Track & Field

Marathon runners Suguru Osako, Hiroto Inoue amongst recipients at Athletics Award

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The 2018 season wound up being a remarkable year for Japanese men’s marathon as two athletes broke the national record.

The latter of the two, Suguru Osako, has deservedly received the top accolade of the country’s track and field scene.

The 27-year-old was presented with the Athlete of the Year award for his accomplishment at the annual Athletics Award ceremony on Monday in Tokyo.

Award recipients had been announced earlier this month.

Osako crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 5 minutes, 50 seconds to set the Japanese record at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7. He finished third in the competition.

The accomplishment came just eight months after the previous record-breaking performance by Yuya Shitara, who ran in 2:06:11 at the Tokyo Marathon to set the first new record in 16 years.

“I feel extremely honored to have been selected as Athlete of the Year,” said Osako, who was unable to attend, through a video message. “Because there were many others that did well this year, I am grateful to accept it. I would like to continue to do my best going forward.”

Osako’s biggest goal for the 2019 season is clear — punching his ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics through the fall’s Marathon Grand Championship.

“I’d like to work hard approaching the MGC and hopefully earn a spot in the Olympics,” said Osako, who has been on the Nike Oregon Project team since 2014.

Both Shitara and Osako had been granted ¥100 million awards from the JAAF after setting the national record.

Another marathoner, Hiroto Inoue, accepted the outstanding athlete award along with pole vaulting’s Seito Yamamoto and race walker Koki Ikeda.

Inoue finished runner-up behind Shitara at the Tokyo Marathon with a 2:06:54 mark, the fourth-best time ever recorded by a Japanese runner, while also capturing Japan’s first Asian Games gold medal in the men’s marathon in 32 years. Yamamoto and Ikeda also racked up golds in Jakarta.

The newcomer of the year award went to Yuki Koike, Mizuki Matsuda and Yuki Hashioka. Koike won gold in the men’s 200-meter race at the Asian Games. Matsuda triumphed in January’s Osaka International Women’s Marathon and finished fifth at October’s Berlin Marathon. Hashioka took home a gold medal in the men’s long jump at the World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, in July.

Meanwhile, sprinter Ryota Yamagata and track runner Minami Yamanouchi were recognized as point leaders in the 13-event Japan Track and Field Grand Prix Series, which launched this year.

Yamagata, a 100-meter specialist, collected 2457.2 points to win in the men’s standings, while Yamanouchi, a 5,000-meter athlete, accumulated 2354.0 points to finish on top in the women’s standings.

Yamagata, one of the most popular-track and-field athletes in the nation, wrapped up the 2018 campaign in a successful fashion. The 26-year-old won silver in the 100 and gold in the 4×100 relay at the Asiad and was unbeaten all year against other Japanese sprinters in the 100.

“I didn’t have (serious) injuries and was consistent throughout the year, so I’d say it was a good year,” the Hiroshima Prefecture native said.

In the 100 final in Jakarta, Yamagata tied for the second-best Japanese record with an even 10.00 mark. He recorded exactly the same time last year, but insisted that his running style this year was different.

“The times are the same, but it was a lot different in terms of how I felt running,” Yamagata said. “I ran well in 2017 as well, but technically and (with) everything else, I felt even better in 2018. I’m happy that I came up with (that performance) in the final competition of the Asian Games.”