translated by Brett Larner
An editorial by prominent sportswriter Tadashi Imamura on the JAAF's decision to exclude Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), coached by Sachiko Yamashita, 1991 World Championships marathon silver medalist and one of the only female coaches in Japan, in favor of Osaka International Women's Marathon 3rd-placer Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), coached by Yutaka Taketomi, one of the JAAF executives in charge of the national marathoning program.
It's often said that you can make a plausible argument for anything. I was reminded of those words when I saw the outcome of the selection process used to select the World Championships marathon teams announced on March 11. The three women chosen for the team were led by Sairi Maeda who a couple of days ago ran an excellent time of 2:22:48 for 3rd and top Japanese honors at the Nagoya Women's Marathon, but the winner of November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, Tomomi Tanaka, was left off the team.
Tanaka was the only Japanese woman to win one of the three selection races. Comparing her time of 2:26:57 to that of the third-best of the three women named to the team, Risa Shigetomo who ran 2:26:39 for 3rd and top Japanese at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, it's hard to say one was better than the other, but no matter how you look at it when you beat all foreign competition to win and are still not chosen, there is something funny going on.
Given that Tanaka was head-to-head with a Kenyan at 40 km and outkicked her to win, I'm absolutely astounded that the selection committee gave as their reason for not selecting her the fact that she didn't run up front up early and had run timidly and passively compared to Shigetomo, who went out extremely fast and faded significantly over the second half. Tanaka's was a winning strategy. It's one thing if you say before the race, "If you don't frontrun we're not going to put you on the team," but criticizing how she won the race is just nitpicking.
There's always an uproar inherent in every national marathon team selection. Both in contention to get the third spot on the 1968 Mexico City Olympics team, Kenji Kimihara and Yoshiaki Unetani were forced to undergo "additional screening," Kimihara sent off to Europe and Unetani to Mexico. In the end the veteran Kimihara was handed his Olympic ticket and went on to take the silver medal. That's a pretty good precedent. There's loads of time until the World Championships happen in August. Put both Shigetomo and Tanaka through some additional testing and in the end have them both race a half marathon to decide who goes. Do it in a clear way like that and everybody will be convinced. My biggest concern is that if this happens again, if the Federation again says, "Even if you do your absolute best, even if you win, we're still not going to pick you," it will kill our athletes' motivation.