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National Cross Country Championships and Osaka Marathon Story Lines

The Inuyama Half Marathon and National Cross Country Championships are happening Sunday, with Japan's team for March's Belgrade World Cross Country Championships to be mostly drawn from top placers in the different divisions at Nationals. It's being streamed above starting at 10:20 local time, with fields including Takuya Hanyu, Ryuto Igawa, Hazuma Hattori, Yuta Bando, Tomonori Yamaguchi and Masato Imai in the senior men's 10 km, Momoka Kawaguchi, Nana Kuraoka and Chika Kosakai in the senior women's 8 km, Sota Orita, Ryuto Kawahara, Tetsu Sasaki, Shunsuke Kuwata and Soma Nagahara in the junior men's 8 km, and Narumi Okumoto and Nodoka Ashida in the junior women's 6 km.

But the main race Sunday is the Osaka Marathon. One of the world's biggest mass-participation marathons, Osaka has deep elite fields especially on the men's side. That's not surprising since for Japanese men it's one of the designated races where they have a chance to steal the 3rd spot on the Paris Olympic marathon team from trials 3rd-placer Suguru Osako by running under 2:05:51. NHK is broadcasting it live starting at 9:00 a.m., and streaming will be on NHK+ if you've got a VPN.

There's a lot going on, so to break down a few key story lines in Osaka:
  • The weather: It's going to be cold, and it's going to be wet. The forecast right now is for temps of 3˚~4˚C and light rain, with moderate winds from the NE. If the rain picks up at all, that kind of cold will result in a lot of casualties.
  • The women's win: Ethiopian Helen Bekele Tola set the Osaka CR of 2:22:16 last year, and with a 2:19:44 PB in Berlin after that her only competition on paper is Fancy Chemutai, 2:18:11 in Valencia 2022. Anything slower, which is pretty possible if the weather is worse than expected, and the rest of the international field will come into play.
  • Women's Olympic qualification: As of last weekend's Seville Marathon the quota of 80 for the Paris Olympics marathon has been completely filled by people who've cleared the 2:26:50 Olympic standard. There are eight Australian women in the elite field led by Lisa Weightman with a 2:23:15 in Osaka last year, but with five Aussies already having cleared the standard it's more of an intramural race for position in the Paris rankings and it won't affect anyone else. The closest to becoming an 81st addition to the list of qualifiers in Canadian Dayna Pidhoresky, but with a recent best of only 2:30:58 it's be a major stretch for her to make it.
  • The Japanese women: Osaka doesn't count toward the Olympics for Japanese women, and there are hardly any in the elite field. Misaki Ichida is the only one sub-2:30 with a 2:25:51 PB here last year, but 1:10:17 half marathoner Kaede Kawamura is debuting and could get under that if she survives the conditions.
  • The men's win: With cold rain you just never know, but the two fastest men in the race are Stephen Kissa, 2:04:48, and Adeladlew Mamo, 2:05:12. Lots more in the 2:06~2:07 race including the front end of the domestic field, but with Japanese men having to shoot for at least 2:05:50 these guys should be at least two of the three main contenders. Look out also for Budapest World Championships 4th-placer Tebello Ramakongoana of Lesotho, whose coach James McKirdy tells JRN Ramakongoana will be shooting for mid-2:05.
  • Men's Olympic qualification: Post-Seville there are still 13 slots in the Paris quota of 80 for people to get in by clearing the 2:08:10 standard or by world rankings. Who could join the list? Most of the field is from countries that already have three people qualified, so like the Australian women they'll mostly only affect their own countries' standings. Mongolia is where the drama is at. Right now Olonbayar Jamsran is the only Mongolian man in the quota at 77th, thanks in big part to a near-miss on the 2:08:50 NR in Osaka last year when he ran 2:08:58. Byambajav Tseveenravdan had another near-miss last week in Seville with a 2:09:19 and is currently 81st. Trying to become the first person ever to run six Olympic marathons, NR holder Ser-Od Bat-Ochir, 42, ran 2:10:11 for 4th and Hofu in December and only needs to run better than 2:10:53 to get into the top 75 in the Paris quota. #4 man Gantulga Dambadarjaa has only run 2:11:18 but trains and races together with Olonbayar. All of them except Byambajav are in Osaka, so we could see a great domestic battle.
  • The Japanese men: They need to run 2:05:50 to knock Osako off the Paris team, and as fast as they can go beyond that to survive the better domestic field a week later on the faster Tokyo course. Considering the Osaka CR is 2:06:01 from last year, that's not going to be easy. 2:06 guys Hidekazu Hijikata and Shohei Otsuka are closest, but in races like this any of the dozens of people in the 2:07~2:10 range could have a breakthrough to get close. There are debuts from sub-61 half marathoners Keijiro Mogi and Kiyoto Hirabayashi and an attempt by another one, Ken Nakayama, to improve on his 2:19:04 debut in Tokyo last year. But the most exciting name on the domestic list may be Naoki Koyama, who won both October's Olympic trials and last summer's Gold Coast Marathon. Like Ramakangoana, Koyama is already set to go to Paris and will be using Osaka to try to run a big PB and be in position for the win.
JRN will be on-site in Osaka throughout the weekend. We'll do what live coverage we can on @JRNLive.

photo © 2024 Victah Sailer/Photo Run, all rights reserved
text © 2024 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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