Friday, April 24, 2015

Big 10000 m on Deck at Hyogo Relay Carnival

by Brett Larner

The first big 10000 m on the Japanese track calendar, this weekend's Hyogo Relay Carnival is geared up to be a shot at World Championships entry standards and World University Games national team places.  The Grand Prix men's 10000 m features sub-27 world-level medalists Kenyans Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) and Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) and four others with sub-27:30 bests to pull the top Japanese men along to clear the 27:45.00 Beijing standard.  The only man to do it so far, Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) with a 27:38.99 last November in Hachioji, is not in the race, but two others who have cleared that time before, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) are, along with young stars who have come close like Kenta Murayama (Team Asahi Kasei) and Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta).  Especially worth watching is Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta), who tied the 20 km national record earlier this year on the way to a 1:00:32 half marathon.

2014 World Half Marathon Championships bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko) leads the Grand Prix Women's 10000 m.  None of the four Japanese women who have already run Beijing qualifiers are on the entry list, leaving Chieko Kido (Canon AC Kyushu) in the top Japanese position at 32:11.21 followed closely by Kotomi Takayama (Sysmex) in 32:15.20.  Under-20 marathon national record holder Reia Iwade (Team Noritz) sits mid-field at 32:24.38. At 1:09:27 this year's fastest Japanese woman over the half marathon, 2015 National Corporate Champion Michi Numata (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) is also in the race and should make a pretty serious improvement to her 32:45.86 best.  One of the women who has cleared the Beijing 10000 m standard, Kasumi Nishihara (Yamada Denki) with a 31:53.69 at last year's Hyogo Relay Carnival, will be in the Asics Challenge Women's 5000 m, where she and her Yamada Denki teammates Yuika Mori, Shiho Takechi and Sakiho Tsutsui dominate the entry list.

Things are deep enough on the men's front that the Asics Challenge 10000 m, effectively the B-heat, also has a solid field.  Patrick Mwaka (Team Aisan Kogyo) leads seven men with sub-28 bests at 27:30.32, with solid competition from this year's 5000 m world leader Hiram Ngatia (Toyota) who is bound to take a big chunk off his 28:25.25 best.  A good number of 2015 Hakone Ekiden stars will be making their pro 10000 m debuts in the Asics Challenge heat, including Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu), Shuho Dairokuno (Team Asahi Kasei) and twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida (Team Asahi Kasei).

Many of the current top Hakone stars get their seasons started in the men's World University Games National Team Selection 10000 m.  2015 Hakone course record setter Aoyama Gakuin University fields its big four, Tadashi Isshiki, Yusuke Ogura, Kazuma Kubota and, making a return from a post-Hakone stress fracture should he start, Fifth Stage star Daichi Kamino.  Isshiki is already on the World University Games after winning March's profound National University Half Marathon Championships, as are 19-year-old Naoki Kudo (Komazawa University) who will be making his 10000 m debut after already running PBs of 13:52.97 and 1:02:12 in 2015, and alternate Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.).  Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) is the only big name from outside the Hakone Ekiden-focused Kanto Region, seeded #4 with a best of 28:36.72.  The other main competition comes from senior Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.), who set a stage record at November's National University Ekiden Championships before a superb half marathon best of 1:01:37 in February.

63rd Hyogo Relay Carnival Entry List Highlights
Kobe, Hyogo, 4/25-26/15
click here for complete entry lists

Men's Grand Prix 10000 m
Paul Tanui (Kenya/Kyudenko) - 26:49.41
Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) - 26:52.36
Edward Waweru (Kenya/NTN) - 27:13.94
Leonard Barsoton (Kenya/Nissin Shokuhin) - 27:20.74
James Mwangi (Kenya/NTN) - 27:23.66
William Malel (Kenya/Honda) - 27:25.56
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Konica Minolta) - 27:40.69
Chihiro Miyawaki (Toyota) - 27:41.57
Kensuke Takezawa (Sumitomo Denko) - 27:45.59
Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) - 27:49.94
Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) - 27:51.54
Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - 28:01.71
Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta) - 28:04.25
Shota Hattori (Honda) - 28:22.79
Hiroto Inoue (Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 28:23.34

Women's Grand Prix 10000 m
Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) - 31:22.11
Chieko Kido (Canon AC Kyushu) - 32:11.21
Kotomi Takayama (Sysmex) - 32:15.20
Felista Wanjugu (Kenya/Universal Entertainment) - 32:16 (road)
Yurie Doi (Starts) - 32:16.05
Grace Kimanzi (Kenya/Starts) - 32:22.14
Reia Iwade (Noritz) - 32:24.38
Megumi Hirai (Canon AC Kyushu) - 32:38.59
Misato Horie (Noritz) - 32:40.82
Yukari Abe (Shimamura) - 32:41.38
Mao Kuroda (Wacoal) - 32:41.92
Michi Numata (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 32:45.86

Men's Asics Challenge 10000 m
Patrick Mwaka (Kenya/Aisan Kogyo) - 27:30.32
Joseph Kamathi (Kenya/Toyota) - 27:38.18
Alex Mwangi (Kenya/YKK) - 27:42.20
Melaku Abera (Ethiopia/Kurosaki Harima) - 27:42.35
Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/JFE Steel) - 27:58.02
Macharia Ndirangu (Kenya/Aichi Seiko) - 27:59.11
Yuki Matsuoka (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 27:59.78
Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu) - 28:05.79
Ryo Yamamoto (SG Holdings) - 28:13.23
Joseph Onsarigo (Kenya/ND Software) - 28:16.72
Hiram Ngatia (Kenya/Toyota) - 28:25.25
Charles Ndungu (Kenya/Komori Corp.) - 28:36.77
Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei) - 28:40.88
Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 28:43.93
Hiroshi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 28:51.43

Men's World University Games National Team Selection 10000 m
Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 28:23.40
Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 28:27.73
Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 28:30.78
Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) - 28:36.72
Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 28:36.85
Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.) - 28:38.73
Yuki Muta (Meiji Univ.) - 28:43.20
Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.) - 28:48.03
Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) - 28:49.59
Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 28:51.98
Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 28:55.31
Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - debut

Women's Asics Challenge 5000 m
Mari Ozaki (Noritz) - 15:12.76
Susan Wairimu (Kenya/Denso) - 15:20.49
Yuika Mori (Yamada Denki) - 15:25.58
Kasumi Nishihara (Yamada Denki) - 15:25.50
Shiho Takechi (Yamada Denki) - 15:29.85
Saori Noda (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 15:37.74
Miho Ihara (Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:41.67
Sakiho Tsutsui (Yamada Denki) - 15:42.23
Chika Nakama (Aichi Denki) - 15:48.79
Akane Yabushita (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 15:46.47

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, April 23, 2015

'Why Japan's Incredible Long-Distance Runners Will Never Win the London Marathon'

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/why-japans-incredible-longdistance-runners-will-never-win-the-london-marathon-10182050.html

Two Japanese long distance runners have, in fact, won the London Marathon.  The coach cited in the article, Kenji Takao, is a middle and long distance track coach at Ritsumeikan University, a Kansai Region school in Kyoto that, being outside the Tokyo-centric Kanto Region, does not participate in the Hakone Ekiden.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sakamoto Wins Zurich Marathon in International Debut, Kawauchi 2nd Behind Kiyeng

by Brett Larner
photos by Chris Godfrey, Martin Yelling and Brett Larner

Making her international marathon debut in excellent conditions on an almost perfectly flat course, Yoshiko Sakamoto (Y.W.C.) won the Zurich Marathon with an evenly-paced solo run that put her more than 8 minutes ahead of runner-up Nicola Spirig (Switzerland), the London Olympics triathlon gold medalist.  A 36-year-old mother of three, Sakamoto was a high school star who quit running completely for 9 years before starting again in her early 30s and set a PB 2:36:29 in January this year. Running in Zurich with support from JRN and targeting a 2:34 PB, Sakamoto was slightly off pace from the beginning but never flagged dramatically, going through halfway in 1:18:18 and facing headwinds on the return trip into town before crossing the finish line first in 2:37:47.

Australia's Jane Fardell, a late addition to the field, ran 2nd throughout the race but with a little over a km to go was run down by Spirig, the fastest in the field over the final quarter of the race.

"I'm so relieved and happy to have run a good time," Sakamoto said post-race.  "I had had some leg pain a couple of weeks ago that cut into my training, but it was no trouble during the race.  Partway through I thought I was going to fade and not break 2:40, but I started overtaking some men and that kept me going.  I can't believe I really did it.  I want to take it easy for a little while now and then race on the track.  My next marathon won't be until the fall."

The men's race was likewise slightly behind pace from the start, a ten-man group led by pacer Boaz Kipyego (Kenya), Edwin Kemboi Kiyeng (Kenya) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) staying right together on a pace hovering around 2:11 through 35 km before Kiyeng threw in a surge that put him in position for the win in 2:11:35.  Kawauchi fell to 7th in the wake of Kiyeng's move, but clawing his way back up he was in 4th by 41 km and outkicked Ethiopian Gebre Mekuant Ayenew by 4 seconds in the final 250 m to take 2nd in 2:12:13, his best time so far in a year in which he has struggled to recover from a bad ankle sprain in late December.

Post-race Kawauchi commented, "I'm disappointed not to win, but this was my first time making the podium in Europe so I'm very happy.  My time was not what I was going for either, but there was absolutely no pain or trouble with my ankle and it was just a case of my fitness not being up to where I thought it was yet.  In terms of level the Zurich Marathon was the perfect race for where I am right now and I'm extremely glad I chose it for my main spring race."

Zurich Marathon
Zurich, Switzerland, 4/19/15
click here for complete results

Women
1. Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/YWC) - 2:37:47
2. Nicola Spirig (Switzerland) - 2:46:09
3. Jane Fardell (Australia) - 2:46:39
4. Daniella Aeschbacher (Switzerland) - 2:47:38
5. Astrid Muller (Switzerland) - 2:53:18

Men
1. Edwin Kemboi Kiyeng (Kenya) - 2:11:35
2. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:13
3. Gebre Mekuant Ayenew (Ethiopia) - 2:12:17
4. Richard Kiprono Bett (Kenya) - 2:12:38
5. Boaz Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:12:59
6. Emmanuel Sikuku (Kenya) - 2:13:10
7. Edwin Kiprop Korir (Kenya) - 2:13:34
8. Robert Ndiwa (Kenya) - 2:13:41
9. Aleksey Sokolov (Russia) - 2:14:45
10. Andrey Safronov (Russia) - 2:15:48
11. Martin Fagan (Ireland) - 2:16:09

Sakamoto finish photo (c) 2015 Chris Godfrey, all rights reserved
Sakamoto solo photo (c) 2015 Martin Yelling, all rights reserved
text and Kawauchi photos (c) 2015 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

'Chirchir and Toroitich Land Kenyan Double in Nagano'

http://www.iaaf.org/news/report/nagano-marathon-2015-chirchir-toroitich

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Second Chance to Make the Dream Come True - Yoshiko Sakamoto at the Zurich Marathon

by Brett Larner

What if you could have a second chance?  Drifting toward 40, long out of the game, the chance to make all the things you thought you would do when you were younger happen.  What if you had the chance to answer the question, "What if?"

In the mid-90s Yoshiko Sakamoto, then Yoshiko Akiba, was one of the top high school runners in Japan, beating future marathon national record holders Yoko Shibui and Mizuki Noguchi on the most competitive stage at the National High School Ekiden Championships and setting a still-standing Fukushima prefecture record for 5 km on the roads.  After graduating in 1997 she and Shibui joined the Mitsui Kaijo corporate team alongside two-time World Championships marathon medalist Reiko Tosa, forming the core of a lineup that would make Mitsui Kaijo into one of the most dominant teams of the day.

At Mitsui Kaijo she had a smattering of success, again beating Noguchi on the track at the 1997 National Corporate Championships and going as far as the half marathon, but for the most part the transition to the higher workloads at the corporate level was rocky and she was sidelined by injury.  A planned early marathon debut at the 1999 Nagano Marathon never made it farther than the entry list.  After just a few seasons her short pro career was over, just another of the countless high school stars to disappear into the machinery of the Japanese corporate system.

Life went on.  She met and married a runner from the Yachiyo Kogyo men's corporate team, taking the name Sakamoto, moving to Mie prefecture and starting a family.  As her first two children were born in 2002 and 2003 Shibui, Noguchi and Tosa became the stars of the golden era of Japanese women's distance running, and Sakamoto watched from home as all three went to the 2001 World Championships where Tosa took silver and Shibui 4th, as Shibui set a 10000 m national record in 2002, as Noguchi won silver at the 2003 World Championships and then came home a gold medalist from the 2004 Olympics, as Shibui ran a 2:19:41 marathon national record in 2004 and Noguchi 2:19:12 a year later, and as Tosa picked up a second World Championships marathon medal in Osaka in 2007.

For nine years Sakamoto didn't run at all, but following the birth of her third child in 2010 something changed.  Women like Yukiko Akaba and Mari Ozaki came back from having children to success, and Sakamoto found herself asking the question.  What if?  After surprising herself by finishing 3rd on her stage behind two pros at her local community ekiden in 2011 she made a return to racing with a 5 km win at the Mie prefecture road championships, her time of 16:40 not far off her high school-era Fukushima record of 16:25.  In November that year she took the plunge, making her marathon debut at the Aino Tsuchiyama Marathon at age 32.

And it was a decent debut.  On a hilly course Sakamoto won in 2:49:05, far from the kind of times her former teammates and rivals had run but still a major confidence boost.  Four months later she went for it at the Nagoya Women's Marathon.  Her time of 2:37:18 there was on the same level as the kinds of times corporate league women 10 years younger often run in their first or second marathons and immediately put Sakamoto near the top of Japan's amateurs, one of the few to clear IAAF bronze label status.

Self-coached and training by herself she made her share of mistakes and was mostly injured in 2013.  At the Kurobe Meisui Half Marathon that spring she was the 1st general division woman in 1:23:05, watching from the side as invited runners Azusa Nojiri and Yuki Kawauchi took the top spots on the podium but still winning a trip to run her first race outside Japan at the 2013 Portland Half Marathon in the U.S.A.  2014 by comparison was a breakthrough year.  Now 35, she ran just 4 seconds off the track 5000 m PB she had run 17 years earlier with a 16:32.53 at the Shizuoka Time Trials meet.  A few months later she was less than a minute off her pro-era half marathon best when she won the Ibigawa Half Marathon in 1:15:54.  In December she took that down to seconds off her best with a 1:15:13 course record win at the Isesan Half.

In January, 2015 she made news with a 2:36:29 PB to finish 11th at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, a result that caught the eye of Switzerland's Zurich Marathon and race director Bruno Lafranchi, the 1988 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner.  Kawauchi was already planning to run Zurich with support from JRN and race organizers invited Sakamoto to join him, with a catch.  With a 2:37:12 marathon best run in Zurich at last year's European Championships, the main woman in the race would be Switzerland's own London Olympics triathlon gold medalist Nicola Spirig.

And so come Sunday, a 36-year-old amateur Japanese runner and mother of three will line up on foreign soil for the first time to go head-to-head with a home ground defending Olympic gold medalist.  Her biggest race ever, but with a realistic chance of winning and optimistic of taking her best time even further.  It's not the Olympics.  It's not the World Championships.  It's not even a World Marathon Major.  But most would agree that it is still a chance for Yoshiko Sakamoto to live the dream.  The dream we all dream of.  And to find an answer to the question, "What if?"

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kawauchi Leads Invited Athletes for 25th Sendai International Half Marathon

http://www.kahoku.co.jp/tohokunews/201504/20150414_14009.html

translated by Brett Larner

On April 13 the organizers of the May 10 Sendai International Half Marathon announced that the elite field of four specially invited athletes for this year's 25th anniversary edition will be led by civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi (28, Saitama Pref. Gov't), with Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (36, Team Sysmex) among five additional special guests for the 25th running.

In last fall's Incheon Asian Games men's marathon Kawauchi won the bronze medal.  This year will his fifth time and fourth-straight year running the Sendai International Half Marathon.  Last year he placed 4th in 1:03:23, and this year he is again targeting the podium.  Other domestic invited elites include 2015 Beijing World Championships men's marathon team member Masakazu Fujiwara (34, Team Honda) and women's marathon team members Risa Shigetomo (27, Team Tenmaya) and Sairi Maeda (23, Team Daihatsu), all appearing in Sendai for the first time.

Special guests include 2015 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon 5th-placer Takuya Noguchi (26, Team Konica Minolta) and 2014 World Half Marathon Championships team member Sota Hoshi (27, Team Konica Minolta), both natives of northeastern Japan.  Along with Mizuki Noguchi, special guest women include mama-san runner Mari Ozaki (39, Team Noritz) and Hoshi's World Championships teammate Risa Takenaka (25, Team Shiseido).

General corporate league elites in the race include 2012 Sendai winner Johana Maina (24, Team Fujitsu).  The wheelchair race is led by two-time defending champion Masayuki Higuchi (36).  Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist and former marathon world record holder Naoki Takahashi (42) will appear as a guest runner for the fourth-straight year.

This year's race hit its field limit of 7000 just 1 hour and 55 minutes after entries opened, the fastest in the race's history.  Including the 2 km and 5 km divisions a total of 14,910 people are entered.