Former world championship bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi headlines Japan’s marathon squad for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics as the Japan Association of Athletics Federations revealed its six representatives on Thursday.
Satoru Sasaki, Hisanori Kitajima and Suehiro Ishikawa will head to Brazil on the men’s team, while Mai Ito and Tomomi Tanaka will team up with Fukushi on the women’s side.
The JAAF has designated four races each for the men (Fukuoka International Marathon, Tokyo Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon) and women (Saitama International Marathon, Osaka Women’s Marathon and Nagoya Women’s Marathon), plus last summer’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, as the Olympic trials. The JAAF, track and field’s national governing body, held a board meeting on Thursday and chose the top six that met its criteria.
The JAAF had revealed that it would give an unofficial promise for an Olympic invitation to a top Japanese runner that finished in the top eight at the 2015 worlds, both for the men and women. Ito finished seventh (with a time of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 48 seconds) in China and unofficially clinched a berth for Rio.
“I was given the berth early after last year’s world championships and I’d like to take advantage of that and put up the best performance I can do at the race (in Rio),” Ito, 31, said at a Tokyo news conference. “There’s exactly 150 days until the race as of today. I’d like to work on my speed, which is an area that I need to improve.”
The women’s marathon will be held on Aug. 14 and the men’s marathon will be the final track and field event on Aug. 21.
Unlike other sports, each marathon race is different due to various climate and diverse course conditions. And for the JAAF, there have been controversies because of its past selections. But JAAF managing director Mitsugi Ogata said that this time the selections were finalized without problems for the board.
“The selections were made unanimously at the board,” Ogata said on Thursday evening. “We came to the conclusion that these are the best members we could have for now.”
Actually, there was some confusion. Fukushi, who finished third at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, captured the crown with a personal-best time of 2:22:17 at the Osaka Women’s Marathon in late January.
The JAAF had set time standards as one of its criteria for both the men and women (2:06:30 for the men and 2:22:30 for the women), but Fukushi was the only runner who qualified with the time she had in Osaka.
But Fukushi was not satisfied because the JAAF didn’t grant her an unofficial berth right after that race and once she attempted to compete in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon with short rest in mid-March, she ended up canceling her preparations after being persuaded by the federation.
Ogata apologized for causing a public fuss, but insisted that the federation’s selection process wasn’t incorrect.
“We proceeded our selections based upon our guidelines,” Ogata said. “Had we given (Fukushi) a berth at that point (after the Osaka Women’s Marathon), it could’ve given psychological damage to other athletes that would compete in Nagoya. To be honest, there was very little chance that Fukushi wouldn’t have been chosen, but others are still competing for the remaining (Olympic) spots in Nagoya, so we couldn’t have given her a berth.”
Meanwhile, Tanaka, who failed to qualify for the 2015 World Championships despite finishing first in a trial race in Yokohama in 2014, punched a ticket to Rio as she was the runner-up and the top Japanese finisher with a time of 2:23:19 in last Sunday’s Nagoya Women’s.
For the men, Sasaki was clocked at 2:08:56, finishing third (top Japanese) in last December’s Fukuoka International Marathon. Kitajima won in Lake Biwa and Ishikawa was second in Lake Biwa, with times of 2:09:16 and 2:09:25, respectively, earlier this month.
“I still don’t feel like I’m going to the Olympics,” Sasaki said. “I don’t know what kind of race it will be yet, but I’ll focus on displaying a good performance. If you don’t have a good physical condition, you can’t even compete. So I would like to establish a good condition first.”
The JAAF hopes to earn multiple top-eight finishes, including a medal, in the discipline in the Olympics. A Japanese marathoner hasn’t earned an Olympic medal since the 2004 Athens Games, where Mizuki Noguchi took home the gold.
All of Japan’s marathon runners except for Fukushi will compete in an Olympics for the first time. Fukushi participated in the last three Olympics, making her debut in Athens in the 10,000, and racing in both the 5,000 and 10,000 in Beijing and London.