Atsushi Sato in Fukuoka (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
General News

Japan names marathon team for Berlin World Champs

The Japanese marathon team for the upcoming 2009 World Championships in Berlin was announced by the JAAF. Eight members (four men and four women) of the team were announced earlier in late March, after the Tokyo Marathon; on May 7 the final two members and alternates were announced. 

Men's selection

In the men, the first Japanese in Fukuoka Marathon, Lake Biwa Marathon and Tokyo Marathon were guaranteed a spot on the marathon team. For women, the first Japanese in the Tokyo Women’s Marathon, Osaka Ladies Marathon, and Nagoya Women’s Marathon were guaranteed a spot on the team. Thus Satoshi Irifune, who was second in Fukuoka, Masaya Shimizu, who was fourth in Lake Biwa, and Kazuhiro Maeda, who was second in Tokyo, Yoshimi Ozaki, who won the Tokyo Women’s Marathon, Yoko Shibui, who won the Osaka Ladies marathon and Yoshiko Fujinaga, who won the Nagoya Women’s marathon clinched their spot on the team as the first Japanese in the respective races.

The remaining four members of the team were selected based on the performances not only in the aforementioned marathons, but also on the performances in other marathons. Arata Fujiwara, who was third (second Japanese) in the Fukuoka marathon, Yuri Kano, who was second in the Tokyo Women’s marathon and Yukiko Akaba, who was second in the Osaka Ladies marathon, were selected as team members. 

The most dramatic change in the selection process for Berlin is that for the first time in history, the performances in oversea marathons such as London marathon was considered for selection, and thus Atsushi Sato, who finished eighth in London was selected for the team, while Tomo Morimoto, who was also eighth in London was selected as an alternate. 

The most promising member of the men’s team is Atsushi Sato, national half marathon record (1:00:25) holder who has a marathon best of 2:07:13. Considered to be the most dedicated marathon runner in Japan, Sato was tenth in the 2003 World Championships and ran in the Beijing Olympic Marathon.  In London, where he finished eighth, Sato said, “I want to finish in top eight in Berlin.”

Some experts consider that Kazuhiro Maeda, who was second in his debut marathon with 2:11:01, may have higher marathon potential. He was 17th at 10,000m in the 2007 World Championships, and has a 5000m best of 13:25.24 and a 10000m best of 27:55.17.

Women's ambitions

The medal winning streak at the Olympics by Japanese women marathon runners, which started at the 1992 Olympics, was snapped at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, which may be responsible for the decline in the marathon TV rating after the Olympics.  A marathon medal in Berlin might bring sports fans’ attention back to the marathon. The women’s team is quite strong, and thus a medal in Berlin is not an unrealistic goal. 

Although the women’s team consists mostly of runners with limited marathon experience, at least three of the five members have high marathon potentials. Yoshimi Ozaki, who won the Tokyo Women’s marathon in 2:23:30, improved her marathon best from 2:26:19, which was recorded in her debut marathon.  Yoshiko Fujinaga, 1999 World Cross Country Championships bronze medalist, won her debut marathon in 2:28:13. She ran 5000m in the 1999 World Championships.

Yukiko Akaba, may have the most marathon potential.  Akaba, who has the 5000m best of 15:06.07, 10,000m best of 31:15.34 and half marathon best of 1:08:11, made her marathon debut in Osaka Ladies marathon. She finished second in 2:25.40. Akaba ran both 5000m and 10,000m in the Beijing Olympics, finishing 20th in later event.  They may be ready for a breakthrough race in Berlin. The most experienced and the fastest marathon runner on the team is Yoko Shibui, who has the marathon best of 2:19:41, one time national record and still the second fastest time by Japanese.

Shibui, national 10,000m record (30:48.89) holder, was 4th in the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton.  She ran 10,000m in Beijing Olympics and 2003 World Championships.  The final member of the team is Yuri Kano, who has a marathon best of 2:24:27.  She ran the London marathon, her first marathon outside of Japan, and finished 11th in 2:28:44, however, it was not a serious effort. By running the London marathon, Kano gained valuable international experience as well as an experience to cope with the jet lag before the race in Europe, namely Berlin.

Kensuke Takahashi, who was third in Tokyo, and Tomo Morimoto were selected as alternates. 

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Japanese marathon team for Berlin 
Name    Personal Best  Venue
Satoshi Irifune   2:09:23  2008 Fukuoka
Masaya Shimizu   2:10:50  2009 Lake Biwa
Kazuhiro Maeda   2:11:01  2009 Tokyo
Arata Fujiwara    2:08:40  2008 Tokyo
Atsushi Sato     2:07:13  2007 Fukuoka
Kensuke Takahashi   2:11:25  2009 Tokyo
Yoshimi Ozaki   2:23:30  2008 Tokyo Women
Yoko Shibui    2:19:41  2004 Berlin
Yoshiko Fujinaga   2:28:13  2009 Nagoya Women
Yuri Kano     2:24:27  2008 Tokyo Women
Yukiko Akaba    2:25:40  2009 Osaka Ladies
Tomo Morimoto    2:24:33  2006 Wien