9 November 2000 - Eight Japanese runners - Toshiyuki Hayata, Satoshi Irifune, Jun Shida, Tatsumi Morimasa, Mizuki Noguchi, Yukiko Okamoto, Fumi Murata and Yasuko Hashimoto - will be competing in the World Half Marathon Championships in Veracruz this Sunday.
Among them, the most likely to top the list is Mizuki Noguchi who finished second to Kenyan star Tegla Loroupe in last years edition of the event with a personal record of 1:09:12.
One month after the Championships she won the 1999 Nagoya half marathon with another personal best: 1:08:30. This year Noguchi was third behind Naoko Takahashi and South Africas Elana Meyer in the Sapporo half marathon with 1:10:36.
Yukiko Okamoto, captain of the Oki Electric Miyazaki track team is also running well this year. She is teammate to Yuko Kawakami (a national 10,000m record holder) and won the 2000 corporate half marathon championships in March with a meet record of 1:09:12. Fumi Murata was third with 1:09:26 in the same race. In the last months national championships, Okamoto won the 10,000m with a PR of 32:06.42. Veracruz will be her second World Half Marathon Championships, having finished 9th in 1998.
On the mens side Satoshi Irifune was second in the 2000 corporate half marathon championships with 1:01:36. In the same race Tatsumi Morimasa was 5th in 1:01:49. Irifune represented Japan at the 1999 World Championships at the 10,000m where he finished 20th. Earlier this year when the Kyocera track team was dissolved, Irifune joined Kanebo track team, becoming a team-mate to Toshinari Takaoka, who was 7th at the 10,000m in Sydney.
The most intriguing runner of them all is Toshiyuki Hayata, a 2:08:07 marathon runner, who is also a former national half marathon record holder (1:00:42). He has run in the World Half Marathon Championships twice, finishing 5th in 1996 and 14th in 1999. This year, Hayata placed third in the Tokyo City half marathon in 1:01:57.
When Toshiyuki Hayata finished third behind Koichi Morishita and Takeyuki Nakayama in the 1992 Tokyo marathon, he was suddenly heralded as the next great marathon hope. However, since 1992, his career has been like a roller coaster ride, with the low points, unfortunately, very badly timed: 1996 and 2000 Olympic marathon qualifiers.
He was 30th in the 1995 Fukuoka marathon and dropped out of the 1996 Tokyo marathon, both of which were Olympic qualifying races. For the 2000 Olympic qualifying races he had more luck - 7th in the 1999 Fukuoka marathon in 2:10:38 and 9th in the 2000 Lake Biwa marathon with 2:12:14. However, it was not enough to clinch a spot on the Olympic team.
Toshiyuki Hayata was born on May 2, 1968 in Gifu and attended the Gifu high school of business; which was also Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashis alma mater. Initially a Baseball player in his junior high school days, Hayata enjoyed running in high school and said, "In team sports like baseball, winning or losing is beyond my control. Whereas in an individual sport like track & field, the results reflect my own efforts." Although Hayata won both his prefecture and district high school championships at the 5000m, he choked at the national high school championships and failed to advance to the final.
After high school, Hayata joined Kanebo track team. "Of all the teams I could have joined, Kanabo was the best team, and I wanted to run for the best team." Hayata was a maverick, different from the other members on the team; in the late eighties he was the first male runner in a corporate track team who wore pierced earrings.
He made a sensational marathon debut in Tokyo in 1992 when he finished third in 2:10:37, and after two mediocre marathons Hayata had great year. First he improved his marathon personal best to 2:10:19 at the 1994 Tokyo marathon and gained a spot on the 1994 Asian Games marathon team. A month later, in March, at the 1994 corporate half marathon championships, Hayata set a national half marathon best with 1:01:34. At the Asian Games in October, he finished second to the 1992 Olympic champion Hwang Young-Jo.
He was also improving over 10,000m. At the 1995 national championships he cracked the 28:00 barrier for the first time with 27:55:01. Then in the 1995 World Championships he finished a respectable 10th in the 10,000m with another PR of 27:53.12. However, he felt that he could never really reach the top at this distance. In January of 1996 at the Tokyo City half marathon Hayata regained the national best for the half marathon with 1:00:42. While he was running well at shorter distances, he ran miserably at the marathon. Out of four marathons in 1995 and 1996, his best position was a 30th place finish with 2:18:27. He dropped out of another three marathons.
After failing to make the 1996 Olympic marathon team, he started to think about changing his training environment. In April of 1997 he cut his ties with the Kanebo track team, whose training philosophy was geared to running ekiden, and Hayata felt that this was interfering with his marathon preparation.
He trained alone for five months before joining Araco track team. Then in December of 1997, Hayata made a major breakthrough with 2nd place finish at the 1997 Fukuoka marathon in 2:08:07, the fastest time by a Japanese on his native soil. It looked as if he finally found the right combination. However as the only runner seriously training for marathon running, he left Araco after a year in search of training partners. After a stint in Kumamoto, away from his family, to train with the Kyushu Sanko track team, he joined the UniQlo track team in Hiroshima. As his quest for the best marathon training environment continued, he recently changed his affiliation to the Honda track team.
With a lack of speed for the 10,000m and lack of stamina for the marathon, Hayatas best distance may be the half marathon, and this may also be true for Yukiko Okamoto.