OSAKA — Up-and-coming Atsushi Sato is staking Japan’s final marathon berth for this summer’s World Athletics Championships in Paris on next Sunday’s Biwako (Lake Biwa) Mainichi Marathon in Shiga Prefecture.

The feisty 24-year-old marathoner, who has been active in ekiden road-relay races this season to increase his speed, has to become the top Japanese finisher by running under 2 hours, 10 minutes — the condition set by the Japan Association of Athletics Federations to get the third ticket for Paris.

Already, Sato’s teammates in Chugoku Electric Power Co. — Tsuyoshi Ogata and Shigeru Aburaya — have already secured places in the World Championships.

The Biwako marathon will serve as Japan’s final qualifier for the World Championships, and Sato is brimming with confidence, saying, “I want to get a berth and follow in the footsteps of the two others.”

When he was a junior at Waseda University, Sato made a brilliant marathon debut in 2000 by placing fourth in the Biwako race clocking 2:09:50.

But he suffered a temporary letdown due chiefly to overwork and managed only 11th place in the 2001 Fukuoka marathon with a lackluster time of 2:14:41. He snapped back last year by placing eighth in the world half-marathon and sixth in the 10,000 meters at the Pusan Asian Games.

Although known for his smile while running, Sato said he will do away with smiling this time as he is determined to show everything he has in him.

“I ran the maximum 1,150 km a month. But that’s nothing unusual in our team. People who have put in efforts will be rewarded. It (marathon) is as simple as that, and I like it,” Sato said.

Sato is among 13 Japanese invitees to the race. His chief Japanese rivals are Hideyuki Obinata, who owns a personal best time of 2:08:52, and Pusan Asian Games runnerup Koji Shimizu. Kenya’s Simon Biwott and Tesfaye Tola of Ethiopia are among nine overseas athletes invited to the race.

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