Monday, June 30, 2008

Rikuren Announces Preliminary Lineup for Japanese Olympic Track & Field Team

by Brett Larner

Following the conclusion of the 2008 Japanese National Track and Field Championships, Rikuren announced on June 30 the preliminary lineup for the Japanese track and field team for the Beijing Olympics. The team includes twelve national record holders along with several defending medalists, junior and university record holders. Athletes have one more chance to make the Olympic team at the Nambu Memorial Track and Field Meet on July 6.

A complete list of the current Japanese team, with qualification time and PB:

Women`s 3000 m SC
Minori Hayakari - 9:38.68 (PB: 9:38.68 - NR)

Women`s 5000 m
Kayoko Fukushi - 15:05.73 (PB: 14:53.22 - NR)
Yuriko Kobayashi - 15:07.37 (PB: 15:07.37)

Women`s 10000 m
Yoko Shibui - 31:15.07 (PB: 30:48.89 - NR)
Yukiko Akaba - 31:15.34 (PB: 31:15.34)
Kayoko Fukushi - 31:18.79 (PB: 30:51.81)

Women`s 20 km Walk
Mayumi Kawasaki - 1:28:56 (PB: 1:28:56 - NR)
Sachiko Konishi - 1:30:26 (PB: 1:30:26)

Women`s Marathon
Mizuki Noguchi - 2:21:37 (PB: 2:19:12 - NR)
Yurika Nakamura - 2:25:51 (PB: 2:25:51)
Reiko Tosa - 2:26:15 (PB: 2:22:46)

Men`s 100 m
Nobuharu Asahara - 10.14 (PB: 10.02)
Naoki Tsukahara - 10.15 (PB: 10.15)

Men`s 110 m Hurdles
Masato Naito - 13.43 (PB: 13.43)

Men`s 200 m
Shingo Suetsugu - 20.20 (PB: 20.03 - NR)
Shinji Takahira - 20.52 (PB: 20.35)
Hitoshi Saito - 20.64 (PB: 20.64)

Men`s 400 m
Yuzo Kanemaru - 45.21 (PB: 45.21)
Mitsuhiro Abiko - 46.23 (PB: 46.23)

Men`s 400 m Hurdles
Kenji Narisako - 48.44 (PB: 47.93)
Dai Tamesue - 48.73 (PB: 47.89 - NR)

Men`s 3000 m SC
Yoshitaka Iwamizu - 8:23.31 (PB: 8:18.93 - NR)

Men`s 5000 m
Takayuki Matsumiya - 13:13.20 (PB: 13:13.20 - NR)
Kensuke Takezawa - 13:19.00 (PB: 13:19.00)

Men`s 10000 m
Takayuki Matsumiya - 27:41.75 (PB: 27:41.75)

Men`s 20 km Walk
Yuki Yamazaki - 1:20.38 (PB: 1:20:38)
Koichiro Morioka - 1:21:30 (PB: 1:21:30)

Men`s Marathon
Atsushi Sato - 2:07:13 (PB: 2:07:13)
Satoshi Osaki - 2:08:36 (PB: 2:08:36)
Tsuyoshi Ogata - 2:10:48 (PB: 2:08:37)

Men`s 50 km Walk
Yuki Yamazaki - 3:41.55 (PB: 3:41.55 - NR)
Koichiro Morioka - 3:49.33 (PB: 3:47.23)

Men`s Hammer
Koji Murofushi - 82.62 (PB: 84.86 - NR)
Yukifumi Murakami - 79.85 (PB: 81.71)

Men`s Pole Vault
Daichi Sawano - 5.75 (PB: 5.83 - NR)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Other Results From the Japanese Olympic Trials

by Brett Larner

Men`s 1500 m
National record holder Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN) won the 1500 m final thanks to a bizarre accident in the final meters of the race. After an extremely slow 65 second first lap, Makoto Fukui (Team Fujitsu) ran away from the field, running 62 and 60 for the second and third laps and opening a sizeable lead. With 300 m to go, first Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku), then Kazuya Watanabe (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) and finally Kobayashi started to kick, quickly reeling Fukui in. All three passed him just before the home straight, with Watanabe pulling away and Tago just behind. Meters from the finish, Watanabe abruptly appeared to succumb to sudden exhaustion, losing his balance over the course of several steps and falling flat just before the line. Tago had to jump over the fallen Watanabe, losing his balance just long enough for Kobayashi to duck past. Kobayashi`s time of 3:49.96 was nowhere near the Olympic A or B-standards, but his B-standard qualifying time means he has a chance of being selected for the Beijing Olympic team.

Women`s 1500 m
With national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi`s decision not to run in the 1500 m, the race was easily dominated by two-time winner Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic), holder of the fastest qualifying time in the field by nearly 5 seconds. Yoshikawa led from the start, clocking splits of 68.5, 69.6, and 67.7 on the way to her 4:12.79 victory, short of the Olympic B-standard. In the absence of an Olympic qualifying time, she failed to make the Beijing Olympic team despite her National title.

Men`s 3000 m SC
National record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu), the only man in the steeplechase field to hold the Olympic A-standard, won in a B-standard time of 8:29.75 to secure a spot on the Beijing team. His nearest competitor, Hiroyoshi Umegae, was more than 7 seconds back in 8:36.96. The race`s anticipated duel between Iwamizu and Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko), the 2007 3000 m steeplechase national champion who set a stage record on the 9th leg of this year`s Hakone Ekiden, did not materialize as Shinoto fell going over the first barrier, ultimately finishing last.

Women`s 3000 m SC
National record holder and defending champion Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC) faced unanticipated competition from cross country ace Kazuka Wakatsuki (Team Toto). Only Hayakari came to the National Championships with an Olympic A-standard qualifier, but the two ran right on A-standard pace until late in the race despite an awkward moment early on in which Hayakari lost rhythm and put her hands up to stop herself from running into a barrier. Hayakari had no trouble pulling away as Wakatsuki grew visibly tired over the last lap. Wakatsuki landed badly coming off the final barrier, losing balance and falling. Hayakari won in 9:48.43, securing her spot on the Beijing Olympic team. Wakatsuki recovered from her fall to finish 2nd in 9:54.93, also clearing the Olympic B-standard.

Other videos:
Men`s 100 m - Men`s 110 mH - Men`s 200 m - Men`s 400 m
Women`s 100 m - Women`s 100 mH - Women`s 400 m

Complete results for all events are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Yuriko Kobayashi Takes 5000 m at Japanese Olympic Trials

by Brett Larner

1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) ran 15:11.97 in heavy rain to win the Japanese National Track and Field Championships women`s 5000 m over four-time winner and 5000 m national record Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), 10000 m runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and 10000 m winner Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo). Kobayashi`s time was just short of the Olympic A-standard but she was automatically selected for the Beijing Olympics team as she had run an A-standard qualifier earlier in the season.

After a slow 3:06 first kilometer led by 10000 m A-standard fourth place finisher Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki), Shibui picked up the pace with a 3:01 second kilometer to keep things on track for an A-standard attempt. She faltered in the third kilometer, the pace dropping to 3:05. Fukushi then took over, followed closely by Kobayashi and Akaba, but her lead resulted in the slowest split of the race, a 3:07 fourth kilometer.

With 500 m to go, Kobayashi had had enough. She kicked hard, swiftly gapping the struggling Fukushi who, as in the 10000 m, displayed her current lack of fitness by being completely unable to respond. Instead it was Akaba who went after the lead, but it was clear that she would not be able to overtake the leader. Akaba was second, followed at regular intervals by Fukushi, Shibui and B-standard holder Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso). Matsuoka held on for sixth a long distance behind.

Kobayashi's decision not to compete in the 1500 m proved wise. Kobayashi set the 1500 m national record of 4:07.86 in 2006, an Olympic B-standard time but outside the qualification window. In repeated attempts this spring she failed to break either the A or B-standards in the 1500 m, but in April she set the only A-standard 5000 m mark of the year by a Japanese woman. With only the post-injury phase Fukushi as an A-standard rival, Kobayashi opted not to run the 1500 m, which had its final 80 minutes before the 5000 m. It was a safe bet as she easily secured her Olympic spot.

The next four finishers also broke the Olympic B-standard, but as Fukushi was the only other woman with an A-standard mark she is the only person likely to be named to the team alongside Kobayashi. 2nd place finisher Akaba`s lack of an A-standard mark means her chances are slimmer than in the 10000 m, in which she was also 2nd but well under the Olympic A-standard. In any case, Rikuren will announce the Japanese Olympic track and field team membership tomorrow, June 30.

Top Finishers
1. Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshoki): 15:11.97 (selected for Olympic team)
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren): 15:13.95
3. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 15:16.27
4. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 15:19.29
5. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso): 15:21.12
6. Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki): 15:32.79
7. Akane Taira (Team Panasonic): 15:35.61
8. Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.): 15:35.87
9. Chitsuki Takagi (Team Starts): 15:36.53
10. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei): 15:40.54

For complete results click here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Matsumiya Doubles With 5000 m Victory

by Brett Larner

Men`s 5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta) scored his second victory of the 2008 Japanese National Track and Field Championships, winning the 5000 m in 13:47.81. Although his winning time was far from the Olympic A-standard, Matsumiya came to the competition holding a valid A-standard and thus is guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympics team in the 5000 m to go with the spot he holds in the 10000 m.

The real story, however, was not Matsumiya`s win but the return of Waseda University senior Kensuke Takezawa. Takezawa, one of the most talented runners Japan has ever produced, has been seriously injured since December and has not raced since January`s Hakone Ekiden. He was on the start list for the National Championships 10000 m but did not run. His appearance in the 5000 m caused audible surprise within Todoroki Stadium. Takezawa ran a conservative race, staying far back in the pack and not moving up until the final kilometer. With 200 m to go he was nearly 50 m behind Matsumiya, but Takezawa was able to unleash his famous kick and almost caught the unwitting leader, finishing less than 2 seconds behind. While only Matsumiya is guaranteed a place on the Beijing Team, Takezawa is likely to be named to the team as well on the strength of both his A-standard qualifier and the quality he showed in a comeback race in less than full fitness.

The other man in the field holding a 5000 m Olympic A-standard, 10000 m 3rd place finisher Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) showed signs of fatigue from the 10000 m, finishing 12th in 13:59.32. Mitsuya, a teammate and training partner of half marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru, scored only a B-standard in the 10000 m.

Leader`s Splits
1 km: 2:43.1 2 km: 5:35.6 3 km: 8:28.5 4 km: 11:10.02 5 km: 13:47.81

Top Finishers
1. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta): 13:47.81 (selected for Olympic team)
2. Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda Univ.): 13:49.73
3. Osamu Ibata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku): 13:51.82
4. Takuya Fukatsu (Komazawa Univ.): 13:53.66
5. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin): 13:54.71
6. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo): 13:55.17
7. Keita Akiba (Team Komori): 13:55.31
8. Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo): 13:55.85
9. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.): 13:57.46
10. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko): 13:57.81

Complete results are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Yoko Shibui Defeats Akaba and Fukushi to Qualify for Beijing 10000 m

by Brett Larner

Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) staged a brilliant comeback on the track to defeat rivals Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and six-time defending champion Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) in an epic women`s 10000 m at the Japanese National Track and Field Championships in Kawasaki`s Todoroki Stadium on June 27. Shibui, along with second place finisher Akaba and third place finisher Fukushi, broke Athens World Championships marathon gold medalist Hiromi Suzuki`s twelve year-old meet record to record a 31:15.07 victory, the fastest time of her life next to her national record of 30:48.89. Shibui`s win qualifies her for the Beijing Olympics, the first time in her career the 10000 m national record holder and former marathon national record holder has made an Olympic team.

Under Japanese Olympic selection rules, the winner of the 10000 m would be guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympic team provided that she had recorded an Olympic A-standard time within the qualification window. Five women in the field of twenty held qualification times under the A-standard of 31:45, including Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi, Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) and Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Oki). Ten more women held Olympic B-standard qualification times, making for a highly competitive field.

Akaba took the lead from the start, passing through the first kilometer in 3:06 with Shibui, Fukushi, Kano and others lined up behind. At 1100 m Shibui passed by Akaba, taking the lead position and maintaining it until 8000 m. Little changed over the next few kilometers. Matsuoka, a relative unknown before clocking a sizeable PB of 31:31.45 earlier this month, moved up into fifth place around the 2500 m point around the time Fukushi took water from one of the water stations. Fukushi, coming to the Championships on one month of training following a period of injury, was the only athlete in the entire race to take water.

By 5000 m the pack had thinned to include six runners: Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi, Kano, Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Shibui led the group through a 5000 m split of 15:42.3, on pace for a brisk 10000 m time of 31:25. She then began to slowly apply pressure, increasing the pace from 3:10 to 3:08 per kilometer. The change was too much for Kano, who abruptly dropped back out of the leading pack. In the back stretch approaching 5400 m Fukushi again went wide to take water as the two Ozakis also fell off Shibui`s increased pace. Their departure left only the four fastest women running in order of their qualification times: Shibui, Akaba, Fukushi and Matsuoka.

The four leaders maintained their positions through the next two kilometers. Approaching 7400 m Fukushi once again moved out to take water. On the back curve following 7400 m Matsuoka began to drift back from the pack, leaving the three pre-race favorites to battle out the final two kilometers. Fukushi made a bold move at 8000 m, suddenly changing pace and gapping her two rivals. Shibui followed but Akaba dropped back three meters. She struggled to switch gears but was able to pick it up and by 8400 m had regained contact with the leaders.

In the lead while approaching 8500 m, Fukushi made the surprising move of going wide to take water a fourth time. This left Shibui in the lead, but as she stepped forward Akaba seized the opportunity and shot forward into the lead. A lap later Fukushi put on another spurt to retake the lead as the three passed the 8800 m point. Shibui tried to get past Akaba before the corner but was unsuccessful.

The group clocked a 3:03 split at 9000 m, the fastest so far in the race. From 9000 to 9600 m Akaba made four attempts to get past Fukushi, each time shadowed by Shibui but each time failing to take the lead. At the bell the three were locked tightly together. Entering the back straight Akaba squeezed between Fukushi and four runners being lapped to launch her definitive final attack, blazing past the seemingly flat Fukushi. Shibui was right behind. Entering the final corner Akaba had a lead of one meter over Shibui, with Fukushi three meters further back and unable to respond.

Coming into the home stretch Akaba tried to maintain her lead, but Shibui`s final kick was too strong and Akaba could only watch as Shibui edged past to take the win by a step. Both runners clocked 31:15, breaking Hiromi Suzuki`s 1996 National Championships record of 31:19.40. The two rivals, elated, were already hugging each other by the time Fukushi crossed the line in 31:18.79, also under the meet record. Matsuoka held on to also go under the Olympic A-standard, fourth in 31:41.90. The next five finishers all cleared the Olympic B-standard.

Shibui`s Olympic A-standard win guarantees her a spot for Beijing, her first time ever making a Japanese Olympic team. It is unusual to see a runner successfully return to the top of the track world after experiencing a decline in her marathoning career, but Shibui successfully defied the odds with her victory in the 10000 m. Akaba`s 31:15.34 PB was also a triumph after a stellar year following her recovery from childbirth. Fukushi`s 31:18.79 was likewise a good result, but the absence of her tremendous finishing speed showed that she was far from fully fit. The strength of Akaba`s and Fukushi`s performances make it likely that they will join Shibui in Beijing, but their fate will not be official until Rikuren`s announcement of the complete Olympic track and field team lineup on June 30.

Leader`s Splits
1 km: 3:06 2 km: 6:14 3 km: 9:23 4 km: 12:33 5 km: 15:42
6 km: 18:51 7 km: 22:00 8 km: 25:09 9 km: 28:12 10 km: 31:15.07

Top Finishers
1. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 31:15.07 (SB, meet record, selected for Olympic team)
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren): 31:15.34 (PB, meet record)
3. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 31:18.79 (SB, meet record)
4. Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki): 31:41.90
5. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei): 32:01.07 (PB)
6. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso): 32:02.15
7. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz): 32:03.17 (SB)
8. Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex): 32:04.79
9. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC): 32:10.93 (SB)
10. Akane Taira (Team Panasonic): 32:35.81

For complete results please click here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, June 27, 2008

Takayuki Matsumiya Wins Olympic Selection 10000m at Japanese National Track & Field Championships

by Brett Larner

5000 m national record holder and 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta) won the Japanese National Track and Field Championships men`s 10000 m for the third straight year at Kawasaki`s Todoroki Stadium on June 26. Under the Japanese Olympic selection system, an athlete holding an Olympic A-standard time will be guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympics team if he or she wins an event at this year`s National Championships. With the absence of Waseda University senior Kensuke Takezawa, Matsumiya was the only runner in the field entering the competition with an A-standard qualifying time after running 27:41.75 at last month`s Cardinal Invitational. His 27:51.27 victory here, while itself falling short of the A-standard, met the selection criteria and was enough to secure Matsumiya a place in the Olympic 10000 m. The other eight runners who broke the 10000 m Olympic B-standard in the National Championships are unlikely to be named to the team but must wait until June 30 when Rikuren will announce the complete team membership.

Fresh from securing a spot on the Japanese national team for October`s World Half Marathon Championships by finishing as top Japanese at the Sapporo International Half Marathon less than two weeks ago, Chuo Gakuin University senior Masato Kihara took the race out hard, immediately taking the lead position in a pack including all the top Japanese professionals. Immediately behind Kihara was junior national record holder Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei), who competed in the Athens Olympics 10000 m as an 18-year old, followed by Ono`s Athens teammate Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku). Strung out behind the leading three was a large pack led by the man with the fastest PB in the field, Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), with Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) and Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin) right behind. Matsumiya sat back in the middle of the pack.

Kihara took the pack through the first km in 2:43. Through 5 km nothing changed among the leaders until Kihara, noting with the 13:59 5k split that the pace had slowed, put on a surge to keep the pace on track to break 28 minutes. Ono followed, but the two opened a small gap on Omori. The move was enough to break things up as Mitsuya, Irifune and Matsumiya went past Omori to regain contact with the two leaders.

At 6500 m Irifune went wide to try to move past Mitsuya into third, but the move was unsuccessful and he returned to the fourth postion on the back curve. At the same time, Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) went past Omori to move into the sixth. At 7500 m Matsumiya made his first move of the race, accelerating down the home straight to pass Kihara before the curve, with Irifune moving out to follow. Kihara covered the move and the two were forced to step back into the line. The top six were now Kihara, Ono, Matsumiya, Mitsuya, Irifune and Maeda, with Kitamura and Omori at the head of the chase pack. Ono ran slightly on the outside, effectively boxing Matsumiya in behind Kihara.

By 8200 m the professionals had had enough of the ambitious university student Kihara`s lead. Ono made a quick attack, streaking past Kihara and opening the door for Matsumiya to move as well. Mitsuya, Irifune and Maeda rapidly followed suit, but Kihara managed to hold on to the rear of the pack. 200 m later as the group entered the back straight Matsumiya moved out to set up his final push, but behind him Kihara put on an astonishing spurt to pass Irifune and Maeda and regain contact with the three leaders. Matsumiya would not have it, launching his kick the moment Kihara arrived and taking the lead for the first time. Only Mitsuya was able to follow, as first Kihara then Ono dropped away. By 8800 m Mitsuya also began to fade, and the race was Matsumiya`s. Ono caught Mitsuya at 9 km but was unable to match Matsumiya`s 2:39 final kilometer and had to settle for an anguished second place in 27:55.16. Mitsuya was the last man to break 28 minutes, third in 27:58.63, his season best but doubtless a disappointment.

Maeda had a sensational final kilometer to take fourth. Irifune, Kihara, Tomoaki Bungo (Team Asahi Kasei), Omori, Kitamura and Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) finished in rapid succession after him, with Kihara, Bungo and Nakao recording personal bests. The top nine finishers met the Olympic B-standard, but it is unlikely that any will join Matsumiya in Beijing later this summer.

The Japanese National Track and Field Championships continue on June 27 with the women`s 10000 m, featuring a highly-anticipated battle between 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), the rising star Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), and darkhorse Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki).

leader`s splits:
1 km: 2:43 2 km: 5:29 3 km: 8:18 4 km: 11:09 5 km: 13:59
6 km: 16:49 7 km: 19:40 8 km: 22:34 9 km: 25:12 10 km: 27:51.27

Top Finishers:
1. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta): 27:51.27 (selected for Olympic team)
2. Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei): 27:55.16
3. Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu): 27:58.63 (SB)
4. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko): 28:00.29
5. Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo): 28:05.44
6. Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.): 28:06.48 (PB)
7. Tomoaki Bungo (Team Asahi Kasei): 28:07.20 (PB)
7. Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku): 28:07.20
9. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin): 28:09.22
10. Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku): 28:10.19 (PB)

Complete results are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Japanese National Track and Field Championships Distance Preview

by Brett Larner

The 2008 Japanese National Track and Field Championships take place June 26-29 at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki. Tension is high this year as Olympic selection is at stake. Below we offer an event-by-event preview of the distance competitions.

6/26: Men`s 10000 m
By far the favorite to make the Olympic team is Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica-Minolta), the national 5000 m and world 30 km record holder. Matsumiya was on track for a 10000 m national record at this spring`s Cardinal Invitational before tying up in the final kilometer and finishing with only a PB of 27:41.75. His main rival, on paper at least, is Waseda University senior Kensuke Takezawa. Takezawa holds a PB of 27:45.59 and ran in the 2007 World Championships 10000 m. During the winter he suffered a series of injuries which have kept him out of competition since January. His appearance on the entry list comes as something of a surprise, but if he is anywhere near fit he will be a major contender. Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi-Kasei) and Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) have also broken 28 minutes this season and will be likely challengers. Athens Olympics 10000 m team member Terukazu Omori (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Irifune`s teammate Takeshi Makabe, and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) round out the list of sub-28 men in the field, but many other big names are also appearing and breakthrough performances are possible from Team Nissin rookie Satoru Kitamura, Team Toyota Kyushu ace Yu Mitsuya, and Chuo Gakuin University senior Masato Kihara. Regrettably absent is Japan`s other sub-28 minute university student, Tokai University senior Yuki Sato. Sato competed in the Stanford Cardinal Invitational 10000 m this spring but dropped out partway through and has not been seen in competition since.

6/27: Women`s 10000 m
The women`s 10000 m race is likely to be the most exciting in the meet. Leading the way is national 10000 m record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo). Shibui has had a somewhat unusual career trajectory of late, returning to the top position in the track world after a stint as national record holder in the marathon. Her main challenger is all-time Japanese women`s 10000 m number two, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal). Both runners come to the Nationals after failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in the marathon; the two facing off for Olympic slots is a dream matchup. Shibui has the stronger qualifying time by a considerable margin but also has a history of performing poorly in high-pressure situations. Also in the mix is up-and-coming star Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), holder of the fastest half marathon of the year by a Japanese woman. The unknown Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) ran a sizeable PB earlier this month to qualify with a time almost identical to Fukushi`s. Her presence as a darkhorse adds to the drama. Also holding Olympic A-standard qualifying times are 2007 World Championships 10000 m team member Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Oki). Sapporo International Half Marathon winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) is in excellent shape and may be a surprise contender, but like the men`s race the field is deep and any of the other big names could have a breakthrough day. Like Sato in the men`s 10000 m, the women`s race suffers from the absence of teenaged star Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno), who competed in the 2007 World Championships 10000 m alongside Fukushi and Wakita but has not raced since last fall after contracting a virus which has shattered her health.

6/28: Women`s 3000 m SC and Men`s 5000 m
The women`s 3000 m steeplechase is expected to be a one-woman show as national record holder Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC) is the only woman to meet the Olympic A-standard. Her closest competition, Yoshika Tatsumi (Team Noritz) is just off the Olympic B-standard. Hayakari has recovered from the injuries sustained in her memorable fall at the 2007 World Championships and is reputed to be in excellent form.

The men`s 5000 m will see many of the same major contenders as the 10000 m, led again by national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya, Yu Mitsuya and Kensuke Takezawa. Only these three athletes have broken the Olympic A-standard within the qualification window, but none has done it this season. Kazuhiro Maeda, Terukazu Omori, Satoshi Irifune, Satoru Kitamura and others will also repeat in the 5000 m, but none has broken even the Olympic B-standard to date. They will be joined by others doubling in the 1500 m, including former Juntendo University star Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and university aces such as Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.). Unlikely to figure into the competition but notable for being on the starting list is Takezawa`s teammate, first-year student Takuya Nakayama (Waseda Univ.), the son of legendary marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama.

6/29: Men`s 3000 m SC and 1500 m / Women`s 1500 m and 5000 m
Like the women`s steeplechase, the men`s 3000 m steeplechase is likely to be dominated by one runner, Yoshitaka Iwamizu (Team Fujitsu). He is the only runner in the field with an Olympic A-standard qualifying time, and no other runners in the field have cleared even the B-standard. A notable possible contender is Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko), who set an inspiring and unexpected stage record on the ninth leg of this year`s Hakone Ekiden as a senior at Chuo Gakuin University.

Shinoto`s teammate at Sanyo, Kazuya Watanabe, is the frontrunner in men`s 1500 m. Watanabe and national record holder Fumikazu Kobayashi are the only men to have cleared the Olympic B-standard within the qualification period. Close behind are Cardinal Invitational trampling victim Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and former university champions Yasunori Murakami (Team Fujitsu) and Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku).

The only woman in the 1500 m field with a realistic chance of making the Olympics is national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), no relation to the men`s national record holder. Kobayashi broke the Olympic B-standard once in setting the national record, 4:07.86, in 2006, but has yet to repeat within the qualification window. Going into the 1500 m Kobayashi has the second-fastest qualification time, 4:11.41, behind Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic), the top seed with 4:10.00.

Kobayashi is also the only woman to break the 5000 m Olympic A-standard this season. One hour and twenty minutes after the 1500 m final she will line up again in the 5000 m, facing the big three of national record holder Kayoko Fukushi, Yoko Shibui and Yukiko Akaba. Only Fukushi has run faster than Kobayashi within the qualification window, and only those two have met the Olympic A-standard. Shibui, Akaba and Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) have met the Olympic B-standard, but only Shibui has done it this season. Many of the same faces from the 10000 m will reappear here, so some upsets are possible. Regardless, the expected duel between Kobayashi and Fukushi in the final event of the meet is anticipated to be another of the National Championships` highlights.

Complete men`s and women`s entry lists are available on the official meet website.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, June 23, 2008

Meiji University Wins All-Japan University Ekiden Qualifying Meet

by Brett Larner

The 2008-2009 university men`s ekiden season officially began on June 22nd with the 40th annual All-Japan University Ekiden Kanto Regional Qualifying Meet at Tokyo`s Oda Field. The top six teams at last year`s All-Japan were seeded for the 2008 ekiden. Chuo Gakuin University was also awarded a seeded spot on the strength of its unprecedented third place finish at this year`s Hakone Ekiden. Additional teams would be selected from the different parts of Japan on the strength of their performances in the regional qualifying meets.

For the Kanto Regional Qualifying Meet, any university in the region could submit names and personal bests of eight team members. The fastest twenty teams based on aggregate time would be eligible to run in the qualifier. Each team`s eight runners were split evenly between four 10000 m track races, roughly seeded so that runners of similar ability would compete against each other. The eight runners` total times in the four races were then added and the five fastest teams named to compete in the All-Japan University Ekiden.

Pre-race favorites included last year`s meet winner Josai University along with 2007 Hakone Ekiden winner Juntendo University, 2006 Hakone winner Asia University, and perennial contenders Nihon University. Toyo University was considered an outside contender on the strength of its star first-year recruit Ryuji Kashiwabara, the top Japanese finisher in last month`s Kanto Regional University Track & Field Championships 10000 m.

Heavy, driving rain greeted the competitors and spectators alike. The meet`s first two heats were slow, tactical pack races. The relatively weak Meiji University surprised the crowd by having runners take both heats, with first-year Tetsuya Yoroizaka winning the first heat in 29:56.89 and junior Masamichi Yasuda running an impressive last lap to take the second heat in 29:56.42. Kanagawa University, Tokyo Nogyo University, Teikyo University and Toyo University, none generally considered powerful, also had strong showings in the first two heats.

The third heat delivered the first true excitement of the evening. One of Toyo`s ace senior identical twins, Tomoya Onishi, set the pace through the first kilometer with Toyo first-year Ryuji Kashiwabara on his shoulder. After the pack hit the first kilometer mark Kashiwabara tired of the conservative pace and shot away from all other contenders. As the weather worsened he continued to push at 2:55 / km pace, opening a gap of over 100 m on the rest of the field. His win was never in doubt despite slowing in the final kilometer, Kashiwabara was first home in 29:24.48 while behind him Onishi sparred with the other leaders in the pack, running an aggressive final kilometer to narrow the gap to his teammate and finish second in 29:35.98. Teikyo continued its excellent showing with Keita Baba and Tomonao Nishimura third and fourth in 29:36.42 and 29:37.20.

At the end of the third heat Kanagawa University led the way, followed by Meiji, Tokyo Nogyo and Teikyo. Toyo rounded out the top five going into the final. The fourth heat featured most of the top runners in the field, with several of the most powerful schools fielding ringers capable of making a significant change to the rankings. To the surprise of none, Nihon University`s Kenyan exchange student Daniel Gitau, second in the Kanto Track Championships in 27:59.05, set an early lead into the heavy rain, driven now by increasing winds. Tailing Gitau was Juntendo`s star runner Hiroyuki Ono, memorable for his collapse from sheer fatigue at this year`s Hakone Ekiden. The two rivals went through the first kilometer in 2:45 with a small pack of five runners shortly behind and a larger pack further back. Ono soon relaxed his pace and fell into the middle of the faster chase pack as Gitau continued on 2:45 pace through three kilometers.

Like Kashiwabara in the third heat, Gitau soon had a lead of over 100 m, but his high early pace while fighting the wind and rain began to take a toll. By six kilometers his pace had dropped to 2:59 / km, slower than any of Kashiwabara`s splits. Behind him, the chase pack thinned as Juntendo`s Atsushi Yamazaki dropped precipitously, soon overtaken by the larger pack and destined to finish 32nd in 30:08.03. The other remaining members of the chase pack included two runners from Meiji and individual runners from Toyo and Tokyo Nogyo. It became clear as time elapsed and its runners held on that barring an accident Meiji would win the overall competition.

At eight kilometers things began to change. Gitau`s lead had noticeably narrowed as he continued to drop off pace and the chase pack began to move in response to Ono taking the front position for the first time. With one kilometer to go Gitau`s pace had increased again, but his lead had nearly halved and a faint glimmer of something dramatic became evident. Ono continued to accelerate, dropping people from the pack one by one. With 400 m to go he was still 50 m behind Gitau, but Ono was relentless and unleashed a kick worthy of a 400 m runner. He tore up the distance separating him from the now-kicking Kenyan. As first Gitau then Ono rounded the last corner it looked like a miracle might happen in the home stretch, but Gitau was just far enough away to be out of reach. He crossed the line first in 28:47.59 with Ono second in 28:48.99. A split on Ono`s final lap was unavailable, but it was surely under 60 seconds. Meiji`s runners Kodai Matsumoto and Takuya Ishikawa were third and fourth in 28:54.02 and 28:54.82, sealing Meiji`s victory.

Behind Meiji, Toyo finished in the runner-up position. Also making the top five to qualify for the All-Japan University Ekiden were Teikyo, Tokyo Nogyo and, thanks in large part to Gitau, Nihon University. Last year`s meet winners Josai University had a bad day, finishing just out of the placings in sixth. Third-round leaders Kanagawa finished a disappointing seventh, with Asia eighth. The biggest shock was Juntendo`s twelfth-place finish. Juntendo has long been one of the strongest distance schools in Japan, dominating in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. It lost most of its star runners to graduation in 2007 and is in a rebuilding phase, but such a weak showing even this early in the season calls into question Juntendo`s chances of qualifying for Hakone, something nearly unthinkable. Coupled with the rise of several smaller schools within the last few years, most notably Chuo Gakuin University, the current shakiness of several of the historically strong schools looks as though it will make for an unpredictable ekiden season.

Overall Results (top five qualify for All-Japan University Ekiden)
1. Meiji University: 3:58:00.60
2. Toyo University: 3:58:19.77
3. Teikyo University: 3:59:02.27
4. Tokyo Nogyo University: 3:59:25.66
5. Nihon University: 4:00:07.56

6. Josai University: 4:00:10.13
7. Kanagawa University: 4:00:16.51
8. Asia University: 4:00:23.54
9. Takushoku University: 4:00:53.51
10. Senshu University: 4:01:04.49
11. Kokushikan University: 4:01:23.34
12. Juntendo University: 4:02:13.56
13. Aoyama Gakuin University: 4:03:04.80
14. Daito Bunka University: 4:03:09.69
15. Jobu University: 4:05:31.58
16. Hosei University: 4:06:15.30
17. Koku Gakuin University: 4:07:46.97
18. Reitaku University: 4:08:59.19
19. Kanto Gakuin University: 4:09:07.70
20. Heisei Kokusai University: 4:12:16.46

Top Individual Results
First Heat

1. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (frosh, Meiji Univ.): 29:56.89
2. Kenta Matsubara (frosh, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.): 29:59.05
3. Kenichiro Koide (junior, Kanagawa Univ.): 30:03.11
4. Yuki Yamaguchi (junior, Toyo Univ.): 30:05.12
5. Ryota Nakamura (sophomore, Teikyo Univ.): 30:06.02

Second Heat
1. Masamichi Yasuda (junior, Meiji Univ.): 29:56.42
2. Shintaro Kosugi (sophomore, Kanagawa, Univ.): 30:01.61
3. Yasuyuki Mitsuya (senior, Kanagawa Univ.): 30:03.65
4. Shigeki Kimura (senior, Daito Bunka Univ.): 30:04.00
5. Tatsumi Shinohara (senior, Josai Univ.): 30:04.06

Third Heat
1. Ryuji Kashiwabara (frosh, Toyo Univ.): 29:24.48
2. Tomoya Onishi (senior, Toyo Univ.): 29:35.98
3. Keita Baba (senior, Teikyo Univ.): 29:36.42
4. Tomonao Nishimura (sophomore, Teikyo Univ.): 29:37.20
5. Takahiro Yamanaka (senior, Kokushikan Univ.): 29:38.59

Fourth Heat
1. Daniel Gitau (junior, Nihon Univ.): 28:47.59
2. Hiroyuki Ono (senior, Juntendo Univ.): 28:48.99
3. Kodai Matsumoto (junior, Meiji Univ.): 28:54.02
4. Takuya Ishikawa (junior, Meiji Univ.): 28:54.82
5. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (senior, Toyo Univ.): 28:55.75

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, June 20, 2008

Satoshi Osaki Training for Olympic Marathon Gold in Abashiri, Hokkaido

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men`s marathon team member Satoshi Osaki (32, Team NTT Nishi Nihon) arrived in Abashiri, Hokkaido on June 18 to begin an intensive training camp. At a welcoming ceremony at Abashiri city hall hosted by Mayor Osamu Oba, Osaki told well-wishers, "I`m here to do the training I`ll need to be ready to win the gold medal."

Osaki will be in Abashiri for training three times in the next forty days as he makes his final preparations for the Olympic main event on August 24th. Mayor Oba addressed Osaki, telling him, "All of Abashiri`s well-known training facilities are at your disposal. We want you to train as hard as you can." Osaki in return complimented Abashiri, saying, "Mt. Tento`s undulating terrain, the cycling roads and many other places to run, the accomodations and food in Abashiri make it the perfect place for me to be ready for the Olympic marathon."

The other two members of the Beijing Olympics men`s marathon team, Team Chugoku Denryoku`s Atsushi Sato and Tsuyoshi Ogata, also plan to train in Abashiri.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Atsushi Sato Returns From Beijing

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men`s marathon team member Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) arrived at Tokyo`s Narita Airport on June 18 after returning from a preview of the Beijing Marathon course. This was Sato`s second time to test-run the Beijing course, having participated in April`s official pre-Olympic competition. "I got a thorough feel for the course," commented Sato. "I had the impression that the pavement in the second half is softer."

Sato will be training in Hokkaido for one week beginning June 19. He will then go to support his wife Miho Sugimori (Team Natureal) in the 800 m at the National Track and Field Championships in Kawasaki. Afterwards Sato travels to St. Moritz, Switerland for a one-month training camp. "The most important part of my training starts now," he told reporters. "I am completely focused."

Translator`s note: Sato ran 1:04:01 in the Sapporo International Half Marathon on June 15. Miho Sugimori is the national record holder in the 800 m and 1000 m.

Mogusu to Join Team Aidem

translated by Brett Larner

On June 15 Team Aidem announced that three-time Sapporo International Half Marathon winner Mekubo Mogusu of Kenya will join its ranks following his graduation from Yamanashi Gakuin University next March. Mogusu will follow Yamanashi Gakuin`s previous star Kenyan runner Ombeche Mokamba to Team Aidem.

In January Mogusu set the stage record on the second leg of the Hakone Ekiden, marking him as the strongest of the university runners in Japan. In July he plans to compete in the Kenyan 10000 m Olympic Trials. His long term goals include running the marathon in the 2012 London Olympics.

Translator`s note: Team Aidem includes only a handful of athletes, all graduates of Yamanashi Gakuin University, and has a focus on the full marathon rather than on ekidens. In such it is potentially a good move for Mogusu. The major contraindication is the relative lack of marathoning success experienced by Mokamba.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Osaka Governor Examining Creation of Mass-Participation Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Inspired by the success of the Tokyo Marathon, Osaka Governor Hashimoto announced on June 12 that he has initiated a committee to examine the creation of a mass-participation marathon in Osaka. The tentative plan for the race calls for it to act as an extension of the legacy of currently exisiting marathons. Speaking at a meeting of city government officials, Governor Hashimoto told listeners he is in consultation with the city office and police department to design a course suitable for a large-scale marathon and a plan to handle road closures and safety issues.

Governor Hashimoto stated, "We are examining what steps will be necessary to hold a mass-participation marathon as well as gathering sponsors to cover the costs of expanding the event beyond the scale of existing marathons." Osaka-based sports maker Mizuno is a potential sponsor. Mizuno company president Akito Mizuno commented, "We too would like to see a major marathon like the Tokyo Marathon held in Osaka."

The model for Governor Hashimoto`s plan is the Tokyo Marathon, a race which began in February last year as a personal project of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The Tokyo Marathon offers 30,000 entrants the opportunity to run through many of the city`s famous neighborhoods such as Ginza and Asakusa. Over 150,000 people applied for this year`s edition of the race. For the Osaka Marathon Governor Hashimoto envisions an "Osaka Museum" course designed to show off the highlights of the downtown area in the hope of appealing to runners from throughout the country.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Noguchi to Lead Japanese Team of 10 at Rio World Half Marathon Championships

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On June 16, Rikuren announced the members of the Japanese team for the World Half Marathon Championships to be held October 12 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Leading the team of five men and five women will be two-time Olympic marathoner Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex).
The complete lineup of each team, with qualification data:

Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku): 1:02:00 (2nd, Sendai, 5/11/08)
Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko): 1:02:05 (3rd, Sendai, 5/11/08)
Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.): 1:02:07 (5th, Sapporo, 6/15/08)
Tetsuo Nishimura (Team YKK): 1:02:35 (3rd, Jitsugyodan, 3/16/08)
Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN): 1:02:40 (4th, Jitsugyodan, 3/16/08)

Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren): 1:08:11 (1st, Jitsugyodan, 3/16/08)
Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex): 1:08:25 (1st, Sendai, 5/11/08)
Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 1:09:16 (2nd, Sapporo, 6/15/08)
Miki Ohira (Team Mistui Sumitomo Kaijo): 1:10:52 (4th, Sapporo, 6/15/08)
Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon): 1:11:44 (3rd, Sendai, 5/11/08)

Translator`s note: While some Japanese runners recorded faster times in other half marathons this spring, Rikuren used March`s Jitsugyodan Half Marathon, May`s Sendai International Half Marathon, and June`s Sapporo International Half Marathon to select the teams for the World Half Marathon Championships. In each case, the top two Japanese finishers were given consideration. The men`s team holds no surprises, as the second Japanese finisher in Sapporo, Tsuyoshi Ogata of Team Chugoku Denryoku, had a time of 1:02:46 and was thus not selected for the team.

The women`s team, on the other hand, has a few unexpected turns. Most notable is the absence of Sapporo winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), who recorded a PB of 1:08:57. This may be an indication that Kano intends to run either the Berlin Marathon or Chicago Marathon, the latter along with her teammate Kiyoko Shimahara. Also notable is the absence of Jitsugyodan Half Marathon second Japanese finisher Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo). Shibui`s 1:10:27 4th place finish was superior to both Ohira and Machida`s results. Their selection, particularly that of Sapporo third Japanese finisher Ohira, suggests something is afoot in the Shibui camp.

Signs of Things to Come at the Sapporo International Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

click here for race photos

The Men`s Race
Mekubo Mogusu of Yamanashi Gakuin University successfully defended his title at the 2008 Sapporo International Half Marathon, winning in a time of 1:00:52. Mogusu, in peak shape after a recent 10000 m PB of 27:27 and a half marathon course record at the Kanto University Championships, set out hard and gapped the entire field within the first 100 m. Only Chuo Gakuin University senior Masato Kihara pursued Mogusu, hanging behind the course record holder through the first 4 km. It was a familiar pattern as Kihara had also pursued Mogusu at last year`s Yosenkai 20 km road race and this year`s Hakone Ekiden 2nd stage.

Although Mogusu showed signs of maturity in his running during 2007 after two years of spectacular failures, in Sapporo he fell victim to a fatal flaw he has displayed time and again, an inability to cope with competitors running near him. While he claimed afterwards to have been pursuing a world record, Mogusu responded to Kihara`s presence by running 8:04 for the first 3 km, an uncontrolled sub-57 minute pace. To his credit, Mogusu admitted after the race that he had responded badly to the pressure he felt from Kihara, but the damage was done. Kihara, the holder of the all-time 2nd fastest half marathon time by a Japanese university student, 1:01:50, also started too fast, but for his part Kihara had said before the race that he did not care about the time he ran. His only goal was to stay with Mogusu. As with previous attempts, he fell off the Kenyan`s suicidal pace after only 4 km. In his post-race interview Kihara has deeply disappointed that he could not stay with Mogusu longer.

Further back, a moderate pack of Japan-based Kenyans pursued the two leaders, with only Japanese national record holder and Beijing Olympic marathoner Atsushi Sato tagging along. When Kihara fell back from Mogusu the chase pack broke apart as several Kenyans went after the university student. Sato was the first to fall, dropping back rapidly. As eight Kenyans overtook Kihara, Sato was in turn overtaken by the large chase pack which included his Olympic marathon teammates Tsuyoshi Ogata and Satoshi Osaki as well as their Swiss rival, Osaka World Championships bronze medalist and 2008 Tokyo Marathon winner Viktor Rothlin.

Sato settled in with the pack and led comfortably through 13 km. Rothlin then moved up to take the lead position, followed by Ogata, Osaki, Athens Olympics marathon 5th place finisher Shigeru Aburaya, Helsinki World Championships marathoner Satoshi Irifune, Irifune`s teammate Tomohiro Seto, and Team Fujitsu rookie Koichi Sakai, who memorably took the lead for eventual winners Komazawa University on the 9th stage of this year`s Hakone Ekiden. Rothlin held the lead for several kilometers until Aburaya launched a vicious attack at the 16.3 km point. Only Ogata, Seto and Sakai were able to follow. Rothlin and Team Suzuki`s Masafumi Kitagawa gradually made up the gap as the pack began to disintegrate, leaving Sato trailing far in the distance. The small lead group of Japanese runners began to overtake struggling Kenyans who had gone out hard in the early stages. At 17.5 km Kitagawa passed Aburaya to take over the lead position in the pack, but within a kilometer he was in turn dropped as Rothlin returned to push hard against Ogata and Sakai.

Ahead, Mogusu was visibly struggling as he hit the long uphill to the finish. He uncharacteristically looked back several times as his pace plummeted, disturbed to see the oncoming Harun Njoroge. Njoroge, a younger Kenyan who began running for Team Komori in January and won this spring`s Marugame and Sendai half marathons, ran an intelligently-paced race, hanging well back in the Kenyan pack and only gradually moving up through the field before attacking in the final few kilometers. He fell just short of catching Mogusu, who finished well off his own course record in 1:00:52. Njoroge was just 12 seconds back in 1:01:04, his first loss of the year but a new PB performance.

Kihara was the top Japanese man, 5th overall in 1:02:07. Although he had been overtaken by eight Kenyans, Kihara stayed with them and rallied to a strong finish over the final uphill to retake five spots. His time was just seconds off his PB despite the self-destructive early pace and uphill finish.

Further back, Rothlin and Ogata entered the track together in a near replay of the end of last year`s World Championships marathon. Sakai was just a step behind. Rothlin managed to edge Ogata by a step, while Sakai put on an impressive spurt to catch Ogata at the line. Aburuya was shortly behind, with Olympian Osaki fading to 18th in 1:03:10. Sato had the weakest day, finishing a poor 35th in 1:04:01. Ogata and Rothlin amicably shook hands and chatted after finishing.

Mekubo Mogusu was pleased to win the race for the 3rd time but visibly disappointed in his performance. He said that he plans to run the Kenyan Olympic selection 10000 m race in early July and will make his marathon debut at next year`s London Marathon. While he has the physical ability to succeed, this year`s Sapporo demonstrated that he is still too accustomed to running either unchallenged or from behind in an ekiden. To succeed on the world-class level to which he aspires he must develop the psychological aspects of his running to allow himself to handle the stress of focusing on his goals in the face equal or superior competition. Harun Njoroge`s performance by contrast showed sophistication and judgment in addition to pure ability. Njoroge is on an upward curve and will be someone to watch in the next few years as he gains experience.

While all three were effectively training through the race, Japan`s Olympic marathoners showed mixed results. Satoshi Osaki turned in a solid if unremarkable performance. Atsushi Sato`s mediocre time was not of itself cause for concern, but his pace trajectory and the degree to which he slowed in the final raise a few questions about his fitness in light of the minor injuries he sustained during the spring. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tsuyoshi Ogata`s run was his first major result since finishing 5th at last summer`s World Championships and did much to resolve any worries about his condition as the Olympics approach. Combined with his proven experience in heat and championship events, Ogata`s performance in Sapporo arguably makes him Japan`s best chance for a medal in the men`s marathon.

Of the entire men`s field, Masato Kihara`s performance was the most impressive. Since making a spectacular debut as an unknown first-year at the 2006 Hakone Ekiden, Kihara has shown again and again that he is Japan`s best university runner. The fragile aces Keisuke Takezawa of Waseda University and Yuki Sato of Tokai University attract the media`s attention with occassional fast performances in the brief periods between their injuries, but Kihara has quietly and repeatedly demonstrated his strength, durability and reliability over the last three years. His Sapporo run unquestionably showed that Kihara possesses not only these physical abilities but, like the American Ryan Hall, the confidence, fearlessness and ambition to run with the best Africa can offer. Kihara`s spot as the top Japanese finisher in Sapporo ahead of countless professionals earns him a spot on the Japanese team for October`s World Half Marathon Championships, his first major international competition. He may or may not have a breakthrough debut, but there is little doubt that in the next five years he will take the very top place in the Japanese men`s distance world.

Women`s Race
Yuri Kano of Second Wind AC won the women`s division in a sizeable PB of 1:08:57. A pack of seven women including Kano, Sendai International Half Marathon runner up Julia Mombi, 2007 World Road Running Championships competitor Chisato Osaki, Osaki`s teammate Miki Ohira, and Kanto University Championships 5000 m and 10000 m winner Yui Sakai of Josai University, set out together in the midst of a larger group of men. By 5 km it was already down to three contenders, Kano, Mombi, and Osaki, along with nine men. At least one of the men provided direct aid to Osaki, handing her water at aid stations.

Kano was noticeably in control of the race, running with focus and poise even when trailing Osaki. By 11 km Mombi fell off the pace along with two of the men. From 12 km through 17 km, Kano and Osaki staged an exciting duel, switching the lead and pushing the pace every kilometer. By 17 km Kano truly took over, pushing the pace and dropping one of the male competitors. Osaki was unable to follow, eventually finishing 19 seconds behind Kano. Kano`s time of 1:08:57 broke her 5-year old PB by over 90 seconds. Like Masato Kihara in the men`s race, Kano`s victory secures her a spot on the Japanese team at this year`s World Half Marathon Championships, where she will join Mizuki Noguchi, Yukiko Akaba, and two more teammates yet to be determined. It was also a major breakthrough which signals great things for her future in the marathon.

Osaki`s 1:09:16 will also likely result in a trip to the World Half Marathon Championships. Mombi was disappointed with her 1:10:39 3rd place finish; Sakai was likewise unhappy to struggle home 5th in 1:11:23. Both athletes were most likely still contending with the after-effects of their excellent May performances. Kano`s teammates Kiyoko Shimahara and Kaori Yoshida also had poor days, while former course record holder and defending marathon world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya was 11th in 1:12:37.

Men`s Results (click for complete results)
1. Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:52
2. Harun Njoroge (Team Komori) - 1:01:04 (PB)
3. Julius Gitau (Team JFE Steel) - 1:01:19
4. Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica-Minolta) - 1:02:04
5. Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:07
6. John Kariuku (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:29
7. Ombeche Mokamba (Team Aidem) - 1:02:43
8. Micah Njell (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:02:44
9. Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland) - 1:02:45
10. Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:02:46
10. Koichi Sakai (Team Fujitsu) - 1:02:46
12. Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:02:53

Women`s Results (click for complete results)
1. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 1:08:57 (PB)
2. Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 1:09:16
3. Julia Mombi (Team Aruze) - 1:10:39
4. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 1:10:52
5. Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.) - 1:11:23
6. Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 1:11:31
7. Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 1:11:33
8. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 1:12:10
9. Jeon Eyun (South Korea) - 1:12:16
10. Sayo Takemoto (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:32
11. Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 1:12:37
12. Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 1:12:41

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Photosynthetic Power? Tosa Training in Favorite Color Green

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Reiko Tosa (32, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) is now in Kunming, China for high-altitude training. For her 32nd birthday on June 11, Tosa`s husband Keiichi Murai (34) gave her a wallet in her lucky color green. "Kinda pale green, isn`t it?" laughed Tosa while showing off the present. Last year when she won a bronze medal in the World Championships marathon her lucky color was yellow, and she wore shoes and a rubber wristband in that color. This year looking toward Beijing she selected green. "It`s the color of young, healthy things and will keep me from breaking," explained Tosa.

Translator`s note: My younger brother also turned 32 on June 11.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Olympic Marathoner Satoshi Osaki Gives Speech at His High School

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men`s marathon team member Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) visited his alma mater high school, Osaka`s Seifu High, on June 11 to give a speech to current students, alumni and faculty. "Whatever the outcome in the Olympics," Osaki said, "I will try to be a good role model for all of you. Please cheer for me and lend me your support."

While Osaki was a student at Seifu three alumni of the school took part in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, gymnasts Yukio Iketani and Daisuke Nishikawa along with sprinter Satoru Inoue. Osaki heard the three athletes speak at his school before the Olympics and remembers thinking that the Olympics, "...seemed like something which existed above the clouds." Standing now in the place of honor, Osaki was deeply emotional as he told the assembled crowd, "I am going after the gold medal. I believe I have a chance."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon Sets Feb. 1 Date for 2009 Running

translated by Brett Larner

On June 11 the organizing committee for the 63rd Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon, sponsored in part by the Sankei Newspapers Group, announced in a meeting at Marugame`s Civic Gymnasium that next year`s edition of the race will be held on Feb. 1. 40 officials including race director Tetsuji Arai and Marugame`s mayor attended the meeting. The organizing committee also announced that in light of this year`s record 5405 participants, next year`s 63rd running will move to an "International" format with at least 5 international elite athletes. The Marugame Half Marathon includes men`s and women`s divisions, a high school boys` and girls` 3 km race, a junior high school boys` and girls` 3 km race, and an elementary boys` and girls` 1 km race. Applications open September 1st.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fukushi Returns With Olympic A-Standard 10000m in Fukagawa (updated)

by Brett Larner

Japanese 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) provided the standout performance of the third meet in the Hokuren Distance Challenge series, held June 11 in Fukugawa, Hokkaido. Fukushi overcame problems she has faced since her memorable marathon debut in January to win the 10000 m in an Olympic A-standard time of 31:30.94. It was a last-chance attempt by Fukushi to make the Olympic-qualifying National Track and Field Championships 10000 m on June 27 and was a commanding solo performance, with 2nd-place finisher Satoe Matsumoto (Team Nihon ChemiCon) far behind in 32:31.43.

An interview after the race quoted Fukushi saying, "I`m a bit late getting on board, so it was a good run." Fukushi also revealed that while preparing for the Fukugawa meet at a training camp in Chitose, Hokkaido, her training included screaming while running.

The women`s 10000 m at the Nationals now looks set to be a dream matchup, with Fukushi facing off against national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), ascending star Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), darkhorse Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki) and a number of other potential rivals for the Olympic team spots, with the unfortunate absence of young prodigy Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) who has been sidelined with a long-term illness.

Other notable results from the Fukugawa meet include national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya`s 13:40.73 win in the men`s 5000 m, Stanford Cardinal Invitational trampling victim Yasuhiro Tago`s 3:46.56 victory in the men`s 1500 m, and the 1-2 Kenyan sub-28 min. finish by Martin Mukule and Silas Jui in the men`s 10000 m. Complete results are available here.

A comparison of the qualifying times for the expected top contenders in the women`s 10000 m at the National Track and Field Championships:

Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 31:19.73 (4/27/08) and 31:21.92 (5/17/08)
Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren): 31:23.27 (12/23/07) and 31:36.54 (4/27/08)
Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 31:30.94 (6/11/08)
Noriko Matsuoka (Team Suzuki): 31:31.45 (6/1/08)
Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshoki): 31:39.32 (4/22/07)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Oki): 31:42.86 (6/1/08)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sapporo International Half Marathon - Preview

by Brett Larner

After an earlier preliminary announcement of its invited elites, the Sapporo International Half Marathon has released the complete field for this year`s 51st running on Sunday, June 15. Normally held in July, this year`s competition was moved to June due to the upcoming G-8 summit in Toyako, near Sapporo. Considering the dramatic difference in Japan`s weather between mid-June and mid-July, the date change will probably help to put the course records up for grabs. The Japanese runners in the field have the added motivation that the top domestic man and woman will be selected for the Japanese team at this fall`s World Half Marathon Championships.

By far the favorite in the men`s race is defending champion Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.). Mogusu ran a solo 59:54 to win last year`s race in course record time. This year he comes fresh from setting a sizeable PB in the 10000 m and breaking his own course record in the half marathon at last month`s Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. He has promised to run Sapporo much faster this year. It is no secret that Mogusu wants Samuel Wanjiru`s Japanese-soil record of 59:43 and it will be pretty surprising if he doesn`t do it this time.

It is unlikely that anyone in the field will be able to go with Mogusu, but if someone challenges the Kenyan it will be half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku). At last year`s Sapporo Sato was the only runner to attack Mogusu in the early stages of the race. Since then he has stepped up in quality, with a 1:00:25 national record last October, an Olympic-qualifying 2:07:13 full marathon in December, and a series of late-spring track races in which he aggressively front-ran against Kenyan competitors. Sato`s fitness and focus on this race are questionable given his somewhat checkered spring training and current Olympic preparations, but if he is in one piece it will not be surprising either to see him stay with Mogusu or to become the first Asian to break the one hour mark.

Another contender is Harun Njoroge (Team Komori), who won both February`s Marugame Half Marathon and May`s Sendai Half Marathon in sub-62 minute times. A win would require a significant leap in Njoroge`s performance, but the Kenyan is young and has not yet been truly tested against superior competitors.

Also worth watching is Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.). Kihara, now a senior, ran the student half marathon all-time #2 mark of 1:01:50 as a sophomore. He has significantly improved since then and will be looking to take the #1 spot on the student record book. Several other top university runners along with large squads from Kihara`s Chuo Gakuin University and the strong Nittai University will also be facing off against the large number of jitsugyodan entrants, including marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo) and Sato`s Olympic marathon teammates Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon). Top contenders in the field are listed below.

The women`s field in this year`s Sapporo is somewhat more limited but features several top international and domestic names. Reigining marathon world champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya leads the way, along with countrywoman Julia Mombi who finished 2nd in Sendai last month, and Korean Jeon Eyun. Domestic contenders include 2007 World Road Running Championships competitor Chisato Osaki and her teammate Miki Ohira (both Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Kiyoko Shimahara, Yuri Kano and Kaori Yoshida (all Second Wind AC), Yoko Yagi (Team Suzuki) and Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai).

Like the men`s race, several top university runners are also scheduled to appear. Most worth watching is Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.), who comes to Sapporo after dominating wins in the 5000 m and 10000 m at the Kanto University Championships. Sapporo may well be another breakthrough performance for the talented Sakai. Yukie Okidomari (Ritsumeikan Univ.) and Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.) are also likely to be factors. Top entrants in the women`s field are listed below.

Complete listings of the Sapporo field are available here and here.

Top Male Entrants
Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), PB: 59:48 (2007)
Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:00:25 (2007)
Toshinari Takaoka (Team Kanebo), PB: 1:01:07 (2003)
Kazuo Ietani (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko), PB: 1:01:30 (2001)
Harun Njoroge (Team Komori), PB: 1:01:35 (2008)
Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo), PB: 1:01:36 (2000)
Joseph Mwaniki (Team Konica-Minolta), PB: 1:01:39 (2008)
Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.), PB: 1:01:50 (2006)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:01:50 (2002)
Shigeru Aburuya (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:01:54 (2002)
Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku), PB: 1:02:08 (2004)
Viktor Rothlin (Switzerland), PB: 1:02:16 (2006)
Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon), PB: 1:02:24 (2007)
Tomoya Shimizu (Team Sagawa Express), PB: 1:02:28 (2007)
Erick Wainaina (Lights AC), PB: 1:02:36 (2000)

Top Female Entrants
Catherine Ndereba (Kenya), PB: 1:07:54 (2001)
Julia Mombi (Team Aruze), PB: 1:08:31 (2008)
Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:08:56 (2007)
Yoko Yagi (Team Suzuki), PB: 1:10:06 (2006)
Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:10:13 (2004)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:16 (2006)
Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:18 (2001)
Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai), PB: 1:10:21 (2000)
Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), PB: 1:10:28 (2003)
Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), PB: 1:10:53 (2007)
Yui Sakai (Josai Univ.), PB: 1:11:05 (2008)
Seika Nishikawa (Meijo Univ.), PB: 1:12:03 (2008)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

`Can Rice Lead to Gold? Marathon Will Offer Test`

Yurika Nakamura Aims to Develop Superior Speed To Noguchi and Tosa

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Yurika Nakamura (22, Team Tenmaya) held a public practice session at the Okayama Prefectural Track in Okayama City on June 9. With two months to go to race day, Nakamura`s coach Yutaka Taketomi has indicated that her main focus until the Olympics is to improve her 10000 m time to be faster than those of teammates Mizuki Noguchi (29, Team Sysmex) and Reiko Tosa (31, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo). The razor-sharp talent she showed while smashing down her targets in the Nagoya International Women`s Marathon is being further sharpened as she turns her attention to winning a medal.

To stand on the Olympic starting line with complete confidence, Nakamura wants to hone her dullest edge in some tangible way. The most important point facing her as she in turn faces her biggest race is to develop better speed than Noguchi and Tosa. Coach Taketomi explained, "Noguchi and Tosa are on a different level from Nakamura right now, so we must look for some strategy to enable her win. The answer is to break their 5000 and 10000 m times."

To qualify for the Olympics, Nakamura won her marathon debut Nagoya by lauching an aggressive attack at 32 km, successfully dropping a field which included Athens Olympics marathon team member Naoko Sakamoto and two-time World Championships marathon team member Yumiko Hara. The speed she demonstrated was like that of a track runner and was described by Rikuren officials as "destructive" and "annihilating." Nakamura already holds the fastest 5000 m time of the three Beijing marathon team members. Her 10000 m time is already better than Tosa`s, but she is still targeting Noguchi`s best time of 31:21.03, which Noguchi set at the 2004 Hyogo Relay Carnival just before winning the Athens Olympics marathon gold medal. Nakamura ran an encouraging PB of 31:31.95 at this year`s Hyogo Relay Carnival, but Coach Taketomi believes, "She can get near 31 flat."

Nakamura has no plans to run any further races before the Olympics, instead aiming to achieve her target time in training. Looking at the Olympics, Coach Taketomi says, "We want her to be in a position to go for the win if she can run with the lead pack to the 30 km point. There is no point going to the Olympics if you don`t think a medal is a possibility." By giving Nakamura a tangible number to chase in training, Taketomi hopes to give her the confidence to succeed in the Olympics.

Today`s practice consisted of fifteen 400 m intervals at a target pace. After the workout Nakamura commented, "My body feels a bit heavier than last week, but today`s workout went pretty much as planned." On June 11 Nakamura leaves for two months of training in Boulder and Albuqueque. "I`m aiming to reach my own measure of 100%." With her ability and attitude, Nakamura looks poised to become the next generation`s ace. She may also be the surprise dark horse of this Olympics.

Olympic Marathoner Tsuyoshi Ogata Returns From New Zealand Training Camp

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men`s marathon team member Tsuyoshi Ogata returned to Japan on June 10, arriving at Kansai International Airport after a three-week training camp in New Zealand. Ogata travelled to New Zealand on May 19. His training at the camp included three 40 km runs and one 45 km run. "Practice was good," commented Ogata. "Things went according to plan." His coach Yasushi Sakaguchi agreed, saying "Everything is in order with Ogata`s training."

On the way back from New Zealand Ogata stopped in Beijing for a second test run on the course after having participated in April`s official Pre-Olympic Marathon. "I`ve learned the course very well," said Ogata. He is next scheduled to run in the Sapporo International Half Marathon on June 15.

Reiko Tosa Strongly Motivated by $100,000 Gold Medal Bonus

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Reiko Tosa (31) appeared along with 70 kg. class judo wrestler Masae Ueno (29) and 52 kg. class judo wrestler Misato Nakamura (19) at a general meeting at the Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo Group`s offices on June 9. Model Maki Horikita (19) MC`d the event.

Having just returned from training in Boulder, Colorado, Tosa is scheduled to leave for Kunming, China on June 12. Asked for her views on the mysterious virus which track star Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) is alleged to have contracted while training in Kunming, Tosa said flatly, "I`m not worried at all." Looking ahead to the Olympics, she continued, "The conditions are going to be hot and cruel, but I`ve done a good job of modifying my training. I`ll be running relaxed and unconcerned." Also sure to be in Tosa`s mind as she prepares for the main event is Rikuren`s $100,000 gold medal bonus. "That`s definitely a factor, isn`t it," she admitted dryly.

With Ueno planning an Olympic defense and Japanese judo looking for its first gold medal win by a teenager, Nakamura promised to compete with, "total discipline and seriousness."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Meet Records Abound at National University T&F Individual Championships

by Brett Larner

Samuel Ganga of Hiroshima Univ. of Economics on the way to setting a meet record 14:10.02 in the men`s 5000 m.

The 2008 National University Track and Field Individual Championships took place June 6th through 8th at Hiratsuka Sogo Park Stadium just south of Tokyo. The meet takes place just after the Kanto University Track and Field Championships and shortly before both the All-Japan University Ekiden qualifying meet and the National Track and Field Championships and thus fails to draw much of the top university talent, but it neverthless offers a rare opporunity to see runners from universities in other parts of Japan take on their rivals from the extremely strong Kanto region along with top university runners from other Asian nations.

This year`s championships saw a wave of new meet records. In the men`s competition, Yohei Miyazawa (Hosei Univ.) ran 46.92 in the 400 m final to break the meet record by 0.05 seconds. Five runners in the 1500 m final broke the old meet record of 3:53.89, with Yusuke Hasegawa (Jobu Univ.) victorious in 3:51.35. The 3000 m steeplechase saw a similar turnover in records, with Masayoshi Nakajima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) leading the top four in the semifinal under the old meet record with his 9:00.34. Nakajima was unable to repeat after this strong performance, finishing 2nd to Sachio Shimose (Maru Univ.) in the final, 9:03.66 to 9:01.90. Kenyan Samuel Ganga (Hiroshima Univ. of Econ.) ran a solo 5000 m effort to break the old meet record by a wide margin, recording a time of 14:10.02. The 10000 m racewalk saw the biggest improvement in performance quality, with the top nine breaking the old meet record. Winner Isamu Fujisawa (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) broke the old meet record by nearly 3 minutes and 20 seconds with his 41:09.87.

Men`s field events also saw their share of new meet records, with the top three in the pole vault tying or breaking the old record led by the 5.35 m mark set by Hiroki Ogita (Kanto Gakuin Univ.). Akira Hanatani (Osaka Univ.) likewise set a new record of 16.26 m in the triple jump, while Yusuke Takakubo (Daitai Univ.) and Sotaro Yamada (Hosei Univ.) broke the shot put record with their respective marks of 17.22 m and 17.03 m. Yusuke Inagaki (Kyushu Joho Univ.) set the final new men`s record of the meet with his 70.75 m throw in the javelin.

Sayaka Aoki (Fukushima Univ.) sets a meet record in the 400 m semifinal.

The women`s competition saw a parallel run of records. Rena Joshita (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) dominated the 100 m hurdles, setting a new record of 13.59 in the 2nd heat, a wind-aided 13.43 in the semifinal, and a new legal meet record of 13.49 in the final. Sayaka Aoki (Fukushima Univ.) set a meet record 55.18 in the 400 m semifinal then returned in the final with another record of 54.66. Aoki also doubled in the 400 m hurdles, setting a meet record 58.19 in the semifinal before an impressive 57.02 meet-record win in the final, a mark just shy of national record holder Satomi Kubokura`s national student record of 56.73. Like the men`s 1500 m, the women`s 1500 m final saw a large numbers of runners under the old record as Chien-Ho Hsieh (Kaohsiung Univ. of Education, Taipei) led the top six to new records with her 4:29.19. The women`s 5000 m featured the biggest landslide of new record-setting performances, with Eriko Noguchi (Juntendo Univ.) 1st among the ten record-breakers with her 16:07.59 mark. Miki Sawada (Biwako Sports Univ.) broke the 10000 m racewalk record by over a minute with her 46:37.04 win.

In the women`s field events, Maiko Wakasugi (Niigata Univ.) cleared 1.77 m to set a new high jump meet record. Tomomi Abiko (Doshisha Univ.) cleared 4.00 m in the pole vault to record a new record, with 2nd place finisher Tomoko Sumiishi (Nittai Univ.) tying the old meet record of 3.90 m. Yoshimi Sato (Fukuoka Univ.) leapt 6.46 m in the long jump, also a new record. The top two placers in the shot put broke the old record, with Azusa Sato (Tsukuba Univ.) coming out ahead with her 14.93 m mark. Hammer thrower Miki Yamashiro (Chukyo Univ.) had the last meet record of the meet with her 56.90 m throw in the final round, more than 2 m better than the old record.

The complete videos of the men`s 5000 m and other events are available here. Complete results from the National University Track and Field Individual Championships are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Kawasaki Sets 10000m Walk National Record at Hokuren Shibetsu Meet

by Brett Larner

Racewalker Mayumi Kawasaki of Team Ebisawa Seisakujo marked the biggest result of the Hokuren Distance Challenge series` second competition, held Sunday in Shibetsu, Hokkaido. Kawasaki set a mark of 44:04.15 in the women`s 10000 m racewalk, breaking the old Japanese national record by over 25 seconds. Men`s 10000 m racewalk victor Koichiro Morioka of Team Fujitsu likewise had a strong performance with his 39:32.08 finish time, less than 5 seconds off the national record.

Team Daihatsu`s Ryoko Kisaki joined the list of contenders for the Beijing Olympics team with her Olympic B-standard 32:12.14 win in the women`s 10000 m. Winning times in other events were less remarkable as many athletes used the meet simply as a tune-up for the upcoming National Track and Field Championships. Top finishers in each event are listed below; complete results are available here.

The Hokuren Distance Challenge continues June 11 in Fukagawa, Hokkaido.

Men`s 1500 m
1. Yasuhiro Tago (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 3:42.65

Women`s 1500 m
1. Ann Karindi (Team Yutaka Giken) - 4:19.85

Men`s 1500 m B-Group
1. Seok Hyo Eom (South Korea) - 3:48.73

Men`s 3000 m
1. Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Densen) - 7:54.04

Women`s 3000 m
1. Satomi Matsumoto (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 9:16.78

Men`s 3000 m B-Group
1. Shuji Yoshigawa (Team Kyudenko) - 8:12.63

Women`s 3000 m B-Group
1. Takami Nishiyama (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 9:28.30

Men`s 10000 m
1. Takeshi Makabe (Team Kanebo) - 28:36.54

Women`s 10000 m
1. Ryoko Kisaki (Team Daihatsu) - 32:12.14

Men`s 10000 m B-Group
1. Kazuyuki Maeda (Team Konica-Minolta) - 29:29.91

Men`s 10000 m Walk
1. Koichiro Morioka (Team Fujitsu) - 39:32.08

Women`s 10000 m Walk
1. Mayumi Kawasaki (Team Ebisawa Seisakujo) - 44:04.15 - NR

Monday, June 9, 2008

22 Year-Old Yurika Nakamura to Bring "Courage of Youth" to Olympic Women`s Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) met the press at a conference in Okayama City on June 6. At age 22 the youngest marathoner on the men`s or women`s teams, Nakamura told the assembled crowd, "My biggest strength is my youth. [Thinking about the Olympics and] lasting until the end is scary, but I want to run a race which exceeds all expectations."

Nakamura spoke in front of 500 members of the Okayama Track and Field Association and assorted members of the press. Her mentor from her days at Nishinomiya High School, Kenkichi Hagiwara, as well as Asics` master shoe craftsman Hitoshi Mimura who made the shoes she will use in the Olympic marathon, also attended. The event concluded with a video of Nakamura`s victory in March`s Nagoya International Women`s Marathon, her debut and the race which qualified her for the Olympics. Nakamura`s pride in her accomplishment was clear as the auditorium filled with applause.

Nakamura`s coach Yutaka Taketomi also appeared at the meeting. He shed light on Nakamura`s training and preparations, revealing that she had just completed a training camp in Nagano Prefecture`s Sugidaira Takahara.

Quotes from Nakamura`s press conference:

Her Olympic goal:
"I want to run a race which exceeds all expectations. To this end I`ll be going to a training camp in America on the 11th to build my mind, body and self-confidence."

The theme of her training:
"It`s very easy to get discouraged, so building up stable self-confidence through solid practice is the most important thing. At the training camp in the States I`ll be focusing on improving my stamina and speed."

The Olympic marathon course:
"I`m studying the course to learn every corner and hill, the location of the water stations, and other details."

Her race plan:
"I plan to ride the pack`s flow as long as I can, then race the last section hard."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Kinukawa`s Olympic Plans Destroyed by Terrifying Mystery Virus of Possible Chinese Origin

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Osaka World Track and Field Championships competitor and Great Hope for the future of Japanese women`s long distance running Megumi Kinukawa (18, Team Mizuno) announced on June 5 that she has contracted an unknown virus which will keep her out of the Olympic Trials at the National Track and Field Championships, to be held June 26-29 in Kawasaki. Medical staff have indicated that the chance is high Kinukawa caught the virus while training in Kunming, China. Whether it came from the pollution, contaminated food or another source, the "invisible enemy" has deprived the young star of her Olympic chance and shaken the Japanese long distance world.

Kinukawa`s situation has made a deep impact upon her. "I wouldn`t want anyone else to go through what I`m experiencing," she said of the serious viral infection which has possessed her like a devil just before the Olympics. "I only want other athletes to know that there is a sickness like this out there."

Her problems began last November when Kinukawa began to have persistent flu-like symptoms and aches and pains all over her body. In December she suffered a stress fracture in her right femur which kept her out of the National High School Ekiden in Kyoto. In February she began to feel similar pain in her left leg, then strong pain in her left knee which made it difficult for her to even walk.

Kinukawa was forced to cancel her professional debut at April`s Oda Memorial meet in Hiroshima, followed by a string of further cancellations. Her coach at Sendai Ikuei High School and mentor since graduating, Takao Watanabe felt, "All these injuries could not be coming from her training," and believed that she would be able to recover. Extensive medical testing revealed no skeletal problems. A subsequent battery of blood testing discovered the presence of the presence of the unnamed virus. Previous testing at the same clinic had failed to find any problems with Kinukawa`s blood, but the clinic`s head Dr. Matsumoto indicated that new tests revealed the virus had seriously affected red blood cell production and was likewise damaging to white blood cells, leading to the array of bone and muscle problems Kinukawa has experienced.

Dr. Matsumoto stated that the virus was unlikely to have originated in Japan and that Kinukawa had become infected in another country. Her only overseas experience came when Kinukawa went to Kunming in March last year for high altitude training. "The probability that she was infected in Kunming is high," commented Dr. Matsumoto. Kunming is the same location where Beijing Olympic women`s marathon team member Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and others regularly attend training camps. Noguchi contracted a serious rash which kept her from several races after training in Kunming in March. Noguchi`s fellow Olympic marathon team member Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) is scheduled to head to Kunming for training on June 12. Tosa`s coach Hideo Suzuki said she had no plans to alter her training, adding, "I`ve never heard any talk of such problems [in Kunming]." Nevertheless, the Japanese distance running community remains shaken.

Kinukawa remains highly optmistic about making a full comeback despite only being to jog for 30 minutes at a time in her present condition. Looking at the fast-approaching Olympic Trials, Kinukawa says, "I won`t give up until it`s over." Coach Watanabe is, however, less positive. "She is not ready. Our top priority is to get her one day closer to being able to run normally again."

Kinukawa made the 10000 m Olympic A-standard of 31:45.00 last summer, but to be selected for the Olympic team she must perform in the National Track and Field Championships. Struck down by an "invisible enemy" at only age 18, the deadline for Kinukawa to face the track world is drawing nearer.

Megumi Kinukawa
18, Team Mizuno. Born Aug. 7, 1989 in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. 153 cm, 38 kg. Attended Sendai Ikuei High School. 3rd place in National H.S. 5000 m as a first-year. Passed 12 runners on the 2nd stage of the National H.S. Ekiden. Set the women`s 10000 m Japanese junior record of 31:35.27 at last year`s Hyogo Relay Carnival. 14th in last summer`s World Championships 10000 m.

China`s center for high-altitude training. Population 5,000,000. Situated at 1900 m altitude, temperatures are moderate year-round. With extensive training facilities and only one hour time difference from Japan, it is the most popular location for Japanese athletes to conduct high-altitude training.

The Beijing Olympics Women`s 10000 m Team
1-3 Japanese women will compete. Any woman who has met the Olympic A-standard (31:45.00) since Jan., 2007 is elligible, but to be guaranteed a spot on the team a qualified athlete must win June`s National Track and Field Championships. A good placing will also elevate a runner`s chances. 7 women have met the A-standard, including Kinukawa, Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki). Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) has not yet met the Olympic B-standard (32:20.00) but is expected to make the Trials.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Tosa Returns From Boulder After Training So Hard She Cried

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women`s marathon team member Reiko Tosa (31, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) arrived at Narita Airport on June 4 after returning from a high-altitude training camp in Boulder, Colorado. She spoke to reporters at the airport, saying "I was training on a mountain 2200 m high. [The workouts were so hard] I cried three or four times, but it was solid training.

Tosa last trained in Boulder prior to winning the silver medal at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships. Her preparation this time included three tough, hilly runs over 33 km. Tosa`s coach Hideo Suzuki commented, "She didn`t get injured and everything went according to plan. Her times were better than before Edmonton."

Tosa is scheduled to head to Kunming, China for additional altitude training beginning June 12. She reported her current condition as, "about 60%," indicating that she still has much room for improvement.

Tosa`s staff also announced on June 4 that she had signed a deal to wear Oakley`s new "Q-chan" model sunglasses, named after Sydney Olympics women`s marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi, during the Beijing Olympics marathon. The sunglasses, which retail for 27300 yen, are designed for women and have a more comfortable fit than unisex models.