Saturday, January 31, 2009

Watch the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Live Online

The 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, a selection race for the 2009 World Championships marathon team, will be broadcast live nationwide on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through one of the sites listed here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Defending Beppu-Oita Champion Adachi to Take On Domestic Rivals Ota and Akiba in Race for World Championships Spot

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The 58th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon will be held Feb. 1 on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu. As a selection race for the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon team, this year's Betsudai, as the race is abbreviated, has drawn a large number of domestic contenders along with several top foreign competitors. Chief among the runners vying for a spot on the the Berlin team are defending champion and Oita local Tomoya Adachi (23, Team Asahi Kasei), ekiden ace Takashi Ota (32, Team Konica Minolta) and first-time marathoner Keita Akiba (29, Team Komori Corp.).

Tomoya Adachi
Tomoya Adachi is coming home to win. Taking first last year in his debut marathon, Adachi brought new wind to the sails of Japanese marathoning. Running in the second pack until 36 km, he attacked over the final 6 km to overtake breakaway leader Elijah Mutai (Kenya). Adachi's coach Takeshi Soh reflected on the move and looked ahead to this year's race, saying, "Adachi ran a safe, comfortable race and was able to pick up the top spot after the leader started slowing down. This time he's going to be more attentive and run with the intention of winning."

In Betsudai's history only two people have ever defended their wins. Toru Terasawa (Team Kuraray) won four years straight from 1963 to 1966, while Kenji Kimihara (Team Nippon Steel) won twice in 1970 and 1971. "I'm feeling confident about winning again," said Adachi. "I plan to run 2:09." At age 23 the scent of the next Olympics is strong, and Adachi wants to add his name to the list of contenders.

In the interim since his last Betsudai win Adachi set a new 10000 m PB last spring. Extending his summer intensive training camp from 10 to 25 days and working through the ups and downs, he took the stage best title on all four legs he ran in the autumn's Kyushu Isshu Ekiden. The flipside of Adachi's rapid growth is the existence of new competitive rivals on his own team. 2008 National Track and Field Championships 10000 m 7th place finisher Tomoaki Bungo (Komazawa Univ.) and 2009 New Year Ekiden 5th stage winner Satoru Sasaki (Daito Bunka Univ.) both joined Team Asahi Kasei after graduation. Both are 23, the same age as Adachi who is in his fifth year as a corporate runner after going pro straight out of high school. The pair give Adachi extra motivation, as he says simply "I don't want to lose to them."

Adachi is known for his discipline, but he has a tendency to be too serious and too focused. At last fall's Kyushu Jitsugyodan Ekiden he came down with a cold before the race but didn't tell his coach and ran anyway. He fell off pace dramatically and was bedridden afterwards. At the New Year Ekiden he ran the anchor stage and was told to wait until the last sprint to attack. However, he pushed the pace earlier on in the stage and ended up losing. Coach Soh showed his frustration with Adachi, saying, "He's still weak when he needs to be strong. He's good enough to be great, but he needs to relax more to have a chance."

In October Adachi married his long-time girlfriend Yumi (24), a former sprinter he met while on the Oita High School track team. There is tremendous local support for him when he runs in Oita. As Oita's bayfront road is transformed into the battleground for his title defense, there are a million reasons for him not to lose.

Takashi Ota
When he remembers his fourth marathon, Takashi Ota's face darkens. He ran with the hope of erasing the memory of his two DNFs at the Biwako Mainichi Marathon. "It's still like an itch I can't scratch," he says. Ota is one of the driving forces on one of the fastest, most powerful ekiden teams, but he has not yet conquered the 42.195 km distance.

His best attempt so far was at last February's Tokyo Marathon, where he ran his PB of 2:12:10 to finish 10th after losing speed past the 30 km point. Having examined his flaws in this race, this season Ota increased his work load by adding morning 30 km jogs before breakfast. "These runs are for improving my stamina while running with low energy," he explains. Team Konica Minolta head coach Katsumi Sakai agreed, saying, "This time we want him to overcome the flaws in his second-half stamina."

Ota was born in Shiraoi, Hokkaido. As a boy he was deeply impressed by watching the running of the great Soh brothers. "There was an Asahi Kasei Group factory nearby," he recalls, "and I thought, 'Oh wow, the Sohs work here!' It gave me a lot of inspiration." He began running in junior high school and continued on in high school. Running in the snow he often fell face-first. Ota attended Sapporo Gakuin University, but unable to earn a recruited spot on the team he ran as a walk-on. After graduating he joined Team NEC to further develop his abilities.

At NEC Ota soon became team captain, but the smooth flow of his jitsugyodan career was interrupted in June, 2003 when NEC made budget cutbacks and eliminated its running team. As captain Ota worked hard to console the younger runners. Now, at Konica Minolta, he understands the potential problems both the team and company face in the current economic recession. "Our main responsibility here is to inspire our company's workers through our running," he says. "Coach Sakai told us, 'Let's take it to the world,' and I agree."

At 32 Ota is the oldest member of the team. "I don't have that many chances left," he acknowledges. "I want to make my dream of running in the national uniform come true." His goal in Betsudai is to win in a time of 2:09. He has spent his free time recently watching videos of the last three or four years' Betsudai Marathons in his room in the company's dorms, finding therein the motivation he will need to make the World Championships team.

Keita Akiba
In high school Keita Akiba ran 4:17 for 1500 m and 15:38 for 5000 m. "There are so many guys out there who can run at that level," he says. "I want my running now to inspire high school runners and show them that everybody has a chance to go to the top." When he was in elementary school Akiba was not a natural athlete. He was a very slow runner and it took him five years to learn to swim the butterfly. In junior high school he didn't belong to any of his school's sports teams. He started running at Ayase Nishi High School in Kanagawa Prefecture, but, as he admits, "I didn't know very much, not even that there was a National Ekiden Championship beyond the local one." When he was a fourth-year at Kanto Gakuin University he ran the Hakone Ekiden, but he was a complete no-name at the national level.

At 178 cm an unusually tall man, he began to improve dramatically after becoming a professional jitsugyodan runner. In his first year of pro running, 2002, he was ranked 83rd nationally for 10000 m. In 2004 he improved to 55th, and in 2006 he was 14th. At the 2007 New Year Ekiden he took the stage best title on the 2nd leg, at that time the New Year Ekiden's longest. Team Komori Corp. head coach Kazuya Wakakura says, "Akiba got where he is through steady, hard work every day. He understands how to set goals, work toward them, and then adjust his future plans accordingly." Coach Wakakura relies on him more than ever before.

Akiba is the type of person who has to understand and agree before acting. When Wakakura told him to do a 30 km run in training before the 2007 New Year Ekiden Akiba negotiated with him, telling the coach, "I don't think I need to do such long training." He went on to follow his own ideas.

However, after the 2007 New Year Ekiden, he hit a slump. His training stopped producing improvement, and he began to worry about the effects of aging. To change the situation he decided to try a marathon. After doing many 30 km runs, he took nearly 10 seconds off his 5000 m PB in 2008. "I thought long runs were a waste of time, but they actually benefitted my speed," he admits. He became more flexible in his outlook, and this year he took the stage best time on the New Year Ekiden's most competitive stage, the 4th leg. His return to form was a success.

As a late bloomer, Akiba now has strong ambitions. "When I look at the other runners in my generation and see them running on the national team it makes me realize that I haven't really accomplished anything. I want something. Something that everyone will think is great."

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Video
Click here for video highlights of Tomoya Adachi's win at the 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. The 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through one of the sites listed here.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

'Matsubara and Sakurai win the First Ultramarathon Race 2009 in Japan'

Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon - Preview

by Brett Larner

The 63rd running of the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon takes place this Sunday, Feb. 1. This year's race is its first in a new international format, with a small group of four invited overseas men and three women added to the usual strong domestic and Japan-residing African field.

The man to beat is course record holder Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), who broke the hour mark for the first time in winning the 2007 Marugame. Mogusu comes to the race this year fresh from breaking his own stage record on the Hakone Ekiden's 2nd stage and will be all but impossible to beat. Only three men in the field have a conceivable chance. One is Mogusu's university rival Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.), who has approached Mogusu's level on the track and will be looking for his first legitimate world-class half marathon time. Another is Asian Record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), whose best time of 1:00:25 is only 37 seconds behind Mogusu's. Sato suffered a complete meltdown at the Beijing Olympics marathon, where he finished last, and was unremarkable in this month's New Year Ekiden, so despite his potential he may not be in condition to challenge Mogusu. More likely to be a threat is wildcard Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei). Iwai only holds a half-marathon PB of 1:02:59 from his student days, but three weeks ago at the Asahi Ekiden he ran the 16.7 km 7th stage in 45:35, his average pace of just under 2:44/km faster than that of the 15 km world record. Japanese runners rarely translate strong ekiden performances into equivalent half or full marathons, but Iwai looks to have a realistic chance of challenging the national record and the hour mark.

The invited foreign field includes marathoners Young-Joon Ji (South Korea), Jon Brown (Canada/U.K.), Francis Kirwa (Finland/Kenya) and Andrew Letherby (Australia). Other notables in the domestic field include Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Yusuke Takabayashi (Komazawa Univ.), Yuki Yagi (Waseda Univ.), Ryuta Komano (Team JR Higashi Nihon), Martin Mukule (Team Toyota) and two-time Marugame winner Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel).

The women's field does not possess the overall depth of the men's field, but nevertheless looks set for a strong duel. At the top of the list is Beijing Olympics marathon 5th place finisher Mara Yamauchi (U.K.), who was 2nd at the 2007 Sapporo International Half Marathon in a PB of 1:08:45, the fastest in the field. Yamauchi's strongest challenger will be 2008 Sapporo winner Yuri Kano, who set her PB of 1:08:57 while winning in Sapporo. Kano was extremely strong last year but has reportedly been suffering from Achilles problems which may hamper her challenge. Romanian Luminita Talpos will also be a strong contender, having finished 9th in last fall's World Half Marathon Championships in 1:09:01. Only three other women in the field have broken 70 minutes. Of these, Reiko Tosa and Yoshiko Fujinaga set their best marks nearly ten years ago and are unlikely to be factors in the front pack, while Naoko Takahashi retired last year and is running in the general division.

Along with Yamauchi and Talpos, 2005 Universiade half marathon champion Eun-Jung Lee rounds out the list of invited foreign elites. Noteworthy domestic runners include Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal), Yukari Sahaku (Team Aruze), Mika Hikichi (Team Tenmaya) and half marathon debutantes Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Evelyn Wamboi (Team Yutaka Giken).

A complete listing of the Marugame elite field is available here. An earlier article on Marugame can also be found here. The Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon will be broadcast in a 55-minute edited highlights format on Fuji TV at 2:10 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 2. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through one of the sites listed here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Yasushi Sakaguchi's Plan to Rebuild Japanese Men's Marathoning

translated by Brett Larner

Turning 48 this year, Yasushi Sakaguchi (Team Chugoku Denryoku) faces great change as he enters his fifth Zodiac cycle in 2009. In December he was named director of the men's division of Rikuren's new Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee. "I fully understand how weighty this is for Japan," he says. A widely-respected coach with three Olympic marathoners to his name, Sakaguchi has been entrusted with rebuilding the wreckage from the Beijing Olympics.

Japanese men's distance running has up until now been focused only on team running. This, says Sakaguchi, has been a mistake. From now on, "The priority is going to be on representing Japan." Team Chugoku Denryoku finished 7th at this year's New Year Ekiden, its worst placing since 2001. The team is in a rebuilding phase with a crop of young runners, but with his naming to the national position Sakaguchi's attention is elsewhere. "When an opportunity like this comes along you have to take it. That's life," he shrugs.

Concrete changes have yet to be made, but in his mind an image of what Sakaguchi would like to see is congealing. First and foremost is the development of a thick stratum of sub-2:10 runners. Top Japanese women marathoners have recently begun to train together as a group, but for the men Sakaguchi does not intend to follow suit. "Everyone has to do different things," he says, acknowledging and respecting the different training methods and obligations of each jitsugyodan corporate team.

Sakaguchi believes the answer is to make representing the country on 'Team Japan' the specific focus of runners' aspirations. "I want them to take pride in making the national team. I think Japanese people have a deep sense of responsibility and that is what makes them strong." He is fully prepared to resign if his ideas do not produce the desired improvement in runners' performances.

Yasushi Sakaguchi - born 1961, Hiroshima Prefecture. Ran for Sera High School, Waseda Univ. and Team S&B. Became head coach of Team Chugoku Denryoku in 1992 and has led the team to two New Year Ekiden wins. He has had marathoners on every Olympic and World Championships team since 2001.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Shibui Joins Ozaki on Five-Spot World Championships Team

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Three main races will be used to select the five members of the Japanese national women's marathon team for this summer's World Championships marathon in Berlin. The top Japanese finishers at the Tokyo International Women's Marathon, Osaka International Women's Marathon and Nagoya International Women's Marathon are automatically selected for the team, meaning last Sunday's Osaka International winner Yoko Shibui has now secured a place on the team alongside Tokyo International winner Yoshimi Ozaki. Joining them will be the top Japanese finisher at March's Nagoya International, in which 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya and 2002 Rotterdam Marathon winner Takami Ominami are scheduled to compete.

For the remaining two World Championships spots, the runners-up from these three races, thus far Tokyo International's Yuri Kano and Osaka International's Yukiko Akaba, will be considered along with 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner Yukari Sahaku and any runners who record strong results in major overseas marathons before April 30. The World Championships marathon course will be an International Olympic Committee-standard loop course different from September's always-fast Berlin Marathon course.

At a press conference in Osaka on Jan. 26 following her victory, Shibui was confident about her chances in August's World Championships and bold in her statement of her two major goals for the future. "I want a medal [at the World Championships] and I want to become a faster runner," she said. Beyond finishing in the top three at the World Championships, Shibui said that she also plans to try to break the world record of 2:15:25 held by Britain's Paula Radcliffe (35). Shibui's coach Hideo Suzuki (56) was likewise confident, saying, "The World Championships are going to be quite a duel."

Rikuren Long Distance Director Keisuke Sawaki shared the Shibui team's enthusiasm about her performance, acknowledging the tremendous growth she displayed in Osaka. "That was marvelous running. I was deeply impressed. All of her races up until now have followed one pattern, but this was another kind of race entirely." On the subject of Shibui's qualification for the World Championships Sawaki was optimistic, saying, "It appears as though Shibui is on her way to becoming the kind of runner who can respond to challenges and adapt." Asked for his opinion of Akaba's debut he commented, "She didn't fall apart [at the end]. Her potential for improvement is very high. The future of Japanese women's marathoning is bright," stifling a smile as it began.

Shibui won Osaka only 69 days after finishing 4th in the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon. "Both of my legs are really sore," she said, her face showing her fatigue but brightening when she told of receiving a call after Osaka from her senior teammate Reiko Tosa (32) who told her how much joy she felt watching Shibui's win. Shibui also received over 50 congratulatory emails after the race. Her plan now is, "to take it easy at an onsen somewhere," with her World Championships training beginning around April. Shibui also plans to run in some domestic track races in May. "I can't think about London [Olympics] yet, but the next year or two is going to be solid," she promised.

Translator's note: This article seems to confirm that March's Tokyo Marathon, which will feature an elite women's field with prize money for the first time, will not be included among the women's selection races. Tokyo will be used as a selection race for the men's team along with Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Beppu-Oita and Nagoya. The inclusion of women's results from overseas marathons appears to be a new and potentially positive development at least as far as encouraging Japanese runners to face international competition more often is concerned.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Shibui vs. Radcliffe and Akaba vs. Goucher

by Brett Larner

Although it is always difficult to compare performances in different races, the results of the top finishers in this past Sunday's Osaka International Women's Marathon had interesting parallels to those from November's New York City Marathon. New York's course is generally perceived as more difficult, but both courses feature significant up-down. Apart from New York's uphill start, both courses' major hills occur on the sections between 13 and 15 km and between 24 and 27 km, with rolling net uphill in the final 5 km. Osaka's course also has a significant hill at 31 km.

The first table below lists the 5 km splits for the two winners, Osaka champion and former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), and New York victor and world record holder Paula Radcliffe (U.K.). The second table lists the 5 km splits for Osaka runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and New York 3rd-place finisher Kara Goucher (U.S.A.), both of whom were running their debut marathons.

While the Osaka race held a relatively steady pace through 30 km, New York began slowly and progessively built up through 20 km. The pace slowed going over the 59th St. Bridge at 25 km, but after coming off the bridge Radcliffe accelerated, holding a higher tempo of 3:19-3:20/km for the next 10 km, accelerating to 3:17/km from 35-40 km, then fading to 3:19/km in the final stretch.

Shibui waited until nearly 30 km before picking up the pace from an average of 3:28/km to 3:14/km through 35 km, slipping back to 3:19/km through 40 km, then closing with her fastest splits, averaging 3:12/km for the last stage. Although Shibui's times led Radcliffe's until 25 km, the two runners' relative positions flip-flopped for the rest of the race with an identical clocking of 2:16:40 at the 40 km mark.

As another way of looking at the splits, both runners clocked 3:27/km for the hilly 5 km leading into their spurts. Shibui then dropped down to 3:14/km followed by 3:19/km versus Radcliffe's 3:19/km and 3:20/km splits for the two 5 km sections following the winners' attacks. Radcliffe timed her move earlier and had to run an additional 5 km at higher pace; whether Shibui could have gotten away with timing her surge earlier like Radcliffe and running the 25-30 km section through Osaka Castle 30 to 45 seconds faster is a valid question. Given the strength shown in her closing kick and the energy with which she jumped around celebrating her win, the answer is probably yes. Shibui's closing kick surpassed that of the world record holder and was all the more impressive for having taken place during sleet, making her prospects at this summer's World Championships very enticing indeed.

In the case of debutantes Akaba and Goucher, both runners stayed with the eventual winners until the big moves at 30 km and 25 km respectively. Each runner accelerated from 3:27/km pace to 3:19/km for the next 5 km, then by 40 km faded to 3:31/km in Akaba's case and 3:29/km in Goucher's. Like Shibui and Radcliffe's 40 km tie, Akaba and Goucher's 40 km marks were only one second apart. Again paralleling the winners, Akaba kicked back down to 3:27/km for the last 2.195 km during sleet while Goucher sank to 3:34/km, her slowest of the race apart from the leisurely first 5 km. Akaba finished 1:58 behind Shibui, while Goucher finished 1:57 behind Radcliffe. With both Akaba and Goucher debuting as part of a buildup plan to the London Olympics it will be interesting to track their development in coming years.

Nobby Hashizume of the Lydiard Foundation has another analysis of Shibui's performance here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Osaka Award Ceremony Videos

JRN co-editor Mika Tokairin ran the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon. Below are some photos and videos she shot on race day.

A 360' shot inside the stadium before the start.

Yoko Shibui and the other top eight finishers at the award ceremony.

The award ceremony continued.

Shibui with the award ceremony MCs.

Shibui, Akaba, Hara, Ohira, Simon, Okunaga and Wanjiru at the post-race party.

Shimahara and Makrioteris Win 2009 Osaka Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

4020 runners participated in the 2009 Osaka Half Marathon, an event held in conjunction with the Jan. 25 Osaka International Women's Marathon on a 21.0975 km course from Osaka Stadium to Osaka Castle. Winning the women's division was 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon team member Kiyoko Shimahara (32, Second Wind AC), who clocked 1:13:15 in her second straight Osaka Half appearance, with Mai Kisaki (20, Team Kyocera) 2nd in 1:14:14. In the men's division, Joannis Makrioteris (27, Momoyama Gakuin Univ.) ran 1:08:22 to take his 4th consecutive win.

Shimahara's winning time of 1:13:15 was slower than last year's mark, but she was nevertheless happy to be the top finisher. "I ran according to plan. At 20 km I dropped the people who were chasing me, just like that," she said with evident satisfaction.

Shimahara won this past December's Honolulu Marathon and plans to run in March's Tokyo Marathon. "I'm doing the kind of practice I'll need to put myself into position to be number one in Tokyo," she commented. Asked about what is most important to her now, Shimahara answered that not just her own running, but helping children to begin running and adults to find joy in running brings her deep satisfaction. Shimahara is currently in her second year with Second Wind AC after having left Team Shiseido in April, 2007. The change was difficult for her career, but she found new motivation in helping amateur runners which increased the joy she found in her own running.

Thus, compared to her previous circumstances Shimahara is able to train more without feeling any additional burden. Along with training more in a group she is also racing more this year, with two ekidens already under her belt and the Chiba International Cross Country meet coming up soon. More than ten races total are planned for 2009, but she's not even a little worried about overdoing it. "It might be a little tight, but I want to do I lot of races like this one. It's part of my job to help spread Second Wind AC's name," she said with a smile.

2009 Osaka Half Marathon Top Finishers
1. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 1:13:15
2. Mai Kisaki (Team Kyocera) - 1:14:14
3. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 1:16:50

1. Joannis Makrioteris (Momoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:08:22
2. Yasukazu Miyazato (SDF Camp Shindoyama) - 1:09:44
3. Kaoru Higashida (Hiroshima Univ.) - 1:09:50

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Shibui is Back With 2:23:42 Osaka Win

by Brett Larner

Yoko Shibui celebrates her first marathon win in over four years.

Yoko Shibui said she was going to run Osaka like an adult and she kept to her words. After running her last two marathons with 1:10-1:11 first halves only to fall apart each time, Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) sat in the pack for nearly 30 km before going on the offense to take the win in the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon, her third victory in eleven attempts. Enduring a 1:13:01 first half, Shibui ran 16:11 between 30 and 35 km and clocked splits as fast as 3:08/km in the final quarter of the race, running a 1:10:41 second half while laughing to supporters along the course to finish in 2:23:42. Shibui covered her final 2.195 km in 7:02; at last month's elite men's Fukuoka International Marathon only winner Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) ran a faster finish, 6:25, as second-fastest finishing man Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) clocked 7:03.

Shibui's first win at the 2001 Osaka was a then-world record for debut marathon and earned her a spot on the 2001 World Championships team, while her second win in Berlin 2004 was a then-national record. Shibui's third win today secures her place at the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

Shibui's main rival was debutante Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren). Akaba ran a sensible and mature race, holding a position at the head of the pack and throwing in occasional pushes, but after breaking from the pack with Shibui she was unable to match the winner's incredible acceleration. Nevertheless, with a 2:25:40 clocking Akaba scored an impressive negative split debut and, with a second place finish, has the possibility to be named to the World Championships team.

Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) was a distant 3rd in 2:26:57, showing the effects of the food poisoning she suffered earlier in the month in her inability to stay with Shibui and Akaba's move. The other major domestic debutante, Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) dropped back from the pack after only 25 km and finished 9th. 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathoner Yumi Matsunaga (First Dream AC), attempting a comeback, missed her goal of breaking her Barcelona time and finished 58th in 2:58:52. Expected contender Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) was a surprise last-minute withdrawal.

After leading much of the race, veteran three-time winner Lidia Simon (Romania) finished 5th in a credible 2:27:14 as the top foreign finisher. Kenyan Ruth Wanjiru (Second Wind AC) was close behind, 7th in 2:27:38 in her marathon debut, but other top non-Japanese competitors Workenesh Tola (Ethiopia), Peninah Arusei (Kenya) and Dulce Maria Rodriguez (Mexico) all faded badly after running in the pack until Shibui's big play. Tola landed just outside the top ten, Rodriguez ended up well down in the field, and Arusei dropped out.

After jumping around and screaming at the finish, Shibui was surprisingly low-key and emotional in post-race interviews, her normal comic tough-girl facade slipping as she appeared dazed with joy. "I wasn't really planning on taking off like that," she said in response to a question about her spurt after the slow first half. "At the halfway turnaround I thought, 'If I keep going like this I'm going to lose,' so I just took off." She became even more emotional when Rikuren Long Distance Director Keisuke Sawaki offered an uncharacteristically effusive evaluation of her run and told race commentators, "I'm not a strong athlete at all, but I want to become faster." When asked how fast she laughed and replied, "2:15!"

The Play-By-Play

The lead pack at 3 km.

Following snow in the hours before the race, conditions at the start were cool, sunny and breezy, with the track and roads wet from the melting snow. It was immediately clear as the race began that Shibui would not be following her usual strategy of trying to lead start to finish. Free of pacemakers, 2:30 marathoner Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC) led the pack through a slow first 3 km in 10:34 before Lidia Simon grew impatient and picked up the pace. With Simon at the helm and Akaba on her shoulder the pack of fifteen leaders went through 5 km in 17:25, then 10 km in 34:31. Along with Simon and Akaba, Shibui, Wakita and Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido) made up the front of the pack. First Yoshida and then general division runners Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) and Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) were unable to cope with Simon's pace and lost contact with the pack, Yoshida dropping out after 5 km.

At 5.5 km Shibui clipped Fujikawa's feet and both runners almost fell. At 11.5 km, Fujikawa, who appeared to be running comfortably, tripped again and this time went down, apparently clipped from behind by Tola in the tight pack. She lay on the pavement for a few seconds before getting up and going after the pack. She appeared to regain some ground over the course of a kilometer but her stride had noticeably shortened and she began to drift away, destined to finish 16th in 2:41:02. Yoshida's teammate Akemi Ozaki, the older sister of 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), was the next to lose contact.

Click here for video of the lead pack at 15 km (begins at 0:30).

Akaba began to push the lead as the top group approached 15 km, reaching the mark in 51:49. Her coach and husband Shuhei Akaba was waiting for her just past the 15 km point and called out to her to calm down and stick to the plan. She backed off and Simon resumed the lead.

Click here for video of the lead pack at 21.5 km.

At the 180' turn just before 20 km Akaba went wide, but Shibui accelerated on the inside to take the lead for the first time. Simon, Akaba, Wakita and Arusei responded, the rest of the pack falling behind by a few strides. Shibui then relaxed, and Simon and Akaba again led the leaders, now down to thirteen, though the 20 km point in 1:09:10 and the halfway mark in 1:13:01.

Click here for video of the lead pack at 23 km.

As the lead group approached Osaka Castle, the most tactical section of the course with significant uphills and downhills, Rodriguez suddenly dropped out of the lead pack and domestic runners Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) and Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) appeared to be barely hanging on. At 25 km Akaba made the first significant move of the race, stringing out the pack as she hit the mark in 1:26:39. Simon, Shibui, Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) and Tola followed, but Arusei and Wakita could not respond and quickly dropped away.

Through the twists, curves and hills of Osaka Castle the pack regrouped but was now down to ten. Coming out of the castle grounds Shibui attacked at 28.7 km, immediately dropping Ominami and Okunaga. Akaba and Tola went with her, with Hara slow to respond but overtaking Tola who in turn fell away. Shibui hit 30 km in 1:43:56, with Akaba, Hara, Ohira, Ogi, Wanjiru and Simon in a line behind her.

After 30 km Shibui went to work, clocking splits of 3:13, 3:16 on an uphill, and 3:09 on a downhill. Hara and the runners behind her weren't up to the challenge as they were 48 seconds behind by 33 km, and even Akaba was 10 seconds behind at 33 km. From there on Shibui maintained a steady pace, running 3:19 or better for every remaining kilometer but the 39th, for which she clocked 3:20. She hit 35 km in 2:00:07 and 40 km in 2:16:40, while behind her Akaba, her face showing the strain of her first marathon, ran just under 3:30 per km.

Click here for video of the leaders at 35 km (begins at 2:10).

Shibui didn't appear to be concentrating as she continued to accelerate, beginning to look around, smiling and laughing to acknowledge the cheers of her supporters and even turning around to talk to a camera motorcycle. Rain began to fall as she approached the stadium, but she sped on undeterred to one of her fastest-ever finishes. It was a masterful, controlled performance, the kind of running she hasn't shown in a marathon since her glory days in the early years of the decade, and perhaps a signal that she's finally ready to run seriously at the world level.

As in last summer's National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Akaba had to settle for a 2nd place finish behind Shibui. She was in obvious discomfort as she came to the finish line but held on for a negative split. Her time fell short of her hopes but was sufficient to put her into 4th place on the current list of candidates for the five-member World Championships team. Her fate will not be decided until next month's final selection races.

Hara was overtaken by Ogi and Shibui's teammate Miki Ohira after losing touch with the leaders. The three ran the final section of the race together before Ogi withered away and was overtaken by the third pack of Simon, Okunaga and Wanjiru. Hara outkicked Ohira for 3rd, a bitter position as it gives her no chance of being selected for the World Championships team regardless of her time. With only six weeks until the Nagoya International Women's Marathon it's unlikely she will try again, meaning that Hara's quest for a third-straight appearance at the World Championships is all but over.

Complete results from the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon are available here.

2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon Top Finishers
1. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:23:42
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:25:40 - debut
3. Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) - 2:26:57
4. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:27:08
5. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:27:14
6. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) - 2:27:16 - PB
7. Ruth Wanjiru (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:38 - debut
8. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:27:56
9. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:31:16 - debut
10. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:32:09

Leader's 5 km Splits
5 km - 17:25 (Simon)
10 km - 17:07 (Simon) [34:32]
15 km - 17:18 (Akaba) [51:49]
20 km - 17:20 (Akaba/Simon) [1:09:10]
half - 1:13:01 (Simon)
25 km - 17:29 (Akaba) [1:26:39]
30 km - 17:16 (Shibui) [1:43:56]
35 km - 16:11 (Shibui) [2:00:07]
40 km - 16:33 (Shibui) [2:16:40]
42.195 km - 7:02 (Shibui) [2:23:42]

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Former Olympic Marathoner Yumi Kokamo Returns to Osaka After 17 Years

translated by Brett Larner

Among the field at the Jan. 25 Osaka International Women's Marathon will be an amateur runner with a special memory. Her name is Yumi Matsunaga, 37, formerly the runner known as 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathoner Yumi Kokamo. After her moment of glory in winning Osaka at age 20, her life changed dramatically. Having passed through scores of setbacks and trials, this mother of two comes back to this year's Osaka to take a step forward in her new running life.

Officially entered as an honorary guest runner, this will be Matsunaga's sixth full marathon, but along with her debut at the 1992 Osaka and the Barcelona Olympics it will be only her third time running in 'serious mode.' "I'm going to run as though it were my first marathon," Matsunaga says with a gentle smile.

Seventeen years ago in Osaka Matsunaga, a second-year corporate runner with Team Daihatsu, won her debut marathon. Her time of 2:26:26 was at the time a new Japanese national record and the debut marathon world record, clinching her a spot on the Olympic team in one single shot. Behind her smile for the camera, the newborn Cinderella Girl's heart was dark and heavy. "The idea of having to keep right on with hard training for the Olympics really broke my spirits," she recalls.

Matsunaga couldn't force herself through her workouts, and she thought about quitting. In Barcelona she was 29th in 2:58:18. "I started to be afraid of running," she says. The following year she quit Daihatsu and enrolled in Tandai University. After graduating she again took up professional running, joining Fukuoka-based Team Iwataya, but in 1999 the sponsor withdrew its support and the team disbanded, forcing Matsunaga to retire for the second time.

After getting married in Fukuoka and having two children, fate stepped in to reunite Matsunaga with her past. While out jogging for exercise near Fukuoka University one day in June, 2006, Matsunaga bumped into her Iwataya-era coach, Morio Shigematsu, 68, by chance. As the two talked, Matsunaga's mind began to race. "Coach, there are still things I regret not doing," she told him. "I think I can still make a comeback."

In January, 2007 Matsunaga began training again under Shigematsu's supervision, with her father back home in Hyogo Prefecture helping to take care of her children to give her more time to train. In February last year the pair decided on Osaka for her return. Building a team of nine women around Matsunaga, on Jan. 22 Coach Shigematsu announced the formation of his new Fukuoka-based First Dream AC. Matsunaga will run Osaka wearing the team's brand-new uniform.

In Osaka Matsunaga's target is to reach the 2:40 range, with her main goal being to break her Barcelona time. "If I can't beat that," she reflects, "then I'm not making any progress. I want to be shooting for target times until I'm 40." She is well on her way to a successful comeback.

Watch the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon Live Online

The 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon* will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji TV on Jan. 25 beginning at 12:00 noon Japan time. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through this site.

Click here for the IAAF's Osaka preview.

*AKA 'Osaka International Ladies` Marathon'

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bringing Back the Classic: Fukushi in Osaka

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

It's been a year since 3000 m, 5000 m and half-marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's marathon debut in Osaka, a run which will be remembered as the classic marathon cautionary tale. The video above shows Fukushi's final 500 m. Below is a two-part mini-documentary on her marathon with footage of the earlier stages of the race, alternate footage of her last kilometer not included in the original broadcast, and an interview with Fukushi recorded three weeks after the race. A transcript of Fukushi's comments is included below the two video segments.

Part one of the documentary.

Part two of the documentary.

Transcript of Fukushi's Commentary
I was like Bambi. Everything was new, dehydration and whatnot. I think it was a good experience for me. Maybe it was a curse or something, but I got three DVDs of the TV coverage from friends and they all cut off at the 30 km point! I couldn't see anything that happened after that. Kind of a strange thing.

Everyone was saying, "Beijing! Beijing!" when I did the marathon. What's so important about Beijing? I honestly don't understand why people put so much weight on Beijing. 'Beijing' only reminds me of a Chinese restaurant I know in Hiroshima. When I hear 'Beijing' that's the only thing I can think of. It's a great restaurant, though, so you should really check it out next time you're in Hiroshima. The Olympics? It only makes me think of five rings and spectacular opening ceremonies. That's all. I don't really care about being in the Olympics.

When I was warming up in Osaka I thought, "Oh, this is just the same as a regular track race, nothing special," so I did my usual fifteen-minute warmup. When I started, I thought, "Whoa, am I alone in a marathon?" In track races I'm always in the lead by myself and running alone all the way, but here it was again in the marathon too! I was kind of lonely. I had the idea that in a marathon everyone runs in a pack, so I was thinking, "Huh? Where is everybody? Well, OK then, let's go!" I thought they would catch me sooner or later, but instead of worrying about the people behind me it seemed like for my own sake I'd better focus on finishing as quickly as possible. I just kept going.

I kind of knew I'd be slowing down after 30 km. When I got there I felt it and thought, "OK, here it comes, this must be The Marathon," but I didn't expect to slow down that much. I really respect marathoners. I don't know how they can move their legs that fast. While I was running I was watching them go by and thinking that they all had unbelievably strong legs. "They're so fast! How come you marathoners can still move your legs like that?" I was thinking all these compliments.

I have a vague memory that some people from my company were running at the roadside just ahead of me and I was kind of following them. It would've been such a waste if I'd stopped after 20 km or 30 km and not gotten a finishing record. It would've turned out to be zero. I didn't care if it took 3 hours or whatever, I wanted to finish. I wanted a finisher's towel. They give out these huge bath towels, and I wanted one! I wouldn't get one if I didn't finish.

At the end I was laughing because I felt the gap between my mind and body, like I didn't want to fall but knew I was going to. It was funny, so I started laughing. I wasn't unconscious or disoriented, I was totally lucid and just laughing. I don't regret anything. I would have regretted it if I'd stopped. If I had stopped I might be training for Nagoya now!

What's my goal? It would probably sound better if I said I wanted to try to get a medal in the Olympics, but my desire is not really for that kind of thing. Maybe I'm aiming more for records, like my PB or something. That makes more sense to me and I like it better. Maybe I don't really care where I run as long as I'm setting PBs. Maybe the Olympics are somewhere there beyond that, but maybe not. I hope I can set more PBs, and I'll try.

The marathon was a big experience. It was OK. I'm happy I could finish.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yumiko Hara to Banish the Past With World Championships Qualification #3 in Osaka

translated by Brett Larner

March, 2008
Having finished 4th at the Nagoya International Women's Marathon and missed out on her chance to make the Beijing Olympic team, Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) goes home to her parents' home in Tochigi prefecture to recuperate. She thinks about what races she should target next season. She holds coach Kunio Omori's year-long training schedule and with a steady hand begins to write in her goals.

January, 2009
"Last year I couldn't take a single step forward and it was a disappointment to a lot of people," says Hara. "I want to restore everyone's faith in me the only way I can, so I decided to run Osaka." A year ago Hara had signed up for Osaka as the defending champion to reserve her spot on the Beijing Olympic team. Feeling weak and drained, she withdrew shortly before the race and slid her target to Nagoya. Even that was too much.

The Osaka course was the site of Hara's wildest, fastest marathon yet, the 2007 Osaka International Women's Marathon. Hara, running only her third marathon, beat former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) to claim a spot on the 2007 Osaka World Championships team. Seven months later on the same course she was a disappointing 18th at the World Championships, her first time to not be the top Japanese finisher in a marathon. Only four months afterwards she cancelled her Osaka title defense. Having experienced both extremeties in Osaka, Hara comes to this year's race with no fears of a new humiliation weighing on her mind.

"The thing about Osaka," she explains, "is that when you're running up front it's so loud. There's so much cheering and support." All along the course, fevered voices urging the runners on almost push upon their backs. This was the image which entered deepest into Hara's memories of Osaka.

This year once again there has been a break in Hara's preparations. After a strong start to the year at her training camp in Kunming, China, Hara suffered food poisoning and was unable to run for a week. It would be normal to be discouraged by this kind of setback, but Hara remains optimistic. "I'm feeling good again. The time off just gave my legs the chance to recover." In the past she has had stress fractures four times in her right leg alone. Even though each time she was out of commission for extended periods, her motivation has always bounced back quickly. "The main thing for me right now is to be able to give 100%. If I can do that then I think I'll be able to hit my target."

Hara has won both of the World Championships selection races she has run so far in her career. If she is on Sunday's starting line in full command of her powers then a third victory and third team membership may be near at hand.

Yumiko Hara
Born in Tochigi Prefecture. 27 years old. Graduated from Utsunomiya Bunrei Girls' High School. Runs for Team Kyocera. Marathon PB: 2:23:48. Height: 163 cm. Weight: 45 kg.

Lidia Simon Looking for Osaka Top Three

translated by Brett Larner

The 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon athletes' village officially opened on Jan. 20. Making her first appearance in Osaka, Russian Gulnara Vygovskaya, 28, arrived in the athletes' village together with her coach Volker Wagner, 59, a former coach of men's marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia.

Also arriving in the athletes' village for her ninth Osaka was three-time winner Lidia Simon of Romania, 35. "I want to break 2:25 and be in the top three," Simon told reporters. As part of the pre-race festivities, runners in the athletes' village took part in a mochi-making ceremony (photo above). Simon professed her love for the traditional pounded rice-paste delicacy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon - Preview

by Brett Larner

The official 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon preview video.

The third official selection race for Japan's women's marathon team at the 2009 Berlin World Championships takes place this Sunday, Jan. 25, at the Osaka International Women's Marathon. Last year's Olympic selection race edition of Osaka saw the memorable marathon debut of half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), a spectacular failure in which Fukushi ran near 2:20 pace in the first half only to finish in the 2:40's with a bloody face and bruised pride. This year's Osaka promises even more drama: a duel between Fukushi's fellow Beijing 10000 m Olympians, former marathon national record holder and current 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and, in her marathon debut, Japan's popular 'mama-san' runner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren).

With the complete failure of Japanese marathoning at the Beijing Olympics, Japan is hungry for new names to step up and retake the country's position on the world stage. Few athletes' marathon debuts have been as highly-anticipated as Yukiko Akaba's. Akaba was a decent runner in university and as a pro before taking time off to have a baby in late 2006. She returned in the fall of 2007 with a two-year development plan to become a marathoner in time for the 2009 Berlin World Championships and in 2008 had a spectacular year. She ran the all-time 3rd-fastest Japanese women's 5000 m and half marathon, the 4th-fastest 10000 m, broke marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi's course record in winning the National Professional Half Marathon, finished 2nd in the National Track and Field Championships 5000 m and 10000 m, made the Beijing Olympics in both 5000 m and 10000 m, and was the top Japanese finisher at the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio. All of which was impressive, but for Akaba it was just a series of steps along the way to her main goal, the marathon. You never know how someone will do in the marathon until it's done, but Akaba has shown utter focus and there is every reason to think her debut will be a success. In interviews in the week leading up to Osaka Akaba was determined. "I would like to focus on winning, not the time," she said. An admirably mature sentiment, but considering her main competitor something possibly easier said than done.

Yoko Shibui is the class runner of the field, holding the Japanese 10000 m national record and both the former marathon national record and former debut marathon world record. She also has a taste for the epic and a penchant for taking on unnecessary challenges, potentially critical flaws which have hurt her career in recent years. With three races to choose from to make the Beijing Olympic team she went up against the woman who broke her marathon national record, Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), at the 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon and lost, missing out on making the Olympic marathon team. With no true challengers at the 2008 Tokyo International, instead of running a conservative race to make the Berlin World Championships team Shibui tried to run sub-2:20. She failed again, finishing 4th and having to try for Berlin once more. She initially said she would run Nagoya in March, but after Akaba committed to Osaka Shibui switched her plans against her coach's recommendations and signed on for Osaka as well. Returning to Japan from her training camp in Kunming, China on Jan. 18, Shibui said that this time she will "run like an adult" and that her biggest concern is recovering in time from the fatigue of her training. These comments suggest that Shibui plans a tactical race, but whether the immediate goal of taking down Akaba will get in the way of the larger goal of running the World Championships remains to be seen.

At the same time, the race will not be simply a two-woman battle. Three others in the field present danger to Akaba and Shibui's chances of a win. Of these, the biggest domestic threat is Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera), the 2007 Osaka winner. Hara debuted at Nagoya in 2005 with a 2:24:19 win to qualify for the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, where she tried to run with world record holder Paula Radcliffe (U.K.) and ultimately ended up 1 second off her debut time in 2:24:20. Hailed as a new hope for Japanese marathoning, she was sidelined with injury throughout 2006 but returned in 2007 to win Osaka in a PB of 2:23:48. Since then her promise has faded, with a weak showing at the 2007 World Championships and a mediocre 2:27:14 at last year's Nagoya, where she lost out to debutantes Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) to miss the Beijing Olympic team. Her running in the fall was unremarkable, making the chances of a breakthrough in Osaka look slim. There is no question that Hara has the potential for a win, but to do so she will have to bring her best performance yet.

Two foreign runners will be a bigger challenge: Ethiopia's Workenesh Tola and Kenya's Peninah Arusei. Tola is a veteran, running a PB of 2:25:37 at last year's Paris Marathon and holding a handful of other times in the 2:25-2:26 range. It doesn't look likely that she could improve significantly beyond this mark at this stage of her career, but in a more tactical race like last year's Osaka she would be hard to beat. Arusei, running her marathon debut, is more of a wildcard. She has improved steadily over the half marathon distance during the last four years, culminating in a 5th place finish at October's World Half Marathon Championships in Rio and a 1:08:20 PB in New Delhi in November. She beat Akaba in both Beijing and Rio, but Akaba's half marathon PB last year was 9 seconds faster than Arusei's New Delhi mark, and Shibui was likewise faster than Arusei in Beijing. Like Akaba, Arusei is surely capable of a very strong debut and she will be the other big contender for the win.

With so many variables this year's Osaka has deep tension between opposing polarities like a great work of art, and Shibui is the one holding the focus point in her hand. Given her recent success rate it's hard to see her trying to burn off the other runners with yet another speed race, but it's equally hard to see her running an uncharacteristic tactical race. Likewise, it seems unlikely that Akaba, with larger goals than a fast debut, will try to run a pure speed race, but she is going to Osaka to win and will not just let Shibui run away from her. How will Shibui and Akaba react to challenges from Arusei or others, and exactly how far will Arusei go in her debut?

Given the depth of Japanese distance running, there is of course always the chance that someone unexpected will step up to take down the bigger names. Yurika Nakamura and Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) did it last spring in Nagoya and Tokyo, and it could happen again. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) are the best bets for a surprise. Wakita is making her marathon debut after running the 10000 m at the 2007 World Championships. Injuries kept her out of the action throughout most of 2008, but in the late fall ekiden season she looked to be back to form. With coaching support from Yoshio Koide it would not be surprising to see her debut in the 2:25 range, a time which has the potential to win if the race evolves along the lines of last year's. Ogi debuted at last year's Osaka, running 2:26:55, and has been running well in ekidens this season. Yoshimi Ozaki debuted at last year's Nagoya in 2:26 and then went on to win Tokyo in 2:23, so it is not unreasonable to think Ogi has a chance of a similar improvement. Beyond Wakita and Ogi, almost any of the five other more experienced Japanese women with recent times 2:27 or better or even veteran past champion Lidia Simon of Romania could be up front on a good day. Nobody in the field is a sure bet.

The 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji T.V. on Jan. 25 beginning at 12:00 noon Japan time. International viewers should be able to watch online for free through this site.

For an earlier JRN preview of the Osaka elite field, click here.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Kipsiro Stings Bekele, Kiplagat Cruises in Seville Cross Country'

Tokyo-based Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) finished 3rd in Seville only 2 seconds behind the winners.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Kobayashi and Niiya Bring Toyota Jidoshokki Win in Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden

Scroll to the bottom of the above article for Ken Nakamura's brief report. Along with Nakamura's comments a few things are worth pointing out.

-Team Toyota Jidoshokki's Yuriko Kobayashi broke Yoko Shibui's 7-year old 1st stage record by 7 seconds, clocking 12:59 for the 4.2 km leg. Kobayashi is banned from regular jitsugyodan races due to her status as both a student and professional, so it was a rare moment to see her in an ekiden with Toyota Jidoshokki.

-Toyota Jidoshokki anchor Hitomi Niiya, the 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner, followed up her stage-best anchor run at last week's National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden with another stage-best anchor performance, beating Beijing Olympic marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon runner-up Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) among others.

-Team Shiseido defectors Second Wind AC made an extremely rare ekiden appearance, fielding a team including Kano, 2008 Honolulu Marathon winner Kiyoko Shimahara, and new members Ruth Wanjiru, Seki Kimura and Yumiko Kinoshita. The team finished 6th out of 11.

Complete results for the Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden are available here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Nagano Breaks National Interprefectural Ekiden Course Record; High School Senior Murasawa Runs 23:55 for 8.5 km Stage Record

by Brett Larner

Click picture for video highlights.

Despite anchor Yuichiro Ueno suffering stomach cramps and slowing in the final kilometers of his stage, Nagano Prefecture's 2009 team put together a winning run at the Jan. 18 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima, winning its fifth title in six years and covering the 48.0 km course in a record time of 2:18:43. Nagano's Akinobu Murasawa also set a new stage record of 23:55 on the 8.5 km 5th stage, breaking the previous record by 12 seconds. Of the seven members on Nagano's team, three including Murasawa were current students at 2008 National High School Boys Ekiden champion Saku Chosei High School, two were graduates of Saku Chosei, and the remaining two were junior high school students who will undoubtedly go on to attend Saku Chosei.

1st Stage - 7.0 km
Nagano's Kenta Chiba ran patiently at the front of the pack throughout the stage, covering a string of moves by the stage's other high school runners in the final two kilometers. Entering the last straightaway he briefly pulled into the lead but was outkicked by Saitama's Shodai Hattori and just clipped by Miyazaki's Yuki Maeda. Hattori finished first in 20:10, with Yamasaki, Saitama and Chiba a step behind. Nagano's expected major competition Hyogo and Fukushima finished the 1st stage in 7th and a distant 21st.

2nd Stage - 3.0 km
The short 2nd stage was one of two reserved for junior high school students. Nagano's Shun Morozumi took the lead in short order but was joined in the lead by Tochigi's Ken Yokote, who tied the stage record of 8:32. Saitama and Hyogo came in together just behind the two leaders, while Fukushima advanced to 17th. The surprise of the stage was Shizuoka's Yuta Katsumata, who jumped up from 33rd to 22nd place in a new stage record time of 8:30.

3rd Stage - 8.5 km
The 3rd leg was one of two open stages loaded with both university aces such as Yuki Sato (Nagano/Tokai Univ.), Ryuji Kashiwabara (Fukushima/Toyo Univ.), Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Tochigi/Komazawa Univ.) and Tomoya Onishi (Gifu/Toyo Univ.), and major professional runners including Yu Mitsuya (Fukuoka/Team Toyota Kyushu), Kazuyuki Maeda (Saga/Team Kyudenko) and Yuki Matsuoka (Kyoto/Team Otsuka Seiyaku).

Sato and Ugachi began together. They repeatedly switched the lead as they initially pulled away from the competition, but soon both showed lingering strain from the recent Hakone Ekiden and were overtaken by Yamazaki and Saitama. Behind them, 27-minute 10000 m runners Yu Mitsuya and Kazuyuki Maeda ran against each other for several kilometers before Mitsuya made a break to catch the pack of four ahead. When he made contact at 4 km he accelerated dramatically and sliced through the group, his pace never slowing as he sped away to a stage-best 23:49, building a 15-second lead.

Behind the five frontrunners other drama was unfolding. Ryuji Kashiwabara, who first came to national attention at last year's Interprefectural Ekiden with a dramatic win on the 1st stage as a high school student and became a star at this year's Hakone Ekiden with an awe-inspiring 5th stage record as a university first-year, overtook professional and older university stars alike as he went from 17th to 6th. He was a step away from 5th and 4 seconds from 2nd, his time of 23:56 the second-best on the stage and surpassing that of 27-minute 10000 m runners Sato and Maeda. Sato, the strongest runner on the Nagano team, vomited just before starting and had the team's weakest result, finishing 16th on the stage with Nagano in 4th.

4th Stage - 5.0 km
Nagano's Shota Hiraga quickly took control of the all-high school student 4th stage, passing Tochigi and Yamazaki before catching Fukuoka's Yutaro Matsuyama with room to spare. Matsuyama was not to be outdone, however, returning unexpectedly with the strongest last kick to be seen at this year's ekiden. Nevertheless, Hiraga clocked the stage best time and put Nagano into position to defend its title.

5th Stage - 8.5 km
The final high school stage was virtually a one-man show. Nagano's Akinobu Murasawa, a high school senior with a 5000 m best of 13:50, went out alone to swiftly overtake first and then set a new stage record of 23:55. Murasawa was smooth and under control over the entire stage, never faltering or showing signs of slowing. Although a different course from the 8.5 km 3rd stage, Murasawa's time on the 5th stage was one second faster than Kashiwabara's 3rd stage mark and 6 seconds slower than 27-minute 10000 m professional runner Yu Mitsuya's winning time on the 3rd stage. Murasawa, who will go to Tokai Univ. after his graduation this spring, commented afterwards that he had run 10 seconds faster than planned.

Hyogo's Fuminori Shikata ran the next fastest time on the 5th stage, 24:38, to put the 2007 Interprefectural Ekiden winning team into 2nd place. Saitama's Keita Shitara was also strong, moving up into 3rd, but regardless Murasawa had opened up a lead of 1 minute 12 seconds.

6th Stage - 3.0 km
Nagano's Rui Ueda continued to open up the lead on the junior high school students-only 6th leg, running a stage-7th 9:03 but picking up 6 seconds over Hyogo and Saitama. Saitama's Sho Takayanagi squeezed by Hyogo's Ryutaro Higami, but both runners finished low down on stage ranking as most of the action happened further back in the pack. Kyoto's Hideshi Ikegami took the stage best title in 8:51, moving from 16th to 13th.

7th Stage - 13.0 km
The anchor leg, the Interprefectural Ekiden's longest, was another battle stage for university and professional stars. At the stage's beginning Nagano's Yuichiro Ueno, a Hakone Ekiden star who spent much of 2008, his first year as a professional, hospitalized for stomach ailments, was far out of range of his nearest competitor, defending anchor stage winner Satoru Kitamura of Hyogo. Ueno started at 2:45/km pace, looking relaxed and comfortable through 10 km. He began to strain in the final 3 km after an attack of stomach cramping but held on to deliver Nagano the win in a course record time of 2:18:43, actually widening his lead by 2 seconds even with his late-stage troubles.

Kitamura held off a charge from Miyazaki's Satoru Sasaki to bring Hyogo home in 2nd but a disappointing 8th on the stage. Sasaki clocked the stage third-best time for a surprise 3rd-place Miyazaki finish.

Among the other big names on the stage, including professionals Takayuki Matsumiya (Akita/Team Konica Minolta), Atsushi Sato (Fukushima/Team Chugoku Denryoku), Tomoyuki Sato (Oita/Team Asahi Kasei), Bene Zama (Kanagawa/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Masato Imai (Fukuoka/Team Toyota Kyushu), Hiroshima's hometown Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) took a surprise stage best, outrunning 5000 m national record holder Matsumiya by 1 second.

Complete results for the National Interprefectural Ekiden are available at broadcaster NHK's race website.

2009 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden
Stage Best Performances
1st Stage (7.0 km) - Shodai Hattori (Saitama Pref.) - 20:10
2nd Stage (3.0 km) - Yuta Katsumata (Shizuoka Pref.) - 8:30 - new stage record
3rd Stage (8.5 km) - Yu Mitsuya (Fukuoka Pref.) - 23:49
4th Stage (5.0 km) - Shota Hiraga (Nagano Pref.) - 14:28
5th Stage (8.5 km) - Akinobu Murasawa (Nagano Pref.) - 23:55 - new stage record
6th Stage (3.0 km) - Hideshi Ikegami (Kyoto Pref.) - 8:51
7th Stage (13.0 km) - Naoki Okamoto (Hiroshima Pref.) - 37:55

Top Team Results
1. Nagano Pref. - 2:18:43 - new course record
2. Hyogo Pref. - 2:20:03
3. Miyazaki Pref. - 2:20:07
4. Fukuoka Pref. - 2:20:15
5. Fukushima Pref. - 2:20:42
6. Tochigi Pref. - 2:20:46
7. Saitama Pref. - 2:20:52
8. Chiba Pref. - 2:21:14
9. Oita Pref. - 2:21:18
10. Miyagi Pref. - 2:21:35

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Nagano Set For National Interprefectural Ekiden Title Defense

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The 14th annual National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden takes place Jan. 18, covering a 7-stage, 48-km course starting and finishing at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. This year's race looks set to be a battle between defending champion Nagano Prefecture and 2007 winner Hyogo Prefecture.

Last year Nagano took its fourth national title in five years; this year the team is even stronger thanks to the addition of the heart of Nagano's Saku Chosei High School team, the 2008 National High School Boys' Ekiden champion. Saku Chosei's Akinobu Murasawa, Sugeru Osako, Shota Hiraga and Kenta Chiba will all run for Nagano, along with Hakone Ekiden greats Yuki Sato (Tokai Univ.), Kodai Matsumoto (Meiji Univ.) and Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B), all three of whom are Saku Chosei alumni. Barring an accident a repeat win for Nagano looks all but inevitable.

Nagano's strongest challenger may be Hyogo Prefecture, ranked #1 among the 47 prefectural teams based on aggregate time and the last team to beat Nagano. Much will depend upon Hyogo's contingent from the powerhouses Nishiwaki Kogyo High School and Suma Gakuen High School, but the return of Hakone star Masato Kihara (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) on the 3rd stage and of anchor Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin), now a nationally-ranked professional, will make the race extremely interesting to say the least.

Fukushima may well be the most anticipated of the 47 teams, as Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.), who became a national star after running a spectacular new stage record on the 5th leg of this year's Hakone Ekiden, will run the 3rd stage for the team. Beijing Olympics marathoner Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) will likewise return to anchor his 'hometown' Fukushima team. Hurting Fukushima's chances is the decision of Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), whose 'unbreakable' Hakone Ekiden 5th stage record Kashiwabara took down this year, to run for his current base of Fukuoka rather than returning home to join Kashiwabara and Sato. Sato's fellow Beijing Olympian Takayuki Matsumiya will run for his native Akita Prefecture.

Other strong teams looking for their first wins include hosts Hiroshima, along with Saitama, Yamaguchi, Aichi, Kagoshima and Fukuoka.

Blind Paralympics Marathon Gold Medalist Yuichi Takahashi to Run Mumbai Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

The site of a string of deadly terror attacks this past November, western India's Mumbai will go ahead as scheduled with its Jan. 18 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon, the third event in a four-race international relay. Running for a Visually-Impaired All-Star team is Athens Paralympics men's marathon gold medalist Yuichi Takahashi (43). Takahashi feels a special motivation for his participation this year, saying, "I hope that by showing them that I can run even though I've been blinded I can help give the families of Mumbai the courage to get through the damage done by the terrorists."

The Mumbai Marathon is part of the Greatest Race on Earth series of marathons sponsored for the fifth time by London's Standard Chartered Bank. The four-race series takes place in Nairobi, Singapore, Mumbai and Taiwan, with the cumulative times of a team's runners in each race determining the overall winner. Alongside the All-Star team, 36 teams are entered in the series.

Takahashi arrived in Mumbai on Jan. 14, visiting a hospital for the visually-imparied where he presented a group of inpatient children with a gift of running shoes.

Rikuren's New Overseas Marathon Training Camps

translated by Brett Larner

As part of its efforts to improve the performances of Japan's top distance runners, Rikuren's new Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee is introducing a series of overseas training camps for both established and developing marathoners. Runners and their support team members will be sent to abroad to Kenya, Ethiopia and the United States to observe the training methods and facilities of top international athletes. Beijing men's 5000 m and 10000 m Olympian Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) will be travelling to Kenya at the end of the month for the first 20 day camp. Concurrently, a women's training camp will take place Feb. 2-26 in Christchurch, New Zealand, and will feature Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and five others.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sato, Mogusu, Yamauchi and Others to Headline Marugame Half Marathon (updated)

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Jan. 15 the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon announced the field for its 63rd running on Feb. 1. 49 elite athletes including 31 men, 18 women and 7 invited foreign runners from 6 countries will compete in the first edition of the race's new international format. Beijing Olympics men's marathon national team members Tsuyoshi Ogata and Asian half marathon record holder Atsushi Sato of Team Chugoku Denryoku are scheduled to appear, while Beijing Olympics women's marathon entrant Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) will run Marugame as a preparation race for her final marathon before retirement, March's Tokyo Marathon.

Men's course record holder and Hakone Ekiden star Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) will return to Marugame, challenged by his Hakone rival Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.). The foreign field also includes two-time Marugame winner Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel), Beijing Olympics women's marathon 6th place finisher and 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) and two-time Olympic men's marathon 4th place finisher Jon Brown (Canada/U.K.).

Other top domestic talent includes 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon 2nd place finisher and 2008 Sapporo International Half Marathon winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Ryuji Matsushita (Team Fujitsu), who won a thrilling sprint finish to deliver Team Fujitsu the win on the anchor stage of this year's New Year Ekiden. Matsushita's teammate Takayuki Ota will also run, as will 2009 Hakone Ekiden 8th stage winner Yusuke Takabayashi (Komazawa Univ.), 2008 Kumanichi 30 km Road Race winner Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal), 2007 World Half Marathon national team member Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku), Noguchi's female teammate Rieko Sakane (Team Shikoku Denryoku) and half marathon debutante Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei).

Marathon great Naoko Takahashi will run in the general division after retiring from professional running last year. The day before the race Takahashi and famed race commentator Tetsuhiko Kin will give a free seminar on better training for beginners.

2009 Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon
Partial Listing of Elite Field
Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 59:48 (Marugame 2007 - course record)
Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:00:25 (Udine 2007 - Asian record)
Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel) - 1:01:36 (Marugame 2005)
Jon Brown (Canada / U.K.) - 1:01:49 (1997)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:01:50 (Jitsugyodan 2002)
Ryuji Matsushita (Team Fujitsu) - 1:01:57 (Jitsugyodan 2005)
Kenji Noguchi (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 1:02:20 (Udine 2007)
Takayuki Ota (Team Fujitsu) - 1:02:38 (Marugame 2005)
Yusuke Takabayashi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:43 (2007)
Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) - debut - 27:44.73 (10000 m, Yokohama 2007)

Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) - 1:08:45 (Sapporo 2007)
Naoko Takahashi (general div.) - 1:08:55 (Chiba 2000)
Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 1:08:57 (Sapporo 2008)
Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 1:09:36 (Palermo 1999)
Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal) - 1:10:25 (Marugame 2005)
Rieko Sakane (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 1:12:42 (Marugame 2007)
Yumiko Kinoshita (Second Wind AC) - 1:12:52 (Matsue 2007)
Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) - debut - 15:25.95 (5000 m, Oita 2006)

Translator's note: Mekubo Mogusu and Daniel Gitau are also on the entry list for the Feb. 20 Ras Al Khaimah half marathon in the U.A.E.

An Interview With National Champion Saku Chosei High School Aces Kenta Chiba and Shota Hiraga

translated by Brett Larner

At the 59th National High School Boys' Ekiden on Dec. 21 in Kyoto, Saku Chosei High School of Nagano Prefecture set the Japanese High School Record (excluding marks set by teams with foreign runners) [the original article phrases it this way] of 2:02:18 to take its first national victory. 1st stage runner Kenta Chiba and 4th stage runner Shota Hiraga both clocked stage second-best times to help their team become the best in the country, setting the pair up for equally impressive runs when they attempt to assist Nagano Prefecture in defending its national title at the Jan. 18 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima and beyond following their graduation from high school. We listened to the two runners discuss the National High School Ekiden, their strategy for the Interprefectural Ekiden, and their plans for the future.

Kenta Chiba (Minowa JHS)
Q: How did it feel to win your first national title?

Last time we clocked the same time as the winners but lost, so we've been training all year to run 2:02. Even during regionals and the prefectural meet that's what we were thinking about, so clearing our goal and winning feels pretty good.

Q: You had a great run on the 1st stage, just 2 seconds behind the leader in 2nd place.

Coach told me [I'd be running the 1st stage] about two weeks before the race. It put a lot of pressure on me, but I just kept practicing like always. It was pretty slow in the first half, but finishing order was more important than time so I didn't worry about it. I think I did a pretty good job of putting the team into a good position.

Q: You experienced the National Ekiden all 3 years of high school.

Last time and the time before that when the race was over I really felt like I could have done better on my stage. This time I ran the way I wanted to, and now I think I showed everyone what I can do.

Q: How would you sum up your high school career?

There were some pretty tough times, but being part of the group and doing my best and then winning in the end was all big. All this experience gives me a lot of confidence. I'm satisfied with how I spent my high school years and how I've grown.

Q: You're about to run your fourth-straight Interprefectural Ekiden.

I get to run with a lot of people I respect and admire, but more than that I want them to trust me to make a good contribution to the team's success. I haven't won a stage in a national ekiden yet, so along with helping Nagano win again I want to get a stage best title. I think I'm in better shape than last time, so I'm pretty confident.

Q: After graduating you're going to Komazawa University. What are your goals for the future?

There are a lot of strong guys there, so I'm going to try to stick with them even just a little. I want to be a Hakone Ekiden regular right from my first year. Down the road I want to run the Olympics and other international races too, but to start with I want to build a good record in university.

Shota Hiraga (Ako JHS)
Q: What was it like to be on a national champion team for the first time?

Reaching our #1 goal of winning and doing it with a 2:02 was great. We all remembered how bitter last year was and in our regular practices I think we kind of turned that feeling into the urge to attack.

Q: On the 4th stage you cut the gap to the leader down from 32 seconds to 8 seconds.

I was already looking ahead when I got the tasuki, so I was just thinking about trying to cut the lead down as much as I could. In the first half I ran right in my rhythm, but in the second half the last 6 km were really hard. It was too bad that I couldn't catch up but I think I did my part on the team.

Q: Last time you were injured and couldn't run.

I had knee troubles and a pulled muscle so I couldn't train steadily. This time I didn't have any injuries and could practice the way I should, and it made a huge difference. I spent time running the 1500 m [on the track], so my speed improved too.

Q: Looking back, what would you say about your 3 high school years?

It was a great experience, leaving home and living in the dorms. We'd get up at 5:10 every morning and run for an hour, then train again in the afternoon from 4:20 until 7:00. I wanted to be the best both on the track and in my studies, and I found out a lot about endurance and discipline. If you don't have it in your daily life you're not going to have it in races.

Q: What are you thinking about your first Interprefectural Ekiden?

Last year when Nagano won I watched on TV and really wanted to run too. I'm excited to get to be on the same team with great runners like Yuichiro Ueno and Yuki Sato. It's not going to be easy to win again, but I'm going to do what I can to help make it happen.

Q: You'll be going on to Waseda University after graduating. What goals do you have for your university years?

Waseda won the first half of Hakone last year, so it's a really high level environment where I can make a lot of progress. I want to improve both my speed and endurance and do my best in ekidens and on the track.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Names Elite Field for 2009 World Championships Selection Race Edition

translated by Brett Larner

The organizing committee of the 58th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon (sponsored in part by the Mainichi Newspapers Group and Rikuren), announced the names of this year's elite field on Jan. 14. Defending champion Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei), who won last year's race in his marathon debut, will return to headline the field. Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.) will make his highly-anticipated marathon debut after a dazzling run at the New Year Ekiden. Times are expected to be fast as runners will be competing not only for the win but also for a place on the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon team.

The domestic elite field includes 11 invited runners. Since winning last year Adachi has focused on improving his speed, setting a new 10000 m PB later in 2008. He came up a disappointing 3rd in an intense three-way sprint finish on the anchor stage of this year's New Year Ekiden, but with a heavy focus on marathon training he is confident of improving his mark to 2:09.

Akiba won the 2nd stage of the 2007 New Year Ekiden, and this year he won the New Year Ekiden's 4th stage to confirm that he is among the very best runners in the country. Other invited domestic elites include 2008 Tokyo Marathon 10th place finisher Takashi Ota (Team Konica Minolta), 2005 Beppu-Oita 4th place finisher Tomonori Onitsuka (Team Kyudenko), and Takayuki Nishida, who set the best-ever domestic Beppu-Oita mark of 2:08:45 in 2001.

Among the domestic contenders in the general division are 2007 Tokyo Marathon 4th place finisher Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult), 2003 Los Angeles Marathon 5th place finisher Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) and, making his marathon debut, Nishida's teammate Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team JAL Ground Service).

The field also features 6 invited foreign elites. Leading the way is 2:08:49 runner Peter Kiprotich from the land of the marathon's kings, Kenya. Australian Scott Westcott, who finished 2nd in 2005 and was 3rd last year, will return once again.

602 runners are entered in this year's race, an increase of 97 from last year. The race begins and ends at Oita's Civic Track and Field Grounds and will be broadcast live nationwide on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. on Feb. 1.

Click here for a complete listing of the 2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon field.

2009 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Field
Takayuki Nishida (Team JAL Ground Service) - 2:08:45 (Beppu-Oita 2001)
Peter Kiprotich (Kenya) - 2:08:49 (Frankfurt 2007)
Yukinobu Nakazaki (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:09:28 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
John Kemboi (Kenya) - 2:09:29 (Amsterdam 1999)
Michitane Noda (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:58 (Fukuoka 2003)
Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Nagasaki) - 2:11:02 (Tokyo 2008)
Adil Annani (Morocco) - 2:11:05 (Marrakesh 2008)
Scott Westcott (Australia) - 2:11:36 (Beppu-Oita 2005)
Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:59 (Beppu-Oita 2008)
Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) - 2:12:06 (Los Angeles 2003)
Takashi Ota (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:10 (Tokyo 2008)
Kazushi Hara (Team Mitsubishi Nagasaki) - 2:12:11 (Biwako 2004)
Takehisa Okino (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:24 (Beijing 2006)
Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:12:28 (Beijing 2007)
Tomonori Onitsuka (Team Kyudenko) - 2:12:48 (Beppu-Oita 2005)
Dale Warrander (New Zealand) - 2:12:58 (Fukuoka 2003)
Joseph Keino (Kenya) - 2:13:35 (Ferrari 2008)
Masashi Hayashi (Team Yakult) - 2:15:28 (Tokyo 2007)
Shinji Tateishi (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:15:48 (Nobeoka 2007)
Kenichiro Kawazu (Team NTN) - 2:17:16 (Biwako 2008)

Debut Marathoners (half marathon times)
Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:13
Toru Okada (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 1:02:15
Koichi Mitsuyuki (Team Honda) - 1:02:34
Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.) - 1:02:35
Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team JAL Ground Service)- 1:02:49
Yoshihiro Murata (Team Honda) - 1:03:16
Kenshin Daiko (Team JAL Ground Service) - 1:03:41
Hiroki Tanaka (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 28:31.35 (10000 m)

Biwako Mainichi Marathon Becomes Japan's First IAAF Gold Label Race

translated by Brett Larner

On Jan. 9 the IAAF announced that it has granted the Mar. 1 Biwako Mainichi Marathon (Lake Biwa Marathon) its gold label, making the elite event Japan's first race to receive the international authority's highest ranking. The IAAF upgraded Biwako's status after reviewing last year's events based on field size, elite field, organization and other criteria.

The IAAF's label program began last year, with big-city marathons such as Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York receiving top rankings. Japan's famous races were highly ranked on organizational ability but did not reach the top tier due to problems including the makeup of their elite fields and the lack of international broadcast. This month's Osaka International Women's Marathon, last month's Fukuoka International Marathon and other elite races remain as silver label events due to these issues.

Having begun two years ago as Japan's first big-city marathon and this year adding elite prize money and an elite women's field in its third running, the Tokyo Marathon remains as a silver label event. An IAAF official explained the group's rationale for this ranking, saying, "Last year there were no elite women, only an elite men's field."

Translator's note: Based on my understanding of the IAAF's ranking criteria and on what the article says about Osaka, Fukuoka and Tokyo receiving silver rankings again, this decision is extremely surprising. Biwako is a small, elite men-only race just like Fukuoka. Even if it were secretly following Tokyo and adding an elite women's field and an international broadcast this year it did not meet those criteria last year. Biwako is losing its main sponsor, Rohm, after this year's running; together with Rikuren's recent relaxation of rules regarding race sponsorship could this new ranking reflect an attempt to make Biwako more attractive to a sponsor which might be in a position to save the historic race?