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Japan's Olympic Marathon Team Meets the Press


With renewed confidence, Japan's Olympic marathon team will face the total 438 m elevation difference hills of Paris this summer. The members of the women's and men's marathon teams for August's Paris Olympics appeared at a press conference in Tokyo on Mar. 25 in conjunction with the Japan Marathon Championship Series III (JMC) awards gala.

Women's Olympic trials winner Yuka Suzuki (Daiichi Seimei) said she was riding a wave of motivation in the wake of the new women's national record. When she watched Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) set the record at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon on TV, Suzuki said she was, "absolutely stunned." Her coach Sachiko Yamashita told her afterward, "When someone breaks the NR, things change," and Suzuki found herself saying, "I want to take my shot." After training for a great run in Paris, she said, "I definitely want to break the NR in one of my marathons after that."

Mao Ichiyama (Shiseido) said that she will be fully prepared for what will be her second Olympic marathon. 8th in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics marathon, Ichiyama smiled as she said, "I never thought I'd be an Olympian two Games in a row!" Having won the women's race at the tough and hilly Ome 30 km Road Race in February, Ichiyama has yet to see the equally hard Paris course. "When I stand on the starting line, I want to be able to have the confidence of knowing my training was even harder," she said.

New national record holder Maeda already faces the Olympics with belief in herself. Only 7th in the Olympic trials last October, at the Osaka International Women's Marathon in January she ran 2:18:59 to take 13 seconds off the longstanding NR. "I had a long stretch when I wasn't running well, but breaking the NR gives me a lot of confidence." At the Tokyo Olympics she finished last among the Japanese women in a humiliating 33rd after having won the Olympic trials. "I'm very proud to get to represent Japan at two consecutive Olympics, and I want to be ready to run my absolute best," she said.

3rd at the Paris Olympic trials in October, women's team alternate Ai Hosoda (Edion) said, "As a member of the team I'll be training with the same desire to run my absolute best."

Ahead of their first Olympics, men's team members Naoki Koyama (Honda) and Akira Akasaki (Kyudenko) spent time on the Paris course last fall. After seeing the difficult course full of ups and downs firsthand, both were confident. During the press conference, JAAF marathon development executive Toshihiko Seko asked, "Do you personally think the Paris course is good or bad?" Both men's first reactions were the same, saying enthusiastically, "I think it's a big plus!"

Koyama has been reliably stable in his four marathons over the last year, winning two of them and repeatedly improving his PB to the point of clocking the 10th-fastest ever time by a Japanese man at February's Osaka Marathon, where he ran 2:06:33 for 3rd. "There was a lot of attention on me whenever I raced, but that was good experience to get before the Olympics," he said. The 15-hour trip to Paris to see the course after the Olympic trials last fall was a new experience for Koyama, but while he was surprised by how hilly the course was, he said, "If you train for hills and dealing with heat then there's a lot of potential there."

Akasaki has already been focusing on hills, increasing the number of them on his regular runs at his base in Fukuoka since he earned his Olympic spot last October. In February he won the extremely hilly Ome 30 km Road Race in 1:29:46. "I'm strong on hills," he said.

Both men have already set their plans to build their base for the tough course that awaits them. Koyama plans to head to the U.S. for altitude training starting in June. Akasaki will run outdoor track season through early May to work on his speed. Asked, "What does it take to perform in the main event?" both answered, "Steady training without getting injured."

Third men's team member Suguru Osako (GMO) was absent, saying he had other plans. Before the JMC awards, where he won ¥900,000 for placing 5th, Osako tweeted, "There's these rankings I don't understand. What's this JMC??" The former national record holder's tweet expressing ignorance about his industry drew negative responses from fans.

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