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JAAF selects marathon runners, race walkers for World Athletics Championships squad

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan Association of Athletics Federations announced the selection of eight marathoners and seven race walkers for the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow on Thursday.

Popular runner Yuki Kawauchi headlines the men’s marathon squad, while Ryoko Kizaki and Athens Olympic gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi will lead the female marathon team in August in Russia.

“As we finished the London Olympics (last year) and aim to build up for the Rio Olympics (in 2016), we’ve had satisfying selections,” JAAF secretary general Mitsugi Ogata said at a Tokyo news conference on Thursday.

The 26-year-old Kawauchi, who’s widely known as “the Citizen Runner” for his amateur status while working at a high school in Kasukabe, Saitama Prefecture, triumphed in a World Championship trial at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon with a personal best of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 15 seconds. Six weeks later, he bettered it by 1 second in a fourth-place finish in the Seoul International Marathon (although it wasn’t a trial race.).

Kawauchi makes his second consecutive World Championships team. He was 18th in the Daegu marathon in 2011.

Kentaro Nakamoto, who finished sixth in last year’s London Olympics, was picked for second straight world stage. He ran a personal best of 2:08:35 behind Kawauchi in the Beppu-Oita Marathon.

Kazuhiro Maeda got attention when he ran a personal record (2:08:00) in his fourth-place performance in February’s Tokyo Marathon. Maeda’s PR tops the other four runners.

The JAAF set qualification standards for the trial races in both the marathon and race walking. For the men’s marathon, it was 2:07:59 for automatic berths for Moscow.

No Japanese runner reached it, but several were under 2:09, which was not been achieved by a Japanese man in 2009 and 2010. (Kawauchi had a 2:08:37 mark at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon, but the aforementioned times are considered a positive sign.)

Hiroyuki Horibata, who finished seventh in the ’11 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, and Masakazu Fujiwara were the other two that were selected.

Meanwhile, the selection for the women’s marathon team was a bit of a surprise. Japan is permitted to dispatch up to five athletes for both the men’s and women’s marathon in Moscow, but the JAAF ended up choosing just three.

Ogata said there are two reasons for that. One was that there’s no longer the World Marathon Cup, a marathon team competition that was held as part of the World Championships. The Japan’s men’s team won the silver medal in it in ’11 and the bronze in Berlin in ’09, while the women’s team earned the silver in ’09. But those accomplishments weren’t recognized in the medal standings.

The other reason was harsher. Ogata indicated that there weren’t enough female runners that could compete at the world stage.

“We’ve taken humiliating losses in the last two tournaments (in the 2011 World Championships and last year’s London Olympics),” Ogata said. “So we needed some restraint and needed to let the athletes know that the selections have become stricter. We wanted to show that you wouldn’t be selected unless you are good enough to compete for top-eight finishes.”

Kizaki put up a disappointing result with a 16th-place finish in her first Olympic attempt in Britain last year. But the 27-year-old, who punched a ticket to Moscow with a victory in March’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon with a time of 2:23:34, appeared to be more confident than she was before London.

“I took advantage of my experience in London for Nagoya,” said Kizaki, who was the only female marathoner that ran under the JAAF qualifying time (2:23:59) in the trials. “I could prove that my run in London wasn’t a waste. Now, I’d like to take advantage of my experience in Nagoya for the World Championships. I think I’ll be able to be at the start line with more confidence.”

Noguchi, 34, will compete in her first World Championships since the ’03 tourney. The 2004 Athens Olympics gold medalist and Japan national record-holder (2:19:12), who had been annoyed by series of injuries in recent years, made a successful comeback as she finished third with a time of 2:24:05 in Nagoya.

Veteran track runner Kayoko Fukushi will make her fifth World Championships, first for marathon.

For race walking, Yusuke Suzuki and Takumi Saito for the men’s 20-km event, and Takayuki Tanii, Koichiro Morioka and Hirooki Arai for the men’s 50-km competition were selected. Masumi Fuchise and Kumi Otoshi were picked for the women’s 20-km race.