LONDON – Japan’s best finish in marathon was ninth place for Yuki Kawauchi in the men’s race and 16th for Mao Kiyota in the women’s event at the world athletics championships Sunday, the country failing to book a place in the top eight for the first time in 22 years.
Boston Marathon winner Geoffrey Kipkorir Kirui of Kenya won the men’s race in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 27 seconds, followed by Ethiopia’s Tamirat Tola (2:09:49) and Tanzania’s Alphonce Felix Simbu (2:09:51).
Bahrain’s Rose Chelimo won the women’s gold in 2:27:11, with Kenya’s Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat taking silver and Amy Cragg getting bronze after both runners crossed the finish line in 2:27:18.
Japan’s poor results leave room for improvements by 2020 when the Tokyo Olympics are held at home.
“They can’t be happy just by being chosen to the Japanese national team,” said team director Tadasu Kawano. “They have to think about how to compete on the world stage.”
Three men and three women from Japan competed in the two races, both starting and ending at London’s Tower Bridge.
Kawauchi clocked 2:12:19, missing eighth place by just 3 seconds, while Kentaro Nakamura came in 10th in 2:12.41. Hiroto Inoue was 26th.
“I’m disappointed but I gave it my all,” said the 30-year-old Kawauchi who had aimed for at least eighth place at his third worlds, which he says will be the last time he competes for the Japanese national team.
“All I thought about (in the latter half) was to overtake as many runners as possible,” he said of his efforts to improve his placing from around 20th midway, being careful not to repeat the mistakes he made when he finished 17th in his first world meet in 2011 and 18th two years later.
“To live is to run marathons. This is a part of my life,” said the 2014 Asian bronze medalist who has been dubbed “citizen runner,” as he is a Saitama prefectural government employee who trains and runs without a corporate sponsor.
“I’ll continue to run marathons, but the responsibility of representing Japan is too heavy,” he said.
In the women’s race that followed the men’s, Kiyota completed her race in 2:30:36, while Yuka Ando, who was runner-up in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March, finished 17th in 2:31:31. Risa Shigetomo, who placed 79th at the 2012 London Olympics, was 27th in 2:36:03.
“It was tough just to keep up with everyone from the first half,” said the 23-year-old Kiyota, who was left behind by the leading pack at around the 36-km mark in her first world championships and third marathon of her career.
“When the packs started separating, my body reached its limit. It’s very disappointing,” said Kiyota. “I feel bad for not putting on a good race despite being chosen for the national team. I’m not good enough.”