Saturday, December 31, 2011

What a Year for a New Year

The caption's a year out of date but the song remains the same.  Thanks to all JRN readers, regular and otherwise, and especially to everyone who got in touch in March.  Here's hoping that we all have a better year than this one.

Brett Larner
Mika Tokairin
Japan Running News

Friday, December 30, 2011

Last Run for Kashiwabara - 2012 Hakone Ekiden Preview + Watch Online

by Brett Larner

Every year I come on and talk about how great the Hakone Ekiden, Japan's oldest and most important road race relay, is.  Apart from the Olympic medalists I didn't know much about Japanese distance running when I first came here, but Hakone was a big part of what turned me on to it.  The scale of it, twenty university teams running 217.9 km split into ten stages over two days, the production values of Nihon TV's broadcast that pulls in 30% nationwide viewership ratings for the entire Jan. 2-3 event, the huge crowds along the course, the quality of the athletes, and the sheer drama of the racing.  If you haven't been here to see it then honestly you don't know what you are missing.  There are lessons here for the World Marathon Majors and others seeking more mass popularity for the sport.  Keyhole TV is better than nothing and for the last two years I've done what I could to cover it live via Twitter, but you really have to be here to get a sense of how big Hakone is.  I wish you could, especially for this year's 88th running.

It doesn't seem like it's been three years since I was writing about a Toyo University first-year from Fukushima who said he was going to go out and break Masato Imai's revered record on the 865 m-climb 23.4 km Fifth Stage.  Ryuji Kashiwabara did it, and ever since then no one has had a bigger impact on the outcome and public perception of Hakone.  Breaking Imai's record as a first-year, Kashiwabara was 2:38 faster than the next-best man, giving Toyo its first-ever Hakone win.  As a second-year he was 4:08 faster, almost singlehandedly giving Toyo the win.  Last year he had injury problems and was only 1:59 faster than the second-best on the stage, missing a third-straight record, but Toyo had ten men with 10000 m PBs under 29 minutes and fought a close race against old boys network giants Waseda University, who with ten men of their own under 29 minutes including first year and Asian junior area half-marathon record holder Suguru Osako, emerged on top.  Both Waseda and Toyo broke the Hakone course record, Waseda winning by just 22 seconds in 10:59:50.

This year Waseda is just as strong on paper, with ten sub-29 minute men on its roster, nine of them on its Hakone entry list.  The top twelve men on its sixteen-man Hakone roster average sub-14 for 5000 m, sub-29 for 10000 m and sub-64 for half-marathon.  Toyo appears weaker, with only five men sub-29, but with sophomores Yuta Shitara and Kento Otsu having run sub-63 at the Ageo City Half-Marathon last month the team's chances remain strong.  But they are not alone.  Last year's Waseda and Toyo squads were the two best university teams ever assembled, but somehow this year two other teams have come up to join them in quality.  Out of nowhere, last year's 3rd-place Komazawa University has come up with ten men with sub-14 PBs for 5000 m, seven of them with sub-29 marks for 10000 m, four of those sub-28:30, and two, Ikuto Yufu with a 28:02.46 and Hiromitsu Kakuage, with a 28:03.27, making the all-time Japanese collegiate top ten.  Meiji University has also produced eight men sub-14, led by newly-minted Japanese collegiate 10000 m record holder Tetsuya Yoroizaka, who set PBs of 13:29.11 and 27:44.30 over the summer.  Last year seemed like a pinnacle, but this year promises even more.  Here are the top twelve of the sixteen on each of these teams' entry lists, ordered by half-marathon PB. Click chart to enlarge.

The race will be between these four schools.  Despite Meiji's speed over shorter distances, it lacks the half-marathon credentials of the other three, and with Hakone's stages averaging just over a half-marathon Meiji is unlikely to hang on up front.  Waseda is stronger across the board than Toyo but has been in ramshackle condition all season, 3rd behind Toyo and Komazawa at both the Izumo and National University ekidens, a full five minutes behind at the 106.8 km National University Ekiden with most of its best men injured.  Barring a miraculous recovery, Waseda is doomed and could fall to Meiji, Chuo University or the Kanto Regional University Select Team made up of ace runners from schools that did not qualify for Hakone.

That leaves Komazawa and Toyo.  Komazawa has far stronger credentials over 5000 m and 10000 m, its top twelve men averaging 13:55.82 and 28:51.48, but Toyo is significantly faster over the half-marathon, with an average of 1:03:45 to Komazawa's 1:04:07.  And it has Kashiwabara.  It's hard to overestimate how much of an advantage he is to Toyo, or how much his graduation will lower the team's standing next year.  His superb anchor run at Nationals last month suggests he's in shape for another stage record, and even if Komazawa produces its best-ever Fifth Stage run Kashiwabara will still pick up two minutes.  Considering that Komazawa's margin of victory over Toyo at Nationals was only 33 seconds over 106.8 km, roughly half the distance of Hakone, with an equivalent performance they will still lose to Toyo by a minute thanks to Kashiwabara's edge.  Likewise for Waseda which has a half-marathon average of 1:03:36, nine seconds better than Toyo's.  With ten men versus Kashiwabara's two-minute advantage, assuming both schools ran 100% Waseda would still lose to Toyo by thirty seconds.  Toyo also has superior depth to either Waseda or Komazawa, giving it room to work with its race-morning substitutions that its rivals lack.  Lots can go wrong, and it often does at Hakone, but Toyo looks ready to take down both Waseda and Komazawa.

Looking at the official entry lists, Waseda, Komazawa and Meiji have all stacked the first day with their best runners.  It's clear why: try to get far enough away to prevent Kashiwabara from putting Toyo into the lead at the end of Day One as he has for the last three years.  Waseda has three relatively weak men on Day Two and its only two quality alternates, captain Yuki Yagi and sophomore Fuminori Shikata, have both been out this season with injury.  Meiji has Yoroizaka on the alternate list but it will be a major shock if he does not go on the Second Stage.  With a weaker Day Two lineup it should disappear from the front but should have little trouble of finishing top five.  Komazawa and Toyo are both playing cagier, Komazawa holding three of its top men in reserve and Toyo four.  Expect Toyo's Yuta Shitara to play a major role wherever he is put.

Beyond the six teams already mentioned, the race to finish in the top ten and secure a seeded spot for the 2013 Hakone Ekiden looks to be very, very close, with ten schools in possible contention for the four spots remaining.  Takushoku University, led by Kenyan Duncan Muthee, and Tokai University featuring 28:00.78 man Akinobu Murasawa, are the favorites, while Josai University and Jobu University, coached by former Waseda teammates Seiji Kushibe and Katsuhiko Hanada, have the best chance of taking positions nine and ten.  One step down but still in reach if Takushoku, Tokai, Josai or Jobu falter are Tokyo Nogyo University, Aoyama Gakuin University, Kanagawa University, Yamanashi Gakuin University, Teikyo University and Kokushikan University.  Both up front and back in the mid-pack the 2012 Hakone Ekiden promises to be big.

Nihon TV's broadcast begins at 7:00 a.m. on both Jan. 2 and 3, with the race kicking off at 8:00 each day.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV, but be prepared to refresh often on the later stages as more people tune in.  Once again, JRN will be offering live English commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.  If the feed maxes out, we will switch over to @JRNHeadlines for the rest of the day.   Click here for a guide to each team's uniform to help figure out who is who.  For an interactive course map, click here.

Onwards and upwards to the best race of the year anywhere in the world.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

The Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage in Pictures

Today I did my annual Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage run, 23.4 km with almost 900 m of climb in the middle section of the course followed by ~150 m downhill from 19.5 km to around 21.5 km.  This year was more relaxed that usual as I ran with some friends and stopped to take pictures along the way.

The start of the Fifth Stage at 9 m elevation is in front of the tall building on the left. The sign warns that the road will be closed Jan. 2 and 3 for the Hakone Ekiden.

This tunnel just after 6 km into the course marks the start of the real uphill.

After Ohiradai curve, 9.5 km, the climb starts to get steep.

9.1 km to go at this sharp left curve in Kowakien, with about 5 km until the summit.  I always feel fine until this point and then suddenly start to get nauseous.

The highest point on the course, 865 m above the start point at around 19.5 km in.  The steep downhill begins just after this.

About 1.5 km to go, running next to Lake Ashi in Motohakone.

The finish line for the Fifth Stage and Day One, with Mt. Fuji in the background.

Well worth a visit, next to the finish line.

The signatures of all ten members of last year's course-record setting Waseda University team and their coach, Yasuyuki Watanabe, in the lobby of the hotel where they stay.

Hakone Ekiden commemorative beer from one of the race's main sponsors.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Can Toyota Defend Its National Title? New Year Ekiden Preview - Watch Online

by Brett Larner

Japan wastes no time getting the 2012 racing season off to a start, with the New Year Ekiden national corporate men's championships kicking off this Sunday, Jan. 1 at 8:30 a.m.  With 100 km split into seven stages broadcast live to a nationwide TV audience the New Year Ekiden is one of Japan's biggest and most popular races, featuring the best Japanese pro runners and Japan-resident Africans, including 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan (Team Honda), World XC silver medalist Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) and Fukuoka International Marathon winner Josphat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.).  Overseas viewers up for the task should be able to catch TBS' broadcast live via Keyhole TV, with English-language splits and commentary coming to you live @JRNLive starting at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 on the west coast of North America, 6:30 p.m. on the east coast, or 11:30 p.m. in London.  If JRNLive maxes out commentary will continue @JRNHeadlines.

2010 New Year Ekiden winner Nissin Shokuhin was only 3rd last year, but this year the team comes in as the favorite.  Ace Yuki Sato set a massive stage record on the first leg of the East Japan regional qualifier, and new member Yoshihiro Wakamatsu, a refugee from the suspended TEPCO team, likewise broke the record on the fifth leg.  Nissin won East Japan, the most competitive region, by nearly a minute and, as the only team to average under 2:55/km in any of the five regional qualifiers, it will be up to the others to stay with them.  

Last year the Toyota team took its first-ever national title, winning the New Year Ekiden by one second in a sprint finish against 2009 champion Fujitsu.  Toyota easily won the Chubu/Hokuriku regional qualifier in November while missing two of its best men, Yoshinori Oda and Yusuke Takabayashi, both of whom were out with Achilles problems.  Oda has since returned to sub-29 shape and should be able to compete.  Takabayashi remains a question, but into his place has stepped 20-year-old Chihiro Miyawaki, who ran 27:41.57 four weeks ago.  Taken altogether, Toyota should be in the top five throughout the race and challenging for the win.  Fujitsu, the East Japan region, is difficult to read as it only runs the regional qualifier hard enough to qualify, not win, and hides its true strength for New Year's main event, but its 5th-place showing at the regional ekiden was good enough that it should be in the hunt again this year.

East Japan runner-up Konica Minolta had two men, Paul Kuira and Tsuyoshi Ugachi, run under 27:41 last month, and with 5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya also on the roster they are a solid bet for a challenger.  East Japan 3rd and 4th placers Kanebo and Honda were not far back, with Kanebo men Masato Kihara and Yuki Nakamura taking stage bests and Honda anchor Masakazu Fujiwara likewise taking the stage best title, so either team could also be in competition for the top five.  Honda's Jeilan was only 4th on his stage at East Japan, so look for him to be aiming for revenge on the New Year Ekiden's Second Stage where he will face the other African talent.

Sagawa Express and Chugoku Denryoku won the Kansai and Chugoku regions, but it is difficult to see them competing against defending champ Toyota or East Japan's top five.  The only remaining true contender is the proudly all-Japanese Kyushu region winner, Asahi Kasei.  Asahi Kasei, which includes World Championships marathoner Hiroyuki Horibata, set a course record on the difficult Kyushu region course, slower than Nissin or Konica Minolta's average pace but impressive given the mountainous secitons in Kyushu.  Ace Tomoya Onishi has been injured virtually since last year's New Year Ekiden and Horibata had a very bad run four weeks ago at the Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler, but while this may raise questions about the team's condition its enormous roster gives it room to manoeuver that other teams lack.

Below is a guide to the top teams in each of the five regional qualifier ekidens.  For a guide to the complete lineup of 37 teams entered in the New Year Ekiden including uniform colors, click here.  See you on Jan. 1.

East Japan Regional Corporate Ekiden Qualifier
Saitama, 11/3/11
seven stages, 77.5 km

1. Nissin Shokuhin - 3:44:56 (2:54/km)
2. Konica Minolta - 3:45:53 (2:55/km)
3. Kanebo - 3:46:43 (2:56/km)
4. Honda - 3:47:19 (2:56/km)
5. Fujitsu - 3:47:53 (2:56/km)

Chubu/Hokuriku Regional Corporate Ekiden Qualifier
Gifu, 11/13/11
seven stages, 82.9 km

1. Toyota - 4:04:28 (2:57/km)
2. Toyota Boshoku - 4:07:42 (2:59/km)
3. Aichi Seiko - 4:07:56 (2:59/km)

Kansai Regional Corporate Ekiden Qualifier
Wakayama, 11/13/11
seven stages, 80.45 km

1. Sagawa Express - 4:02:16 (3:01/km)
2. NTT Nishi Nihon - 4:03:17 (3:01/km)
3. Otsuka Seiyaku - 4:03:28 (3:02/km)

Chugoku Regional Corporate Ekiden Qualifier
Hiroshima, 11/13/11
seven stages, 82.8 km

1. Chugoku Denryoku - 4:07:00 (2:59/km)
2. JFE Steel - 4:11:59 (3:03/km)
3. Mazda - 4:15:36 (3:05/km)

Kyushu Regional Corporate Ekiden Qualifier
Fukuoka, 11/23/11
seven stages, 78.8 km

1. Asahi Kasei - 3:50:53 - CR (2:56/km)
2. Kyudenko - 3:52:28 (2:57/km)
3. Toyota Kyushu - 3:52:42 (2:57/km)

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Top 10 Japanese Men of 2011

by Brett Larner

Video courtesy of Julie Setagaya. Ugachi's domestic record run begins at 1:23:25 with the bell lap at 1:50:10.

1. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 387 pts.

5000 m: 13:30.20 - 7th, Nobeoka, 5/28/11 - #5 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 27:40.69 - 2nd, Hachioji, 11/26/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011; #4 Japanese all-time
half-marathon: 1:00:58 - 2nd, Marugame, 2/6/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011; #3 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage, 22.0 km (Maebashi, 1/1/11): 1:04:19 - 4th
National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage, 13.0 km (Hiroshima, 1/23/11): 37:39 - 5th
Kanaguri Memorial 5000 m (Kumamoto, 4/9/11): 13:43.10 - 8th
Oregon Relays 5000 m (Oregon, 4/22/11): 13:47.29 - 6th
Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m (Stanford, 5/1/11): 27:41.97 - 14th
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 28:20.40 - 3rd
Asian Athletics Championships 10000 m (Kobe, 7/7/11): 28:48.53 - 4th
Savo Games 3000 m (Lapinlahti, 7/24/11): 7:58.95 - 4th
Joensuu Games 5000 m (Loppukilpailu, 7/27/11): 13:38.39 - 2nd
Flanders Cup 5000 m (Gent, 7/30/11): 13:38.92 - 4th
Memorial Rasschaert 5000 m (Ninove, 8/6/11): 13:37.00 - 3rd
National Corporate Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Tokushima, 9/23/11): 28:07.41 - 9th
East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage, 15.3 km (Kumagaya, 11/3/11): 44:28 - 1st

After a strong pro debut year in 2010 Ugachi was on top of Japanese distance running throughout much of 2011.  His 1:00:58 at February's Marugame International Half Marathon, the all-time third-best by a Japanese man on an unaided course, gets the JRN editors' pick for Japanese men's performance of the year; there is a lot of speculation about whether his wild, flailing style will translate to the marathon, but his Marugame run shows that Ugachi should be able to take the Japanese marathon debut record of 2:08:12 whenever he moves up.  Breaking into the all-time Japanese top ten for 10000 m with a 27:41.97 at Stanford and following up with a 13:30.20 in Nobeoka, Ugachi fell somewhat flat through the summer and failed to make the World Championships team.  Come November, however, he was back in form with a stage record at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden followed by a 27:40.69, a new record for the fastest ever by a Japanese man within Japan and making him all-time Japanese #4.  Ugachi will be shooting for the 10000 m in London, and expect a serious shot at the national record in the spring.

2. Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 229.875 pts.

5000 m: 13:23.15 - 1st, Nobeoka, 5/28/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011; #8 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 27:47.79 - 4th, Fukagawa, 6/25/11 - #4 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 5000 m (Stanford, 5/1/11): 13:38.90 - 13th
National Track & Field Championshiops 5000 m (Kumagaya, 6/12/11): 13:37.41 - 2nd
Hokuren Distance Challenge 1500 m (Shibetsu, 6/29/11): 3:38.11 - 1st
Asian Athletics Championships 5000 m (Kobe, 7/10/11): 13:48.81 - 4th
World Championships 5000 m Heat 2 (Daegu, 9/1/11): 14:20.62 - 18th
Memorial Van Damme 10000 m (Brussels, 9/16/11): DNF

1500 m specialist Watanabe moved up in a big way this spring, with a string of 5000 m PBs culminating in a 13:23.15 win in Nobeoka in May, all-time #8 among Japanese men, and the national title in June.  Two weeks after Nationals Watanabe just missed the 10000 m Olympic A-standard as he ran 27:47.79.  Four days later he ran 3:38.11 for 1500 m, tying his PB which was already the second-best in Japanese history.  Unfortunately Watanabe's condition faded as the summer moved on toward the World Championships, where he was only 18th in his heat.  Following a DNF at the Memorial Damme two weeks later Watanabe was out of competition for the fall season, raising injury concerns.

3. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) - 165.75 pts.

5000 m: 13:29.11 - 5th, Rovereto, 9/13/11 - #4 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 27:44.30 - 2nd, Birmingham, 7/29/11 - #3 Japanese, 2011, Japanese collegiate record

Other major performances:
Hakone Ekiden Second Stage, 23.2 km (Yokohama, 1/2/11): 1:07:36 - 3rd
National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage, 13.0 km (Hiroshima, 1/23/11): 37:29 - 2nd
Chiba International XC Meet Senior 12 km (Chiba, 2/13/11): 35:23 - 4th
World XC Championships Senior 12 km (Punta Umbria, 3/20/11): 37:40 - 86th
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m C-Heat (Kobe, 4/23/11): 28:42.72 - 1st
Kanto Regional University Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Tokyo, 5/22/11): 13:57.64 - 4th
National Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 6/12/11): 13:39.88 - 4th
Asian Athletics Championships 5000 m (Kobe, 7/10/11): 13:54.35 - 5th
BMC Nike Grand Prix 3000 m (Trafford, 7/23/11): 7:58.90 - 4th
World University Games 10000 m (Shenzhen, 8/17/11): 29:32.21 - 5th
Izumo Ekiden Second Stage, 5.8 km (Izumo, 10/10/11): 15:56 - 1st
National University Ekiden Second Stage, 13.2 km (Nagoya, 11/6/11): 38:48 - 4th
International Chiba Ekiden Fifth Stage, 10.0 km (Chiba, 11/23/11): 28:47 - 2nd

Yoroizaka closed off his junior year with superb runs at the Hakone Ekiden and National Men's Ekiden.  Apart from a bad run at the World XC Championships he was consistently strong throughout the spring and early summer, but nobody could have foreseen that he would run a Japanese collegiate 10000 m record and Olympic A-standard 27:44.30 during a summer trip to do some racing in Europe.  This mark, which briefly put him into the all-time Japanese top ten, make big news in Japan.  He followed up with a 13:29.11 in Italy, one of the fastest ever by a Japanese university runner, before fading somewhat over the fall.  Yoroizaka ended the year as one of three men with the 10000 m Olympic A-standard, giving him a good chance to make the London team.

4. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 140 pts.

half-marathon: 1:02:40 - 9th, Marugame, 2/6/11 - #7 Japanese, 2011
marathon: 2:08:37 - 3rd, Tokyo, 2/27/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage, 13.0 km (Hiroshima, 1/23/11): 39:57 - 41st
Gifu Seiryu Half-Marathon (Gifu, 5/15/11): 1:04:44 - 13th
Okinoshima 50 km (Oki, 6/19/11): DNF
Sapporo International Half-Marathon (Sapporo, 7/3/11): 1:07:12 - 63rd
Shibetsu Half-Marathon (Shibetsu, 7/24/11): 1:06:24 - 4th
Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km (Kushiro, 7/31/11): 1:33:55 - 1st
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 9/4/11): 2:16:11 - 18th
Nittai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat 35 (Yokohama, 9/25/11): 13:59.38 - 17th
Osaka Marathon (Osaka, 10/30/11): 2:14:31 - 4th
Ageo City Half Marathon (Ageo, 11/20/11): 1:04:13, 18th
Fukuoka International Marathon (Fukuoka, 12/4/11): 2:09:57 - 3rd
Hofu Yomiuri Marathon (Hofu, 12/18/11): 2:12:33 - 2nd

Self-training amateur Kawauchi was the face of Japanese distance running this year, his underdog-makes-good story and the sheer guts of his runs at the Tokyo and Fukuoka International Marathons winning him fans around the world.  JRN's readers picked Kawauchi's 2:08:37 breakthrough in Tokyo as the Japanese men's performance of the year by an overwhelming margin, 65% of the vote, with his 2:09:57 in Fukuoka taking 2nd with 13%.  He was a scoring member of the silver medal-winning Japanese men's team in Daegu, the first of four marathons he ran within 15 weeks this fall.  In the midst of those four marathons he found time to knock out a 5000 m PB.  Kawauchi has said repeatedly that he will be going for 2:07 in Tokyo in a bid to firm up his place on the London Olympic marathon team.  If he succeeds it will truly be a historic moment in Japanese distance running history.

5. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 86.4 pts.

10000 m: 27:41.57 - 3rd, Hachioji, 11/26/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011, #6 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden First Stage, 12.3 km (Maebashi, 1/1/11): 36:04 - 4th
National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage, 13.0 km (Hiroshima, 1/23/11): 37:49 - 6th
Meigi Ekiden Second Stage, 7.3 km (Nagoya, 1/30/11): 20:56 - 1st
Fukuoka International XC Meet Senior 10 km (Fukuoka, 2/26/11): 29:09 - 8th
Chubu Corporate Track & Field Championships (Gifu, 5/7/11): 29:10.06 - 5th
Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat A (Nobeoka, 5/28/11): 13:35.74 - 1st
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 28:27.90 - 6th
Hokuren Distance Challenge 10000 m (Fukagawa, 6/25/11): 28:12.02 - 10th
Savo Games 3000 m (Lapinlahti, 7/24/11): 7:59.23 - 5th
Joensuu Games 5000 m (Loppukiopailu, 7/27/11): 13:56.03 - 4th
Flanders Cup 5000 m (Gent, 7/30/11): 13:45.97 - 7th
Memorial Rasschaert 5000 m (Ninove, 8/6/11): 13:38.03 - 4th
National Corporate Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Tokushima, 9/23/11): 28:26.85 - 11th
Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials 10000 m (Shizuoka, 10/16/11): 28:01.00 - 4th
Chubu Corporate Ekiden Seventh Stage, 10.4 km (Gero, 11/13/11): 29:18 - 1st

Miyawaki, who turned 20 in August, was quietly and consistently among the best Japanese men this year, reliably chipping away at his PBs and getting down to 28:01.00 without attracting much attention.  That changed at the end of November when he hung tough with Ugachi to break the 10000 m Olympic A-standard in Hachioji, his 27:41.57 mark just missing the Japanese soil record that Ugachi cleared but good enough to put into the all-time Japanese top ten ahead of 5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and the great Toshihiko Seko.  Look for more in the spring lead-up to London.

6. Hiromitsu Kakuage (Komazawa Univ.) - 80 pts.

10000 m: 28:03.27 - 6th, Fukagawa, 6/25/11 - #9 Japanese, 2011
half-marathon: 1:02:34 - 5th, Marugame, 2/6/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Hakone Ekiden Second Stage, 23.2 km (Yokohama, 1/2/11): 1:08:36 - 10th
Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Heat C (Kobe, 4/27/11): 28:43.28 - 3rd
Kanto Regional University Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Tokyo, 5/22/11): 14:12.29 - 5th
World University Games Half-Marathon (Shenzhen, 8/21/11): 1:06:38 - 4th
Izumo Ekiden Third Stage, 7.9 km (Izumo, 10/10/11): 23:38 - 6th
National University Ekiden First Stage, 14.6 km (Nagoya, 11/6/11): 43:42 - 3rd

Kakuage, a former teammate of Ugachi's at Komazawa University, had a mediocre run at January's Hakone Ekiden but quickly turned around with a solid 1:02:34 PB in Marugame.  Hitting the spring track season with a sub-29 PB in Hyogo, Kakuage was part of the sensational Fukugawa 10000 m in June where Watanabe ran 27:47.79 and three university runners broke 28:04, Kakuage among them.  He missed out on a World University Games medal in the half-marathon and was relatively flat the start of ekiden season in Izumo, but his 3rd-place run on the opening stage at last month's National University Ekiden Championships showed he was rounding into form nicely as the season turned toward Hakone.  Look for a big run from him there.

7. Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 76.8 pts.

marathon: 2:09:25 - 3rd, Biwako, 3/6/11 - #3 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Nobeoka Spring Time Trials 10000 m (Nobeoka, 5/3/11): 28:30.32 - 6th
Kyushu Corporate Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kitakyushu, 5/14/11): 28:56.00 - 10th
Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat D (Nobeoka, 5/28/11): 13:53.07 - 1st
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 9/4/11): 2:11:52 - 7th
Grand Tour Kyushu Stage Four Leg One, 9.8 km (Kyushu, 11/2/11): 28:22 - 2nd
Grand Tour Kyushu Stage Six Leg Six, 20.2 km (Kyushu, 11/4/11): 1:00:50 - 1st
Grand Tour Kyushu Stage Eight Leg Six, 14.5 km (Fukuoka, 11/6/11): 42:37 - 1st
Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fourth Stage, 12.2 km (Fukuoka, 11/23/11): 34:38 - 1st
Kumamoto Kosa 10-Mile Road Race (Kosa, 12/4/11): 47:45 - 19th

The giant Horibata had a good marathon debut several years ago in Tokyo but had made little impact since then until his 2:09:25 PB in Biwako, where he earned himself a place on the Daegu World Championships team.  He followed Biwako with 5000 m and 10000 m PBs, then was the top Japanese man at the World Championships, 7th overall in 2:11:52.  After that performance his coach Takeshi Soh called Horibata the leading contender for the London Olympic team, but Horibata said he was not going to rest on his World Championships performance and quickly declared for next year's Biwako.  Outstanding through the fall ekiden season, he ended the year with a dismal 19th-place at the Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler.  Injury, or an off day?  We'll see at the New Year Ekiden.

8. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 75.6 pts.

marathon: 2:09:03 - 4th, Tokyo, 2/27/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage, 22.0 km (Maebashi, 1/1/11): 1:04:26 - 7th
Kanaguri Memorial 5000 m (Kumamoto, 4/9/11): 13:51.08 - 12th
Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m (Stanford, 5/1/11): 28:24.59 - 27th
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 28:32.68 - 8th
Sapporo International Half-Marathon (Sapporo, 7/3/11): 1:06:57 - 58th
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 9/4/11): 2:18:05 - 29th
Hachioji Long Distance Meet 10000 m Heat 2 (Hachioji, 11/26/11): 28:51.11 - 11th

The oldest runner to make this year's top ten, Oda was one of the top 10000 m runners last year before his memorable 2:09:03 debut in Tokyo this spring.  2:09:03 made him the all-time third-fastest Japanese first-timer, but the quality of his run was completely overshadowed by Kawauchi, who gave Oda an almost violent smackdown at 39 km.  Oda joined Kawauchi and Horibata in Daegu but an Achilles injury put an end to his hopes of a good run and he finished only 29th, limping and holding his heel in pain after finishing.  In his first race since then, a 10000 m at the end of November, Oda ran a quality 28:51.11, suggesting that he is recovering well.

9. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 74.25 pts.

5000 m: 13:25.53 - 5th, Nobeoka, 5/28/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 27:59.60 - 19th, Stanford, 5/1/11 - #5 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage, 22.0 km (Maebashi, 1/1/11): 1:03:25 - 1st
Chiba International XC Meet Senior 12 km (Chiba, 2/13/11): 35:58 - 6th
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 28:10.87 - 1st
National Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 6/12/11): 13:38.19 - 3rd
Asian Athletics Championships 5000 m (Kobe, 7/10/11): 13:40.78 - 2nd
World Championships 10000 m (Daegu, 8/28/11): 29:04.15 - 15th
East Japan Corporate Ekiden First Stage, 11.6 km (Saitama, 11/3/11): 33:00 - 1st

Sato, the all-time third-best Japanese man over 10000 m, took his first national title this year, winning the 10000 m at June's National Championships.  Consistent in the big ekidens but sitting out the World XC Championships after making the team, he scored a silver medal at July's Asian Athletics Championships 5000 m before coming up short at the World Championships.  Possibly the most talented distance runner Japan has yet produced, Sato has yet to live up to the potential he showed through university.  Next year is his year to do it, an Olympic year coming just when he is in his prime.

10. Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 72 pts.

half-marathon: 1:02:35 - 2nd, Ageo, 11/20/11 - #3 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Hakone Ekiden Third Stage, 21.5 km (Kanagawa, 1/2/11): 1:04:00 - 8th
Fukuoka International XC Meet Senior 10 km (Fukuoka, 2/26/11): 29:20 - 10th
Five-University Meet 5000 m (Saitama, 4/10/11): 14:18.32 - 1st
Kanto Regional University Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Tokyo, 5/14/11): 29:08.39 - 7th
Izumo Ekiden Third Stage, 7.9 km (Izumo, 10/10/11): 23:08 - 1st
National University Ekiden Second Stage, 13.2 km (Nagoya, 11/6/11): 38:58 - 7th

Toyo University sophomore Yuta Shitara is a relative unknown, nominally the less talented twin brother of one of Toyo's top men, Keita Shitara.  Yuta was not especially noteworthy through much of the year, finishing one place behind Keita in May's Kanto Regionals 10000 m, but he had a surprise breakthrough at the start of ekiden season as he won the Izumo Ekiden's Third Stage, a major factor in Toyo's first-ever Izumo win.  He seemed more back to his normal self at Nationals, where he was only 7th on his stage, but two weeks later at the Ageo City Half Marathon he had another major breakthrough, finishing 2nd behind Kenyan senior Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) in an excellent 1:02:35.  Yuta's newfound strength may again be one of the deciding factors in the quality of Toyo's performance at next week's 2012 Hakone Ekiden.

Honorable mention: Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.)

5000 m: 13:31.27 - 8th, Nobeoka, 5/28/11 - #6 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Hakone Ekiden First Stage, 21.4 km (Tokyo, 1/2/11): 1:02:23 - 1st
World University Games 10000 m (Shenzehn, 8/17/11): 28:42.83 - 1st
National University Track & Field Championships 1500 m (Kumamoto, 9/9/11): 3:45.06 - 1st

One of 2010's top ten Japanese men thanks to his 1:01:47 Asian junior record at the Ageo City Half Marathon, Osako ended his first year at Waseda by frontrunning the First Stage at the Hakone Ekiden to win by nearly a minute and give Waseda the lead that the team ultimately translated into a course record victory.  His Hakone time equated to a 1:01:29 half-marathon, better than his Asian area record.  In his sophomore year Osako gave up on the half and tried different things.  In May he ran 13:31.27 for 5000 m, the second-best ever by a Japanese 20-year-old.  In August he won the World University Games 10000 m gold medal.  In September he won the National University Track & Field Championships 1500 m, covering all the bases and confirming him as one of the most all-around talented Japanese men.  Next week he will make a return to long distances at the Hakone Ekiden, where he is expected to run the ace Second Stage.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

The Top 10 Japanese Women of 2011

by Brett Larner

Kinukawa wins the 5000 m national title.

1. Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) - 535.5 pts.

5000 m: 15:09.96 - 1st, National Championships, 6/12/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011; #6 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 31:10.02 - 1st, Abashiri, 6/22/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011; #4 Japanese all-time
half-marathon: 1:10:22 - 1st, Shanghai, 12/4/11 - #5 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Hyogo Relay Carnival Grand Prix 10000 m (Hyogo, 4/23/11): DNF
East Japan Corporate T&F Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 5/22/11): 15:37.50 - 1st
Sapporo International Half Marathon (Sapporo, 7/3/11): 1:12:22 - 3rd - debut
World Championships 10000 m final (Daegu, 8/27/11): 34:08.37 - 17th
World Championships 5000 m Heat 2 (Daegu, 8/30/11): 15:38.23 - 8th
Amsterdam Half-Marathon (Amsterdam, 10/16/11): 1:17:08 - 1st

The sudden return of 10000 m junior national record holder Kinukawa from years of injury and illness this spring was the biggest surprise of the year among Japanese women.  Coached by Samuel Wanjiru's former coach Takao Watanabe, Kinukawa came from behind to unexpectedly win the 5000 m at Nationals in one of the fastest times ever by a Japanese woman.  Less than two weeks later she ran one of the fastest Japanese 10000 m, then debuted in the half-marathon with a conservative effort in 1:12:22 in Sapporo.  Her 5000 m and 10000 m were disappointing, but over the fall Kinukawa began to build up toward her marathon debut with two overseas half-marathon wins.  Kinukawa is expected to run March's Nagoya Women's Marathon in a bid to make the marathon team for the London Olympics.

2. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 502.8 pts.

10000 m: 30:54.29 - 3rd, Stanford, 5/1/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011
half-marathon: 1:09:00 - 1st, Marugame, 2/6/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011
marathon: 2:24:38 - 3rd, Chicago, 10/9/11 - #4 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage, 10.0 km (Kyoto, 1/16/11): 31:53 - 1st
Shibetsu Half-Marathon (Shibetsu, 7/24/11) - 1:17:19 - 10th
Kumamoto Long Distance Time Trials 5000 m (Kumamoto, 12/10/11): 15:50.66 - 1st
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.9 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 36:00 - 3rd

After a good start to the year with wins at the National Women's Ekiden and Marugame International Half-Marathon, multiple national record holder Fukushi lived through the Christchurch earthquake, then unluckily returned to Japan in time for the earthquake and tsunami that hit her hometown.  Racing sparsely after that, she focused everything into the Payton Jordan 10000 m where she ran the second-best 10000 m of her career, a run JRN readers picked as the Japanese women's performance of the year with 32% of the vote.  Fukushi then had minor surgery that kept her out of major competition until her return to the marathon in Chicago in October.  A favorable result there meant she will line up against national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon to go for the London Olympics marathon team.

3. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - 277.5 pts.

5000 m: 15:15.33 - 1st, Nittai Univ., 12/24/11 - #3 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 31:55.06 - 1st, Niigata, 10/10/11 - #6 Japanese, 2011
half-marathon: 1:11:13 - 4th, Marugame, 2/6/11 - #8 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
National Women's Ekiden First Stage, 6.0 km (Kyoto, 1/16/11): 20:07 - 23rd
Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 5000 m (Stanford, 5/1/11): 15:38.15 - 6th
National Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 6/12/11): 15:53.19 - 7th
National Corporate Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Tokushima, 9/25/11): 15:31.78 - 2nd
East Japan Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage, 10.0 km (Fukushima, 11/13/11): 32:25 - 1st
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.9 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 36:01 - 4th

A five-time 1500 m national champion, this year marked Yoshikawa's official move up in distance.  A good half-marathon in Marugame in February was followed by consistently decent performances throughout the spring and summer.  When the fall came around Yoshikawa took off, winning a major ekiden anchor stage, breaking 32 minutes for 10000 m for the first time and, in the last race of the year, clearing the London Olympics 5000 m A-standard.

4. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 225 pts.

half-marathon: 1:09:16 - 1st, Sanyo, 12/23/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011
marathon: 2:24:09 - 6th, London, 4/17/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Osaka International Women's Marathon (Osaka, 1/30/11): 2:26:29 - 1st
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 8/27/11): 2:29:35 - 5th
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Sixth Stage, 6.3 km (Kumagaya, 11/3/11): 20:58 - 2nd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.9 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 37:38 - 21st

Although not the fastest, Akaba was Japan's #1 marathoner of 2011, the top Japanese woman in all three of her marathons with a win in Osaka in January, a PB in London in April, and a 5th place at the Daegu World Championships in August.  Setting the second-fastest closing split in the Daegu field, only a tactical error between 33 and 35 km kept Akaba out of the medals.  After some down time she returned in December to set the course record at the 30th Sanyo Women's Half-Marathon.  Not yet officially declared for a spring marathon, it's possible that she will be named to the London Olympic team on the strength of her Daegu performance and bypass March's Nagoya Women's Marathon in favor of an overseas spring race.

5. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 155 pts.

5000 m: 15:22.87 - 1st, Nittai Univ., 9/25/11 - #4 Japanese, 2011
marathon: 2:26:32 - 1st, Yokohama, 11/20/11 - #7 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
National Women's Ekiden Fourth Stage, 4.0 km (Kyoto, 1/16/11): 12:52 - 2nd
Osaka International Women's Marathon (Osaka, 1/30/11): 2:29:35 - 5th
Shibetsu 10 km (Shibetsu, 7/24/11): 34:13 - 1st
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage, 10.0 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 32:57 - 3rd

Kizaki ran below expecation at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and was mostly out of competition until the fall apart from a win at the Shibetsu 10 km road race in July. Coming back in September with an excellent 5000 m PB, she blew away course record holder and defending champion Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) with an impressive last kick to win the first London Olympics selection race, November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon.  Unfortunately her time of 2:26:32, while the seventh-best of the year for Japanese women, will likely prove insufficient to earn her an Olympic spot.

6. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 148.5 pts.

10000 m: 32:15.09 - 2nd, Abashiri, 6/22/11 - #9 Japanese, 2011
half-marathon: 1:09:23 - 2nd, Sanyo, 12/23/11 - #3 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Osaka International Women's Marathon (Osaka, 1/30/11): 2:36:43 - 8th
Kansai Corporate Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Tokushima, 5/13/11): 32:40.14 - 1st
Sapporo International Half Marathon (Sapporo, 7/3/11): 1:13:27 - 6th
Shibetsu Half Marathon (Shibetsu, 7/24/11): 1:13:06 - 1st
Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon (Virginia Beach, 9/4/11): 1:11:48 - 1st
West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.2 km (Fukuoka, 10/23/11): 33:27 - 6th
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.9 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 36:20 - 6th

Japan's #1 half-marathoner of 2010, Miyauchi was solid throughout the year apart from her attempts at the marathon.  She recorded half-marathon wins in Shibetsu and Virginia Beach before setting a PB at December's Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, just missing the old course record as she tried to run down leader Akaba.  On paper she should be scratching at 2:25 for the marathon, but it remains to be seen whether she or her identical twin Hiroko Miyauchi will realize that potential.

7. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 130 pts.

marathon: 2:23:56 - 1st, Yokohama, 2/20/11 - #1 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
East Japan Corporate Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 5/22/11): 15:40.67 - 3rd
Steamboat Classic 4-Miler (Peoria, 6/18/11): 20:52 - 3rd
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 8/27/11): 2:32:31 - 18th
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Sixth Stage, 6.3 km (Kumagaya, 11/3/11): 20:41 - 1st
Yokohama International Women's Marathon (Yokohama, 11/20/11): 2:26:49 - 2nd
National Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage, 7.0 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 22:17 - 1st

2009 World Championships silver medalist Ozaki looked good for the World Championships after winning Yokohama in February in 2:23:56, a course record and the fastest time of the year by a Japanese woman.  Daegu did not work out, and her quick turnaround to Yokohama in November likewise did not as planned as she ran into anemia issues in training and could not keep up with Kizaki's last kick.  Immediately after Yokohama she virtually spat out that she was not going to try again for the London Olympic team, but after a stage win four weeks later at the National Corporate Women's Ekiden she indicated that it's pretty likely she will line up in Nagoya in March.

8. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 122.5 pts.

5000 m: 15:33.89 - 4th, National Corporate Championships, 9/24/11 - #10 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 31:43.25 - 1st, Nittai Univ., 12/24/11 - #4 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
Fukuoka International XC Meet Senior 6 km (Fukuoka, 2/26/11): 19:28 - 2nd
World XC Championships Senior 8 km (Punta Umbria, 3/20/11): 27:27 - 48th
Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m (Stanford, 5/1/11): 32:14.71 - 10th
East Japan Corporate Track & Field Championships 3000 m (Kumagaya, 5/22/11): 9:21.21 - 2nd
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 33:06.05 - 6th
Aviva UK Trials 10000 m (Birmingham, 7/30/11): 33:46.12 - 2nd
East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 12.2 km (Kumagaya, 11/3/11): 39:12 - 2nd
East Japan Women's Ekiden First Stage, 6.0 km (Fukushima, 11/13/11): 19:04 - 1st
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 10.9 km (Sendai, 12/18/11): 35:49 - 2nd

One of the purest ekiden specialists on the scene right now, after a passable spring Shimizu was solid on both track and road throughout the fall.  Her year culminated with an Olympic A-standard 10000 m win at Nittai Univ., so Shimizu is likely to be a name to remember in the run-up to London.

9. Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 121 pts.

5000 m: 15:30.94 - 3rd, National Sports Festival, 10/7/11 - #7 Japanese, 2011
10000 m: 31:45.82 - 2nd, Hyogo, 4/24/11 - #5 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage, 10.0 km (Kyoto, 1/16/11): 32:51 - 4th
Chugoku Women's Ekiden First Stage, 5.8 km (Hiroshima, 2/13/11): 18:58 - 1st
National Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumagaya, 6/10/11): 32:25.77 - 3rd
Kyoto Prefecture Track & Field Championships 3000 m (Kyoto, 7/17/11): 9:14.75 - 1st
World Championships 10000 m (Daegu, 8/27/11): 32:32.22 - 14th
National University Track & Field Championships 10000 m (Kumamoto, 9/9/11): 33:26.67 - 3rd
Kansai University Women's Ekiden Fourth Stage, 6.5 km (Kobe, 9/24/11): 20:52 - 1st
National University Women's Ekiden Third Stage, 9.1 km (Sendai, 10/23/11): 30:06 - 1st
Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden Sixth Stage, 8.0 km (Fukui, 11/13/11): 25:56 - 1st
International Chiba Ekiden Fourth Stage, 5.0 km (Chiba, 11/23/11): 15:49 - 2nd

The collegiate 10000 m national record holder, Yoshimoto was extremely consistent throughout the year, finishing in the top three in all but two of her major races.  Her spring season saw her start off by just missing the Olympic A-standard in Hyogo, but unfortunately she was not able to knock any more off that mark later in the year.  She performed poorly at the World Championships but came back for a strong fall ekiden season.

10. Hitomi Niiya (Sakura AC) - 113.4 pts.

5000 m: 15:13.12 - 2nd, Shibetsu, 6/29/11 - #2 Japanese, 2011; #10 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage, 10.0 km (Kyoto, 1/16/11): 32:22 - 3rd
Chiba International XC Meet Senior 8 km (Chiba, 2/13/11): 25:53 - 1st
Fukuoka International XC Meet Senior 6 km (Fukuoka, 2/26/11): 19:09 - 1st
World XC Championships Senior 8 km (Punta Umbria, 3/20/11): 26:43 - 26th
Oda Memorial 5000 m (Hiroshima, 4/29/11): 15:17.84 - 2nd
National Track & Field Championships 5000 m (Kumagaya, 6/12/11): 15:20.35 - 2nd
Asian Athletics Championships 5000 m (Kobe, 7/9/11): 15:34.19 - 2nd
World Championships 5000 m Heat 1 (Daegu, 8/30/11): 15:31.09 - 7th
World Championships 5000 m Final (Daegu, 9/2/11): 15:41.67 - 13th
National Sports Festival 5000 m (Yamaguchi, 10/7/11): 15:32.92 - 4th
International Chiba Ekiden Sixth Stage, 7.195 km (Chiba, 11/23/11): 22:36 - 1st

Niiya, who won the 2007 Tokyo Marathon in her debut at age 18, has had one of the stranger career years among Japanese women.  A member of the Toyota Jidoshokki team, one of two Chiba-based teams coached by Yoshio Koide, she was fired for wanting to remain with Koide when the team relocated westward following March's disasters.  Running for a time in a Chiba singlet, in the summer Niiya posted a picture of herself wearing a Universal Entertainment uniform, the other team coached by Koide, but was registered at all subsequent races as belonging to Sakura AC, Koide's management company, rather than to Universal.  In terms of her running, Niiya was excellent virtually throughout the year, her 25:53 win at February's Chiba International XC Meet the most underappreciated performance this year and JRN editors' pick for Japanese women's run of the year.  Compare her time and 40-second margin of victory to Shalane Flanagan's winning time and margin on the much easier USATF XC championship course and it's easy to see why.  Niiya had a heartbreaking loss to Kinukawa in the Nationals 5000 m but came back a few weeks later to make the all-time Japanese top ten with an Olympic A-standard 15:13.12.  Although her World Championships performance was not spectacular, she had the distinction of being the only member of the Japanese distance contingent to make it out of the heats.

Honorable Mention: Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei)

marathon: 2:25:29 - 12th, London, 4/17/11 - #5 Japanese, 2011

Other major performances:
World Championships Marathon (Daegu, 8/27/11): 2:33:42 - 19th

A former national team-level pro XC skiier and champion mountain racer, Nojiri receives an honorable mention on the strength of her two marathons this year.  Hoping to make the Daegu team alongside her teammate Ozaki, Nojiri was scheduled to run March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon until the race was cancelled in the aftermath of the disasters.  She endured refocusing on the Nagano Marathon, having it cancelled, and focusing again on carrying over her fitness and concentration for another month to run the London Marathon.  In London she ran a PB to make the Daegu team by catching veteran Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) just before the finish.  In Daegu, Nojiri was the one who got the race moving after a slow first 15 km by surging away from the field and forcing them to catch up to her, an ultimately failed move but one gutsy enough to get her a thumbs up for not being willing to just sit passively in the pack.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2011 Japanese Distance Running in Review

by Brett Larner

This is part one of JRN's year in review.  Check back for our profiles of the top ten Japanese men and women of the year and for our readers' picks and editors' picks for performances of the year.  Click here for JRN's 2011 top ten rankings for men's and women's 5000 m, 10000 m, half-marathon and marathon.  For our review of the top ten overall men of 2011, click here.  For the top ten women, click here.

Despite the setback March's disasters represented for Japan, by many standards 2011 ended up being the best year since before the Beijing Olympics for its distance runners.

In the marathon, although the Japanese women's streak of World Championships medals ended and the fastest women's time of the year, Yoshimi Ozaki's 2:23:56 CR at February's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, for the first time would not have made the top ten among either Kenyan or Ethiopian women, overall depth was at its best since 2005 with the tenth-fastest Japanese of the year being Noriko Matsuoka's 2:26:54 debut in London.  Although the average of the Japanese top ten, 2:25:30, is still at a low point relative to the world average of 2:20:57, it was a slight improvement over last year's mark, the weakest year since 1991.  Similarly for the men it was a relatively good year in the marathon, with the first sub-2:09 since before Beijing thanks to Yuki Kawauchi's 2:08:37 in Tokyo and the tenth-fastest mark standing at 2:11:08 via Takaki Koda, also in Tokyo.  Although the men's results are still a far cry from the 1999-2008 period when a 2:06 or 2:07 year-leader and/or ten or more sub-2:10 performances were a virtual given, both by average of the top ten performances of the year, 2:10:01, and relative to the worldwide top ten Japanese marked their second-straight year of improvement since bottoming out post-Beijing in 2009.

Despite a good start to the year in the half-marathon with Tsuyoshi Ugachi and Kayoko Fukushi running what would end up as the fastest times of the year at February's Marugame International Half-Marathon, March's disasters had a strong impact on the year's half-marathon performances, causing the cancellation of major races including the men's and women's National Corporate Half-Marathon Championships and National University Half-Marathon Championships and the Sendai International Half-Marathon.  The absence of a World Half-Marathon Championships further reduced the depth of the year's results.  Fukushi's 1:09:00 Marugame mark remained the best mark of the year, but a fast race at the late-season Sanyo Women's Half-Marathon brought quality times from Daegu World Championships marathon 5th-placer Yukiko Akaba, last year's year-leader Yoko Miyauchi and others.  Ugachi's 1:00:58 in Marugame was the third-best ever by a Japanese man on an unaided course, with Komazawa University sophomore Hiromitsu Kakuage's 1:02:34 lasting as the second-best time of the year.  Marugame made up the totality of the year's best until November's celebrated Ageo City Half-Marathon, where Toyo University sophomores Yuta Shitara and Kento Otsu went 2-3 in 1:02:35 and 102:43 to break into the top ten.

Turning to the track, 2011 was one of the best years in Japan's history for the 10000 m.  Fukushi led the women again with a career-second-best 30:54.29 in Stanford, the third-fastest ever by a Japanese woman, while junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa returned from a long layoff to become the all-time fourth-best Japanese woman with a mark of 31:10.02.  More women broke 32 minutes than in 2010, with two others, 2011 national champion Kayo Sugihara and Yuko Shimizu, also cleared the Olympic A-standard of 31:45.00 to put Japan in good stead for London.  On the men's side, Ugachi, 20-year-old Chihiro Miyawaki and Meiji University senior Tetsuya Yoroizaka all broke into the all-time Japanese top ten list and the 27:45.00 London Olympics A-standard, Ugachi setting another historic mark as his time of 27:40.69 became the fastest-ever by a Japanese man on Japanese soil.  Miyawaki just missed also cracking the old mark, while Yoroizaka's 27:44.30 was the fastest-ever by a Japanese collegiate.  Kakuage, his sophomore teammate Ikuto Yufu and Tokai University junior Akinobu Murasawa all narrowly missed joining the sub-28 club, each of them running under 28:04 to make four men this year joining the all-time collegiate top ten.  Although only five men broke 28 minutes this year compared to seven last year, the upper end was faster and overall depth was better, with this year's tenth-best mark of 28:03.46 surpassing last year's 28:07.99.

The 5000 m was also solid, with Kinukawa placing sixth on the all-time lists with an impressive 15:09.96 win at the National Championships over 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya, who returned two weeks later to likewise make the all-time top ten in 15:13.12.  Five-time 1500 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa joined Kinukawa and Niiya in securing an Olympic A-qualifier in 15:15.33, but while the upper end was fast depth was down somewhat as only six women cleared 15:30 compared to at least ten last year.  Men's performances were far superior to last year's, with ten men clearing 13:35, four of them from the S&B corporate team, and year-leader Kazuya Watanabe placing eighth on the all-time lists in 13:23.15 with a win at May's Golden Games in Nobeoka.  Yoroizaka was also strong over 5000 m, running 13:29.11 to become the first collegiate in years to break 13:30, while Waseda University sophomore Suguru Osako's 13:31.27 in Nobeoka was the second-fastest ever by a Japanese 20-year-old.

Despite the lack of any new national records in distance events, the number of people under age 25 making Japan's all-time top ten lists at distances from 5000 m to half-marathon and the modest turnaround in marathon performances are very encouraging signs for the future.  Less encouraging was the Japanese performance at the Daegu World Championships.  Marathon performances were not bad, with a 5th place finish from Akaba in the women's race and a 7th place from Hiroyuki Horibata and team silver medal in the men's marathon, but the track events were an embarrassment.  Despite fielding many of the names above, including Kinukawa, Sugihara, Niiya and Watanabe along with men's 10000 m national champion Yuki Sato, women's 3000 mSC national chamion Minori Hayakari and collegiate women's 10000 m national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto, not one Japanese runner finished out of the last four in their event, heat or final, with most in the bottom three despite all being ranked higher in their fields.  Times were significantly worse than the athletes' pre-Daegu season bests, up to 10% slower and averaging 4%.  No other major country had such a consistent pattern of underperformance in Daegu.  It's not always the case that Japanese athletes show up at a major championships with the suck dialed all the way up; in the 2009 Berlin World Championships, Olympic marathoner Yurika Nakamura was a credit to the team as she PB'd in all three races she started, the 10000 m final, the 5000 m heats and the 5000 m final.  But in Daegu the world watched as all three women in the 10000 m, Kinukawa, Sugihara and Yoshimoto, jointly let go of the rest of the field in the opening stages of the race and instead stuck together to run a three-way time trial, taking three of the last four places.

To be fair, some like Kinukawa had problems, but when every single member of the team follows the same pattern it's indicative of something more systematic.  What could explain it?  Not jet lag.  Not a lack of acclimation to the local summer weather.  Maybe it's a lack of a competitive edge in the athletes, an inability to view themselves as actual competitors against foreign runners, exacerbated by the insularity and controlled nature of the Japanese running world and society at large.  Maybe it is the coaches and administrators, a failure to master peaking or an issue of piling on too much before the championships.  It's even worth entertaining the possibility that it may be a symptom of systematic drug use.  I certainly don't think that's the case and I'm sure most readers would feel the same, but at the same time if you've read this far then you're probably someone who could think of three or four countries off the top of your head where the same circumstances, an entire team running excellently in primarily domestic races and then showing up at a World Championships which for the first time announced mandatory drug testing for all competitors and dramatically underperforming, would be viewed as a very large, screaming red flag.  Again, all of my experience here says this could not really be the case, but as the Sumo match rigging, Olympus scandal and Fukushima situation showed this year, behind the placid exterior the powers that be in Japan can be just as corrupt and dishonest as anywhere else, and it is hard to see any reason that this should not be at least considered as a possibility.

Whatever the reason, the problems that were on display for all to see in Daegu are a major issue that Japan's federation, corporate league, coaches and athletes must deal with if they are to realize the potential shown in all the outstanding performances in 2011.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 As Seen By JRN Readers

JRN's most-read articles of 2011 by month:

Waseda over Toyo as both break Hakone Ekiden course record.Jan. 3
Blood testing for better performance - learning from Hakone and pro baseball. - Jan. 8

Study finds to become world-class, don't work too hard in junior high. - Feb. 5
World's first two-legged robot-only marathon set for Feb. 24. - Feb. 16
Jason Lehmkuhle wins Ome 30 km road race - first American win since 1983. - Feb. 20
World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki 2:23:56 Yokohama win.Feb. 20
Mekonnen wins Tokyo Marathon, amateur Kawauchi 3rd in 2:08:37. - Feb. 27
Japanese Federation and corporate league feel stinging impact of Kawauchi's run. - Feb. 28
"The Rocky of the marathon world" - Saitama Governor praises Kawauchi. - Feb. 28

What to do when the dream comes true?  Federation officials push management role as Kawauchi Fever sweeps Japan. - Mar. 3
Wilson Kipsang wins Lake Biwa with world-leading 2:06:13 course record. - Mar. 6
Federation tells World Championships marathoner Horibata to go on diet. - Mar. 8
Two pro runners hit by truck during half-marathon. - Mar. 9
Tokyo Marathon 3rd-placer Yuki Kawauchi gives $72,000 BMW prize to mother. - Mar. 11
104-year-old masters world record holder killed in tsunami. - Mar. 25

Niiya 15:17.84 PB after being fired from Toyota Jidoshokki corporate team. - Apr. 29

Track training Kawauchi-style. - May 5
Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, 1986-2011. - May 16
Wanjiru in the words of those who knew him. - May 16

Yuki Kawauchi building up for World Championships with 50 km ultra this Sunday. - June 16
Kawauchi taken to hospital after suffering heat stroke near end of 50 km ultra. - June 19

Murasawa and Sreedharan impress in Asian Athletics Championships 10000 m. - July 7

'09 World Championships silver medalist Ozaki runs 50 km at altitude in prep for Daegu gold. - Aug. 9
A report from World Championships marathoner Akaba on Boulder's Magnolia Road. - Aug. 11
Kawauchi looking forward to post-Worlds coffee. - Aug. 15
Osako wins World University Games 10000 m. - Aug. 17
Team Honda's Ibrahim Jeilan wins World Championships 10000 m. - Aug. 28

Post-race quotes from the Japanese men's World Championships marathon team. - Sept. 5
New Tokai University coach Morozumi discusses value of cross-country training after Saku Chosei H.S. success. - Sept. 29

Toyo University takes first-ever Izumo Ekiden win.Oct. 10
Charles Ndirangu 13:15.44 national high school record at Oita Challenge 5000 m. - Oct. 23

Kenya over Japan as both break International Chiba Ekiden course record.Nov. 23

Watch the Fukuoka International Marathon live - viewing guide. - Dec. 2
Ndambiri with the win, Kawauchi with the wonder - Fukuoka International Marathon. - Dec. 4
Kawauchi throws Olympic selection process into confusion. - Dec. 5
Working out the tactics that will take him to the World Championships, Kawauchi set for Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. - Dec. 16
Bat-Ochir and Kawauchi duel at Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. - Dec. 18
Japan in Wanjiru. - Dec. 19
Charles Ndirangu leads Sera back to National High School Boys Ekiden Championships title. - Dec. 25
Japan in Wanjiru - in conclusion..... - Dec. 26

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Watch the New Year Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden Live Online

The biggest three days of racing of the year are also most here, the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national men's corporate championships and the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden university men's race.  Look for full previews for both events later this week along with JRN's year-end reviews.

Overseas viewers should be able to watch both the New Year Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden via Keyhole TV, the New Year Ekiden broadcast beginning Jan. 1 at 8:50 a.m. on TBS and Hakone's broadcast on Nihon TV beginning at 7:00 a.m. on both the 2nd and the 3rd.  Once again, JRN will do live English commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Japan in Wanjiru - In Conclusion.....

by Brett Larner

I don't expect that many people will take the considerable time necessary to read the full texts of all four interviews in this series.  I plan to edit the most important quotes from Samuel Wanjiru’s Japanese mentors and colleagues together into a cohesive account of his career from the Japanese point of view, but in the meantime, looking at the commonalities between the interviews and other previously-published details this story emerges, incomplete as it is:
  • Wanjiru was discovered by the Japanese scout Shunichi Kobayashi and sent to Sendai Ikuei H.S. in 2002.
  • At Sendai Ikuei, he was educated and developed by Takao Watanabe, who focused not only on development as an athlete but also on psychological and personal development.  Watanabe receives unanimous credit in Japan as the primary influence on Wanjiru's mental and spiritual growth.  Watanabe introduced Wanjiru to Kenyan Stephen Mayaka, a longtime resident of Japan who came to assist Wanjiru in his life and career in Japan.
  • Wanjiru showed the first major sign of his future potential when he set a stage record of 22:40 for 8.1075 km at the 2004 National High School Ekiden Championships, helping the Sendai Ikuei team set the overall team course record.
  • Following this performance, Watanabe negotiated with the Toyota corporation and the head coach of its Toyota Kyushu ekiden team, Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita, for Wanjiru to receive a place on the company’s team beginning in April, 2005 after his graduation from Sendai Ikuei.  In return for a regular salary, bonuses, housing and other support Wanjiru agreed to be in Japan at least 180 days out of the year and to run in races when asked by the company, including ekidens.  In accepting, he became the first non-Japanese athlete to run for Toyota Kyushu.
  • Within five months of coming under Morishita’s coaching Wanjiru achieved noteworthy results including the half-marathon Japanese all-comers’ record, pacing his teammate Yu Mitsuya to the domestic 10000 m record, and setting the 10000 m junior world record and half-marathon world record.  Toyota Kyushu team manager Katsushi Fuchiwaki accompanied Wanjiru on his trips for overseas races.  Wanjiru became the motivational leader of the Toyota Kyushu team, popular with the other athletes and readily socializing with them, including the customary drinking parties.
  • At some point following his European debut Wanjiru began to be solicited for representation by European athletes’ representatives.  After some irregularities involving Athletics Kenya’s cancellation of one AR’s contract with Wanjiru, Italian agent Federico Rosa signed a deal with Wanjiru.
  • After injuries including a stress fracture which kept him out of action for most of 2006, Wanjiru started 2007 off by breaking the half-marathon world record twice in rapid succession.  Fuchiwaki again accompanied Wanjiru on these trips.
  • Rosa negotiated with the ING New York City Marathon for Wanjiru to debut there in the fall of 2007 without consulting or negotiating with Toyota Kyushu, whose contract with Wanjiru pre-dated Rosa’s.  Toyota Kyushu did not allow Wanjiru to run New York as the trip would violate his contractual obligation to be physically present in Japan for 180 days out of the year.  Instead, he debuted a month later at the local Fukuoka International Marathon.  Rosa received a percentage of Wanjiru’s earnings from Fukuoka.  Wanjiru’s taxes on his earnings from Fukuoka were for whatever reason not filed according to procedure and he incurred a substantial tax debt of roughly $65,000 at current exchange rates.
  • Morishita did not plan for Wanjiru to run the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, but after Wanjiru returned from a trip back to Kenya in early 2008 he was determined to do so.  Following this trip, Morishita grew concerned about business ventures with which Wanjiru had become involved with members of his family.  Wanjiru ran the London Marathon in April and was selected for the Kenyan Olympic team.
  • After London Wanjiru returned to Toyota Kyushu, then left for training in Kenya.  Immediately following his departure, a law office in Tokyo notified Toyota Kyushu that Wanjiru was resigning his position and would not return to the team.  Fuchiwaki likewise left Toyota Kyushu and announced that he would become Wanjiru’s manager.  All parties interviewed fell short of explicitly saying that they believed Fuchiwaki had arranged the legal aspects of breaking Wanjiru’s contract with Toyota Kyushu.
  • Wanjiru won the Beijing Olympics and Fuchiwaki signed a sponsorship deal with the Meiji Seika corporation for Wanjiru to endorse its SAVAS sports supplement.  Wanjiru returned to Japan with Fuchiwaki shortly after Beijing to pay off a portion of his tax debt and to begin promotional activities for SAVAS, but over the following months he began to become difficult to handle and refused to meet his contractual obligations.  He publicly claimed he was not receiving the money he was promised by Meiji Seika.
  • With Toyota Kyushu out of the picture Rosa became the pre-existing contract holder with regard to Fuchiwaki’s business relationship with Wanjiru.  There was a total lack of coordination between Rosa and Fuchiwaki.  Fuchiwaki began to develop a bad reputation within the industry in Japan and Meiji Seika soon terminated its sponsorship, privately claiming to have been scammed.  The situation culminated in a promise that Fuchiwaki had a contract for Wanjiru to appear at the 2009 Sapporo International Half Marathon.  Wanjiru did not show, and his business relationship with Fuchiwaki ended.
  • With major wins and the accompanying fame and fortune in 2009, Wanjiru’s personal troubles began to develop.  A lack of personal guidance and protection back home in Kenya meant he was subject to constant demands from friends and family for money and to go drinking.  His home was reported to have been assaulted by armed thieves.  By 2010 he was in poor condition, dropping out of the 2010 London Marathon.
  • Following London, he began negotiating with Toyota Kyushu and Morishita through Mayaka for a formal return to the team that fall.  His tax debt remaining a major barrier to his entry to Japan, the Toyota corporation agreed to a plan to pay off the debt against Wanjiru’s salary once he returned, a plan by which he would be permitted to reside in Japan again.  The plan was formalized for him to return to rejoin Toyota Kyushu in December, 2010 with more freedom to pursue his own goals than under his original contract.
  • In less than peak condition Wanjiru won a hard-fought 2010 Chicago Marathon.  His friend and personal companion Yasuto Kimura found him acting strangely throughout the week in Chicago and noted an apparent distance in Wanjiru’s relationship with Rosa.
  • When Wanjiru was arrested in December, 2010 for an alleged incident with his wife and household staff involving an AK-47 assault rifle the Toyota corporation immediately withdrew its offer for his return, and his door out of Kenya back to Japan was permanently and irrevocably closed.
  • With Japan no longer an option available to him and additional incidents including a car accident in early 2011, shortly after the loss of his course record in London and the sensational times at the Boston Marathon Wanjiru died in a reportedly drunken fall from the second floor of his home.

So, what to draw from this?  It's an incomplete story like Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, a series of suggestive clues that seem to point in one direction but don't add up to a coherent account of what happened.  While some of the details here are emerging for the first time to fill in gaps there is still a good deal missing from those who dealt with Wanjiru in his life outside of Japan.  It’s not a question of blaming anyone; Wanjiru was an adult and was responsible for the decisions he made in his life.  At the same time he was partly the victim of a clash between larger forces.  Japan is in some ways, both good and bad, the Shire of the athletics world, a separate, self-contained environment, happily functioning with limited involvement with or concern for the wider world of the sport.  In this environment Wanjiru flourished, but while the people responsible for him there shaped his thinking and discipline into those of a champion, their self-admitted lack of experience with foreign athletes and na├»ve assumptions about the degree of Wanjiru’s internalization of Japanese cultural traits combined with a distrust of how the business side of international athletics operates to create a situation in which they were unprepared to cope with everything that came with having an athlete of that stature on their hands.  Rosa, for his part, understood exactly how great, and lucrative, Wanjiru could be and justifiably wanted to take him from the countryside of rural Fukuoka to the main streets of the world’s major cities and all the fame and fortune that would bring, but apparently with little understanding of and even less respect for the Japanese system and for Wanjiru’s contractual and personal obligations to the people in it who brought him up from nothing.  And waiting back home a third side, the people who would devour him.

Between these forces came Fuchiwaki.  The Toyota corporation’s sole condition for granting an interview with Morishita was that I not interview Fuchiwaki.  I have honored this and, as such, that part of the story is also missing.  But it is hard not to see him as a sort of Smeagol figure in this story, a hapless Shireling who by chance came into contact with something powerful and precious and did whatever it took to try to keep it within his grasp, even when the desire to hold onto the power turned him into something else and took him places he did not understand.  A more sympathetic view of Fuchiwaki might cast him as Secondo to Rosa’s Pascal, but regardless of who or what Fuchiwaki really was, if he was actually the catalyst for Wanjiru's departure then Rosa could not have asked for a better way to get rid of Toyota Kyushu’s claim to Wanjiru.  Did he realize it?

In the end maybe it comes down to a question of character.  What is striking in these interviews is the taking of personal responsibility, the credit given to others and the downplaying of one's own credit, the admissions of mistakes.  From Kimura: “People are saying that I might have been the one who was coaching Wanjiru after he left the team, but it wasn’t like that at all.”  From Morishita: “I should have done a better job on the management side.  He needed people supporting him who would have taken the steps to prevent this outcome.  We should have done it, unfortunately.”  From Watanabe: “If I had been there for him…” 

On the other side, how many people in Kenya and Italy have stepped forward to take credit for Wanjiru, to say, “I was Samuel Kamau wanjiru mentor from 1998 and untill the day he went to Japan in 2002,” or “I helped him with some advice till the period of Beijing, without adding, “If I had been there for him…”?  A taking of a share of the credit without a commensurate share of the responsibility.  And, correct me if I'm wrong, but a notable public silence after a vague “We got him out of this environment,” with no mention of Wanjiru’s death on his agency website or Twitter feed, from the person most responsible for Wanjiru’s career  post-Japan, the one who made the most money from him, his agent, Federico Rosa.  It’s tempting to end with Morishita’s words echoing in the silence: “The people who were supporting Sam were only motivated by the money flowing around him, not from the heart, and they didn't give him the kind of support he really needed.  You hear a lot of disturbing things about his family too, his wife, and I can't help but think that he should have had more people around him who cared about his soul.

But the most important thing in this story is not blame or dollars, it's the loss of the dream.  Wanjiru’s National High School Ekiden stage record survived a serious threat yesterday, but his records are already fading into memory one by one, from London to Chicago and even on to the domestic record he helped his teammate Mitsuya set.  His Olympic record is sure to fall in London.  As the name Samuel Wanjiru disappears into legend, a slow pullback and fade as the finish line recedes into the distance, the parting words of Mitsuya and his teammate Masato Imai remain a simple but lasting expression of the loss of someone who inspired us all to more:

Imai: I wanted to run a marathon with him. 
Mitsuya: That’s exactly what I was going to say.  We’re not the same level athlete as him yet, but more than anything I wish I could have had the chance to run with him again, in a marathon.
Imai:  Together.  I really wanted that.  If it had been in the Olympics it would have been the best.
Mitsuya: Yeah, especially in the Olympics.
Imai: The next Olympics, or the one after that.  I wanted to race him on the Olympic stage.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved