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11 Japanese Men Taking Last Shot at Olympic Trials Qualification at Tartan Ottawa International Marathon

The deadline for Japanese athletes to qualify for the MGC Race, Japan's Olympic marathon trials happening Oct. 15 in Tokyo, is May 31. Up to this point 67 men and 29 women have hit the tough qualifying standards that make the MGC Race the hardest marathon in the world to get into.

That looks set to be the final number of women, but 11 men will be taking their last shot at making the cut at the May 28 Tartan Ottawa International Marathon. To get in they'll have to either walk away from Ottawa with an average of 2:10:00 or better between what they run there and one other race since the qualifying window opened on Nov. 1, 2021, or run 2:08:00 or faster in Ottawa.

The 11 runners break down into four groups. At the top end, Ryo Osaki, Ryoma Takeuchi and Junnosuke Matsuo can all afford to run slower than what they already have in order to hit the 2:10:00 average. Osaki and Takeuchi both have a 2:08 race to their names inside the qualifying window and only need to run 2:11, but that doesn't mean it's an easy job. Takeuchi, a training partner of Prague Marathon winner Alexander Mutiso, needs to run 2:11:03 but came up just short at last December's Hofu Marathon, running 2:11:07.

Kento Otsu is in a category of his own, needing 2:09:47 to qualify and having run that kind of time before with a 2:08:15 PB before the qualifying window opened in 2021. That's almost exactly what Yuta Shimoda did last year in Ottawa to qualify with a 2:09:50 for 3rd off a 2:07:27 best in 2020, so Otsu knows it's an achievable goal.

Chihiro Ono, Hiroto Kanamori, Mizuki Higashi, Akihiro Kaneko and Keisuke Yokota all need to run PBs to qualify, Ono and Kanamori needing to duplicate what Takayuki Iida did in Prague and run 30-32 seconds under their bests to the 2:09:44-45 level. The other three need a breakthrough to the 2:08 level, not easy given the fastest time ever by a Japanese man in Ottawa is still Arata Fujiwara's 2:09:34 win in 2010.

Tatsunori Hamasaki and Taiki Suzuki haven't run under 2:12:00 inside the window, or ever in Suzuki's case, meaning they need to run a one-off 2:08:00 to make it. Only eight Japanese men have ever run that fast outside Japan, so if either pulled it off it would be one of the biggest stories of the year in Japanese marathoning.

And there's another level to what it means to make the Olympic trials. The corporate federation recently ruled that since the MGC Race conflicts with the fall ekiden season, any team that has a runner in the trials will automatically qualify for the National Corporate Women's Ekiden and New Year Ekiden men's championships as long as they finish the qualifying ekidens in late October and early November.

Osaki and Kanamori's team Komori Corporation, Kaneko and Yokota's team Comodi Iida and Takeuchi's team ND Soft don't have anyone qualified yet. Komori is good enough that it usually makes the New Year Ekiden, but Comodi Iida is one of the teams on the cusp and ND Soft not usually strong enough to make it, so any of their runners performing up to hopes in Ottawa would have a big impact on their winter season and potential future team funding.

JRN will be on-site in Ottawa with the Japanese group. Live results and streaming will be available here.

© 2023 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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