Thursday, December 31, 2015

Kawauchi Ends Year at Bitburger Silvesterlauf

by Brett Larner


Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) wrapped up a tough 2015 at the Bitburger Silvesterlauf 8 km in Trier Germany on Dec. 31.  Hoping to set a new Japanese national record under 23:30, Kawauchi ran at the rear of the front pack led by Beijing Olympics 10000 m bronze medalist Micah Kogo (Kenya) on target pace through the first five of the course's eight 1 km loops through the narrow streets at the heart of the city center.  On the sixth lap Kawauchi tripped on a cobblestone and fell, struggling to pick himself up as Kogo sped away in a four-way international battle with Haymanot Ales (Ethiopia), Zakaria Boudad (Morocco) and Teklit Tesfahabr (Eritrea).

Kawauchi staggered over the final two laps, overtaken by runner after runner from the second pack and further back.  In the final sprint finish Ales won with a clear margin in 22:59, Boudad and Kogo coming in two seconds back.  Kawauchi finished over a minute later, gutted with nothing to show for his result but a minor improvement to his high school-era PB.  Although he finished well off the eight-deep podium, race organizers kindly invited him onstage during the award ceremony where he thanked the crowd in both English and German.

It wasn't the ending Kawauchi hoped for to a 2015 in which, largely through his own doing, he struggled to meet his goals after spraining his ankle at the end of December last year.  He did have bright moments: his first-ever marathons on back-to-back weekends, 2:15:16 for 8th at the Feb. 8 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon and a 2:15:06 win at the Kochi Ryoma Marathon on Feb. 15, a season best 2:12:13 for 2nd at April's Zurich Marathon and a 6th place finish at November's TCS New York City Marathon, the best placing by a Japanese man in the World Marathon Majors this year tying the best-ever placing by a Japanese man in New York.  But by and large the decisions he made meant he had difficulty achieving what he hoped, killing the spring recovery he showed in Zurich with three half marathons in three days a week later and, most importantly, flaming out in his shot at the Olympic team at December's Fukuoka International Marathon which he ran despite having said publicly that he would not run Fukuoka if he ran poorly at September's Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, which he did.

Does 2016 hold a return to form?  Two weeks after Fukuoka he ran faster in Hofu, which left him very optimistic about the coming year.  He turned down an offer from the London Marathon in order to enter himself in the general division of the final Olympic selection race, March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, where he believes he can win even if doing so would still not put him on the Olympic team without a sub-2:06:30.  He hopes to join the exclusive club of five Japanese men who have won overseas marathons sub-2:10.  To run the 10th sub-2:10, 100th half marathon and 500th race of his career.  And, his major goal for the year, he hopes to win next year's Fukuoka International Marathon to make the 2017 London World Championships team which he intends to be his final time running for the Japanese national team.  A big year, hopefully with better things ahead.

Bitburger Silvesterlauf
Trier, Germany, 12/31/15
click here for complete results

Men's 8 km
1. Haymanot Ales (Ethiopia) - 22:59
2. Zakaria Boudad (Morocco) - 23:01
3. Micah Kogo (Kenya) - 23:01
4. Teklit Tesfaghabr (Eritrea) - 23:03
5. Patrick Ereng (Kenya) - 23:21
-----
21. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 24:24

Women's 5 km
1. Amare Meskerem (Ethiopia) - 15:35
2. Maureen Koster (Netherlands) - 15:57
3. Derartu Debel Delesa (Ethiopia) - 16:09
4. Anna Holm Baumeister (Germany) - 16:10
5. Gesa Krause (Germany) - 16:13

Yuki Kawauchi's complete 2015 race results. Click any race for reports, videos, photos and detailed results.

Jan. 11: Ibusuki Nanohana Marathon, Kagoshima: 2:24:10 - 1st
Jan. 18: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto: 1:04:44 - 9th
Jan. 25: Okumusashi Ekiden, Saitama - DNS - sat out to rest sprained left ankle
Feb. 1: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama: 39:28 - 6th
Feb. 8: Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon, Miyazaki: 2:15:16 - 8th
Feb. 15: Kochi Ryoma Marathon, Kochi: 2:15:06 - 1st
Feb. 22: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama: 1:13:36 - 43rd
Mar. 1: Tachikawa City Half Marathon, Tokyo: 1:07:19 - 407th
Mar. 8: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto: 1:06:37 - 24th
Mar. 15: Seoul International Marathon, South Korea: 2:13:33 - 16th
Mar. 22: Kumagaya Sakura Half Marathon, Saitama: 1:04:41 - 1st
Mar. 29: Nerima Kobushi Half Marathon, Tokyo: 1:05:39 - 1st - CR
Apr. 5: Satte Sakura 10 Mile Road Race, Saitama: 49:20 - 1st - also ran 2 km family run after 10 miler 
Apr. 12: Honjo Waseda no Mori Half Marathon, Saitama: 1:07:47 - 1st
Apr. 19: Zurich Marathon, Switzerland: 2:12:13 - 2nd
Apr. 26: Sado Toki Half Marathon, Niigata: 1:06:16 - 1st - CR
Apr. 29: Challenge Meet in Kumagaya, Saitama:
            1500 m Heat 10: 3:54.31 - 5th
            5000 m Heat 5: 14:23.69 - 1st
May 3: Asagiriko Half Marathon, Ehime: 1:07:23 - 1st
May 4: Kasukabe Otako Half Marathon, Saitama: 1:07:03 - 1st
May 5: Toyohiragawa Half Marathon, Hokkaido: 1:09:23 - 1st
May 10: Sendai International Half Marathon, Miyagi: 1:08:36 - 30th
May 17: Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon, Gifu: 1:06:16 - 24th
May 24: Kurobe Meisui Marathon, Toyama: 2:17:58 - 1st - CR
June 6: Saitama Prefecture Track and Field Championships 5000 m: 14:52.62 - 1st
June 7: Saitama Prefecture Track and Field Championships 1500 m:
            Heat 2: 3:59.47 - 2nd
            Final: 4:03.05 - 8th
June 13: Megamiko Cup Ekiden Third Stage (2.3 km), Nagano: 6:33 - 1st
June 14: Venus Half Marathon, Nagano: 1:10:39 - 1st
June 21: Okinoshima Ultramarathon 50 km, Shimane: 2:48:23 - 1st
June 27: Okushiri Moonlight Half Marathon, Hokkaido: 1:05:04 - 1st
July 5: Gold Coast Airport Marathon, Australia: 2:16:23 - 8th
July 12: Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet:
            1500 m B-heat: 3:51.99 - 5th
            5000 m B-heat: 14:20.56 - 33rd
July 26: Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km Road Race, Hokkaido: 1:35:08 - 1st
Aug. 7: Towada Hachimantai Ekiden Fourth Stage (16.4 km), Akita: 51:32 - 6th
Aug. 16: Hoppo Ryodo Nosappu Misaki Half Marathon, Hokkaido: 1:07:01 - 1st
Aug. 30: Perth City to Surf Marathon, Australia: 2:16:23 - 1st
Sept. 6: Nijuken Doro Half Marathon, Hokkaido: 1:05:32 - 1st
Sept. 20: Sanlam Cape Town Marathon, South Africa: 2:16:33 - 9th
Oct. 11: Kitakami Marathon, Iwate: 2:13:21 - 1st - CR
Oct. 18: Takashimadaira Road Race 20 km, Tokyo: 1:00:57 - 1st
Nov. 1: TCS New York City Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:13:29 - 6th
Nov. 15: Ageo City Half Marathon, Saitama: 1:03:11 - 5th
Dec. 6: Fukuoka International Marathon, Fukuoka: 2:12:48 - 8th
Dec. 20: Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, Yamaguchi: 2:12:24 - 2nd
Dec. 31: Bitburger Silvesterlauf 8 km, Germany: 24:24 - 21st

text and photo © 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A New Era - 2016 Hakone Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner
follow @JRNLive for live coverage of the 2016 Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2 and 3


The Hakone Ekiden Museum divides the history of one of the world's three great races into distinct eras.  According to the Museum, the Hakone Ekiden's fourth era began at last year's 91st running with Aoyama Gakuin University's inspired and inspiring win.  A young outsider coach, Sususu Hara, with a new approach to building a team radiating not just talent but positivity and a love of what they're doing.  A star runner, Daichi Kamino, whose uphill Fifth Stage run guaranteed Aoyama Gakuin the win and turned himself and the rest of the team into national celebrities for the tens of millions of fans who watched the live broadcast and turned out along the course.  A sheer depth of quality that indicated that Hara's development and organizational practices did indeed mark the start of something new.

In the year since then, a year that Hara targeted as the culmination of his plans when he recruited his trio of star fourth-years Kamino, Kazuma Kubota and Yusuke Ogura, Aoyama Gakuin has dominated the landscape.  At February's Marugame International Half Marathon Kamino ran 1:01:21, the 3rd-fastest time ever by a Japanese collegiate runner, with Ogura and then-2nd-year Tadashi Isshiki also under 1:02:10.  A month later Issihiki won the National University Half Marathon in 1:02:11, first-years Yuta Shimoda and Kazuki Tamura both clocking 1:02:22 to get into the top ten and Shimoda marking the best-ever time by a Japanese 18-year-old.  In May third-year Kinari Ikeda won the half marathon at the Kanto Regionals meet.  In July Ogura and Isshiki took gold and silver in the World University Games half marathon.

At the start of ekiden season, October's Izumo Ekiden, Aoyama Gakuin pulled off another historic performance, running faster than rival Komazawa University's course record despite an extra 600 m being added to one stage.  Kamino, out for much of the summer with a stress fracture, returned for November's National University Ekiden Championships less than 100% his earlier self, Toyo University unexpectedly bettering Aoyama Gakuin for the national title.  Aoyama Gakuin rallied a few weeks later at the Kanto Region University Time Trials meet where eight of its runners broke 29 minutes for 10000 m in one heat, giving it eleven sub-29 runners on its roster.  Eleven sub-29 runners, ten spots on its starting Hakone team.  Truly, a new era.


Aoyama Gakuin returns to Hakone the heavy favorite.  Of the six schools in the 21-deep field with ten-man 5000 m averages under 14 minutes, the four schools with 10000 m averages under 29 minutes and the two schools with half marathon averages under 1:03 it is the only one to achieve all three.  Its 1:02:36 half marathon average gives it a roughly 2 1/2 minute advantage over the other sub-1:03 school, Waseda University, and based on last year Kamino represents an additional three to five-minute advantage over most other teams.  It looks like Aoyama Gakuin is a lock for the win, but things rarely go perfectly.  Two weeks out from Hakone coach Hara told JRN, "Kamino's recovery has taken time.  Don't expect him to be like last year.  1:20:00 is a realistic goal, and if he does that it will be a good day for him and we will be able to win."


1:20:00 puts Kamino at the level of most of the other top runners on the Fifth Stage.  The loss of the advantage he brings pushes Aoyama Gakuin back closer to Waseda, itself dependent on one runner for its primary advantage.  Captain Koki Takada won the 2014 Ageo City Half Marathon in 1:02:02 to lead Waseda on half marathon credentials, but since the summer he has been largely out of competition.  If he is back to 100% Waseda will be the equal of the current Aoyama Gakuin on paper despite the uncertainty caused by the shift in leadership this year from longtime head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe to new head coach Yutaka Segara.  If he is less than fit Waseda will be on the same level as the other two main contenders, Komazawa University and Toyo University.


Despite its Fifth Stage runner Shota Baba collapsing repeatedly in the last kilometer Komazawa was 2nd last year with arguably the strongest team lineup in Hakone history.  It's down significantly in strength this year, ranked #3 with a top-ten half marathon average of 1:03:04 and only nine top-level runners on a ten man team.  Head coach Hiroaki Oyagi may be the most successful coach in Japan, but despite almost always being in the top three he hasn't been able to pull off a Hakone win since 2008.  Still, with Kamino and Takada looking shaky a perfect team performance by Komazawa could put them back on top, especially on the second day where they always excel.


National champion Toyo is ranked 4th on half marathon average at 1:03:06 and comes in with the advantage of having beaten Aoyama Gakuin in November.  Under young head coach Toshiyuki Sakai Toyo almost always excels in high-pressure situations.  The proximity of Komazawa and a less-than-100% Aoyama Gakuin and Waseda fits the bill.  Toyo's main advantages: brothers Yuma Hattori, last year's Second Stage winner and the 30 km national university record holder, and Hazuma Hattori, this year's 5000 m national university champion and stellar in both Izumo and Nationals.  One cause for alarm: for months Sakai had Hazuma targeting November's Hachioji Long Distance meet where he planned to clear the sub-28 Rio Olympics 10000 m qualifying time.  Hazuma was a DNS in Hachioji seemingly without public mention, raising the possibility that he sustained an injury sometime in November.  Regardless, while over the last ten years Hakone has become a blowout win for whatever team's Fifth Stage runner took the top position, this year it looks like it could actually be a tight four-way race for the win over the second day.


Tokai University doesn't quite measure up to the top four but is well ahead of the other 16 teams, giving it a strong chance of taking 5th and of placing higher if any of the top four crack.  With one of two outstanding Japanese first-years in the field this year, Haruki Minatoya, 13:54.07, 28:46.59 and 1:02:54 in his first year of university racing, Tokai looks like it will peak two to three years from now.


6th through 9th place should be a race between Meiji University, Yamanashi Gakuin University, Teikyo University and Nittai University.  Meiji's chances depend heavily on senior Ken Yokote, 27:58.40 and 1:01:37 in the first half of 2015 but out of competition with injury until late November.  Yamanashi Gakuin looks like it has a team capable of winning in 2017 or 18, but while they are solid on the track its core young members are not quite there yet on half marathon ability.  One of the main sources of drama in the days leading up to Hakone this year is head coach Masahito Ueda's decision about which of his two Kenyans to field.  Fourth-year Enock Omwamba has struggled with ups and downs since DNF'ing on the Second Stage at Hakone two years ago, unable to make it up last year when he suffered an Achilles injury two days before the race.  This year will be his last chance, but throughout 2015 first-year Dominic Nyairo has rapidly overtaken him with sensational performances at both Izumo and Nationals.  Nyairo clearly looks like the better athlete, and if Omwamba is fit Ueda will face a very tough decision.


At Hakone each year the top ten teams make up the seeded bracket, guaranteed a place at the following year's Hakone Ekiden and at October's Izumo Ekiden with 11th place and lower needing to requalify at the Yosenkai 20 km.  The race for 10th place, covered in detail on the Day Two broadcast every year, is often the most exciting part of the entire ekiden, and this year it looks like fans are in for a great one.  With the top nine relatively secure, six teams of almost equal ability are in contention for the tenth and final spot in the seeded bracket, Josai University, Kanagawa University, the #1 legacy school Chuo University in its 87th-straight Hakone appearance, Nihon University, Juntendo University and Takushoku University.  Josai is down on strength following the graduation of 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama, while Nihon, Juntendo and Takushoku are on the way up.  Nihon features the fastest university man over 10000 m this year, Kenyan first-year Patrick Wambui with a 27:54.98 in June, but Wambui will likely be passed over in favor of last year's Fifth Stage runner-up Daniel Muiva Kitonyi.  Alongside Tokai's Minatoya, Juntendo's Kazuya Shiojiri is one of this year's star first-years, with bests of 14:04.20, 28:32.85 and 1:02:54.  Takushoku, alma mater of two of Japan's best recent marathoners, Arata Fujiwara and Kentaro Nakamoto, fields first-year Workneh Derese, possibly only the second Ethiopian to ever run Hakone.


The six teams at the back end of the field are unlikely to factor into the action and will spend most of the second day trying to stay ahead of the dreaded white sash start.  Chuo Gakuin University features 5000 m and 10000 m Kanto Regionals champion and 3000 mSC national champion Hironori Tsuetaki in his final university ekiden.  Despite being ranked second-to-last Tokyo Kokusai University will be one of the most interesting teams in the field, making Hakone in just its fifth year of existence as a team thanks in large part to Kenyan Stanley SitekiDaito Bunka University is ranked last by quite a large margin after the loss of its star twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida to graduation, but with a not much better team last year it still came through to make the seeded bracket.  One week before Hakone assistant coach Shuta Baba told JRN, "If we make the seeded bracket we'll be as happy as if we had won."  Jobu University, Hosei University and the Kanto Region Student Alliance Team made up of top-placing individuals from non-qualifying schools at the Yosenkai round out the field.

NTV's live nationwide broadcast of the Hakone Ekiden begins at 7:00 a.m. both Jan. 2 and 3.  Once again this year JRN will cover the race in its entirety on Twitter @JRNLive.  Follow for the only live English-language coverage of Japan's greatest race, the one that shows the rest of the world what the sport of distance running could, and should, be.

92nd Hakone Ekiden Entry List
Tokyo-Hakone-Tokyo, Jan. 2-3, 2015
click here for complete entry lists and rankings in English
click here for a list of university uniform and tasuki colors
bib number, school name, team top ten average half marathon time

1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 1:02:36
2. Komazawa University - 1:03:04
3. Toyo University - 1:03:06
4. Meiji University - 1:03:22
5. Waseda University - 1:02:51
6. Tokai University - 1:03:12
7. Josai University - 1:03:42
8. Chuo Gakuin University - 1:04:02
9. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 1:03:25
10. Daito Bunka University - 1:04:51
11. Nihon University - 1:03:47
12. Teikyo University - 1:03:29
13. Nittai University - 1:03:31
14. Juntendo University - 1:03:49
15. Kanagawa University - 1:03:45
16. Takushoku University - 1:03:51
17. Hosei University - 1:04:18
18. Chuo University - 1:03:46
19. Tokyo Kokusai University - 1:04:20
20. Jobu University - 1:04:03
21. Kanto Region University Student Alliance - 1:04:16

text and photo © 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Ritsumeikan University Unstoppable in Third-Straight Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden National Title

by Brett Larner


Despite coming up short of replicating its perfect win, six stage titles and the overall victory, at October's Morinomiyako Ekiden, two-time defending champion Ritsumeikan University's dynasty proved unstoppable as it led start-to-finish to win the Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden national university title for the third year in a row.

Having missed being part of the winning Morinomiyako team, Nanako Kanno, one half of Ritsumeikan's pair of top-level runners, led off with a 6-second lead on the steepest of the first four downhill stages, a lead that grew to 2:22 by the end of another strong run by second-year Kotona Ota, undefeated so far in her university ekiden career.  More dynamic racing happened further back in the field, where last year's runner-up Osaka Gakuin University, 4th-placer Meijo University and 5th-placer Matsuyama University exchanged places on almost every stage in a tight group pursuit.  Top Kanto region team Daito Bunka University, 3rd last year and expected to favor for the runner-up position this year, got off to a slow start when its top member Sakurako Fukuuchi finished only 9th on the First Stage, not gaining contact until late in the Third Stage.

On the almost flat 5.0 km Fifth Stage Ritsumeikan's lead grew to 2:57, but its superb Kotona Seki was unexpectedly outrun by 6 seconds on stage time by Maho Shimizu of Osaka Gakuin who overtook Matsuyama to put Osaka Gakuin in 3rd just 5 seconds behind Meijo.  At the end of the stage 46 seconds separated 2nd and 5th, Meijo, Osaka Gakuin and Matsuyama all with 14 seconds of each other and Daito Bunka lagging 32 seconds further back.  Heading onto the uphill on the Sixth Stage Ritsumeikan's Ena Kagayama stretched the lead out to 3:29, almost a kilometer, before handing off to anchor Shoko Sonoda.  Daito Bunka's Eri Utsunomiya succeeded in bridging the gap to the rest of the chasers, overtaking Osaka Gakuin to advance to 4th.

Faced with 164 m of climb over the 7.7 km Seventh Stage Ritsumeikan anchor Sonoda soon appeared to be in trouble, off-balance with a slight limp in her stride, but with a massive margin of safety behind her there was virtually no danger of her losing Ritsumeikan's lead.  Sonoda broke the tape in 2:21:50, the absence of Ritsumeikan's second star Natsuki Omori telling in the 1:30 gap behind its course record time last year but still in a different league from the rest of the field.

Further back, Matsuyama anchor Junna Matsuda quickly closed the 17 second gap to Meijo's Kanna Tamaki and the pair ran side-by-side as they attacked the toughest of the uphill.  Not wanting to leave it to a track finish, Tamaki chose her moment to attack, re-opening a gap on Matsuda that steadily grew.  Matsuda kicked hard in the last kilometer heading onto the track but was too far away.  Meijo took 2nd in 2:25:04, Matsuyama 12 seconds back in 2:25:16 for 3rd and both schools improving on last year and shutting the Kanto region out of the top 3.  Daito Bunka held on to 4th in 2:26:31, nearly caught by its Kanto rival Nittai University who was a surprise 5th in 2:26:40 after a brilliant run from anchor Ai Hosoda who put 50 seconds on Osaka Gakuin.  Stage best honors came at the very back end of the field where Kanoya Taiiku University anchor Rie Fujita topped Hosoda's time by 11 seconds as she went from last place to 17th, earning JRN's pick for the ekiden's MVP for showing some true fire.

For most teams Mt. Fuji meant the end of the season.  Many of the best runners in today's field will next be in action mid-January running for their home prefectures at the National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto, but for the top teams the true season-ender doesn't come until the Jan. 24 Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden, where they will race against the top high school and corporate teams in the country.

3rd Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden
National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships
Shizuoka, 12/30/15
20 teams, 7 stages, 43.4 km, 50 m net climb
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Ritsumeikan University (Kansai) - 2:21:50
2. Meijo University (Kansai) - 2:25:04
3. Matsuyama University (Chugoku-Shikoku) - 2:25:16
4. Daito Bunka University (Kanto) - 2:26:31
5. Nittai University (Kanto) - 2:26:40
6. Osaka Gakuin University (Kansai) - 2:27:30
7. Hakuoh University (Kanto)  2:27:56
8. Kyoto Sangyo University (Kansai) - 2:28:06
9. Fukuoka University (Kyushu) - 2:29:07
10. West Japan Select Team - 2:29:21

Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage (6.6 km, 78 m descent) - Nanako Kanno (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 20:19
Second Stage (3.5 km, 25 m descent) - Ai Ikemoto (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 10:49
Third Stage (4.4 km, 9 m descent) - Yukari Wada (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 14:06
Fourth Stage (9.4 km, 0 m net change) - Kotona Ota (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 30:03
Fifth Stage (5.0 km, 3 m descent) - Maho Shimizu (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) -15:49
Sixth Stage (6.8 km, 1 m ascent) - Ena Kagayama (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 22:08
Seventh Stage (7.7 km, 164 m ascent) - Rie Fujita (Kanoya Taiiku Univ.) - 27:35

© 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Asahi Kasei Set to Challenge Honda and Toyota for New Year Ekiden National Title

by Brett Larner

It’s an interesting and exciting time in Japan’s corporate leagues. Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented explosion of quality and depth at quality on the university scene at the hands of young, innovative coaches, on which more in a JRN feature next month, and its impact is starting to be felt at the more conservative corporate level.



Last year’s New Year Ekiden national corporate men’s championships winner Toyota had an average age of 23.2, just out of university, for its 7-man team. First-year pros Shinobu Kubota (Toyota), Suguru Osako (Nissin Shokuhin) and twins Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Honda) were some of the day’s overall big players. This year there has been an even bigger influx of major talent ahead of the New Year Ekiden’s 60th running, with the celebrated Asahi Kasei team’s new star Kota Murayama breaking the 10000 m national record in 27:29.69 and cracking the all-time Japanese top 10 for 5000 m, his twin brother Kenta Murayama landing 7th on the all-time 10000 m top 10 in 27:39.95 and their fellow Asahi Kasei rookie Shuho Dairokuno also making the top 25 at 27:46.55.

The Shitara twins also continued to improve, Yuta placing 13th on the all-time lists for 10000 m at 27:42.71 and Keita 10th for the half marathon at 1:01:12 and his Konica Minolta teammate all-time #3 in 1:00:32. There has always been this level of talent, but where in the past it was a handful of athletes at a time, many of whom never seemed to reach their individual potential in the ekiden-oriented corporate system, the sheer quantity of high-quality new recruits and the slow infiltration of the system by younger coaches means that people like the Murayamas may be a sign of real change and more to come over the next five years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Asahi Kasei team conjures up memories of Japanese marathoning’s golden years, of the Soh twins Shigeru and Takeshi, of Tokyo World Championships gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi, of Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita. It has been a long time since there has been an all-Japanese New Year Ekiden champion team, and it looks like Asahi Kasei had that rare achievement in mind with its recruitment last year, pulling in the Murayama twins, Dairokuno, sub-63 half marathon twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida and more to join its existing stars like Tetsuya Yoroizaka, under both the 5000 m and 10000 m national records this year, and former Toyo University captain Tomoya Onishi. Asahi Kasei won the Kyushu regional qualifier easily, its average pace of 2:56.6/km ranking it 3rd among the 43 teams in the field on a hillier course than regions like the highly competitive East Japan.

Honda, 4th at last year’s New Year Ekiden, outran last year’s 2nd and 3rd placers Konica Minolta and Nissin Shokuhin to win the East Japan qualifier, its average pace of 2:55.9/km leading the New Year Ekiden field. Nissin Shokuhin, feeling the loss of Osako who left the corporate leagues in March to run full-time in the U.S.A., was 2nd just 22 seconds back and comes in to the New Year Ekiden ranked 2nd at 2:56.1/km. 2013-14 New Year Ekiden winner Konica Minolta is ranked only 6th after finishing 4th behind the Bedan Karoki-led DeNA team in East Japan.  Defending champion Toyota won the Chubu qualifier, its pace of 2:56.9/km putting it 4th and well within range of the other top five teams. 

The differences in courses between each region mean that the margins between them may be even closer, and with a half dozen other teams close behind it should be an exciting race full of turnover. But make no mistake, all eyes in Japan will be on Asahi Kasei. TBS’ live nationwide broadcast starts at 8:30 a.m. on January 1 and runs well on into the day. Follow the race live on Twitter @JRNLive.

60th Anniversary New Year Ekiden Entry List
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/16
7 stages, 100.0 km, 43 teams 
click here for complete entry lists

Honda (East Japan) - 2:55.9 / km
Nissin Shokuhin Group (East Japan) - 2:56.1 / km
Asahi Kasei (Kyushu) - 2:56.6 / km
Toyota (Chubu) - 2:56.9 / km
DeNA (East Japan) - 2:57.6 / km
Konica Minolta (East Japan) - 2:57.7 / km
Hitachi Butsuryu (East Japan) - 2:58.8 / km
Toyota Kyushu (Kyushu) - 2:58.9 / km
Yakult (East Japan) - 2:59.0 / km
JR Higashi Nihon (East Japan) - 2:59.5 / km
Fujitsu (East Japan) - 2:59.8 / km
Kyudenko (Kyushu) - 3:00.0 / km
Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki (Kyushu) - 3:00.3 / km
Yasukawa Denki (Kyushu) - 3:00.4 / km
Aichi Seiko (Chubu) - 3:00.5 / km
Press Kogyo (East Japan) - 3:00.8 / km
Yachiyo Kogyo (East Japan) - 3:01.2 / km
Kurosaki Harima (Kyushu) - 3:01.3 / km
Komori Corp. (East Japan) - 3:01.3 / km
Subaru (East Japan) - 3:01.4 / km
NTN (Chubu) - 3:01.5 / km
Toyota Boshoku (Chubu) - 3:01.6 / km
YKK (Hokuriku) - 3:02.4 / km
Mazda (Chugoku) - 3:02.5 / km
Otsuka Seiyaku (Kansai) - 3:02.8 / km
Aisan Kogyo (Chubu) - 3:02.8 / km
SGH Group (Kansai) - 3:02.9 / km
Kanebo (East Japan) - 3:02.9 / km
Chuo Hatsujo (Chubu) - 3:03.0 / km
Toenec (Chubu) - 3:03.4 / km
Sunbel'x (East Japan) - 3:03.7 / km
Tokyo Police Department (East Japan) - 3:03.8 / km
Chugoku Denryoku (Chugoku) - 3:04.0 / km
NTT Nishi Nihon (Kansai) - 3:04.0 / km
Sumitomo Denko (Kansai) - 3:04.4 / km
Nishitetsu (Kyushu) - 3:04.7 / km
JFE Steel (Chugoku) - 3:05.3 / km
Osaka Gas (Kansai) - 3:06.2 / km
Omokawa Zaimokuten (Hokuriku) - 3:07.0 / km
Chudenko (Chugoku) - 3:07.3 / km
Osaka Police Department (Kansai) - 3:08.9 / km
Ryugataki SDF Base (Chubu) - 3:13.5 / km
Takeda Yakuhin (Chugoku) - 3:16.8 / km

© 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ritsumeikan University Going for Third-Straight Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden Title

by Brett Larner

In its third edition in the foothills of Mt. Fuji, the National University Women’s Invitational Ekiden Championships, renamed, appropriately enough, the Mt. Fuji Women’s Ekiden, continues to grow in popularity and stature. This year it moves from the Dec. 23 national holiday to Dec. 30, putting it into a prestigious block alongside the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden corporate men’s national championships and the biggest of them all, the university men’s Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2 and 3. Whether Mt. Fuji will reach the same level of popularity remains to be seen, but it’s a sign of faith in the event’s viability, its hilly course offering real racing and not just a handout to the fastest school.

The fastest school is again two-time defending champion Ritsumeikan University of the Kansai region, fresh from a course record win at October’s Morinomiyako Ekiden against the best from the Kanto region and the rest of the country. With wins on all six stages at Morinomiyako including a stage record from second-year Kotona Ota who played a major role in Ritsumeikan’s win last year as a first-year it will be a challenge for anyone to catch them no matter how much the hills level the playing field.

If any school can do it it will be top Kanto region school Daito Bunka University, winner of last month’s all-uphill Nikko Irohazaka Women’s Ekiden in course record time. Daito Bunka won four out of six stages there with one record by Soyoka Segawa and second-place finishes on the other two stages. A lot will depend on fourth-year Sakurako Fukuuchi, in training for her marathon debut at next month’s Osaka International Women’s Marathon.

Last year’s 3rd-placer Osaka Gakuin University was only 6th at Morinomiyako, meaning they will need a step back toward last year’s form to compete with Ritsumeikan and Daito Bunka. Other schools likely to turn up in the chase pack include Matsuyama University, 3rd at Morinomiyako, Nittai University with a 4th at Morinomiyako and 3rd in Nikko, and Morinomiyako 5th-placer Meijo University.

The Mt. Fuji Women’s Ekiden will be broadcast like on Fuji TV starting at 10:00 a.m. on Dec. 30. Follow @JRNLive for live coverage and check back here on JRN for detailed results of the university women’s season-ender post-race.

3rd Mt. Fuji Women’s Ekiden Entry List
National University Women’s Ekiden Championships
Shizuoka, 12/30/15
20 teams, 7 stages, 43.4 km, 50 m net climb
click here for complete field listing

1. Ritsumeikan University (Kansai)
2. Daito Bunka University (Kanto)
3. Matsuyama University (Chugoku-Shikoku)
4. Nittai University (Kanto)
5. Meijo University (Tokai)
6. Osaka Gakuin University (Kansai)
7. Tokyo Nogyo University (Kanto)
8. Kansai University (Kansai)
9. Fukuoka University (Kyushu)
10. Josai University (Kanto)
11. Kyoto Sangyo University (Kansai)
12. Hakuoh University (Kanto)
13. Bukkyo University (Kansai)
14. Kanoya Taiiku University (Kyushu)
15. Kansai Gaikokugo University (Kansai)
16. Tohoku Fukushi University (Tohoku)
17. Tamagawa University (Kanto)
18. Toyo University (Kanto)
19. East Japan Select Team
20. Weat Japan Select Team
21. Shizuoka Select Team

© 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Year's Best and Worst in Japanese Distance Running

by Brett Larner
click here for 2015 top 25 rankings by distance

There was plenty to be excited about in Japanese distance running in 2015.  For the men especially it looked like the next generation was finally starting to break through.  Race-making corporate debuts from former university stars Shinobu Kubota, Suguru Osako and twins Keita and Yuta Shitara at the New Year Ekiden.  A legend-making win by Aoyama Gakuin University and new Fifth Stage star Daichi Kamino at the Hakone Ekiden and again at the Izumo Ekiden.  World record-setting depth at the National University Half Marathon Championships, Yosenkai 20 km, Kumamoto Kosa 10-Miler and seemingly everywhere else.  University men breaking 28 minutes for 10000 m and 1:02:00 for the half marathon.  And national records.  Lots of national records:
indoor 3000 m: Suguru Osako - 7:45.62 (en route) (NYC, 1/31/15)
indoor 2 miles: Suguru Osako - 8:16.47 (NYC, 1/31/15)
indoor 5000 m: Suguru Osako - 13:28.00 (NYC, 2/14/15)
5000 m: Suguru Osako - 13:08.40 (Heusden, 7/18/15)
10000 m: Kota Murayama - 27:29.69 (Hachioji, 11/28/15)
20 km: Masato Kikuchi - 57:24 (NR tie) (Yamaguchi, 2/15/15)
Looking at the Japanese all-time top 25 for the four major outdoor distances things were even better.  Green marks were set in 2015:

Considering that all the athletes hitting the all-time top 25 except Masato Imai were 25 or younger it certainly looks like the beginning of a wave, more on which next month in a JRN article looking at trends in the last 20 years of Hakone Ekiden results.  As noted by writer Mika Tokairin, Imai's 2:07:39 in Tokyo was also vitally important as possibly the first time in a generation that a university runner who achieved national stardom at Hakone went on to top-level success in the marathon.

Kota Murayama earns JRN's pick for Japanese male distance runner of the year, with a spectacularly fearless run against an all-African field for 2nd in 13:19.62 at May's Golden Games in Nobeoka, a last-kick win over Suguru Osako in the 5000 m at June's National Championships, turning up at an amateur time trial meet in July and jumping in to pace a 20-min heat, and for his era-changing 27:29.69 national record for 10000 m at November's Hachioji Long Distance meet.

For runner-up, Murayama's Asahi Kasei teammate Tetsuya Yoroizaka, surely the sorriest distance runner in Japan after breaking both the 5000 m and 10000 m national records in 2015 but losing to another Japanese runner both times.  Osako, who officially jumped ship from the corporate team system to become a full-time member of Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project immediately before the NOP doping allegations controversy exploded, takes 3rd on the strength of his outdoor 5000 m national record.  This year's top 25 Japanese men:


Japanese women didn't set any major national records this year, but in general things were trending in the right direction to reverse the slide in quality over the last generation, with multiple all-time top 25 performances at 5000 m, half marathon and the marathon and IAAF bronze label or better wins at overseas marathons including Rotterdam, Zurich and the Gold Coast.  The 10000 m didn't see any top 25 performances, but overall depth was way up with eight women breaking 32 minutes, second only to Ethiopia, and an impressive 23 clearing the 32:15.00 Rio Olympic standard, more than any other country by a wide margin.  All-time top 25 women's performances by event:


People are hungry for a new star to take over, but while half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi doesn't look like she is going to succeed in picking up where the sub-2:20 troika of Mizuki Noguchi, Yoko Shibui and Naoko Takahashi left off, at least two new hopefuls did emerge this year.

Marathoner Sairi Maeda topped JRN's 2015 rankings.  Last year in her debut at age 22 Maeda set the national university record of 2:26:46 in Osaka.  This year at 23 she ran March's Nagoya Women's Marathon, where despite a bad fall early in the race that bloodied both knees and injured one of her wrists she ran 2:22:48, the first Japanese woman in nearly a decade to break 2:23 and only the 9th to ever do it.  Her Beijing World Championships run didn't work out, but in Nagoya, running mostly alone, blood dripping down both knees, she showed a hardness that seemed to have disappeared, talent, focus and mental toughness that make her the best candidate to become the next Japanese marathon great.  The playing field at the world level has changed since Noguchi's day, but in Nagoya Maeda looked like she might have what it's going to take.

23-year-old Ayuko Suzuki earned JRN readers' pick for Japanese woman of the year thanks to her fearless frontrunning in the World Championships 5000 m, where she finished only 9th in the final but scored a major PB of 15:08.29, good for all-time Japanese #5.  Her follow-up 10000 m title in 31:48.18 at September's National Corporate Championships cemented her position as Japan's top woman on the track heading into next year's Olympics and put her at #2 on JRN's 2015 rankings.

Rounding out JRN's top three behind the young Maeda and Suzuki, Mai Ito took #3 for the year thanks to a sub-1:10 PB for 2nd at the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships and her 2:24:42 behind Maeda in Nagoya, cracking the all-time Japanese top 25.  Ito came through in Beijing as the top Japanese woman at 7th in 2:29:48, clearing the JAAF's top 8 criterion for auto-selection to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic team.  The year's top 25 Japanese women:


It wasn't all smiles and warm feelings, though.  Suzuki and Ito aside, Japanese distance runners at the Beijing World Championships were almost all, as JRN wrote at the time, "from mediocre to completely unprepared."  Despite having put five sub-2:09 men on the line at the last World Championships marathon, this time only two got there, and neither broke 2:20.  2:08:00 man Kazuhiro Maeda's 2:32:49 was slower than all three Japanese women in the World Championships marathon.  In the men's 10000 m, Kenta Murayama, twin brother of Kota, and Yuta Shitara finished in the last two positions despite having run outstanding times in May and having been able to cope with international racing as university students at the NYC Half Marathon.  Post-race comments from many of the Beijing team members showed a peculiar lack of mental preparation, whatever their past success at home and abroad.  Altogether the results indicated the crisis facing Japanese distance running: the impact between the coming wave of talent reared by younger coaches at the high school and university level and the more conservative ways of the corporate leagues.  Put wagyu into a meat grinder and you still get hamburger.

The corporate leagues did show some forward thinking, throwing a million dollars at the problem of the stalling of the Japanese marathon national records with their Project Exceed, but the JAAF continued to make astounding decisions.  The great International Chiba Ekiden was cancelled without ceremony.  National team standards in the marathon were set at sub-2:06:30 for men and sub-2:22:30 for women, essentially giving the JAAF the right to pick who they wanted to be on the Beijing and Rio teams when no Japanese athletes cleared those standards.  Tomomi Tanaka, winner of the first selection race for the Beijing women's marathon team and coached by a World Championships marathon medalist who had previously coached another athlete to a medal, was left off the team in favor of Risa Shigetomo whose executive coach Yutaka Taketomi is one of the JAAF executives in charge of decision-making regarding the national marathon program.

In any other country that would be called by its rightful name, but in Japan the JAAF struck back, with Vice Chairman of Development Katsumi Sakai telling the media and the nation's athletes, "It's not about winning, it's about trying to run the times we tell you."  Despite this kind of hard line the JAAF was unable to stick with its own decisions, cutting the heart out of its year-old National Team development project after only a year in apparent recognition of the problems it caused with regard to marathon team selection.

The problems extended to the Tokyo Olympic Committee, with embarrassing scandals surrounding the Olympic stadium, the failure to meet the deadline to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the cancellation of the winning stadium design, and the alleged plagiarism of the Tokyo Olympic emblem by designer Kenjiro Sano that eventually resulted in the emblem being discarded long after having been officially released.

Scandal also hit Japan following the Russian doping scandal as a consequence of its major races' elite athlete coordinators' longtime willingness to work with agents with a history of supplying doping athletes.  Three-time defending Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Tetiana Shmyrko of the Ukraine and 2015 Nagoya runner-up Mariya Konovalova of Russia, both brought to Japan by Russian agent Andrey Baranov, were stripped of their results after being found guilty of biological passport violations.  With the NYC Marathon turning down Baranov-represented London Olympics bronze medalist Tatyana Arkhipova of Russia, the new Saitama International Marathon, the successor to the Yokohama International Women's Marathon which had been smacked by a Russian cheat in its first edition, was more than happy to bring Arkhipova and Baranov on board.  It took the IAAF's suspension of the Russian Federation to block Arkhipova from competing, but the very same day another large new Japanese marathon, the Kanazawa Marathon, allowed Russian Victor Ugarov to run.  After he won race officials denied there was any problem with him running, but just days later he was stripped of his results and faced a four-year ban from the Russian Federation for breaking the international ban.  No word on any consequences for Kanazawa for letting him run.

And back in Saitama, the first women's domestic selection race for the Rio team, the top Japanese woman was Kaori Yoshida, 2nd in a PB of 2:28:43.  Yoshida is the only Japanese athlete to have been publicly suspended for EPO after a positive test at the 2012 Honolulu Marathon, a fact race broadcasters studiously avoided mentioning.  There is almost no chance she will make the Rio team with that performance, but if she were how would it look?  How would people feel about it?  Would they care in the slightest?

Altogether this and the year's other problems betrayed a troubling but common lack of concern about appearances, especially to the rest of the world, a focus on the details and total disregard for the big picture.  Isolation.  It's not encouraging, but with so many good things happening this year and the potential for so much more in the next five years you still have to stay optimistic.  Change takes time, few places more so than in Japan, but it looks like it's starting to happen.

text © 2015 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
Murayama photo © 2015 @tetsujiman, all rights reserved
Maeda photo © 2015 M.Kawaguchi, all rights reserved

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Osaka International Women's Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

Fresh off the suspension of its three-time defending champion Tetiana Shmyrko (Ukraine) for systematic cheating revealed through the biological passport system, the Osaka International Women’s Marathon’s elite field features a small overseas field that passes muster with IAAF labeling requirements while keeping the Eastern contingent to a bare minimum.  Karolina Nadolska (Poland) returns to Osaka with the fastest recent non-Japanese time in the field, 2:26:31, leading 2014 World Half Marathon Championships bronze medalist Sally Kaptich Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) and Seong Eun Kim (South Korea).

More key is the domestic field competing for one of the two places still up for grabs on the Rio Olympic team. Half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), elevated to the status of 2013 Osaka Women’s champ after Shmyrko’s defenestration, is poised to get the win for real this time as the clear favorite to find herself on the short list after the race regardless of whether she clears the JAAF’s 2:22:30 standard for auto-selection. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), controversially chosen for the 2015 Beijing World Championships team over 2014 Yokohama International Women’s Marathon winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) is her main domestic competition, with this year's 3rd-placer Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) and up-and-comer Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) needing a big jump in quality to have a chance at competing.

The talented Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko) is another, making her debut off solid half marathon credentials including a 1:09:49 in Osaka last year. Popular collegiate runner Sakurako Fukuuchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) will also be debuting. Other interesting names in the field include 2015 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon course record-setter Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall), 2015 Zurich Marathon winner Yoshiko Sakamoto (Yotsukaichi Wellness), 2014 100 km world silver medalist Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) and masters runners Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and Chihiro Tanaka (Athlec RC).

Osaka International Women’s Marathon Elite Field
Osaka, Jan. 31, 2016
click here for complete field listing
times listed are 2013-2015 best marks except where noted

Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) – 2:24:21 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) – 2:25:56 (Osaka Int’l 2013)
Karolina Nadolska (Poland) – 2:26:31 (Osaka Int’l 2014)
Risa Shigetomo (Japan/Tenmaya) – 2:26:39 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Mari Ozaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:26:41 (Osaka Int'l 2013)
Sally Kaptich Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) – 2:26:43 (Tokyo 2015)
Seong Eun Kim (South Korea) – 2:27:20 (Seoul Int’l 2013)
Misato Horie (Japan/Noritz) – 2:27:57 (Nagoya Women’s 2014)
Risa Takenaka (Japan/Shiseido) – 2:28:09 (Nagoya Women’s 2015)
Diana Lobacevske (Lithuania) – 2:28:57 (Hamburg 2015)
Chieko Kido (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:29:08 (Osaka Int’l 2015)
Beatrice Jepkemboi Toroitich (Kenya) - 2:29:22 (Toronto Waterfront 2013)
Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:40 (Toronto Waterfront 2015)
Yuka Takemoto (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) – 2:31:02 (Kita-Kyushu 2014)
Shoko Mori (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) – 2:34:28 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) – 2:35:03 (Osaka Int'l 2014)
Kanae Shimoyama (Japan/Noritz) – 2:35:26 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Hisae Yoshimatsu (Japan/Shunan City Hall) – 2:35:46 (Hofu 2015)
Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/Yotsukaichi Wellness) – 2:36:29 (Osaka Int'l 2015)
Chihiro Tanaka (Japan/Athlec RC) – 2:36:53 (Kobe 2013)
Chiyuki Mochizuki (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 2:40:11 (Beppu-Oita 2013)

Debut
Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) – 1:09:49 (Osaka Half 2015)
Sakurako Fukuuchi (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) – 1:11:44 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Aiko Sakata (Japan/Ritsumeikan Univ.) – 1:14:08 (Marugame Int’l Half 2014)
Mai Nagaoka (Japan/Osaka Gakuin Univ.) – 1:15:08 (Nat’l Univ. Half 2015)
Haruna Horikawa (Japan/Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) – 1:15:53 (Tachikawa City 2014)
Haruka Hanada (Japan/Osaka Geidai Univ.) – 1:16:08 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Saki Tokoro (Japan/Kansai Gaikokugo Univ.) - 1:16:28 (Nat'l Univ. Half 2015)
Aya Higashimoto (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) – 1:16:29 (Osaka Half 2013)
Eri Utsunomiya (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) - 33:47.97 10000 m (Keio Univ. 2014)

© 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, December 25, 2015

JRN's Ten Most-Read Stories of the Year

2015 was a complex year in Japan with lots to get excited about, a new generation of talent finally starting to break through the wall, multiple national records and world record-setting depth in what seemed like just about every major race, countered by embarrassingly bad World Championships performances, 2020 Tokyo Olympics organizational snafus that ranged from incompetent to much worse, and the consequences of the country's race organizers' and elite athlete coordinators' ready willingness to deal with people who trade freely in dirty athletes finally starting to come home to roost.  JRN's top ten most-read articles of 2015:

1. Hakone Champion AGU's Isshiki Leads 27 under 1:03 and 265 Sub-1:06 at National University Half Marathon Championships - Mar. 1
Tadashi Isshiki, a 2nd-year at 2015 Hakone Ekiden champion Aoyama Gakuin University, ran 1:02:11 to top a field that produced historic results including a world record 265 men under 1:06:00 and 643 under 1:10:00.  Isshiki, Naoki Kudo (1st yr, Komazawa Univ.) and Yuta Takahashi (3rd yr, Teikyo University) all qualified for the 2015 World University Games.  Preview.  One of JRN's all-time top five most-read articles.

2. Kota Murayama and Tetsuya Yoroizaka Photo Finish Double 10000 m Japanese National Record - Nov. 28
Asahi Kasei teammates Kota Murayama and Tetsuya Yoroizaka led the charge in a shot at the 27:35.09 Japanese national record set back in 2001 by the great Toshinari Takaoka.  Yoroizaka leading Murayama with 100 m to go, it came down to a photo finish with both breaking 27:30 and Murayama getting the record by 0.05 seconds over Yoroizaka.  Preview.

3. Aoyama Gakuin University Rewrites History in First-Ever Hakone Ekiden Win - Jan. 3
Returning to the Hakone Ekiden in 2008 after a 33-year absence, Aoyama Gakuin University hit the top of Japan's biggest race for the first time with an overall course record led by third-year Daichi Kamino's epic stage record on the uphill Fifth Stage.  Click here for Day One results and report.  Hakone Ekiden preview here.

4. Why Is There a Track in Narita Airport Terminal 3?  Designer Naoki Ito's Concept of Airport Design - Apr. 9
An interview with Naoki Ito of Creative Lab Party, the creative director for the construction of the new Terminal 3 at Tokyo's Narita Airport, about the inclusion of a 4-lane rubber surface track design in the terminal's walkways.

5. 'Paul Kuira Pulls a Ryan Hall' - Feb. 6
Satire of articles by American site Letsrun.com and Italian athletics writer Alberto Stretti that praised white New Zealander Zane Robertson's outstanding 59:47 debut at the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon as "one of the most amazing in history" without even mentioning that he lost to another runner also making his half marathon debut, black Kenyan Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta) who set the course record in 59:47.  JRN's coverage of Marugame.

6. South Korea Plans to Give Citizenship to Kenyan Athlete to Ensure Marathon Gold at Rio Olympics - Mar. 19
Just weeks after the end of his suspension for EPO use, a South Korean newspaper reported that the South Korean Athletics Federation planned to help Kenyan Wilson Lonayae Erupe transfer his citizenship in order to represent South Korea at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

7. Russian Victor Ugarov Wins Inaugural Kanazawa Marathon - Nov. 16
Two days after the IAAF's Nov. 13 suspension of the Russian Federation (ARAF) and ban on Russian athletes competing internationally, Victor Ugarov and another Russian athlete ran the first Kanazawa Marathon as part of a sister city relationship between Kanazawa and Irkutsk.  Ugarov won in a PB 2:17:19.  Kanazawa Marathon officials claimed there was no problem with his participation, but two days later the ARAF announced that his results in Kanazawa would be annulled and that he would face a ban of up to 4 years for violating the IAAF suspension.

8. Kawauchi 6th in TCS New York City Marathon - Nov. 1
Finally shaking off the injuries that had plagued him for nearly ten months following an ankle sprain, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran one of the best races of his career to finish 6th in the TCS New York City Marathon, the highest placing by a Japanese man in the 2015 World Marathon Majors.

9. Karoki to Transfer Nationality to Japan - Apr. 1
An April Fools' Day article about 2015 World XC Championships silver medalist Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) and 2013 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Martin Mathathi (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), both longtime Japan-resident Kenyans, applying for Japanese citizenship after the Mar. 30 corporate league announcement of a $1 million bonus for breaking the 2:06:16 Japanese national record in the marathon.

10. Back From New York, Kawauchi Defies Federation Expectations With Statement of Intent to Run Own Race in Fukuoka - Nov. 4
Talking to a large scrum of journalists waiting for him at Narita Airport upon his return to Japan from the TCS New York City Marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) defied JAAF statements that they would prioritize people who tried to run their sub-2:06:30 time standard in selection for the Rio Olympic team, indicating that he would run his own race in Fukuoka and not an unrealistic pace.  Despite his words, in Fukuoka he went out at 2:06 pace with the lead group, losing touch just after 10 km and finishing 8th in 2:12:48.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

JRN Readers Pick the Highlights of 2015

2015 was a threshold year in Japan, one of record highs and lows.  JRN asked a number of its prominent regular readers to give their picks for the year.

Andrew Armingerpresident, Boulder Track Club

The performance of the year had to have been the 10000 m NR by Kota Murayama with Tetsuya Yoroizaka also under the old NR. That record sat for far too long.

The performer of the year is Yuki Kawauchi, based on his typical body of work and most notably his 6th at NYC. Not only in the money in a World Marathon Major but genuinely competitive on foreign soil which is especially commendable. These both stand out for both genders, it just happens that the men really came through this year. Especially good to see going into 2016.


Jimmy Ashworth1985 Berlin Marathon winner and first man to break 2:12 in Berlin

It sounds a bit daft to narrow it down to a few athletes that have caught my eye as all the distance runners have caught my eyes. As I have said before the depth is just WOW. One name: Yuki Kawauchi. His do-or-die face. I love his commitment, his desire for victory. His race schedule has just thrown the textbook out of the window.

Ayuko Suzuki. I loved her front running in the World Championships. She laid it on the line and again committed herself to get the best result she could and from what I remember upset one American for running that way. Ha!



Kasumi Nishihara, who I follow on Twitter. She seems a solid, consistent athlete from her win in the National Championships to her run in Worlds, then her performance in the ekiden relay I think it was last month. I look forward to her moving up to the marathon.


Susan GriffenTokyo English Life Line Board of Directors member and Co-Chair of TELL Runathon

I have always liked Kayoko Fukushi. She has a fun personality and is a fun athlete to watch as well. Her marathon debut was gripping. While I wasn’t able to watch her performance in Chicago this year as I was running the race myself, I was thrilled to hear that she had run aggressively and came in 4th, finishing just 4 seconds over her PR. I sure hope she is selected to run in Rio!


Anna NovickCross-country coach, Saint Maur International School, Yokohama

A standout for me is Suguru Osako, more for what his approach to training and racing represents than for his actual performances this year, although his racing has in no way been sub-par. Osako set the NR for the 2-mile at the Armory this February, and then for the 5000 m in July. His performance at Beijing didn’t pan out as his best, but I admire his proactive step to get out of the semi-comfortable corporate team environment to a more risky global training environment to “race with the big kids” so to speak. It’s great to see a young Japanese athlete take initiative in his training.

Women’s performance of the year: Sairi Maeda’s 2:22:48 at Nagoya Women’s in March. All-time Japanese female #8 marathon and first Japanese woman under 2:23 since 2007. Enough said. She held on those last few km after her tumble earlier at the 15 km mark even though she was running alone. She seems to be another one of those runners with a will of iron. I think we can expect solid races from her in the future.


Michael PetersUniversity of Amsterdam doctoral student doing his PhD on Kenyan runners in Japan

At the IAAF World Championships, Mai Ito and Ayuko Suzuki were the “outliers” in that they delivered solid results when the rest of their Japanese teammates choked. Suzuki was clutch in the final, finishing behind three Ethiopians, four Kenyans, and one Dutch runner. If both Ito and Suzuki can continue to progress as well as they have, and set their goals to not only be “the best non-African” runners (as some Japanese athletes have been quoted by the media at pre and post race press conferences) but also “the overall winners,” then next summer in Rio may be a special one for them and fans of Japanese distance running.



At the 2015 Yosenkai (Hakone Ekiden Quailfier), Tokyo Kokusai University (TKU) was able to qualify for Hakone within five years of establishing their ekiden team, made possible by their top runner, Stanley Siteki from Kenya who ran 59:14. Without Siteki their 11th runner would have become their 10th fastest runner and the team’s aggregate time would have been 2 minutes and 42 seconds slower. This would have resulted in a 14th place team finish, failing to qualify for the 2016 Hakone Ekiden by four spots. Siteki was his team’s MVP (and mine), and more importantly the difference for his university to clinch a spot or miss out entirely in qualifying for Japan’s most revered and viewed athletic competition.


Bob PoulsonHead of Tokyo’s Namban Rengo running club

My pick for performance of the year is Suguru Osako’s 13:08.40 5000 m national record. I was very happy that this old record finally got broken, and was also happy that it was Osako who did it. It took a lot of fortitude for him to relocate to America to train with the Alberto Salazar group. Japanese runners just don’t do that kind of thing, one reason being that the team concept is so important but another being because they are simply too shy, immature and just plain scared to go off on their own. So high praise to Osako for doing that, and for making it pay off with the 5000 m record.


Noel Thatcher, MBE – Five-time Paralympic gold medalist for Great Britain

Having given it some consideration my three top performances by Japanese men in order would be:

1. Kota Murayama for his 10,000 m national record-breaking battle with Asahi Kasei teammate Tetsuya Yoroizaka. Having seen him rip through the field in Hakone, he epitomizes the new breed of young corporate runner combining the tradition of endurance with a new confidence and speed to match.

2. Daichi Kamino for re-writing Hakone history on the fifth leg and setting up Aoyama Gakuin University’s historic win. I’ve watched the ’15 Hakone Ekiden and never seen anyone run uphill like that.

3. Yuki Kawauchi in New York for not only a great run but also for being a great ambassador for Japan and Japanese endurance running.

There were many more great runs and runners but these were my personal highlights.


Mika TokairinEditor in chief, Ebisu Style magazine, and contributing writer, Triathlon Lumina magazine

Masato Imai’s 2:07 in Tokyo for men. Imai has been making steady and consistent progress since he started his marathon career, but this was a real breakthrough and everyone in Japan was waiting for this moment, a former Hakone star’s marathon success, which is very rare to be seen. I hope to see him run great in one of the Olympic selection races, then at the Olympics.

For women, I pick Ayuko Suzuki who made the final and came 9th in the 5000 m in the Beijing World Championships. Her brave and fearless race wasn’t like typical Japanese and especially after watching the disappointing men’s track races her attitude and performance was prominent.


Helmut WinterMember of official split timing crew for Dubai, London, Berlin, Chicago and Frankfurt Marathons

What happened on the Hakone Ekiden’s premier stage, the Fifth, will undoubtedly go down in the long history of that event. A few km into the serpentine ascents, as spectacular as the Tour de France’s Alpe d'Huez, a young student named Daichi Kamino of Aoyama Gakuin University quickly took the lead. The lightweight (43 kg 1.64 m tall) ran the race of his life and swept up the switchbacks in a way at which you could only marvel, improving the mythical course record by 24 seconds to 1:16:15 and thus laying the foundation for the future overall victory of his team. I have almost never seen such running as by Kamino on the Fifth Stage. World class!! I doubt whether there was another runner in the world who could have stayed with him on that day.


Mara YamauchiWinner, 2008 Osaka International Women’s Marathon, all-time GBR #2 for the marathon

My picks for performances of 2015 are the athletes who actually won major races, including Kayoko Fukushi and Yukiko Akaba, following the disqualification of doping athletes. Athletes spend their lives working 24/7 to reach their goals, and to have a major title taken from you by a cheat is heart-breaking. Even a long time after the actual race, clean athletes deserve the recognition they should have received on the day of the race.

© 2015 Brett Larner
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