Saturday, August 30, 2008

Koide Protege Hitomi Niiya to Make Bid for Berlin World Championships Team at Hokkaido Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

The elite field for Sunday's Hokkaido Marathon met the press at a conference held Aug. 29 at a Sapporo-area hotel. 2007 Tokyo Marathon victor Hitomi Niiya (20, Team Toyota Jidoshokki) stated that in her race she intends to make a strong bid for the 2009 Berlin World Championships women's marathon team. 2008 Biwako Mainichi Marathon 4th place finisher Yuzo Onishi (30, Team Nissin Shokuhin) and others appeared ready to face the challenge of tomorrow's competition.

Hot on the heels of the Beijing Olympics, the Hokkaido Marathon is the first race which Rikuren will give serious consideration when selecting the team for next year's world championships. With two days to go until her second marathon, the 20 year-old Niiya plans to make a deep impression. Overflowing with youthful energy, it is clear that Niiya is made of the right stuff. "I think the race will happen after 30 km," she says. "I'll run in the lead pack, then I'll aim to finish around 2 hours 30 minutes."*

The future is bright for this early-blooming runner. Running her first marathon at the age of 18, Niiya won the inaugural edition of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007. She hoped to become one of the new stars at the Beijing Olympics, but injuries kept her from running her planned qualifying race. "The marathon is a battle against yourself, so it's the hardest race," says Niiya, describing the depression she felt after missing her Beijing goal. Her coach, Yoshio Koide, 69, helped her to put this early setback in perspective, telling her, "You can always aim for London." This simple comment brought her back to thinking positively.

In Beijing the Japanese women's team was trying to earn its fifth straight Olympic marathon medal but was unsuccessful. A new generation is needed to step up to the challenge. The Hokkaido Marathon is the first step on a road that continues on over the next four years, and Hitomi Niiya is one of the brightest hopes. "Training is Boulder went really well, and I'm feeling ready to run a fast race."

*Translator's note: Hokkaido is a notoriously hot race, thus Niiya's goal is quite respectable. At the same time, Japan is currently experiencing a period of unseasonably cool weather more typical of mid fall. Times may be faster than usual.

Olympic Marathoners Ogata and Sato Speak at Chugoku Denryoku Headquarters

translated by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men's marathon competitors Tsuyoshi Ogata (35) and Atsushi Sato (30), along with table tennis Olympian Haruna Fukuoka (24), appeared at the Hiroshima headquarters of their team sponsor, Chugoku Denryoku on Aug. 29 for their official post-Olympics press conference.

Asked to give one reason why they were so utterly defeated in the men's marathon, which was run at an unthinkably fast pace for a summer race, the two runners said they were simply afraid to run so fast right from the start. The race's leaders went through the first 5 km split in under 15 minutes. Ogata offered his view, saying, "I shouldn't have been so suprised and cautious when they went so fast at the beginning. I'll remember this and will be up there in the future." Sato likewise discussed the implications for his future, saying, "Next time I want to run a completely reckless speed marathon without worrying about it."

Team Chugoku Denryoku head coach Yasushi Sakaguchi agreed with his runners. "That's the kind of thing I want to see from them." In track races and other upcoming events these star Chugoku Denryoku runners plan to launch a program of racing with reckless speed without any concern for the end results.

Reiko Tosa Announces Intent to Retire

translated and edited by Brett Larner

At a press conference at her alma mater Matsuyama University, Beijing Olympics women's marathon competitor Reiko Tosa (32, Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), who dropped out of the Olympic marathon at 25 km with a severe injury to her right foot, announced her intention to retire, saying, "I haven't talked to my company about it yet, but I want to put an end to the marathon. I thought this before the Olympics and haven't changed my mind since then. I'm going to retire."

Tosa's DNF in the Beijing Olympics women's marathon was the first in her career. Immediately afterwards she said nothing about the potential for her retirement. At the time of her return to Japan on Aug. 19, Tosa described her condition as, "I'm able to walk, but it'll be a month and a half before I can run. Maybe I should just quit. That's where I am right now." At today's press conference she said through tears, "This [Olympic marathon] was the end, but even though I still regret how it turned out I was so happy just to be able to be there on the starting line."

Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo coach Hideo Suzuki commented, "Tosa herself also says that she wants to have a baby. After it's born, it's possible that she could find a new desire to run and then make a comeback."

Toyota Kyushu Accepts Wanjiru's Resignation

translated by Brett Larner

Fukuoka-based Toyota Jidosha Kyushu has formally accepted the resignation from its professional running team of Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya. Head coach Koichi Morishita spoke to Wanjiru by telephone to confirm the gold medalist's intention to leave the company and accepted his decision on behalf of Toyota Jidosha Kyushu. His official resignation date is still to be determined.

On July 27 Toyota Jidosha Kyushu received a letter from a Tokyo law office stating Wanjiru's plan to quit, but the company would not formally accept the letter until it had the opportunity to confirm the news with Wanjiru himself. In the future Wanjiru plans to be active from home bases in Japan, Kenya and Europe.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hokkaido Marathon - Preview

by Brett Larner

The 22nd running of the Hokkaido Marathon takes place on Aug. 31 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Historically a hot race, this year's event comes just a week after the Beijing Olympics and features a relatively limited field.

In the men's race, last year's champion Julius Gitahi of Team Nissin Shokuhin will return to defend his title. Gitahi, a track Olympian for his native Kenya, won last year's race in his marathon debut, running 2:17:26 in conditions of extreme heat and humidity. He went on to run 2:08:57 and take 3rd in the 2008 Tokyo Marathon. Gitahi's biggest challenger will be his Nissin teammate Yuzo Onishi, who set a personal best of 2:08:54 at the 2008 Biwako Mainichi Marathon. With the nearly identical times run by both athletes this year, the potential is there for a major duel between the two teammates.

Other contenders in the field include 2005 Brecia Marathon winner Richard Maiyo (Kenya), 2006 Warsaw Marathon winner Vitaliy Shafar (Ukraine), and domestic runners Yukinobu Nakazaki (Team Toyota Kyushu), Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota Jidosha) and 2007 Osaka World Championships marathon team member Mitsuru Kubota (Team Asahi Kasei).

The women's race will most likely be dominated by Kenya's Alice Chelangat, the 2001 Milan Marathon winner who finished 4th in both the Dubai and Rotterdam Marathons this year. Chelangat's best time of 2:26:36 is almost three minutes superior to that of the next-fastest woman in the field, 1997 Hokkaido Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka, but with Tanaka long past her best days it will be a race for 2nd behind Chelangat.

In contention for probable runner-up will be 2006 Hokkaido Marathon winner Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC), 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), 2007 Hokkaido Marathon 4th place finisher Mika Hikichi (Team Tenmaya) and Portugal's Fatima Cabral.

2008 Hokkaido Marathon Top Contenders

Yuzo Onishi, Team Nissin Shokuhin - PB: 2:08:54 (2008)
Julius Gitahi, Team Nissin Shokuhin - PB: 2:08:57 (2008)
Yukinobu Nakazaki, Team Toyota Kyushu - PB: 2:09:28 (2004)
Richard Maiyo, Kenya - PB: 2:09:47 (2004)
Kensuke Takahashi, Team Toyota Jidosha - PB: 2:11:52 (2007)
Vitaliy Shafar, Ukraine - PB: 2:12:07 (2007)
Yusuke Kataoka, Team Otsuka Seiyaku - PB: 2:12:28 (2007)
Tomoya Shimizu, Team Asahi Kasei - PB: 2:12:31 (2006)
Mitsuru Kubota, Team Asahi Kasei - PB: 2:12:50 (2007)
Masaru Takamisawa, Saku Chosei H.S. Teachers' Club - PB: 2:14:57 (2008)
Kenichiro Kawazu, Team NTN - PB: 2:17:16 (2008)

Alice Chelangat, Kenya - PB: 2:26:36 (2001)
Chihiro Tanaka, Team Daitsu - PB: 2:29:30 (2002)
Kaori Yoshida, Second Wind AC - PB: 2:30:58 (2008)
Hitomi Niiya, Team Toyota Jidoshokki - PB: 2:31:01 (2007)
Mika Hikichi, Team Tenmaya - PB: 2:31:03 (2006)
Fatima Cabral, Portugal - PB: 2:33:02 (2003)
Shigeko Yanagita, Team Nanchiku - PB: 2:39:20 (2007)

A complete listing of the elite field for the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon can be found here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Japanese Training Brings Success to Wanjiru, Zhou and Zhu

The fact that Beijing Olympics men's marathon winner Samuel Wanjiru and previous Kenyan marathon medalists Erick Wainaina and Douglas Wakiihuri all trained under Japanese coaches has gotten a fair amount of press recently. Less well-known is the fact that Chinese runners Chunxiu Zhou, who won the bronze medal in the women's marathon in Beijing and the silver medal at last year's Osaka World Championships marathon, and Xiaolin Zhu, who was 4th in both the Beijing Olympics and Osaka World Championships marathons, are also trained by a Japanese coach, Shinya Takeuchi. I posted an interesting profile of Takeuchi on Aug. 14 and in light of the attention being paid to Wanjiru's Japanese development I thought it worthwhile to bring it back up. Click here to read Takeuchi's profile, including some discussion of Zhou and Zhu's training.

Wanjiru Cancels Osaka Press Conference

translated by Brett Larner

Kenyan Samuel Wanjiru, whose scintillating performance in the Beijing Olympics men's marathon earned him the gold medal, left Beijing on Aug. 26, returning to Kenya on board the Kenyan national team's chartered plane. Having earned Kenya's first-ever Olympic gold medal in the marathon, Wanjiru returned to Kenya to attend a celebration in his honor at the home of the Kenyan president. Wanjiru attended high school and ran professionally in Japan and had planned a victory press conference in Osaka for Aug. 26, but the press conference was cancelled in light of the president's invitation.

And more on the celebrations for Wanjiru in Kenya:

Satoshi Osaki Apologizes for Olympic Marathon DNS

translated by Brett Larner

Satoshi Osaki (32, Team NTT Nishi Nihon), who withdrew from the Beijing Olympics men's marathon, arrived at Kansai International Airport on Aug. 25 after returning to Japan from Beijing. Osaki withdrew from the marathon on Aug. 23 due to pain in his left hip joint. Breaking his silence for the first time since pulling out, Osaki apologized, saying, "I'm very, very sorry that I didn't take a chance by starting the race." Osaki watched the Olympic marathon on television in his room in Beijing. Asked whether he'll try again four years from now, Osaki responded, "I can't think about that yet, but that kind of feeling is probably there deep down somewhere. I don't want things to end this way."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A 'Good Enough' Mentality Can Never Win

originally published in Nikkei Newspaper, 8/25/08

by Takeyuki Nakayama

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Most of the runners who competed in the Olympic marathon prepared for a slow summer race, but Wanjiru and the other leaders turned it into a high-speed winter-style marathon. Wanjiru's early 5 km splits were 14:52, then 14:34. The next 5 km the split lengthened to 15:11, but after that the pace increased again to 14:33. His strategy was simply to push the pace as much as possible to drop his rivals. The two Japanese runners in the field couldn't respond to this race approach at all. While watching I predicted that the pace would slow to the 16 minute range for 5k, but Wanjiru actually kept his fast 15 minute splits until the end, illustrating that to today's top runners it doesn't matter whether it is winter or summer, they are willing to go fast in any race.

Japanese runners nowadays never run this kind of race. They are always preoccupied with worries about what will happen if they try to run an early fast pace, about whether they will be able to keep it up or even finish, about what kind of criticism they will get afterwards. They always pick the safer route of running a defensive, passive race, but with this idea of letting someone else make the race and just following along you cannot compete against world-class runners anymore. You have to make your own race. Moreover, you have to be capable of making your own race, of being good enough. In this sense, we need to change our thinking and review our training methods from the bottom up. After all, the world's best runners are looking somewhere else - at the top, at the gold medal, and nothing else. Because they have to make a living by running the marathon, they are running to live.

Japanese runners think it is sufficient just to try hard enough to make a nice, pleasantly long 'good enough' lifestyle, which results in them only running defensive races. In university or as jitsugyodan they are content to have good results in ekidens and are satisfied with securing their position within their team's hierarchy. When I coach my team I can feel it. Coaches should be stricter with their runners to keep them from becoming lazy. Present Japanese runners cannot stand hardship. Kenyan runners living in Japan often tell me this, saying, "Japanese people are soft." If I were asked to point out what Wanjiru learned in Japan, I would say it was probably patience. Our Japanese characteristics were stolen by him.

Translator's note: Takeyuki Nakayama is a former Japanese national record holder at 10000 m and the marathon. He finished 4th in both the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Olympic marathons. He has been a lifelong vocal opponent of Rikuren, jitsugyodan teams, ekidens, and most other major aspects of the Japanese running system.

Wanjiru's Resignation From Toyota Kyushu Still Unsettled As He Looks to the Future

originally published in the Nikkei Newspaper, 8/25/08

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics men's marathon winner Samuel Wanjiru confirmed after Sunday's race that he had sent a letter of resignation to Team Toyota Kyushu. He intends to remain based in Japan but wishes to follow his own path. "From now on I want to focus on the marathon by myself. I don't want to spend my time running ekidens," said Wanjiru.

Toyota Kyushu received Wanjiru's letter of resignation in late June after he had returned to Kenya for his Olympic preparations. Toyota Kyushu representatives commented, "We don't think he has moved to another company, but since this happend shortly before the Olympics we didn't want to disturb Wanjiru and haven't made any attempt to contact him. When he comes back to Japan we expect to settle the matter." Wanjiru plans to travel to Kenya after leaving Beijing, then will return to Japan in early September.

Asked to comment, Team Toyota Kyushu head coach and Barcelona Olympic marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita, in Hokkaido at a team training camp, said, "We cheered him on together as a former teammate. He is a great source of motivation for us all." Wanjiru's high school coach, Sendai Ikuei High School track and field coach Takao Watanabe, said that Wanjiru called him just after the marathon to say, "Hey man, I got the gold!" Watanabe went to add, smiling, "Ever since his first year of high school Wanjiru said he wanted to be an Olympic marathon medalist. He did it so soon."

Japan's Olympic Marathon Results Raise Questions About Rikuren's Crisis Manangement Ability

translated by Brett Larner

An injury is an accident and therefore something unavoidable. This is the viewpoint of Rikuren, the governing body of Japanese track and field. Everyone understands that Olympic marathon representatives need to push their bodies to the limit and drag themselves through incredible extremes of distance to be Olympic material, but at the same time it must be called abnormal when first women's marathoner Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and then men's marathoner Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) pull out of the Olympic marathon at the last moment.

These withdrawals and other problems illustrate the lack of crisis management ability in the current Japanese system. Rikuren did not get control of Noguchi's situation before her injury became a serious fact. Both the men's and women's team alternates were omitted from the final Olympic team roster, meaning that neither was elligible to fill the available slots on the team and run in the Olympic race.

To what extent what Osaki's team in control of his condition? Coach Susumu Takano admitted that he had been optimistic. "Right on the verge of leaving Japan I heard that Osaki felt like something was wrong, but I thought that after arriving in Beijing we could get some good medical treatment and it would be okay." Asked at a press conference whether something was wrong with the system in the face of the problems with both the men's and women's teams, Takano evasively responded, "That's something to talk about after tomorrow's race. There are athletes present here who will be running and I'm not going to talk about that kind of thing right before they have to compete. I want them to be in a position to run their best performances." That may be so, but if anything is going to shake the confidence of the other athletes it is not a coach's words but seeing those with whom they have shared the bonds of training broken and unable to compete.

With regard to the problems among this year's Olympic marathoners, if information about possible injuries had been available more quickly then the worst might have been avoided. Rikuren official Keisuke Sawaki apologized to the public, bowing deeply and saying, "I'm deeply sorry for the disappointment brought by our men and women." A valuable lesson has been taught to the Japanese running system.

Ogata Misses Top 8 Prize Position

originally published in the Nikkei Newspaper, 8/25/08

translated by Brett Larner

"Somebody ran 2:06 here, so the heat was irrelevant." So said Tsuyoshi Ogata after his 13th place finish in the Beijing Olympics men's marathon. With the temperature 24 degrees at the start, the lead pack went out with the kind of speed rarely seen in a summer marathon. "I thought it was too fast and hesitated a bit, and then I couldn't pick up enough positions from where I was back in the pack." At 10 km he was already 1 minute behind the leaders. After this point the sunshine became stronger and stronger. "I thought the lead pack would break up and that people would start to come back," Ogata went on. His expectation failed to come to pass, as the top runners continued on at a high pace.

At 25 km, defending gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy came up on Ogata from behind. The two runners worked together to pick off stragglers and advance through the field, but Ogata could not move into a better position than 13th, outside the prizes given to the top 8. "Beforehand I thought the winning time would be under 2:10, maybe 2:09 or 2:08. I didn't expect it to be this fast," he said dejectedly, hanging his head.

"The marathon isn't something unique any more, just a longer version of the 10000 m. That's the kind of era we're living in now," commented Yasushi Sakaguchi, the coach of both Ogata and fellow Olympic marathoner Atsushi Sato at Team Chugoku Denryoku. The four years until London are a long time for him to contemplate how the marathon became a race of track-level speed in the Beijing heat.

Sato Has 'Humiliating' Last-Place Finish in Olympic Marathon

originally published in the Nikkei Newspaper, 8/25/08

translated by Brett Larner

Nearly 35 minutes after winner Samuel Wanjiru crossed the finish line, Atsushi Sato shuffled in at jogging speed. At age 30, this was his first Olympics. He was the 76th and final runner to finish the Olympic marathon. "It's humiliating, but that's the reality. I have to admit that 76th place means that's my level right now before I can start again."

Unable to get himself into suitable condition, Sato came to the Olympic main event in low spirits. Cutting back on practice due to fatigue and discouragement, Sato cancelled a planned high-altitude training camp in St. Moritz, Switzerland in July. Even heading into August, Sato said of his training, "While doing speedwork I just couldn't move my body."

After 25 kilometers, with the sunlight burning stronger and stronger, Sato's 5 km splits were way over 20 minutes. He could have pulled out at any time, but, "The whole time I was thinking 'Let`s keep running,`' and he kept on moving his legs one step after another. After finishing the race he turned and bowed to the course.

'How I Won Marathon Gold Medal'

Japanese University Runners Dominate New Caledonia Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

University student runners from Japan dominated the half marathon division of the 26th New Caledonia International Marathon on Aug. 24. Gakuinshuin University ace Yuki Kawauchi won the men's race in 1:07:15, with Jobu University's Yasuo Ishida taking 2nd in 1:07:47. In the women's race, Yuko Mizuguchi of Mie University ran 1:16:27 for the win. Chuo University's Ami Nishio was 2nd in 1:17:54.

Team JAL Ground Service's Junichi Akagi won the full marathon competition in a time of 2:31:12.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Near-Perfect Symmetry: Japan's Marathon Men Follow the Women's 'Lead'

by Brett Larner

Following the disastrous performance of the Japanese team in the Aug. 17 Beijing Olympics women's marathon, in which defending gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi withdrew from the race with a last-minute injury, alternate Tomo Morimoto had not been entered on the final official team roster, team member Reiko Tosa had training problems and failed to finish the race, and remaining runner Yurika Nakamura finished a disappointing 13th place, the men's team experienced an uncannily parallel serious of upsets in the Aug. 24 Olympic men's marathon.

The bad news began in mid-June when doubts surfaced about team ace Atsushi Sato's fitness following a dismal performance at the Sapporo International Half Marathon and the cancellation of a planned training camp in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Sato relocated to Hokkaido and promptly disappeared from the media until just before the Olympic marathon. At the official press conference he was understated and dark, exuding a lack of confidence.

On Aug. 20, one day before departing for Beijing, marathon team member Satoshi Osaki began to experience pain in his left hip. The pain increased over the following days, and on Aug. 23, the day before the race, Osaki withdrew from the Olympic marathon. It was too late to bring in alternate Arata Fujiwara, but even if there had been more time there would have been no hope for Fujiwara. As with Morimoto on the women's team, Rikuren, the JAAF, had failed to enter Fujiwara's name on the final team roster.

When the marathon began, Sato and third team member Tsuyoshi Ogata started well but were soon left behind by eventual winner Samuel Wanjiru's stunning pace. Sato, who finished less than a minute behind Wanjiru and 4th place finisher Deriba Merga at last December's Fukuoka International Marathon, fell progressively further and further behind and was soon completely off the radar. It seemed likely that he would drop out, but Sato ground on and gutted out a 2:41:08, in 76th place the last man to finish.

Ahead, Ogata ran as low as 27th place before executed the familiar fast-closing plan which earned him a bronze medal at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships and a 5th place finish at last summer's Osaka World Championships. Ogata picked up struggling competitors one by one but couldn't manage to crack the top 10, finishing in the same position as Yurika Nakamura, 13th, in 2:13:26. Shortly after finishing Ogata chatted in Japanese with Wanjiru before heading for the inevitable live television interview.

In his interview Ogata was visibly disappointed. "I expected it to be a fast race," he said, "but not like this. I ran according to plan but it wasn't enough. I didn't know what place I was in but I just kept focusing on catching people." Asked to compare the Olympic experience with his three World Championships marathons, Ogata laughed and said only, "They're completely different." Echoing the sentiments of competitors from other countries, Ogata added a gracious, "Congratulations to Wanjiru. 2:06 here was truly incredible."

After the race an exhausted Sato commented, "I did what I could, but I just wasn't in it today. I need to re-examine what I'm doing and then try again more seriously next time." Ogata and Sato's coach Yasushi Sakaguchi attended the Beijing Olympics closing ceremonies together with Ogata, but Sato was nowhere to be seen.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Overcoming Tumultuous Year, Wanjiru Takes First Kenyan Olympic Marathon Victory'

The announcers on the Japanese television coverage of the Beijing Olympics men's marathon, including marathon legends Hiromi Taniguchi and Takeshi Soh, and later news coverage stressed that Wanjiru has trained in Japan since his mid-teens but did not mention that after returning to Kenya for training earlier this summer he sent lawyers to notify Team Toyota Kyushu that he would not be returning.

Wanjiru gave an interview in Japanese after his Olympic win, thanking the Japanese public for its support. Wanjiru's medal was the first-ever marathon gold by a Kenyan man. Both of Kenya's previous Olympic medalists in the men's marathon, Erick Wainaina (bronze, Atlanta, 1996; silver, Sydney, 2000) and Douglas Wakiihuri (silver, Seoul, 1988) also lived and trained in Japan before winning their medals.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Satoshi Osaki Out of Olympic Marathon With Hip Injury (updated)
NHK News broadcast, 8:55 p.m., 8/23/08

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The JOC announced on the evening of Aug. 23 that Beijing Olympics men's marathon team member Satoshi Osaki, 32, of Team NTT Nishi Nihon, has suffered an injury to his left hip and has withdrawn from the Aug. 24 competition. Osaki began to experience discomfort in his left hip during his final training session on Aug. 20, the day before he travelled to Beijing. The pain became progressively worse, and while jogging on Aug. 22 it developed to the point at which he could no longer run. Osaki made the decision to withdraw early in the day on Aug. 23.

In the women's marathon, defending gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi of Team Sysmex withdrew from the race shortly beforehand leaving only two team members to compete. Osaki's withdrawal leaves the men in the same position, with only Tsuyoshi Ogata and Atsushi Sato of Team Chugoku Denryoku remaining.

Osaki was 6th at last year's Osaka World Championships marathon, then ran 2:08:36 to finish 3rd at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon and qualify for his first Olympic team.

Osaki appeared with Ogata and Sato at an official press conference in Beijing on Aug. 22 but did not give any indication of his injured status. Sato, on the other hand, was surprisingly subdued and evasive in his answers to reporters questions, showing an uncharacteristic lack of confidence leading to speculation that he is not at peak fitness. Team Chugoku Denryoku coach Yasushi Sakaguchi also spoke at the press conference about his two Olympic marathoners, saying, "Everything is good with Ogata, but Sato had a failure in Hokkaido [June's Sapporo International Half Marathon]. We planned to have him train in St. Moritz (Switzerland) after that, but...."*

*Translator's note: Sato ran very poorly in Sapporo. Shortly afterwards Sakaguchi cancelled the planned training camp in St. Moritz over concern that Sato was overtraining.

Japan's Marathon Men Arrive in Beijing to Face the World

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Japan's three entrants in the Aug. 24 Beijing Olympics men's marathon, Atsushi Sato and Tsuyoshi Ogata of Team Chugoku Denryoku and Satoshi Osaki of Team NTT Nishi Nihon, arrived in Beijing on Aug. 21 after leaving from Osaka's Kansai International Airport. The next day, the team appeared at an official press conference in Beijing. Ogata, the 5th place finisher at last year's Osaka World Track and Field Championships marathon, confidently assured reporters, "I've done what I needed to do and I can't wait to run."

Sato, who holds the fastest qualifying time of the three athletes after running 2:07:13 at last December's Fukuoka International Marathon, was more subdued, saying, "I'm glad that I'll be there on the starting line. I want to run as well as I can." Osaki added, "I'm going to run my own race."

Looking at the results of the Aug. 17 women's marathon, in which the unheralded Romanian Constantina Tomescu broke from the field at 20 km to run away to the win while Japan's team had its worst-ever performance, Ogata reflected, "It goes to show that competing against the world is not so simple. No one can say that Japan will definitely medal. Even perfect preparation isn't enough to get you to the end." Osaki took inspiration from Tomescu's performance, saying, "Everyone has a chance of winning." Sato offered, "I'd like to keep myself in a position to respond to any move anyone makes at any point."

Japanese men have not won a medal in the Olympic marathon since Koichi Morishita of Team Asahi Kasei won silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The failure of Japan's women to win a marathon medal in Beijing puts major pressure on Ogata, Osaki and Sato to perform.

To be continued shortly.

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 22

by Brett Larner

Men's 4 x 400 m Relay - Heats
After Japan's ace runner Yuzo Kanemaru pulled out of the men's 4 x 400 m heats just 30 minutes before the race, veteran 400 m hurdler Dai Tamesue was brought in as a replacement to the mostly young, inexperienced team. Mitsuhiro Abiko handed off to Tamesue in last place, and Tamesue was unable to make up any ground on the rest of the field. Yoshihiro Horigome almost caught 7th place, but it was up to anchor Kenji Narisako, also a hurdler, to move Japan into its final position of 6th, catching Greece and the Dominican Republic in the home stretch. Japan finished in a season best 3:04.18 but failed to advance to the final.

Men's 4 x 100 m Relay - Final
Japan's team of Naoki Tsukahara, Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuharu Asahara ran a season best 38.15 to finish 3rd, winning Japan's first-ever men's medal in an Olympic track race and the country's first Olympic track medal in 80 years. Click here for a more detailed report.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, August 22, 2008

Japan Scores First Track Medal in 80 Years With Men's 4 x 100 Bronze (updated)

by Brett Larner

After finishing 4th in the 2004 Athens Olympics and 5th at the 2007 Osaka World Track and Field Championships, the Japanese men's 4 x 100 m relay team scored Japan's first Olympic medal in a track event since the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, running a season best 38.15 to take bronze behind gold medalist Jamaica's world record 37.10 and silver medalist Trinidad and Tobago's 38.06.

Of the four members of the team, only first-leg runner Naoki Tsukahara, the 2008 100 m national champion, had run well in individual competition in Beijing, making the semi-final of the men's 100 m. Tsukahara was again solid, delivering a strong start against Jamaica's Nesta Carta. A flawless handoff to 200 m national record holder and three-time Olympian Shingo Suetsugu on the second leg maintained Japan's position. Suetsugu performed another impeccable handoff to 2008 200 m national champion Shinji Takahira; while inevitably losing ground to Jamaica's Usain Bolt Takahira widened Japan's lead over Trinidad and Tobago.

The excellence of Japan's baton work was nowhere more clear than in Takahira's handoff to Japan's 36 year-old anchor Nobuharu Asahara. Compared with the simultaneous handoff of Trinidad and Tobago it was clear that Japan had accurately assessed its main competitive advantage to lie in perfecting its handoffs rather than in trying to rival the speed of Caribbean athletes.

While Jamaica's Asafa Powell sped away to a new world record, Asahara, competing in his fourth Olympics, tried to hang on to 2nd against two much younger, fast-closing runners, Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson and Brazil's Jose Carlos Moreira. Thompson just managed to slip past, but Asahara successfully fended off Moreira to take the bronze medal.

In the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics Japan's Kinue Hitomi won silver in the women's 800 m. Although Japan has collected numerous medals in the marathon, no Japanese runner, male or female, has won an Olympic medal on the track in the 80 years since Hitomi's historic performance. The 4 x 100 relay bronze was thus Japan's first-ever men's track medal, an emotional achievement and, in all likelihood, a fitting end to the veteran Asahara's career. When an interviewer asked Asahara afterwards if this performance would give him more motivation in his future races Asahara laughed uproariously, the only answer necessary considering that Asahara had planned to retire after last year's World Championships. The other three athletes likewise gave overjoyed interviews after the race, even the usually coolly professional Suetsugu shedding tears.

Update: In interviews on Aug. 23, Naoki Tsukahara was touchingly earnest when he talked about how he and Asahara had stayed up in their room until sunrise this morning talking about their run. In the award ceremony Tsukahara held up his medal and stared at it for a long time as if he honestly couldn't believe it was real. Suetsugu admitted in the Aug. 23 press conference that he has been in a slump for a long time but said, "Maybe it wasn't a slump after all. I feel like I'm out of it now."


Update 2: The Japan Times' article on the relay team has some nice quotes here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 21

by Brett Larner

Men's 4 x 100 m Relay - Heats
Japan's 4 x 100 m relay team of Naoki Tsukahara, Shingo Suetsugu, Shinji Takahira and Nobuhara Asahara survived a wild heat which saw four of the eight competing teams drop the baton to finish 2nd in a season-best 38.52. This was the third-fastest time among the teams which made the final, giving Japan a legitimate chance for its first track and field medal of the Beijing Olympics.

The same Japanese team set the Asian record of 38.03 in finishing 5th at last summer's World Track and Field Championships in Osaka. Of the teams which beat Japan at the World Championships, only Jamaica finished ahead of Japan in the Olympic heats, winning its heat in 38.31, with the teams from the U.K. and U.S.A. eliminated after dropping their batons. Japan finished well ahead of the Brazilian team which had placed 4th at the World Championships. Trinidad and Tobago, which did not make the World Championships final, won the heat against Japan in the fastest overall qualifying time, 38.26.

36 year-old anchor Nobuhara Asahara had announced that he would retire after the World Championships but agreed to remain in competition for the Beijing Olympics. The 4 x 100 m relay final will surely be Asahara's last race, with the prospect of even a bronze medal adding to the anticipation.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 20

by Brett Larner

Men's 5000 m - Heats
National record holder and three-time national champion Takayuki Matsumiya and national university record holder Kensuke Matsumiya ran in the heats of the men's 5000 m after having competed in Sunday's 10000 m final. Neither athlete advanced to the final.

Matsumiya, seemingly in poor shape in the 10000 m, appeared in better form today, running comfortably within the pack through 3000 m, when he was spiked in his left leg by Sultan Khamis Zaman of Qatar. Shortly afterwards, without warning, as Matsumiya made a move on the outside to head toward the front of the pack his left shoe came off. He continued running but soon began to slip away from the pack, his face showing the pain he felt as blisters began to develop on his exposed foot. Matsumiya finished second to last in 14:20.24, both legs splattered with blood.

He immediately went to retrieve his lost shoe, putting it back on before heading for a post-race interview. The national record holder modestly commented, "This race showed me how much of a gap there is between me and the rest of the world. I have to work harder." When the interviewer replied that losing a shoe surely had an impact on his performance, Matsumiya refused to make excuses, downplaying the accident by saying, "No matter what happened, there is a gap that I have to work harder to overcome."

Takezawa, who has been seriously injured since last December, ran in the third heat. He started off just behind world champion Bernard Lagat of the U.S.A., but when Lagat moved up Takezawa fell in next to world record holder Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia at the back of the pack. As the race progressed at a relatively slow pace it began to appear that Takezawa was banking on using his sub-60 second finishing speed to try for a spot in the finals.

It also became clear that Takezawa had an audacious race plan of covering Bekele's moves. Every time Bekele went out and passed a competitor Takezawa was right behind. Far from peak shape after his long layoff, Takezawa had a strong last lap but was unable to match the leaders' speed, finishing in 7th in 13:49.42. Takezawa had the distinction of being the only competitor in the three heats to set a season best time, albeit one over 30 seconds slower than the PB he set last year.

In his post-race interview Takezawa confirmed that his pre-race strategy was to try to cover Bekele. "The pace was quite slow, but I did not want to take the lead because that was not part of the strategy of staying near Bekele. I could not stay with him in the end but this race showed me how much ground I have to make up in order to compete internationally." The maturity he showed in his racing shows depsite the disappointing result that Takezawa is indeed one of the greatest hopes for the future of Japanese distance running, if his seemingly fragile legs cooperate by staying injury-free.

(c) Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Reiko Tosa Returns to Japan With Serious Injury Following Beijing Olympic Marathon

published 8/19/08 in the Nikkei Newspaper, and

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Beijing Olympics women's marathon competitor Reiko Tosa, 32, who dropped out of the Olympic marathon without warning, returned to Japan on Aug. 19, arriving at Narita International Airport at 7:30 p.m. Tosa favored her injured right foot and her posture suggested she was in a great deal of pain, but she drew consolation from the encouragement and support given by her fellow travellers.

In response to questions from reporters Tosa commented, "My right foot became swollen during the race, and it's still painful to walk. I think it's going to take a while to get better. The pain is pretty much constant, so I don't know if it'll get better on its own." There are no plans for Tosa to have an operation on the injured foot. Asked how it felt to return to Japan after dropping out of the race, Tosa wept openly, saying, "Before the race I didn't feel like I'd be able to reach my goals. The only thing I wanted was for it not to end by me dropping out."

At around the 10 km point in the Beijing Olympic marathon Tosa began to experience first discomfort, then pain in the toes and ball of her right foot, the area where she experienced difficulties while training in July. By 17 km her speed had dropped dramatically, and at 25 km she was pulled from the course by a Japanese Olympic Team official. It was her first time ever not to finish a marathon.

Tosa's husband Keiichi Murai, 34, was waiting for her at the 35 km point when he received an email from a friend saying, "Hey, Reiko looks bad." He quickly ran over to the 25 km with a premonition of disaster. When he saw how much pain she was running through, Murai called out to her, "Reiko, it's OK, let's stop this." An official with the Japanese team stepped out to catch her, and Tosa's Olympics were over.

Although reports surfaced in late July of an injury scare involving a bunion, or swelling and contortion of the joint between the toe and foot, on Tosa's right foot, the exact extent of the problem was concealed by Tosa's management prior to the race. After her withdrawal from the competition, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo's coaching staff admitted that the problem had been quite serious and that she had been unable to complete any of her 30 to 40 km runs while at a high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China prior to the Olympics, instead carrying out much of her training on an exercise bike. Tosa still wanted to run and an MRI failed to find any serious damage, so head coach Hideo Suzuki chose to allow her to enter the Olympic marathon.

Speaking of what comes next for her, Tosa visibly supressed her regret as she said, "I shattered my reputation in Beijing, so I want to take some time off to think about things. I haven't completely made up my mind if I'm going to retire or not. I'll take some time off and talk to coaches and other people." She went on to add that she does want to maintain her relationship with her teammates and hopes to compete in the upcoming fall ekiden season.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 19

by Brett Larner

Women`s 5000 m - Heats
2008 National Champion Yuriko Kobayashi narrowly missed out on qualifying for the women's 5000 m finals, finishing 7th in the slower first heat in 15:15.87. As the fastest of the finishers outside the six guaranteed to advance Kobayashi had the best chance of advancing on time to the final, but it was not to be. In the second heat the top six finishers were all more than ten seconds faster than first heat winner Tirunesh Dibaba's time of 15:09.89. All three women who advanced on time came from the second heat; the slowest of these, China's Fei Xue, ran 15:13:25 to eliminate Kobayashi from contention.

Japanese national record holder in the 5000 m Kayoko Fukushi was 10th in the second heat, running 15:20.46 and likewise failing to make the cut for the final. The Japanese team member with the fastest time this season, Yukiko Akaba, continued to show the surprisingly poor form she demonstrated in the women's 10000 m, finishing 12th in the second heat in 15:38.30. Akaba and Fukushi briefly led the pack during the first two km but were unable to keep up once the pace escalated.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 18

by Brett Larner

Men's 400 m - Heats
2008 National Champion Yuzo Kanemaru was eliminated from the 400 m after finishing last in the 4th heat with a 46.39.

Men's 200 m - Heats / Quarter-Final
2008 National Champion Shinji Takahira advanced to the 200 m quarter-finals on time after running a season-best 20.58 to finish 4th in the second heat. National record holder Shingo Suetsugu ran 20.93 for 6th place in the seventh heat, failing to advance. Takahira was consistent in the quarter-final, running 20.63 for 7th in the second heat, but could not advance to the semi-finals.

Men's 110 m Hurdles - Heats
2008 National Champion Masato Naito ran 13.96 in the 4th heat of the 110 m hurdles, finishing last and not advancing to the quarter-finals.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, August 18, 2008

Nakamura and Tosa's Supporters Gathered Across Japan to Watch Women's Marathon

translated and edited by Brett Larner

500 students gathered at Beijing Olympics women's marathon competitor Yurika Nakamura's former high school, Nishinomiya H.S. in Hyogo Prefecture, to watch the broadcast of the women's marathon on Aug. 17 and cheer her on. Almost all members of the school's track and field team had gone to Beijing to cheer Nakamura on live, but there was no shortage of supporters from the rest of the student body. The climax came when Nakamura passed world record holder Paula Radcliffe shortly before finishing 13th. The scene brought on cheers such as, "Yurika is so cool!" and "Unbelievable!" Yusuke Nakai, 23, who belonged to Nishinomiya High's track and field team at the same time as Nakamura, said, "She's going to become stronger and faster than now. In four years it'll be gold!" Megumi Negita, 22, who went to elementary school for five years with Nakamura before the two went to high school together, added, "Back then I never thought of her legs as fast. She's really turned it up since then."

Nakamura's corporate team sponsor Tenmaya organized a public viewing of the Olympic marathon at Okayama's Momotaro Stadium. Over 1000 supporters turned up, both company employees and individual marathon fans. Tenmaya employees carried megaphones and dressed in the same colors as the national team uniform, chanting, "Let's go Nakamura!"* Other supporters watched the race on a 42-inch television specially set up within the Tenmaya main store in Okayama.

In Reiko Tosa's hometown of Matsuyama, supporters gathered at the Kawano Civic Center and at Tosa's alma mater Matsuyama University to watch her compete in the Beijing Olympics women's marathon. Students and senior citizens alike lent their voices to cheer on their local girl while watching the television broadcast. 150 fans watched the race on four 2m-wide screens at the Kawano Civic Center. Civic Center director Masato Watabe, 72, greeted the crowds and led them in a good luck chant for Tosa as the race began. Cheers, chanting, and rhythmic clapping continued throughout the race until the injured Tosa dropped out of the race at the 25 km point, eliciting a shocked gasp from the assembled viewers. Watabe commented afterwards, "We in Tosa's hometown want to send our proudest 'Well Done!' to our two-time Olympic marathoner."

At Matsuyama University, 400 students wearing t-shirts bearing an illustration of Tosa gathered in the main lecture hall with noisemakers to watch a broadcast of the race. Stunned silence and held breath greeted the scene of Tosa being carried from the course at 25 km, but the silence quickly evaporated as the university's students sent cheers of support and sympathy to the fallen marathoner.

*Translator's note: They apparently chanted this in English.

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 17

by Brett Larner

Men's 10000 m
Waseda University senior Kensuke Takezawa was a surprise start in the men's 10000 m after being out of competition from January to June with severe injuries and scratching in the Japanese National Track and Field Championships 10000 m in June. Takezawa, who set a PB of 27:45.59 at last year's Cardinal Invitational, was clearly still far off his peak form, never making any attempt to go with competitors of comparable ability but running steadily and finishing 28th in 28:23.28, a creditable 28.5 seconds faster than his time from last summer's Osaka World Track and Field Championships when he was in excellent condition. Takezawa afterwards described the Olympic race as "a learning experience."

5000 m national record and 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya had a dismal run. Despite having coming close to the national record in this year's Cardinal Invitational, where he ran 27:41.75, winning the National Championships 10000 m in 27:41.27, and predicting that he would finish in the top 10 at the Olympics, Matsumiya began the 10000 m in last place and spent much of the race close to that position. He briefly moved up to run with Takezawa but again faded, ultimately finishing 31st of 35 finishers in 28:39.77.

Both Takezawa and Matsumiya are entered in the 5000 m.

Women's 400 m Hurdles
National record holder Satomi Kubokura had a strong showing in the first heat of the women's 400 m hurdles, running a season best 55.82 to finish 3rd and advance to the semifinals.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Worst-Case Scenario Comes True: Beijing Olympics Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner

With the last-minute departure of defending gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) from the Japanese women's marathon team due to an injury and the absence of alternate Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), also due to injury, the pressure on remaining competitors Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) in today's Beijing Olympics Women's Marathon was intense. Unfortunately the race conformed to a worst-case predication of how it would unfold.

Tosa has been in poor shape since winning the bronze medal in last summer's World Championships marathon. The latest in a long line of injuries, illnesses and training setbacks was a bunion on her right foot which developed during the last week of July. Tosa claimed that she had recovered sufficiently to race, but just 15 km into the Olympic marathon she drifted back from the lead pack despite its relatively slow pace. Within a short time she had slowed to a near walk and was clearly in pain. She ground on for an eternity before finally dropping out at the 25 km point. Japanese television coverage showed her being carried to an ambulance where she received medical attention. When her right shoe and sock were removed they revealed severe contortion in her toes and forefoot. The injury and missed year may well indicate the end of the 32 year-old veteran's career.

With Tosa out of the race, it was left to 22 year-old rookie Yurika Nakamura to uphold Japan's streak of four straight Olympic women's marathon medals. Nakamura ran well throughout the first half of the race, remaining near the front of the pack and even pushing once without actually taking the lead. The slow pace played well for her race plan of an aggressive attack after 30 km, but the second half of the race did not cooperate as well.

Nakamura's Team Tenmaya has had female marathoners in the last three Olympics, a highly impressive achievement. However, mention Tenmaya to almost anyone in the Japanese running industry and they will talk about how Tenmaya's runners are cursed to have only one good race in them. Nakamura, who had a sensational debut marathon this spring when she won the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, fell victim to the curse, fading from the lead pack once the pace began to accelerate. She was able to resume a marginally higher speed in the final kilometers, picking off several runners including world record holder Paula Radcliffe, but her 13th place 2:30:19 finish was far from her expectations. In a post-race interview she said that running against the best in the world gave her a better sense of her own level and how much she has to develop. She promised to work hard to be ready for the 2012 London Olympics, but long before then Japan must analyze what went wrong this year when three of its four marathoners came to the Olympics too badly injured to run.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 16

by Brett Larner

Men's 3000 m SC Heats
National record holder Yoshitaka Iwamizu ran 8:29.80 in the first heat, just 0.05 seconds off his winning time from June's National Track and Field Championships but far from his national record of 8:18.93. Iwamizu finished 9th in his heat and did not advance to the final.

Women's 400 m
Asami Tanno was Japan's first woman in an Olympic 400 m in 44 years. She ran 52.60 in the fifth heat, finishing 4th but failing to advance to the next round.

Men's 100 m
2008 National Champion Naoki Tsukahara ran against big names Asafa Powell of Jamaica and Tyson Gay of the U.S.A. in the second heat of the men's 100 m semifinal. Tsukahara ran a season best 10.16, just 0.01 off his personal best, but finished 7th and did not advance to the final.

Women's 100 m
In Beijing Japan fielded its first woman in an Olympic 100 m in 56 years. Chisato Fukushima ran 11.74 in the 5th heat, a time she called, "no good at all" in a post-race interview. After a fast start which saw her in 1st place, Fukushima finished 5th in her heat and did not advance to the next round.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, August 15, 2008

Japanese Olympic Track Results - Aug. 15

by Brett Larner

Women's 10000 m
Yukiko Akaba went out according to expectation despite having come down with a fever, running in the top four until this historic race's fast pace swallowed her whole. She soon fell back and ran most of the race together with national record holder Yoko Shibui, who was surprisingly passive and never made a move to stay with the lead pack. Japan's third woman, 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi, ran at the back of the lead pack, passing 5000 m in approximately 15:09, far faster than her 3rd place finish time in the 5000 m at June's National Track and Field Championships. She began to struggle between 5000 and 6000 m, but until 9000 m it looked likely that Shibui's national record of 30:48.89 would be in danger. Fukushi was in the end unable to hang on, jogging the home stretch and finishing 11th in a disappointing 31:01.14. Shibui was 17th in 31:31.13, while Akaba finished 20th in 32:00.37.

Women's 3000 m SC
National record holder Minori Hayakari finished 16th of 17 runners in the first heat of the women's 3000 m steeplechase, failing to advance to the finals. Hayakari ran 9:49.70, well off the national record of 9:33.93 she set last month. Initially she seemed to be following a similar plan to her national record race, starting conservatively and advancing up to the pack delineating 10th place, but in the final kilometer she showed signs of fatigue and dropped back, unable to keep with others launching their final kicks. Afterwards the 35 year-old veteran told reporters, "I don't want the world to leave me behind," indicating that this was not her final competition.

Men`s 400 m Hurdles
National record holder Dai Tamesue ran an aggressive race in the fourth heat, leading the field into the home stretch only to be outkicked by three runners, finishing 4th in 49.82. Although disappointed,Tamesue apparently did not realize he had not advanced to the next round until told so by an interviewer. This was likely Tamesue's final race. Kenji Narisako ran a slightly faster time of 49.63 in the first heat but finished 5th and did not advance.

Men's 100 m
Both 2008 National Champion Naoki Tsukahara and four-time Olympian Nobuharu Asahara advanced through the first round of heats, Asahara 4th in the second heat in 10.25 and Tsukahara 2nd in the tenth heat in 10.39. In the quarter-final, Tsukahara advanced to the semi-final after finishing 3rd in the first heat in a season best time of 10.23. Asahara was eliminated when he was last in the 3rd heat after running 10.37.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Yutaka Taketomi, Olympian Maker

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Tenmaya is a department store chain based in Okayama and Hiroshima Prefectures. Entering through the front door of the Okayama main store, one is greeted by a gleaming, fashionable boutique full of Chanel and Tiffany. Wandering through the displays, there is little to indicate that one of the shrewdest, most talented leaders of the Japanese marathon world is based here in simple quarters.

This is Tenmaya Women's Track and Field Team head coach Yutaka Taketomi. A small man, he looks like some sort of artisan with short, sporty hair and brown skin caused by long hours in the sun. Tenmaya team member Yurika Nakamura won her first marathon, the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, in March to qualify for the Beijing Olympic marathon team. The Olympic marathon team alternate, Tomo Morimoto, also belongs to Team Tenmaya.

With Nakamura's selection to the Beijing team, Taketomi has sent his runners to three consecutive Olympic Games. The Tenmaya runners in the last two Olympics both finished in the top 7 in their races. One exceptional runner might make the Olympics several times in a row, but it's very rare that multiple runners under the same coach are selected consecutively, especially in the marathon where competition is harsh.

Moreover, those runners were not particularly skilled before they entered Team Tenmaya. In other words, they were anonymous runners. Taketomi frequently went to local high schools in central Japan and found them, then built them into elite athletes. Because of this process, he has a high reputation for his coaching ability.

Taketomi himself is quite understated about all of this. "I don't want to do anything showy. I don't usually excite or flatter my runners too much. I just do what I have to do every day." However, when we look into his method of coaching there are many ideas for producing Olympians.

"Everybody on the team is going to experience the Olympics"

Since June, Taketomi has been conducting altitude training with Nakamura and Morimoto in the U.S. In mid-July he flew to Hokkaido where the rest of the team was at a training camp, then returned to Okayama. Once again, he returned to the States to coach Nakamura on how to adjust to the conditions she will face at the Olympics. They are scheduled to travel to Beijing just before race day.

In truth, it is not only Nakamura who will travel to Beijing. Every runner on Team Tenmaya will go to get experience of the Olympics. This is not only to support and cheer for Nakamura, but Taketomi also hopes his athletes will learn something about the atmosphere of a major event.

Nakamura did the same in her turn, accompanying Tenmaya team member Naoko Sakamoto to the Athens Olympics. She was inspired by Sakamoto, who ran on that major stage, and it became the fuel for her daily training thereafter. Likewise, everyone on the team accompanied Eri Yamaguchi to Sydney when she ran in the Olympic marathon there. Tenmaya runners pass on the unique energy of the Olympics to their successor runners, a manifestation of Taketomi's beliefs.

"It costs a lot to do this, but I have told the company that it is a necessary expense."

Part II will follow soon.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chunxiu Zhou's Japanese Coach Shinya Takeuchi Seeks to Make Personal Compensation to China for WWII

originally published in the Nikkei Newspaper

translated and edited by Brett Larner

When Shinya Takeuchi began to coach runners in the Chinese prefecture of Jiangsu 20 years ago, the shoes they wore were made from cheap rubber, just like those worn in Japan right after World War II. "They run marathons in these?" he thought in disbelief. When his runners had good results in international races, people involved in the Chinese running industry asked him almost every day, "What kind of drugs are you using?" He was bewildered by the difference from the Japanese running environment. Now he feels the possibilities present in Chinese runners' power.

Takeuchi, 76, former head coach of the now-defunct UFJ Bank Track and Field Team, became an advisor for the Chinese national marathon team last autumn. He has been helping Chinese runners for a long time but only recently has received an official position from the Chinese athletic federation. At last summer's World Championships marathon, his top runner Chunxiu Zhou won the silver medal, and his other major runner Xiaolin Zhu finished fourth. Since then, China has changed its treatment of Takeuchi.

After Osaka Chinese newspapers had headlines asking, 'Is Takeuchi the next Imura?' Japanese citizen Masayo Imura became the head coach of the Chinese national synchronized swimming team before the Athens Olympics and Takeuchi has often been compared to this famous former Japanese national team coach, a comparison which makes him laugh over the implied expectation of comparable results. "Getting an Olympic medal is ten times more difficult than a World Championships. There's a lot of pressure on me."

Takeuchi first encountered China in the 1980's when his hometown of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture was making a bid for the 1988 Olympics. Aichi believed it needed China's support for the bid to be successful. To help toward this aim it organized a friendship track meet together with the Chinese prefecture of Jiangsu. Takeuchi, who at that time was teaching at a university in Aichi, was a former 110 m hurdler and since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had been coaching elite athletes. He was part of the negotiations with China to make the friendship meet happen; although Aichi's bid for the Olympics failed, the meet took place in 1982. During the event Takeuchi hosted Chinese runner Youfeng Zhao, who went on to place 5th at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, at his home. China was impressed with Takeuchi's coaching and asked him to coach for them. He agreed, and began coaching them during his vacations.

Takeuchi's coaching for the Chinese began simply, with walking. Within three months his athletes all broke their personal bests, surprising all. In 1986 he began inviting high-potential athletes to Japan. Zhao described Takeuchi, saying, "He always treated me like his own daughter. He told us why we had to do each type of training, and his coaching is very logical."

Takeuchi has an excellent reputation for his method, which puts heavy emphasis on the basics, and for his judgment of runners' adequacy. Once Zhou, who Takeuchi began to coach two years ago, started to develop into a top-level runner, many Chinese coaches came to his training camp to learn his methods. What those coaches are looking toward is not only the Beijing Olympics but also next year's National Championships, which Chinese nationals watch with devotion when they take place every four years.

Takeuchi still teaches in Japan, and when an important event is approaching he travels to China. Since he experienced the World War II era firsthand while he was a junior high school student, he feels "This is all I as an individual can do for China." Despite receiving little salary and even having to pay his travel costs himself, Takeuchi has passionately put himself into this work, in his own way giving a form of compensation to China for the war.

Takeuchi plans his runners' schedules by precisely calculating back from the target race to have them in peak shape at the right time. At the Osaka World Championships, the marathon started at 7:00 in the morning. Takeuchi made his runners wake up at 4 a.m. to eat a breakfast of rice porridge every day for twenty days before the race. On race day he had them eat bananas two hours before the race to charge them full of energy. This kind of detail is normal in Japan, but Chinese athletes tend to ask with surprise, "Do we really have to go that far?" What touched Chinese people most at the World Championships, where temperatures reached 32 degrees, was the sight of Zhou and Zhu sharing their water while running, something Takeuchi told them to do beforehand. "In China there is no concept of sharing like that."

Two years ago Zhou broke 2:20, and since then she won the Asian Games marathon and the London Marathon. At last summer's World Championships she was 2nd, making the Chinese Olympic team. "She has incredibly strong abdominal muscles and core strength, and she can eat an amazing amount." Top Japanese runners always run in custom-made shoes measured precisely to their feet. Takeuchi gives Japanese shoes to Zhou, but only store-bought ones rather than custom-made. Nevertheless Zhou cherishes them and still says, "What comfortable, wonderful shoes these are!"

In Zhou Takeuchi has found a runner with strength and ability comparable to Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi and Naoko Takahashi. "I want winning the Olympics to be my last work," says Takeuchi. It would be the fulfillment of over a quarter century's cultural exchange with China.

Shinya Takeuchi
Born Dec. 13, 1931. Professor Emeritus at Aichi Educational Univ. and Professor of Human Health Studies at Meio Univ. in Okinawa Prefecture. While head coach of Team UFJ Bank he coached the Ominami twins Takami and Hiromi, now of Team Toyota Shatai. In Sept. 2007 he was named an advisor to the Chinese women's marathon team for the Beijing Olympics.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The One and Only Yoko Shibui

translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

Beijing Olympics Women's 10000 m Team Member Yoko Shibui

"I Genuinely Want to Win"

She's had many great records and many failures, but it's all in the past for Yoko Shibui. It's not that she won a spot on the Beijing Olympics women's 10000 m team but rather that she finally found the true athlete's state of mind. "I am hungry to win these days. This year especially I've found myself always thinking, 'I want to win, I want to win, I want to win!' People probably think I've always been a passionate person, but it's not true. I think that I probably didn't use to really have the drive to win, but now I do. This means that in Beijing I will be shooting to take down some big names."

Here in front of me is the newborn Shibui. What gets her going is not the existence of rivals or the reputations of others. It's beating herself, a new state of mind in which she has just arrived. "So...I'm really looking forward to the Beijing Olympics. If I have a 100% performance I'm sure something will come out of it."

What changed Shibui? "Well, that, yeah. The marathon I, you know, did. After that I started to think about my career and how much longer I can be a competitive athlete, and I began to understand some things about what's left for me. If I hadn't experienced that race I wouldn't be here. Everything started after Tokyo last November."

Shibui is no longer the wild and naive girl of old. Now she's got the heart of a mature woman athlete. In the past, she always failed in important competitions. In the Athens Olympics selection race, the 2004 Osaka International Women's Marathon, she was 9th, and in 2007 at the selection race for the Osaka World Track and Field Championships, also held at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, she was 10th. The bottom came at the 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon Shibui was supposed to run a much-anticipated duel against Mizuki Noguchi, but just before the 30 km she fell away from the lead pack and finished in 7th with a personal worst time, ending her hopes to run in the Beijing Olympics as a marathoner. "That loss changed everything."

In June she won the Japanese National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, sealing her ticket to Beijing. In Kunming, China, Shibui is now in the last phase of her training for the 10000 m. She will go to Beijing on the 13th. "For me, 10000 m is just a point along the way in training for the marathon, but I always feel like I want to become a runner who can be competitive at both."

Shibui's training has included running all-out on a 100 m downhill cross-country course to learn how to improve her leg turnover. I asked her to show me her secret weapon, her legs. "No, no, no, no! I don't have much confidence about my body. I have a huge body self-image complex," she laughed as she pulled her legs up against her body and hid them with her arms.

Over a hundred of Shibui`s relatives, friends and colleagues will be in Beijing to support her. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo president Yoshiaki Hata commented, "I want to see Shibui finish shouting with enthusiasm." Shibui herself offered her vision of the Beijing 10000 m. "In the race I want the god of track and field to come to me." Under the Beijing sky, the newly grown-up Shibui is sure to get her medal.

'Injury Forces Noguchi Out of Olympic Marathon'

As with the Times Online's Rick Broadbent a few days ago and Reuters before that, New York City Marathon Elite Athlete Coordinator and Race Results Weekly editor David Monti made uncredited use of my translation work in the above article published on The Final Sprint website, in this case the entire quotation of Mizuki Noguchi's withdrawal statement. As I said in response to Mr. Broadbent's utilization of my work, I provide professional-quality translations free of charge on this blog and am happy to have them distributed elsewhere. I ask only to receive due credit as the translator out of respect for the significant portion of my time I put into making this information available outside Japan.

Noguchi's Withdrawal Puts Major Pressure on Tosa and Nakamura

translated by Brett Larner

A major shock hit the Japanese running world on Aug. 12 when Beijing Olympics women`s marathon gold medal favorite Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) unexpectedly withdrew from the competition after suffering an injury to her left thigh, ending the Athens Olympics gold medalist's quest to become the first woman to defend her title in the marathon.

Today, the JOC received Noguchi's official withdrawal from Rikuren official Tadasu Kono. JOC athlete director Tomiaki Fukuda commented, "She was expected to win the gold medal, so it is very disappointing." It is now up to the remaining two athletes to extend Japan's run of women's marathon gold medals to three.

The other two Japanese runners on the women's marathon team are Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) who is appearing in her second straight Olympics, and first-time Olympian Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya). Marathoning is an individual event, but with the level of Japanese women's marathoning being among the highest in the world, the synergetic effect of a strong core runner cannot be ignored. Japanese women have won medals in every Olympic marathon since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. At the 2004 Athens Olympics all three Japanese runners finished in the top seven.

With Noguchi's withdrawal, it is up to the courage of Athens 5th place finisher Tosa. The women's marathon begins at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 17. With such a profound change of circumstances only five days before the main event, Tosa and Nakamura must now deal with a whole new level of pressure.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Noguchi Officially Withdraws From Beijing Olympics

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On the evening of Aug. 12, the JOC announced that Athens Olympics women`s marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (30, Team Sysmex), who at this Sunday's Beijing Olympic marathon planned to attempt to become the first woman to defend an Olympic marathon title, has officially withdrawn from the race due to an injury to her left thigh. Representatives of Noguchi's team informed Rikuren of their decision earlier in the day on the 12th.

Noguchi issued the following statement: "I've tried everything I can to recover, but when I run I'm still in a lot of pain and I can't take my training to the next level. Everything I've done in the last four years has been for Beijing so my desire to run has never disappeared, but considering my current situation I have to give it up. Because of my withdrawal there's going to be much heavier expectation of Tosa and Nakamura so I worry that the pressure on them is going to be even stronger, but I sincerely hope they do well in Beijing."

JOC vice president and secretary general Kenichi Chizuka commented, "It's a shock. If I can speak bluntly, the coach is more to blame here than the athlete. Rikuren informed us of this decision and the JOC has no choice but to respect it, but it is utterly disappointing. Let's all get behind Tosa now."

Reached for comment, Noguchi's father Minoru (56) said that he had learned of Noguchi's withdrawal through a telephone call from a friend who had seen the news on TV. "She's the one who's suffering the most," he said with profound sadness. "I don't know what I could say to her." During Noguchi's training he never had contact with her because of her intense focus. "She's the kind of person who would run until her legs break for all those who support her, so her injury must be really serious. This was the coaches' decision about what's best for her future, so there's nothing we as amateurs can say about it."

The JOC also reported that women's marathon team alternate Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) is likewise injured and will not be able to run. As a result, only Reiko Tosa (32, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Yurika Nakamura (22, Team Tenmaya) will represent Japan in the women's marathon.

Noguchi's Decision to be Announced on Aug. 13

translated by Brett Larner

Nobuyuki Fujita, 67, head coach of defending Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi, 30, has updated the media on his injured runner's condition, saying that on Aug. 11 she was able to complete her longest training session since sustaining an injury to her left thigh. "At 5:30 a.m. she jogged for an hour. In the afternoon she had massage and other care," said Fujita. Noguchi has not been seen publicly in Kyoto, but Fujita said she is doing the minimum training necessary to make an Olympic run feasible.

Fujita added that if Noguchi decides to run in Beijing she will head to China on Aug. 14 rather than on Aug. 13 as originally planned, saying it would be best for Noguchi to wait until the last minute possible to travel. He said that Noguchi's team will announce her final decision on Aug. 13.

Morimoto Will Not Replace Noguchi in Women's Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Japanese Olympic women's marathon team alternate Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) will not be available to replace injured team member Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) should Noguchi be unable to compete in Beijing, Morimoto's coach Yutaka Taketomi told the Yomiuri Newspaper on Aug. 11. "There isn't enough time left for Morimoto to get ready and we wouldn't want to raise unrealistic expectations, so I won't be sending her," Taketomi said. He went on to explain that Morimoto has an injury to her right leg and thus has been taking a break from hard training recently. Morimoto was dropped from the Japanese Olympic team roster on July 30, but on Aug. 10 Rikuren officials contacted Team Tenmaya to enquire about her availability.

Should Noguchi withdraw from the Olympic marathon, Japan will field only two runners, Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya).

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Decision for Noguchi Until Tuesday or Wednesday (updated)

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Translator`s note: The section of quotes from the Aug. 10 press conference following the main article below has been updated and contains a fair amount of additional information.

Speaking at a press conference in Kyoto on Aug. 10, Mizuki Noguchi`s head coach Nobuyuki Fujita and Rikuren official Keisuke Sawaki addressed the defending Olympic marathon champion's condition and the possibility that she may withdraw from the Aug. 17 Beijing Olympics marathon, saying, "No decision will be made for another two or three days."

The press conference included Fujita, Sawaki, Noguchi's trainer Hisakazu Hirose and Rikuren marathon director Tadasu Kono. The conference began with an overview of Noguchi's situation by Sawaki, while Fujita followed with a further explanation. Sawaki told reporters, "While training in Switzerland, Noguchi began to feel that something was wrong with her left thigh. As a result she returned to Japan four days earlier than planned. She began receiving medical treatment on the 5th and yesterday also underwent MRI examination. Since returning to Japan her condition has been improving bit by bit, and this morning she was able to run much better than even yesterday."

Fujita commented, "While doing a long jog on July 25, Noguchi began to experience pain on the inside of her leg below her buttocks, leading us to change her practice on July 26 and 27 to walking only. She received painkiller tablets from a Swiss hospital, then an injection of a painkiller on July 30 when the pain did not subside. However, the necessary treatment facilities were unavailable in Switerland, so we left on the morning of Aug. 3, arriving in Kyoto and undergoing an MRI examination on Aug. 4. Noguchi received shots and other treatment beginning on the 5th. An additional MRI examination on the 9th revealed that she has sustained damage to her biceps femoris and semitendinosus, but compared to the results of the MRI on the 4th her condition is improving."

No decision will be made about Noguchi competing in the Aug. 17 Beijing Olympic Marathon for another two or three days. If she is unable to compete, team alternate Tomo Morimoto will not be elligible to fill her spot as she was not entered on the final Olympic team roster.

Following are questions and answers from the Aug. 10 press conference:

Q. What is the semitendinosus?
Sawaki: "It is a muscle to the inside of the biceps femoris. It got injured because Noguchi was compensating for the pain in her biceps femoris."

Q. What was the cause of her initial injury?
Fujita: "We don`t know. It could have been anything. There are various stresses."

Q. How bad is the pain?
Sawaki: "According to the doctor's observations, she is getting better and she should try hard to be able to race. In terms of just reducing the pain, compression by taping will work, but it doesn't mean she can run the race. If it were a sprint race, it would be easier to judge..."

Q: Was her training going well before she got injured?
Fujita: "I wouldn't say 100%, but not so far from that."

Q. Is her left leg still her weak point?
Fujita: "Her right leg was originally stronger. We thus tried to reinforce her left leg by weight training, but you cannot make both legs completely the same. Yes, there is a weakness."

Q. What will Noguchi's treatment be like from now?
Fujita: "The same low frequency wave treatment and ultrasonic wave treatment that we usually do."

Q. How much jogging can she do now?
Fujita: "The duration of her jogging is getting longer. It was 15 minutes before, but now 30 minutes."

Q. There is only 1 week left until the race.
Sawaki: "The situation is that even if Noguchi feels she is ready to give it everything she has, she might not be able to run. No decision will be made for another two or three days."

Q. What is Noguchi saying?
Fujita: "Her desire to run this race is very strong."

Q. Is there any possibility for an unrehearsed performance?
Hirose: "If she recovers enough to run within two or three days, it's possible. But even though she has a strong desire to run, she might not be able to finish. She has tried to run a couple of times, then had pain. We have to wait and see."

Q. Who will decide whether she runs?
Sawaki: "Noguchi, her coach and her trainer will decide together."

Q. What would be the criteria for the decision by her coach?
Fujita: "I would rather decide whether or not she can race from her movement than by how many days are left."

Q. If Noguchi is out, are we to expect only two runners for the Olympic women's marathon this time?
Kono: "We removed Morimoto from substitute duty on July 30 and it seems difficult to re-enter her as a runner at this point, but we are looking at the possibilities and are checking Morimoto's situation."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

'Olympic Champion, Mizuki Noguchi, Rushed to Hospital'

The Times Online picked up on this story and author Rick Broadbent saw fit to directly quote my translation, for example the idiomatic closing quotation, "We are now trying very hard to get her together for the race." I'm happy to have the translation work I post for free on this blog distributed elsewhere, but I would appreciate, particularly from professionals, receiving appropriate mention as the translator.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mizuki Noguchi Considering Dropping Out of Olympics After Hospitalization for Fatigue

translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

On Aug. 9 it was revealed that defending Olympic women`s marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi (30, Team Sysmex), who is attempting next week in Beijing to become the first woman to win two Olympic marathon gold medals, was hospitalized in Kyoto after secretly returning to Japan from her high-altitude training camp in St. Moritz, Switzerland on Aug. 4, three days earlier than planned. Noguchi is not injured but rather suffering from severe fatigue. Her management is cautiously considering whether or not she should run the Olympic marathon on Aug. 17.

Noguchi was hospitalized in Kyoto primarily for a health check, receiving a battery of MRI tests and examinations to determine how the accumulated fatigue she is experiencing is affecting her muscle condition. She has now been released and is being advised by a team of doctors. Officials stated, "We are now trying very hard to get her together for the race."

Japanese women have won the last two Olympic marathon gold medals and are trying to extend their streak to three. Naoko Takahashi won the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and Noguchi followed up with gold in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Translator`s Note: This news was just released. I will update with more detailed information as it becomes available.

Noguchi Back in Japan After Cutting Swiss Altitude Training Short

translated and edited by Brett Larner

An unexpected change has struck the queen of the marathon. On Aug. 6 it was revealed that Athens Olympics women`s marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (30, Team Sysmex) cut her altitude training in St. Moritz, Switerland short, returning to Japan on Aug. 4 rather than Aug. 7 as originally planned. Noguchi was experiencing feelings of fatigue related to being at a high elevation and opted to relocate to a more moderate altitude. She will continue her training in Hokkaido until her departure for Beijing on Aug. 13. Noguchi is trying her hardest to become the first woman to defend an Olympic marathon gold medal, but with 10 days to go until the main event the slightest doubt has surfaced.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Sakamoto Headlines Hokkaido Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

On Aug. 6 the organizing committee of the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon released the names of the elite athletes appearing at this year`s competition to be held Aug. 31 in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Headling the women`s field are Athens Olympics women`s marathon 7th place finisher Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) and 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki). The men`s field includes defending champion Julius Gitahi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and 2008 Biwako Mainichi Marathon 4th place finisher Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin).

Japanese Olympic Distance Running Preview

by Brett Larner

It is no secret that the marathon dominates the Japanese distance running world. The pressure on Japanese marathoners is intense, although its nature is different for women and men. Japanese women have won marathon medals in the last four Olympics, including the last two gold medals, and are expected to continue this legacy. The men, on the other hand, have not won a medal since Koichi Morishita’s silver in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and as a result are perceived to be inferior to the women. While this is statistically debatable, it cannot be argued that Japanese runners, male and female, have been less competitive at all distances shorter than the marathon.

This year may well be different as the country is sending possibly its best-ever Olympic distance running team, including the national record holders in both the men`s and women`s 3000m steeplechase and 5000m and in the women`s 10000m and marathon. Not only the female marathoners but also the male marathoners and women`s 10000m team hold realistic potential for a medal.

Click each event below for detailed athlete profiles and previews.

Women`s 3000 m SC - Men`s 3000 m SC
Women`s 5000 m - Men`s 5000 m
Women`s 10000 m - Men`s 10000 m
Women`s Marathon - Men`s Marathon

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Japanese Olympic Distance Running Preview - Women`s Marathon (updated)

by Brett Larner

Women`s Marathon

Defending Olympic marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi withdrew from the Olympic marathon on Aug. 12 as a result of an injury she sustained in training on July 25. Alternate Tomo Morimoto, a teammate of Yurika Nakamura at Tenmaya, is also injured, meaning that Japan will field only two runners in the women`s marathon.

Yurika Nakamura
Born: Apr. 1, 1986, Hyogo Prefecture
Team Affiliation: Tenmaya
Olympic Event PB: 2:25:51, 3/9/08
Season Highlights:
-3rd place and PB, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000m: 31:31.95, 4/27/08
-Winner, Nagoya Int’l Women`s Marathon: 2:25:51, 3/9/08
Career Highlights:
-Winner, Nagoya Int’l Women`s Marathon, 2008
-World Road Running Championships, 2006-2007
-World XC Championships, 2005
-Nat’l T&F Championships 5000m, 2006-2007
-Nat’l T&F Championships 10000m, 2006

Yurika Nakamura is the least experienced member of the Japanese distance running team, earning a slot on the Beijing Olympics team by winning her debut marathon, the 2008 Nagoya International Women`s Marathon. Despite her lack of credentials Nakamura was thoroughly convincing in eliminating a field of many of Japan`s best marathon women to take the final Olympic team slot. Her professional team, Tenmaya, has had marathoners in the last two Olympics, but neither of these runners performed up to ability or ran well again after their Olympic appearances.

Since earning her Olympic slot Nakamura has shown unusual intensity, making public her goal of beating Beijing teammates Mizuki Noguchi and Reiko Tosa`s 5000m and 10000m PBs. As of this writing she had taken all but Noguchi`s 10000m PB of 31:21.03 which she missed by only 10 seconds. With only one marathon to go by Nakamura is difficult to judge, but the potential she has shown this spring suggests a top ten finish is possible. Gossip magazines published in Japan the day before the Olympic opening ceremonies claim Nakamura has suffered a mental breakdown due to the intense pressure of being part of Japan`s Olympic women`s marathon team, but the truth of such rumors remains to be seen.

Reiko Tosa
June 11, 1973, Ehime Prefecture
Team Affiliation: Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo
Olympic Event PB: 2:22:46, 2002
Season Highlights:
-World T&F Championships Marathon bronze medalist: 2:30:55, 9/2/07
Career Highlights:
-Silver medal, World T&F Championships Marathon, 2001
-Bronze medal, World T&F Championships Marathon, 2007
-Athens Olympics Marathon, 2004
-Winner, 2006 Tokyo Int’l Women`s Marathon and 2004 Nagoya Int’l Women’s Marathon
-World Half Marathon Championships, 1999
-Nat’l T&F Championships 10000m, 2002, 2006
-3rd place, Boston Marathon, 2005

Reiko Tosa stands among the greatest of Japan`s marathon women, a runner who worked her way up from being too slow on the track to earn a spot on a professional team to being a two-time World Championships Marathon medalist and soon-to-be two-time Olympian. Tosa defeated the legendary Naoko Takahashi in heavy rain at the 2006 Tokyo Int’l Women`s Marathon to win a spot on the 2007 Osaka World Championships Marathon team. In Osaka she delivered an inspiring but brutal performance to take the bronze medal and a ticket to Beijing, dropping off the lead pack of five with 2 km to go before grinding her way back up into 3rd place. She has not raced even once since Osaka, suffering first from anemia, then motivational problems, and most recently joint problems in her feet.

A quality performance in Beijing would seem improbable from another athlete, but Tosa has a history of unexpectedly coming back from long periods of injury in time for important races. Just five weeks before last summer`s World Championships Marathon she was on crutches, while she did much of her training for the 2004 Nagoya Int’l Women`s Marathon, which she won to earn a trip to the Athens Olympics, in the pool. Tosa may well pull off another miraculous comeback in Beijing, but facing as she does five of the eight women in history who have broken 2:20 a medal is unlikely barring upsets in the heat. A 5th place finish by Tosa would be an outstanding result.


Mizuki Noguchi
Born: July 3, 1978, Mie Prefecture
Team Affiliation: Sysmex
Olympic Event PB: 2:19:12, 2005 – NR
Season Highlights:
-Winner, Sendai Int’l Half Marathon: 1:08:25, 5/11/08
-Winner and new CR holder, Tokyo Int’l Women`s Marathon: 2:21:37, 11/18/07
Career Highlights:
-Gold medal, Athens Olympics Marathon, 2004
-NR, marathon: 2:19:12, 2005
-Former NR, half marathon: 1:08:23, 2001
-Silver medal, World T&F Championships Marathon, 2003
-Winner, 2007 Tokyo Int’l Women`s Marathon, 2005 Berlin Marathon, 2004 Athens Olympics Marathon, 2003 Osaka Int’l Women`s Marathon, 2002 Nagoya Int’l Women`s Marathon
-World T&F Championships 10000m, 2001
-World Half Marathon Championships, 1999-2002
-World XC Championships, 2000

Defending Olympic Marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi stands ready to become the first woman to win two Olympic titles. After winning the Athens Olympics Marathon, Noguchi ran the current Japanese national record of 2:19:12 to become the 3rd-fastest woman in history behind world record holder Paula Radcliffe of the U.K. and former world record holder Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, both of whom Noguchi defeated in Athens. Noguchi`s fitness continued to improve following her record-setting run, but a series of accidents including a fall in the bathtub kept her out of marathon competition for over two years. During this period she was not idle, however, among other things doing a detailed electronic form analysis to find ways to reduce her vertical hip movement and become more efficient, and developing tactics and training methods to help her defeat strong rivals such as Radcliffe.

The results were clear. At the 2007 Tokyo Int’l Women`s Marathon, a historic race which saw Noguchi face off against fellow sub-2:20 marathoner Yoko Shibui for the first time, Noguchi tore apart her competition, running a negative split course record 2:21:37 despite the 30m downhill in the first half of the race and 30m uphill in the final 5 km. Noguchi was the first woman to break 17 minutes for the uphill final 5 km portion of the course, and her time was the 2nd fastest in the world for the year behind only Chinese rival Zhou Chunxiu’s 2:20:38 on the faster London Marathon course. More importantly, the surging tactics Noguchi employed in the last quarter of the race were clearly designed to break faster competitors.

Since Tokyo Noguchi has been under close observation by the Japanese media, with major television networks airing documentaries on her training and newspapers reporting any information they can glean. Noguchi has handled the pressure extremely well but has nevertheless faced setbacks in her training. In February she cancelled a planned 30 km world record attempt due to insufficient fitness. In March she withdrew from the National Pro Half Marathon Championships after developing a serious rash while training in Kunming, China. Not until May’s Sendai Int’l Half Marathon, which she won in 1:08:25, did Noguchi demonstrate that she was back on track. Her training has been thorough, disciplined and focused since then, and she now stands as at least a moderate favorite for the Beijing gold medal.

Among her potential competition, Paula Radcliffe has been unable to prepare adequately due to a fractured femur. Noguchi's next most dangerous rival, Zhou Chunxiu is in questionable condition. She won a silver medal at last year`s World Championships despite running with an injury but was mostly out of the competitive scene until she ran in April’s Pre-Olympic test marathon. A documentary aired on national television in Japan in early August showed footage of Zhou, visibly heavy and lacking her trademark muscle definition, running the Pre-Olympic marathon; Zhou has also sounded far from confident in recent interviews. While Radcliffe and Zhou may not be at peak fitness, the other two sub 2:20 women in the field, Athens Olympics silver medalist Catherine Ndereba and bronze medalist Deena Kastor both have strong recent performances with powerful finishes. Challenges may also come from a number of other competitors, but Noguchi appears to be in prime shape and ready for anything. A repeat gold medal is not assured, but it would be truly surprising if Noguchi finished out of the medals.

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
photos from Rikuren archive