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Japanese runners to get shot at Tokyo 2020 spot during MGC

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Olympic marathon trials have always generated major interest among the Japanese public. But the attention will be even greater this year, thanks to the first-ever Marathon Grand Championship.

Thirty-one 31 male and 12 female runners who qualified for the event will take the start line on Sept. 15 in Tokyo. The men’s race will start at 8:50 a.m. while the women’s competition will kick off at 9:10 a.m.

The top two finishers in each race will book spots at next year’s Tokyo Olympics. After the MGC, the Japan Association of Athletics Federations will host three more qualification races each for men and women as the “MGC Final Challenge.” If the fastest runners in those competitions exceed the marks set by the national governing body (2 hours, 5 minutes, 49 seconds for the men and 2:22:22 for the women), they’ll punch the third and final ticket to the Summer Games. Otherwise, the third-place finishers in the MGC will make the national squad.

Suguru Osako, who broke the national record last year, former national record holder Yuta Shitara and Asian Games gold medalist Hiroto Inoue will headline the roster for the men’s competition.

For the women’s race, Mizuki Matsuda and Yuka Ando will be among the notable names. They all earned their spot in the event through qualification competitions held between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2019.

Toshihiko Seko, a former elite runner who now serves as the marathon project leader for the JAAF, called the inaugural MGC races “unpredictable.”

“I can’t read how it’s going to be. We have so many different types of athletes and some of them might accelerate from early and some others might compete by watching others. It’s too hard to predict,” Seko said.

“All I can say is, nobody knows who will win.”

One thing Seko would like to see is a temperature above 25 at the start of the event, to see how the athletes respond to the type of heat they could face during the Olympics.

“We’re holding the MGC in order for our athletes to win at the Tokyo Olympics and they’re going to have to compete in the heat,” she said. “So hopefully, the temperature will be above 25.”

The races will start and finish at Icho Namiki Avenue in Meiji Jingu Gaien Park, and the athletes will run through some of the capital’s scenic locations such as the Imperial Palace, Kaminarimon and the Ginza district. The runners will have to deal with gentle uphills in the final five-plus kilometers.

Daichi Kamino, an MGC participant, said that he had a practice run at the course about a week ago and feels the final portion of the course could decide the winners.

However, the 25-year-old, who is called “God of the Mountain” because of his outstanding performance in the hilly section at the Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden road relay when he was a student-athlete for Aoyama Gakuin University in 2015, said with a smile that he wants “to hit a come-from-behind, walk-off homer,” taking advantage of his signature ability, in the men’s competition.