Oita next at 5 and Lake Biwa 3rd with 4. The MHPS, Toyota, Fujitsu and GMO teams each qualified 3 runners, with Nissin Shokuhin, Konica Minolta and Chugoku Denryoku scoring 2 apiece.
The most traditional marathon powerhouse team, 3-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion Asahi Kasei, failed to qualify a single athlete, with its top man Kenta Murayama the only runner to break 2:10 inside the MGC window and not qualify. Murayama and others will have a final chance to make the Olympic team by clearing a super-fast time, to be announced next month, at one of the main domestic races during the winter 2019-2020 season.
Should someone do it they'll steal the third spot from one of the top 3 finishers at the MGC Race. And with the announcement of the 2020 Olympic standards there's a further complication. Only 15 of the 34 men have cleared the Olympic standard, essentially 2:11:30 or top 10 in a major after Jan. 1, 2019, with the other 19 including the top 7, having run their MGC qualifiers last year. That means that if they make the top 3 at the MGC Race they won't be 100% on the team unless they run under 2:11:30 there, do another marathon under the Olympic standard between then and the Olympics, or take their chances with their world ranking.
15 women qualified, less than half the men's total. The JAAF set the qualifying standards relative to the Japanese national records as of the spring of 2017 and said the women's were easier, but in comparison to the IAAF gold and silver label times in place at that point the women's standards were significantly harder. The number of qualifiers bears that out.
If everyone on the list makes it to the starting line in one piece it will be a great race, with 7 of the women having run under 2:25 in the window and one more, Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post), having run an all-time Japanese #3 1:07:55 half marathon. Nagoya was the race of choice, with 8 of the 15 having clocked their best times inside the window there. Only Osaka Women's had more than 1 apart from Nagoya, with 3 qualifiers between 2018 and 2019.
Where Asahi Kasei came up short on the men's side, its women's counterpart powerhouse Tenmaya was 1 of 2 teams to qualify 3 runners, the other being Wacoal thanks in part to the transfer this month of Yuka Ando from the Suzuki Hamamatsu AC team. Daihatsu and the young Japan Post team both qualified 2 women.
Ando's former Suzuki teammate and training partner Mao Kiyota was one of the highest-profile runners to miss qualifying. Another was Yuka Takashima (Shiseido), a promising 2:26:13 in her debut in Paris last year and only needing to follow up with a 2:29:47 but DNFing in Tokyo last month after going out at 2:21 pace and DNFing again in Hamburg yesterday. As with the men they'll have a last-ditch chance to steal the third spot on the team next winter if they can clear whatever time is announced in May.
10 of the 15 qualifiers have met the Olympic standards, giving the women apart from the top tier who all qualified last year a little more breathing room than the men when they line up Sept. 15 on the Olympic course. It's bound to be just about the most exciting marathon of 2019.
© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved