Sunday, April 19, 2015

Sakamoto Wins Zurich Marathon in International Debut, Kawauchi 2nd behind Kiyeng

by Brett Larner
photos by Chris Godfrey, Martin Yelling and Brett Larner

Making her international marathon debut in excellent conditions on an almost perfectly flat course, Yoshiko Sakamoto (Y.W.C.) won the Zurich Marathon with an evenly-paced solo run that put her more than 8 minutes ahead of runner-up Nicola Spirig (Switzerland), the London Olympics triathlon gold medalist.  A 36-year-old mother of three, Sakamoto was a high school star who quit running completely for 9 years before starting again in her early 30s and set a PB 2:36:29 in January this year.  Running in Zurich with support from JRN and targeting a 2:34 PB, Sakamoto was slightly off pace from the beginning but never flagged dramatically, going through halfway in 1:18:18 and facing headwinds on the return trip into town before crossing the finish line first in 2:37:47.

Australia's Jane Fardell, a late addition to the field, ran 2nd throughout the race but with a little over a km to go was run down by Spirig, the fastest in the field over the final quarter of the race.

"I'm so relieved and happy to have run a good time," Sakamoto said post-race.  "I had had some leg pain a couple of weeks ago that cut into my training, but it was no trouble during the race.  Partway through I thought I was going to fade and not break 2:40, but I started overtaking some men and that kept me going.  I can't believe I really did it.  I want to take it easy for a little while now and then race on the track.  My next marathon won't be until the fall."

The men's race was likewise slightly behind pace from the start, a ten-man group led by pacer Boaz Kipyego (Kenya), Edwin Kemboi Kiyeng (Kenya) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) staying right together on a pace hovering around 2:11 through 35 km before Kiyeng through in a surge that put him in position for the win in 2:11:35.  Kawauchi fell to 7th in the wake of Kiyeng's move, but clawing his way back up he was in 4th by 41 km and outkicked Ethiopian Gebre Mekuant Ayenew by 4 seconds in the final 250 m to take 2nd in 2:12:13, his best time so far in a year in which he has struggled to recover from a bad ankle sprain in late December.

Post-race Kawauchi commented, "I'm disappointed not to win, but this was my first time making the podium in Europe so I'm very happy.  My time was not what I was going for either, but there was absolutely no pain or trouble with my ankle and it was just a case of my fitness not being up to where I thought it was yet.  In terms of level the Zurich Marathon was the perfect race for where I am right now and I'm extremely glad I chose it for my main spring race."

Zurich Marathon
Zurich, Switzerland, 4/19/15
click here for complete results

Women
1. Yoshiko Sakamoto (Japan/YWC) - 2:37:47
2. Nicola Spirig (Switzerland) - 2:46:09
3. Jane Fardell (Australia) - 2:46:39
4. Daniella Aeschbacher (Switzerland) - 2:47:38
5. Astrid Muller (Switzerland) - 2:553:18

Men
1. Edwin Kemboi Kiyeng (Kenya) - 2:11:35
2. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan/Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 2:12:13
3. Gebre Mekuant Ayenew (Ethiopia) - 2:12:17
4. Richard Kiprono Bett (Kenya) - 2:12:38
5. Boaz Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:12:59
6. Emmanuel Sikuku (Kenya) - 2:13:10
7. Edwin Kiprop Korir (Kenya) - 2:13:34
8. Robert Ndiwa (Kenya) - 2:13:41
9. Aleksey Sokolov (Russia) - 2:14:45
10. Andrey Safronov (Russia) - 2:15:48
11. Martin Fagan (Ireland) - 2:16:09

Sakamoto finish photo (c) 2015 Chris Godfrey, all rights reserved
Sakamoto solo photo (c) 2015 Martin Yelling, all rights reserved
text and Kawauchi photos (c) 2015 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

'Chirchir and Toroitich Land Kenyan Double in Nagano'

http://www.iaaf.org/news/report/nagano-marathon-2015-chirchir-toroitich

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Second Chance to Make the Dream Come True - Yoshiko Sakamoto at the Zurich Marathon

by Brett Larner

What if you could have a second chance?  Drifting toward 40, long out of the game, the chance to make all the things you thought you would do when you were younger happen.  What if you had the chance to answer the question, "What if?"

In the mid-90s Yoshiko Sakamoto, then Yoshiko Akiba, was one of the top high school runners in Japan, beating future marathon national record holders Yoko Shibui and Mizuki Noguchi on the most competitive stage at the National High School Ekiden Championships and setting a still-standing Fukushima prefecture record for 5 km on the roads.  After graduating in 1997 she and Shibui joined the Mitsui Kaijo corporate team alongside two-time World Championships marathon medalist Reiko Tosa, forming the core of a lineup that would make Mitsui Kaijo into one of the most dominant teams of the day.

At Mitsui Kaijo she had a smattering of success, again beating Noguchi on the track at the 1997 National Corporate Championships and going as far as the half marathon, but for the most part the transition to the higher workloads at the corporate level was rocky and she was sidelined by injury.  A planned early marathon debut at the 1999 Nagano Marathon never made it farther than the entry list.  After just a few seasons her short pro career was over, just another of the countless high school stars to disappear into the machinery of the Japanese corporate system.

Life went on.  She met and married a runner from the Yachiyo Kogyo men's corporate team, taking the name Sakamoto, moving to Mie prefecture and starting a family.  As her first two children were born in 2002 and 2003 Shibui, Noguchi and Tosa became the stars of the golden era of Japanese women's distance running, and Sakamoto watched from home as all three went to the 2001 World Championships where Tosa took silver and Shibui 4th, as Shibui set a 10000 m national record in 2002, as Noguchi won silver at the 2003 World Championships and then came home a gold medalist from the 2004 Olympics, as Shibui ran a 2:19:41 marathon national record in 2004 and Noguchi 2:19:12 a year later, and as Tosa picked up a second World Championships marathon medal in Osaka in 2007.

For nine years Sakamoto didn't run at all, but following the birth of her third child in 2010 something changed.  Women like Yukiko Akaba and Mari Ozaki came back from having children to success, and Sakamoto found herself asking the question.  What if?  After surprising herself by finishing 3rd on her stage behind two pros at her local community ekiden in 2011 she made a return to racing with a 5 km win at the Mie prefecture road championships, her time of 16:40 not far off her high school-era Fukushima record of 16:25.  In November that year she took the plunge, making her marathon debut at the Aino Tsuchiyama Marathon at age 32.

And it was a decent debut.  On a hilly course Sakamoto won in 2:49:05, far from the kind of times her former teammates and rivals had run but still a major confidence boost.  Four months later she went for it at the Nagoya Women's Marathon.  Her time of 2:37:18 there was on the same level as the kinds of times corporate league women 10 years younger often run in their first or second marathons and immediately put Sakamoto near the top of Japan's amateurs, one of the few to clear IAAF bronze label status.

Self-coached and training by herself she made her share of mistakes and was mostly injured in 2013.  At the Kurobe Meisui Half Marathon that spring she was the 1st general division woman in 1:23:05, watching from the side as invited runners Azusa Nojiri and Yuki Kawauchi took the top spots on the podium but still winning a trip to run her first race outside Japan at the 2013 Portland Half Marathon in the U.S.A.  2014 by comparison was a breakthrough year.  Now 35, she ran just 4 seconds off the track 5000 m PB she had run 17 years earlier with a 16:32.53 at the Shizuoka Time Trials meet.  A few months later she was less than a minute off her pro-era half marathon best when she won the Ibigawa Half Marathon in 1:15:54.  In December she took that down to seconds off her best with a 1:15:13 course record win at the Isesan Half.

In January, 2015 she made news with a 2:36:29 PB to finish 11th at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, a result that caught the eye of Switzerland's Zurich Marathon and race director Bruno Lafranchi, the 1988 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner.  Kawauchi was already planning to run Zurich with support from JRN and race organizers invited Sakamoto to join him, with a catch.  With a 2:37:12 marathon best run in Zurich at last year's European Championships, the main woman in the race would be Switzerland's own London Olympics triathlon gold medalist Nicola Spirig.

And so come Sunday, a 36-year-old amateur Japanese runner and mother of three will line up on foreign soil for the first time to go head-to-head with a home ground defending Olympic gold medalist.  Her biggest race ever, but with a realistic chance of winning and optimistic of taking her best time even further.  It's not the Olympics.  It's not the World Championships.  It's not even a World Marathon Major.  But most would agree that it is still a chance for Yoshiko Sakamoto to live the dream.  The dream we all dream of.  And to find an answer to the question, "What if?"

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Kawauchi Leads Invited Athletes for 25th Sendai International Half Marathon

http://www.kahoku.co.jp/tohokunews/201504/20150414_14009.html

translated by Brett Larner

On April 13 the organizers of the May 10 Sendai International Half Marathon announced that the elite field of four specially invited athletes for this year's 25th anniversary edition will be led by civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi (28, Saitama Pref. Gov't), with Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (36, Team Sysmex) among five additional special guests for the 25th running.

In last fall's Incheon Asian Games men's marathon Kawauchi won the bronze medal.  This year will his fifth time and fourth-straight year running the Sendai International Half Marathon.  Last year he placed 4th in 1:03:23, and this year he is again targeting the podium.  Other domestic invited elites include 2015 Beijing World Championships men's marathon team member Masakazu Fujiwara (34, Team Honda) and women's marathon team members Risa Shigetomo (27, Team Tenmaya) and Sairi Maeda (23, Team Daihatsu), all appearing in Sendai for the first time.

Special guests include 2015 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon 5th-placer Takuya Noguchi (26, Team Konica Minolta) and 2014 World Half Marathon Championships team member Sota Hoshi (27, Team Konica Minolta), both natives of northeastern Japan.  Along with Mizuki Noguchi, special guest women include mama-san runner Mari Ozaki (39, Team Noritz) and Hoshi's World Championships teammate Risa Takenaka (25, Team Shiseido).

General corporate league elites in the race include 2012 Sendai winner Johana Maina (24, Team Fujitsu).  The wheelchair race is led by two-time defending champion Masayuki Higuchi (36).  Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist and former marathon world record holder Naoki Takahashi (42) will appear as a guest runner for the fourth-straight year.

This year's race hit its field limit of 7000 just 1 hour and 55 minutes after entries opened, the fastest in the race's history.  Including the 2 km and 5 km divisions a total of 14,910 people are entered.

World Championships Marathon Men Preparing for the Worst in Beijing Air Quality

http://www.daily.co.jp/general/2015/04/14/0007915752.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

2015 Beijing World Championships men's marathon team members Masakazu Fujiwara (34, Team Honda), Masato Imai (31, Team Toyota Kyushu) and Kazuhiro Maeda (33, Team Kyudenko) left from Tokyo's Narita Airport on April 13 for a tour of the World Championships race course.  Along with the course, a major concern is the increasingly serious problem of air pollution in Beijing.  Steeling himself for the worst, Imai commented, "There's nothing I as an individual can say that will improve the situation, so you just have to accept it as normal and run.  The conditions will be the same for everybody." 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kawauchi Plans to Retire from National Team Competitions at World Championships: "London Will Make a Good Punctuation Mark"

http://news.livedoor.com/article/detail/9997814/

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The civil servant runner plans to step down from the dream stage where the world's fastest men run.  On April 12 Yuki Kawauchi (28, Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran as a special guest at the local Honjo Waseda no Mori Cross Country Race and Half Marathon in Saitama, winning the half marathon in 1:07:47.  Afterward he told reporters that following the 2017 London World Championships he will "retire" from competing to be on the Japanese national team.  "My plan is to win a medal at the London World Championships and then to really say sayonara to the national team," he said.

At the time of the 2013 Moscow World Championships Kawauchi also suggested he would remove himself from consideration for future world level national teams, but he continues to work hard in anticipation of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.  To Kawauchi, who has struggled in hot weather races in the past, the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics both represent very difficult conditions.  In that respect, London looks like the place to put an end to his national team ambitions.  "London reminds me of not making the [2012] Olympics, so I have a lot of different feelings about it," he said.  "I think London will make a good punctuation mark."  100 and 200 m world record holder Usain Bolt (28, Jamaica) has also indicated that he plans to retire after the London World Championships.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

'Kuma Gets Maiden Marathon Win in Windy Rotterdam'


http://www.iaaf.org/news/report/abera-kuma-rotterdam-marathon

Evidently Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) was not worth a headline mention and less than a handful of sentences as the winner of the Rotterdam Marathon to the IAAF and writer Cors van den Brink despite having previously won races in both the U.S.A. and Australia.  Likewise, her nationality didn't seem to matter to race broadcasters to whom it was no doubt a given that a non-white winner must be African.  Even the usually-reputable German Road Races website condescended toward Kato's win with the headline "Abera Kuma gewinnt in Rotterdam - Schnellste Frau eine Japanerin," in English "Abera Kuma wins in Rotterdam - The fastest woman a Japanese woman."  The 'invisible Japanese' phenomenon remains a constant source of puzzlement.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kenyan Marathon Runner Erupe to Enter South Korea Next Week to Begin Naturalization Procedures

http://japanese.donga.com/srv/service.php3?biid=2015041046598

translated by Brett Larner

After shining as the champion of the 2015 Seoul International Marathon, Wilson Loyanae Erupe (Kenya, 27), has taken the first step toward South Korean naturalization.  Serving as Erupe's coach and domestic representative, on April 9 Professor Chang Seok Oh of Baekseok University told reporters, "Erupe signed a contract with the South Chungcheong Provincial Sports Association on April 8 and received a foreign registration number from immigration authorities."

After winning the March 15 Seoul International Marathon in 2:06:11 Erupe indicated that he was interested in transferring his citizenship to South Korea.  He plans to enter South Korea next week on an E-6 Entertainer and Performer visa to begin naturalization procedures with the support of the Korean Association of Athletics Associations (KAAF).  A Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) spokesperson commented, "Above all, the most important factor in Erupe's naturalization is the support of the KAAF."  With regard to this KAAF president Dong Jin Oh said, "Erupe's naturalization will make an important contribution to the forward development of South Korean marathoning.  As a South Korean citizen he will run in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, contending for the medal that has eluded us since the days of 1992 Barcelona Olympics gold medalist Young Cho Hwang and 1996 Atlanta Olympics silver medalist Bong Ju Lee."

After the Korean Olympic Committee's Legal Reward and Punishment Committee authorizes Erupe's naturalization application it will be sent to the South Korean Ministry of Justice's Nationality Review Committee for final processing.  If Erupe receives South Korean citizenship he will eligible to compete for South Korea in the Olympics after one year.

Translator's note: The article does not mention that Erupe was suspended from February 2013 to February 2015 for a positive test for EPO.  His win in Seoul in March was his first race after his suspension ended.