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Fujiwara, Shigetomo head marathon squad

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Tokyo Marathon runnerup Arata Fujiwara and Osaka Women’s Marathon champion Risa Shigetomo topped the bill as the Japan Association of Athletics Federations announced the national marathon squad for this summer’s London Olympics on Monday.

Ryo Yamamoto and Kentaro Nakamoto joined Fujiwara on the men’s team, while Ryoko Kizaki and Yoshimi Ozaki were chosen along with Shigetomo on the women’s team.

Hiroyuki Horibata and Yukiko Akaba will stand by as substitutes.

The JAAF board met to make the selection earlier in the day, and secretary general Mitsugi Ogata said there were heated debates over who should make the team for the July 27-Aug. 12 Games.

“We had an animated discussion,” Ogata said at a news conference at a Tokyo hotel. “But we have faith that these runners will put on a great performance to give energy to the Japanese people.”

The JAAF set last year’s World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and three national races as the Olympic trials for both men and women.

For the men, Fujiwara looked to have earned a spot after finishing as the top Japanese runner (second overall) in February’s Tokyo Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 7 minutes, 48 seconds.

But the other two spots were up for grabs and nobody really knew who would be handed the tickets. Yamamoto, who was the top Japanese finisher (fourth overall) in the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon with a time of 2:08:44 earlier this month, and Nakamoto, who finished 10th in Daegu and was the second-fastest Japanese participant in Lake Biwa with a time of 2:08:53, got the nod.

Popular runner Yuki Kawauchi, who finished third as the top Japanese runner in last fall’s Fukuoka International Marathon but flopped in 14th in Tokyo, failed to make the team. According to the JAAF, he was under consideration as a substitute, but Horibata was chosen for his aggressive run in Lake Biwa.

Meanwhile, the women’s selection was comparatively easier because Shigetomo and Kizaki triumphed in Osaka and Yokohama, respectively. Shigetomo, 24, crossed the line in 2:23:23 in Osaka in January.

The third spot went to Ozaki. She finished runnerup, ahead of any other Japanese runner, including Athens gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi, in Sunday’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon with a time of 2:24:14.

“We wanted to choose three (each for men and women) with confidence,” JAAF executive Tadasu Kawano said. “But we believe we did choose the three who can compete on the world stage.”

Thirty-year-old Fujiwara, who was an unused substitute for the 2008 Beijing Games, said that, rather than relief, the announcement allows him to brace himself for London.

“As I’ve officially been chosen for the London Games, I’ve started thinking I’m going there to fight,” said Fujiwara, a native of Nagasaki Prefecture, after the news conference. “I don’t particularly have any feeling of joy.”

With the JAAF setting multiple races as the Olympic trial, there have been vigorous arguments over squad selection in past years, given that marathons are run in different circumstances and conditions.

Yuko Arimori and Akemi Matsuno were competing for a spot on the women’s squad for the Barcelona Games in 1992, with Arimori going on to win silver after being chosen.

Likewise, the JAAF left then-reigning Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi out of the women’s team for the 2004 Athens Olympics, even though she came second in the Tokyo Marathon.

“It gave us a headache,” Kawano said of this year’s selections. “As you saw yesterday in Nagoya, the runners had a great race and it gave us the impression that they really wanted to go to the Olympics.

“But at the end of the day, we had to think of all the races equally.”

At the London Games, the women’s race will be held on Aug. 5, and the men’s competition will be on Aug. 12.