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The Japanese team for the World Half Marathon Championships

The Japanese World Half Marathon team
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
4 October 2001 - The Japanese women’s half marathon team has done well in the World Half Marathon Championships. For the last two years, the team finished second, while Mizuki Noguchi finished second in 1999 and fourth in 2000 respectively. 

The Japanese team for the World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol consists of: Mizuki Noguchi, Yasuyo Iwamoto, Hiromi Watanabe, and Takako Kotorida for women, and Takayuki Matsumiya, Takashi Ota, Takeshi Hamano, Yuki Mori, and Kazuo Ietani for men.  Sakiyo Kan who was originally selected for the team has withdrawn citing lack of form.

Once again the best Japanese on the team is Mizuki Noguchi, who has a half marathon best of 1:08:30, which was recorded at the 1999 Nagoya half marathon. This year, Noguchi won the Japanese corporate team half marathon championships with 1:08:45 in March, as well as the East Asian Games’ half marathon in May before finishing a close second to Lidia Simon at the Sapporo Half marathon with 1:09:51 in July.  Noguchi was planning to make her marathon debut this year but had to change her plan because of an injury. She ran the 10,000m at the national championships in June;  surprisingly Noguchi finished third with a new personal best of 31:51.13.Thus she was selected for the World Championships in Edmonton, where she finished thirteenth in 32:19.94.   She has expressed her desire to excel both on the track as well as on the road.

The Japanese half marathon team usually includes some up and coming runners, and this year is no exception.  This year’s new find may be Yasuyo Iwamoto.  Although she was a mediocre runner at best in high school, Iwamoto improved in college to finish sixth at the 10,000m with 34:24.97 in the 1998 Inter-Collegiate championships when she was a junior at Chukyo University.  Her breakthrough came only in the last few months. First, Iwamoto was selected for the World Half Marathon team after finishing fifth with 1:11:36 at the Sapporo half marathon in July, then last weekend, at the Japanese corporate team track and field championships in Kanazawa, Iwamoto made dramatic improvement at the 10,000m.  She won the “B” race in 31:50.97.  It was a huge improvement in her personal best, which stood at 33:11.12 from the district corporate team track & field championships back in May.  After the race Iwamoto told Tatsuo Terada, “My training has gone really well in the summer.  I could manage 3:05 to 3:10 for the 1000m.  I was peaking for the World Half Marathon Championships, so my goal today was to run 32:30.”  Her goal include competing at the World Cross Country Championships. 

Noguchi is not the only runner with experience at the World Half Marathon Championships.  In 1998, Takako Kotorida won the Japanese corporate team half marathon championships in Yamaguchi with 1:11:52; she outkicked Aki Fujikawa and Yukiko Okamoto in the last 200m, and thus was selected for the 1998 World Half Marathon Championships.  Kotorida finished 45th.  Last year Kotorida improved her half marathon best to 1:10:29 in Yamaguchi, but only finished twelfth in the race.  After two years of mediocre performances, Kotorida regained fine form this year.  In March, she finished third in the Japanese corporate team half marathon championships with 1:09:04, a new personal best, thus clinching a spot on the World Half Marathon Championships team.   But that was just the beginning.  In the Hyogo Relays in Kobe in April, Kotorida recorded a huge personal best, 31:41.32, at the 10,000m when she outkicked both Yoshiko Fujinaga, World Cross Country bronze medallist (1999 in a junior division) and Yoko Shibui, a 2:23 marathon runner who was fourth in Edmonton.   In May Kotorida finished second to Noguchi in the East Asian Games’ half marathon. 

For the men’s side, the best runner on the team may be Yuki Mori.  On March 11 in Yamaguchi, at the 29th Japanese corporate half marathon championships, 22 years old Mori won the kickers race against Kazuo Ietani with 1:01:27, thus winning a spot on the World Half Marathon Championships team.  This was a major breakthrough for Mori who was a mediocre runner at best until a few years ago.  He joined the track team in his junior high school, perhaps because of the influence of his father who competed in the national high school ekiden championships in his youth.  However, in his three years in high school, Mori’s career was plagued with injuries.  He was seriously considering quitting sports after high school graduation.  However, knowing that Yuki was not quite ready to quit track, his father recommended to him to join the corporate track team.  With a 5000m personal best of 15:30, top track teams would not recruit him.  Tsugio Sadakata, the coach of Kamatsu Electronics track team, took a gamble and recruited Mori to the team.  Even after joining Komatsu in 1997, Mori’s career continued to be plagued with injuries, until it was finally diagnosed  that his knee pain was more of a psychological problem than a physical one.  With knee pain behind him, Mori showed steady improvement.  In 1999, Mori won the Karatsu 10 miles road race in 46.48.   In 2000, Mori has improved his 10000m personal best to 28.25.25 at the national championships. 

Takayuki Matsumiya along with his twin brother Yuko Matsumiya runs for Konica track team, whose most illustrious member is a two-time Olympic marathon medallist, Eric Wainaina.  The Matsumiya brothers were graduates of Hanawa high school in Akita prefecture, which is known among track fans in Japan for its famous alumni.  Junko Asari, the 1993 World Marathon champion, and Ken-ichi Takahashi, the national half marathon record holder are graduates of Hanawa.  Between the twins, Takayuki seems to be ahead of his brother at the moment.  Last Novermber, Takayuki improved his 10,000m personal best to 28:02.80, while his twin brother Yuko ran 28:03.43.  Also in 2000, Takayuki won the Ome 30Km road race in 1:31:18, while Yuko was third in 1:31:49.   The twins made their marathon debut in February in Nobeoka.  They ran together during the early part of the race, until Yuko faded after 27Km.  Unfortunately although Takayuki led until 37.5Km, he too faded in the final miles and finished only sixth with 2:18:48.  In July, Takayuki finished sixth in the Sapporo half marathon and was selected for the World Half Marathon team.  

After racing in the US and Canada during June and July of 2000, Kazuo Ietani was a different runner.  He set a personal best of 13:55.78 in Montreal.  After returning to Japan, he improved his 10,000m personal best to 28:18.10 at the national championships in October, and was second in the Kosa 10 miles with 46.49 in December.  In 2001, Ietani made an auspicious marathon debut at the Tokyo marathon where he finished sixth in 2:12:37.  A month later he finished a close second to Yuki Mori in Yamaguchi with 1:01:30.  The latter effort won him a spot on the World Half Marathon Championships team.  In May, under the pressure to perform on the home soil, Ietani won the East Asian Games’ half marathon.This year, in Heusden, Ietani improved his 5000m best to 13:49.68, thus showed that he runs well in abroad, as well as under pressure.