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Suzuki, Ichiyama, Koyama and Akasaki Paris-Bound - Japan's Olympic Marathon Trials

The second edition of the Marathon Grand Championship race, Japan's marathon trials for the 2024 Paris Olympics, happened Sunday in less than ideal conditions in Tokyo, with heavy rain throughout the race, temps in the mid-teens, and even a tornado warning in Chiba east of the city as the race went on. The top two in each race earned guaranteed spots on the Paris team, with the 3rd-placers earning provisional places and a target on their backs in the upcoming winter domestic marathon season.

The winner at the first MGC in 2019, Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) took the race out on 2:23 pace with a pack of 14 in tow. Most of the favorites were there, including her Tokyo Olympics teammates Mao Ichiyama (Shiseido) and Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post), newcomers Ai Hosoda (Edion) and Rika Kaseda (Daihatsu) and more. One surprise was that Maeda's Tenmaya teammates Natsuki Matsushita and Mizuki Tanimoto, both sub-2:23:15 runners, hung back in the second pack in the early going, and it wasn't until Matsushita came up to make contact before 20 km that things really got going.

Matsushita went right by the lead women into 1st, and just a few km later Ichiyama responded with a breakaway of her own that only Hosoda could follow. Maeda tried but was soon retaken by what was left of the group, Matsushita, Kaseda, Ayuko Suzuki, and Sachiko Yamashita-coached 2019 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Yuka Suzuki (Daiichi Seimei). Matsushita became the third runner in the race to slip and fall on the slick pavement on a corner and dropped back, and soon Ayuko Suzuki, then Maeda began to slow.

At 30 km Ichiyama and Hosoda had a 10 second lead over Yuka Suzuki and Kaseda, but over the next 5 km both pairs came apart. As they headed toward the climb at 40 km Ichiyama dropped Hosoda to move 6 seconds ahead. Suzuki opened a second on Kaseda and came closer and closer to Hosoda, and once she passed her set her sights on Ichiyama, with Kaseda also overtaking Hosoda for 3rd. The end came sooner than expected for Ichiyama's hopes of taking the win, as Suzuki flew by to open 12 seconds on her by 40 km. From there it was all Suzuki, as she sailed in to take the win in 2:24:09, a PB by almost a minute and the only athlete female or male to run a PB.

Ichiyama knew her place was in danger and pushed hard, but behind her it wasn't Kaseda but a profoundly deeply-digging Hosoda who came back up on her. Coming into the stadium for the final lap of the track it looked like Hosoda might catch her, but Ichiyama had just enough left to take 2nd in 2:24:43 and guarantee herself a place in Paris alongside Suzuki. Hosoda was only 7 seconds behind in 2:24:50, enough for the provisional spot but, with the two fastest recent Japanese women having sat the MGC race out, almost sure to be knocked off by someone in the winter.

Kaseda took 4th in 2:25:29 for a provisional alternate spot, with Matsushita coming back from her fall to take the second provisional alternate spot in 2:25:57. Maeda ended up 7th in 2:27:02, with final Tokyo team member Ayuko Suzuki only 12th in 2:31:33. After finishing Suzuki stood stone-faced and inconsolable as the rain came down on her, staring off into the distance in the Olympic stadium.

The men's race seemed strangely familiar from 2019, with a lone runner from Saitama setting off at an unsustainable pace only to be overtaken and spit out by the lead pack after 35 km, a runner acting as domestique and helping a teammate make the Olympic team, and 5000 m NR holder Suguru Osako (GMO/Nike) landing in 3rd and a provisional team spot.

In this case it was former amateur Yuki Kawauchi (ANDS) who replayed Yuta Shitara's unsuccessful strategy from the 2019 MGC Race, the main group mostly ignoring him until Kensuke Horio (Kyudenko) got them moving in pursuit after 30 km. But where Shitara had made it past 37 km before getting run down, Kawauchi only made it to 35 km before being passed by Horio, Osako, Gold Coast Marathon CR breaker Naoki Koyama (Honda), Naoya Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon), Hiroto Inoue (Mitsubishi Juko) and Horio's junior teammate Akira Akasaki.

Horio went into the lead at 35.2 km with Akasaki off his shoulder, just like a pre-NR Kengo Suzuki did for 2019 winner and Fujitsu teammate Shogo Nakamura, and when Koyama came to the front with 4 km to go at almost the same spot where Nakamura had taken control, the race was on. As they moved onto the climb toward 40 km Koyama pulled away, Akasaki trying to follow with Osako behind, Kawauchi barely hanging on, and the rest dropping back. Fresh off his 2:07:40 CR win at Gold Coast in July, Koyama knew how to handle the win here too, crossing the line in 2:08:57 to make the Paris team. Akasaki, who had only a 2:09:01 PB but a truckload of confidence in his finishing speed, easily dropped Osako for 2nd in 2:09:06 and the other Paris spot, laying down the fastest closing split in the field with a 6:30 from 40 km to the finish.

And Osako, whose weak spot has always been the lack of closing speed that cost him 2nd to Yuma Hattori last time, somehow found it in himself to reverse history and drop the typically fast-closing Kawauchi for 3rd in 2:09:11. You know that had to feel good. Like 2019 3rd is only a provisional spot, but relative to Hosoda's position in the women's standings Osako can feel more secure in where he sits.

How many people could break the 2:05:50 it would need to knock him off the team? NR holder Suzuki, faster than that in his last two marathons, was a DNF today in his first marathon in over a year and a half. And a DNF for 2:05:59 man Kenya Sonota (JR Higashi Nihon), who doubled from the Budapest World Championships. 2:05:51 runner Ichitaka Yamashita (Mitsubishi Juko), also doubling from Budapest, was only 32nd in 2:14:11. Could any of them turn it back around in time for Tokyo in March? That seems doable, but a lot of it depends on how much damage was done today.

At any rate, it's notable that both races were won by people who weren't in the very top tier by time going into the race but had significant career wins on their CV. Both ran conservatively most of the way, only going on the attack late when it counted. That part's true of all three on the men's podium. A non-paced race where actual racing skills won out over going hard and trying to hang on. Changes in the marathon landscape the last few seasons, especially this one, probably mean they're no closer to getting back on the medal stand, but with time being the primary focus of the Japanese athletics bureaucracy these days it's nice to see that racing still counts for something.

But in the short term it's back to time above all else as people focus on being the fastest under the time standards to steal the 3rd spots on the teams, 2:21:41 and 2:05:50, at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, February's Osaka Marathon, and March's Tokyo Marathon and Nagoya Women's Marathon.

2nd Marathon Grand Championship Race

2024 Paris Olympic Marathon Trials
Tokyo, 15 Oct. 2023
top 2 named to Paris team, 3rd provisionally named

1. Yuka Suzuki (Daiichi Seimei) - 2:24:09 - PB - Paris team
2. Mao Ichiyama (Shiseido) - 2:24:43 - Paris team
3. Ai Hosoda (Edion) - 2:24:50 - Paris team (provisional)
4. Rika Kaseda (Daihatsu) - 2:25:29 - Paris team alternate (provisional)
5. Natsuki Matsushita (Tenmaya) - 2:25:57 - Paris team alternate (provisional)
6. Mizuki Tanimoto (Tenmaya) - 2:26:40
7. Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) - 2:27:02
8. Chiharu Ikeda (Hitachi) - 2:27:14
9. Yuka Ando (Wacoal) - 2:27:47
10. Yukari Abe (Kyocera) - 2:28:18
11. Mao Uesugi (Starts) - 2:28:21
12. Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) - 2:31:33
13. Yuna Daito (Tenmaya) - 2:31:36
14. Reia Iwade (Denso) - 2:31:46
15. Rie Kawauchi (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:31:52
16. Misaki Ichida (Edion) - 2:32:00
17. Kotona Ota (Japan Post) - 2:34:16
18. Kaori Morita (Panasonic) - 2:34:45
DNF - Ikumi Fukura (Otsuka Seiyaku)
DNF - Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu)
DNF - Kanako Takemoto (Daihatsu)
DNF - Mirai Waku (Universal)
DNF - Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita)
DNF - Yumi Yoshikawa (Uniqlo)

1. Naoki Koyama (Honda) - 2:08:57 - Paris team
2. Akira Akasaki (Kyudenko) - 2:09:06 - Paris team
3. Suguru Osako (Nike/GMO) - 2:09:11 - Paris team (provisional)
4. Yuki Kawauchi (ANDS) - 2:09:18 - Paris team alternate (provisional)
5. Naoya Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:09:42 - Paris team alternate (provisional)
6. Kensuke Horio (Kyudenko) - 2:09:53
7. Hiroto Inoue (Mitsubishi Juko) - 2:09:55
8. Shohei Otsuka (Kyudenko) - 2:09:56
9. Daisuke Doi (Kurosaki Harima) - 2:10:18
10. Yuhei Urano (Fujitsu) - 2:10:41
11. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:50
12. Daiji Kawai (Toenec) - 2:11:14
13. Tsubasa Ichiyama (Sunbelx) - 2:11:15
14. Hiroto Fujimagari (Toyota Kyushu) - 2:11:18
15. Daisuke Uekado (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:11:29
16. Kento Kikutani (Toyota Boshoku) - 2:11:37
17. Shun Kimura (Honda) - 2:11:43
18. Ryu Takaku (Yakult) - 2:12:00
19. Yuichi Yasui (Toyota) - 2:12:11
20. Kiyoshi Koga (Yasukawa Denki) - 2:12:18
21. Yuta Koyama (Toenec) - 2:12:20
22. Gaku Hoshi (Konica Minolta) - 2:12:28
23. Kiyohito Akiyama (Aichi Seiko) - 2:12:37
24. Kento Nishi (Osaka Gas) - 2:12:42
25. Yugo Kashiwa (Konica Minolta) - 2:12:43
26. Naoki Aiba (Chudenko) - 2:12:50
27. Naoki Okamoto (Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:58
28. Tsukasa Koyama (Subaru) - 2:13:30
29. Masaya Taguchi (Honda) - 2:14:02
30. Shungo Yokota (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:04
31. Hidekazu Hijikata (Asahi Kasei) - 2:14:10
32. Ichitaka Yamashita (Mitsubishi Juko) - 2:14:11
33. Minato Oishi (Toyota) - 2:14:35
34. Akira Tomiyasu (Nisan Kogyo) - 2:14:40
35. Kazuya Azegami (Toyota) - 2:14:51
36. Takeru Yamaguchi (Suzuki) - 2:14:54
37. Kazuki Muramoto (Sumitomo Denko) - 2:15:12
38. Takayuki Iida (Fujitsu) - 2:15:16
39. Koki Yoshioka (Chuo Hatsujo) - 2:15:29
40. Rintaro Takeda (Yakult) - 2:16:10
41. Kohei Futaoka (Chudenko) - 2:16:12
42. Masaki Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:16:20
43. Ryo Hashimoto (Chuo Hatsujo) - 2:16:47
44. Koki Takada (Sumitomo Denko) - 2:16:51
45. Yuta Shimoda (GMO) - 2:17:26
46. Yusuke Nishiyama (Toyota) - 2:17:49
47. Ryo Matsumoto (Toyota) - 2:17:58
48. Fumihiro Maruyama (Asahi Kasei) - 2:18:10
49. Shun Yuzawa (SG Holdings) - 2:19:18
50. Yuya Yoshida (GMO) - 2:19:47
51. Shoma Yamamoto (NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:20:13
52. Yuki Nakamura (Sumitomo Denko) - 2:21:35
53. Riki Nakanishi (Toenec) - 2:22:12
54. Masaru Aoki (Kao) - 2:23:22
55. Kazuma Kubo (Nishitetsu) - 2:24:13
56. Daichi Kamino (Cell Source) - 2:25:34
DNF - Kyohei Hosoya (Kurosaki Harima)
DNF - Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu)
DNF - Kenya Sonota (JR Higashi Nihon)
DNF - Kengo Suzuki (Fujitsu)
DNF - Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda)

© 2023 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Kyle S. said…
That shot of Ayuko Suzuki staring off into the distance after she finished broke my heart -- such a pure encapsulation of how cruel the marathon can be.

Both races were so exciting to watch live, and I'll be looking forward to following along for the MGC Final Challenge in the coming months.

Thanks, as always, for the work you do to help the English-speaking world better follow the Japanese running scene!

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