Keisuke Nozawa after winning the 400m hurdles at the 2016 Japanese Championships (JAAF) © Copyright
Report Nagoya, Japan

Murofushi bows out as Arai and Nozawa impress at Japanese Championships

Former Olympic hammer champion Koji Murofushi came up well short in his bid to make it to a fifth straight Games after a two-year layoff, but 19 Japanese athletes secured tickets to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the three-day Japanese Championships in Nagoya that concluded Sunday (26).

Leading the team to Rio will be two potential medallists: javelin thrower Ryohei Arai, who rewrote his own meeting record with a winning throw of 84.54m, and 400m hurdler Keisuke Nozawa, who is currently number two on the 2016 world list and won his first national title in 49.14.

For Murofushi, who had faced negligible domestic competition during a two-decade reign as national champion, the result was everything. To make it to Rio, he had to top the Olympic qualifying standard of 77.00m.

The 2004 Olympic gold medallist and 2012 bronze medallist not only fell short of that mark, his top effort of 64.74 left him 12th, ending his night after just three throws in a competition won by Ryota Kashimura at 70.81m.

By contrast, the last time Murofushi won the title with a throw below Kashimura's mark was 1996, when he was still at Chukyo University.

"I realised I'm at my limit physically," said Murofushi, who only announced in May that he would compete in Nagoya. "It would be extremely hard to get to such a high level where I could win an Olympic medal."

The 41-year-old, who currently serves on the executive board of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee, had last competed at the 2014 Japanese Championships, which he won with a throw of 73.93m.

Murofushi, who has a full collection of medals from the IAAF World Championships (silver in 2001, bronze in 2003, gold in 2011), was gracious in defeat, waving to the crowd after his third and final effort went wide left for a foul.

"Today is the end of an amazing journey," he later wrote on his Facebook page. "I'm hanging up my hammer. I want to thank every single person, in Japan and around the world, who has been part of this incredible adventure with me."

Murofushi's retirement closes a chapter on one of the sport's most successful families. His father, Shigenobu, and sister, Yuka, were also multiple national champions in the hammer (Yuka also won golds in the discus), and the three combined for 49 Japanese titles over the 100-year history of the meeting.

In the featured race of the centennial edition of the championships, Asuka Cambridge, the 23-year-old son of a Jamaican father and Japanese mother, defeated favourites Ryota Yamagata and Yoshihide Kiryu in the men's 100m to earn his first Olympic berth.

"I thought I had won, but I was happy when I saw it on the scoreboard," said Cambridge, who came from behind to edge Yamagata at the tape and win in 10.16. Yamagata was second in 10.17, with Kiryu a distant third in 10.31.

There was hope that the race would produce Japan's first-ever sub-10-second runner, particularly after Kiryu equaled his career best of 10.01 and Yamagata ran 10.06 earlier this month, but rain that fell throughout the first two days of the meeting at Paloma Mizuho Stadium, including during the 100m final, precluded history being made before the crowd of more than 20,000.

Cambridge certainly had incentive, as his sponsor has offered a 100 million yen (about $1 million) bonus for a sub-10.

"Running under 10 is my goal, so I'm a little disappointed," added Cambridge, who ran a career best of 10.10 last month. "But my objective was to win the race, without concern about the time."

Kiryu also clinched a berth to Rio, as his 10.01 matched the more stringent qualifying standard set by the Japanese federation, which meant he only needed to finish in the top eight.

Yamagata will need to wait to see whether he will be added later.

In the men's 10,000m on Friday, Suguru Osako made his move with 600 metres to go and pulled away from Japanese record-holder Kota Murayama to win by more than nine seconds in 28:07.44. Two days later, Osako again showed the strength of his kick, taking off at the bell lap to win the 5000m in 13:37.13.

200m record for Fukushima

In the women’s sprints, Chisato Fukushima, a two-time Olympian who had already matched the Olympic qualifying time of 11.32 in the 100m, made it seven straight national titles and eight overall by cruising to victory in 11.45 on Saturday.

With much better weather the next day, she bolted to a sixth straight crown in the 200m in 22.88 (1.8m/s), cutting 0.01 off the national record she set in 2010.

The difference of a dry track was reaffirmed in the men's 200m that followed, as Shota Iizuka, the 2010 world junior champion, regained the title he won in 2013 by clocking a personal best of 20.11.

In the women's long -distance events, Ayuko Suzuki secured a berth to Rio when she captured her first national title in the 10,000m, winning in 31:18.73.

Suzuki, looking to become the first woman to complete the 5000m-10,000m double since 2010, was denied that honour when she was left behind in the 5000m by Misaki Onishi, who clocked 15:19.37 to win a fourth straight gold and secure a berth in Rio. Suzuki finished second in 15:24.47.

In the women's 400m hurdles, Satomi Kubokura, a rarity among Japanese women track athletes as she continues to compete at age 34, earned a third trip to the Olympics by passing defending champion Manami Kira over the final hurdle and winning a ninth national crown in 56.62. 

In 2015, Kira had snapped Kubokura's streak of eight straight national titles.

As in the men's 100m, the 400m also produced a champion with Jamaican-Japanese roots as Julian Walsh, a teammate of Kiryu's at Toyo University, flew to victory in a personal best of 45.35, also clinching a place on the plane to Rio.

Yuzo Kanemaru, bothered by a sore achilles, saw his 11-year hold on the title – which dated back to his high school days – end when he finished last in his first-round heat.

Perhaps the gutsiest performance was Anju Takamizawa's victory in the women's 3000m steeplechase, in which she not only got up from a painful fall, but went on to win a thrilling duel with Chikako Mori in a meeting record and national U23 record of 9:44.22 and earn a ticket to Rio.

Notable among the men's field event winners, Takashi Eto won the high jump with 2.29m and Kota Minemura took the long jump title with 7.93m.

Ken Marantz for the IAAF