Yurika Nakamura wins 29th Nagoya Women’s Marathon (IAAF.org) © Copyright
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Sato and Nakamura head Japanese squad to Birmingham

Atsushi Sato and Yurika Nakamura will lead the Japanese contingent at the IAAF / EDF Energy World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham, UK on Sunday 11 October.

The Japanese team was selected based upon performances in three domestic Half Marathons: the Japanese Corporate team Half Marathon championships in Yamaguchi in March, the Sendai international Half Marathon in May, and the Sapporo International Half Marathon in July.  The selected team members are: Atsushi Sato, Yukihiro Kitaoka, Yoshinori Oda, Ryosuke Fukuyama and Tomomi Itakura for the men and Yurika Nakamura, Yukiko Akaba, Remi Nakazato, Ryoko Kizaki and Hiroko Shoi for the women.

Sato, the first Japanese in both the Corporate team championships and Sapporo races, is the best Japanese on the men’s side. Sato is a 2:07:13 Marathon runner, having recorded his best in the 2007 Fukuoka Marathon, and also holds the national record of 1:00:25 at the Half Marathon. However, Sato hit rock bottom in Beijing last year, when he finished dead last in the marathon. But a hallmark of a great athlete is coming back strongly from a disappointing race and Sato did exactly that in Berlin when he finished sixth in the Marathon in the World Championships.  Sato ran in the World Half Marathon Championships twice, in 2002 and 2007, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.

On the women’s side Yurika Nakamura, who was the first Japanese in both Yamaguchi and Sapporo, and Yukiko Akaba, who was first in Sendai, are the leading Japanese in the women’s race.

Currently Nakamura is the hottest distance runner in Japan, for in the World Championships in Berlin she set personal bests at 10,000m (31:14.39) where she finished seventh, and twice at 5000m (15:21.01 in her heat and then 15:13.01 in the final three days later), finished 12th in the final.  Furthermore, she was 7th in 2006 World Road Running Championships and finished 13th in the Marathon in the Beijing Olympic Games, and experts predicts that her talent lies at these distances.

“Since my personal best (at the half marathon) is 1:09:20, I want to run 1:08 in Birmingham,” Nakamura said after her performance in Berlin. Recalling her run in the German capital, Nakamura said, “Keeping the image of my run in Berlin in mind, I am hoping for a similar performance in the longer distances.”

Akaba’s rise to a world class runner was triggered by the birth of a daughter in 2006. In 2008 Akaba set personal bests at 5000m (15:06.07), 10,000m (31:15.34) and the Half Marathon (1:08:11) and competed at both the 5000m and 10,000m in the Beijing Olympics; she also finished 10th in the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio de Janeiro last year.  Akaba made a splendid Marathon debut in Osaka in 2009 and was expected to medal in the Berlin World championships. However, perhaps because of a slight injury she picked up in early August she finished a dismal 31st.  In Birmingham, Akaba is hoping to redeem herself.

The best finish by a Japanese woman at the World Half Marathon Championships is second by Megumi Fujiwara, Mari Tanigawa, and most recently by Olympic marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi, which could be hard to match this year. However, a team medal is not out of reach, for along with Akaba and Nakamura, Ryoko Kizaki, who was second at the Half mMarathon in the 2005 World University Games, is also expected to finish well. The Japanese women’s team has won team bronze medal in the last four years, a streak they would like to keep.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Japanese team for Birmingham 2009 -

Atsushi Sato  
Yukihiro Kitaoka 
Yoshinori Oda 
Ryosuke Fukuyama 
Tomomi Itakura  

Yurika Nakamura 
Yukiko Akaba 
Remi Nakazato 
Ryoko Kizaki 
Hiroko Shoi