/

Takahashi opposes reducing marathon selections for IAAF World Championships

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Sydney Olympic gold medal-winning marathoner Naoko Takahashi has an objection, saying a Japan Association of Athletics Federations decision takes irreplaceable opportunities away from the runners.

The decision?

On Thursday, the JAAF announced that its national marathon and race walk race squads for the IAAF World Athletic Championships in Moscow,squads that wouldn’t fill all five spots for the women’s marathon team. Instead, Japan will have only three female marathon runners, Ryoko Kizaki, Mizuki Noguchi and Kayoko Fukushi.

The JAAF’s reasoning was this: It wants its national team athletes to be competitive enough to aim for top-eight finishes in global tournaments, and if you are not good enough to do so, you won’t represent the Hinomaru.

Takahashi questioned the policy because competing against the world’s elite athletes in big events like the Olympics and the upcoming 2013 World Championships representing your own country gives you significant experiences.

“I was shocked by the decision,” Takahashi said after the announcement at a news conference in Tokyo. “I feel sorry that the rare opportunity to taste the atmosphere of the world event decreased.

“We still have three more years until Rio (Olympics in 2016). But it’s important that the athletes build confidence (through big events like the World Championships).”

Takahashi indicated that the move by the JAAF may have been a little too hasty and out of the blue for those who were outside the JAAF such as the teams, coaches and athletes. It had always filled up the spots given before.

Japanese sports papers reported that famous long-distance coach Yoshio Koide, who guided Takahashi and Yuko Arimori into Olympic medalists, was angry over the decision that one of his athletes, Mizuho Nasukawa, was left off the national squad.

Although her time (2 hours, 26 minutes, 42 seconds) was 2:43 minutes off the qualification standard that the JAAF had set for the trial race, the 33-year-old managed to be the top Japanese finisher (runnerup overall) in last November’s Yokohama International Marathon, one of the trial races for the women.

Koide told the sports papers he had not heard of the possibility that the federations might not fill up all five spots for the World Championships.

Speaking to reporters, a tearful Nasukawa said, “I didn’t prepare how to react in this scenario.”

Well, it didn’t appear that both sides were on the same page on this matter.

“It is the policy that the federations made,” said Takahashi, who now works as a TV commentator. “But I think it needs to be conveyed to (the teams, coaches and athletes) clearly.”

Takahashi, 40, admitted that Japan’s women marathon runners have struggled in recent years. But she insisted that there are many young prospects that have yet to blossom.

She said that those talented runners could develop by training and competing with veterans with rich experiences that have had some success at the international stages.

Takahashi said that it was fortunate Japan will have the 34-year-old Noguchi, gold medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics, this time for Moscow, because she could influence other runners going in the right direction with her advice.

“Noguchi came back (to the national team) and she knows how to compete on the big international stage,” Takahashi said. “And Kizaki and Fukushi, who haven’t achieved much internationally, could blossom (being with Noguchi).”

Fukushi, 31, is making her fifth trip to worlds, but first in the marathon.

Ironically, the JAAF announced its new personnel changes for board members on Thursday, and Takahashi is on it now.

That said, it will be interesting to see how Takahashi’s opinion on this matter will affect the federations’ decision-making process in the future.