The Japanese men’s 4x100m Relay squad finished a highly creditable fifth in 38.03 on Saturday evening, for an Asian record. It is the highlight of the hosts’ week in Osaka Nagai stadium so far. One is inclined never to criticise a decathlete who finishes his event, so congratulations to Hiromasa Tanaka, who finished 19th with 7629 points. And Kayoko Fukushi at least had a go in the women’s 5000m. Fukushi led as she had in the early stages of the 10,000m on Day One of these IAAF World Championships in Athletics a week ago. Few people expected her to be in contention at the end of either race, but she flattered to deceive the crowd who obviously hoped for a miracle. She led for the first three kilometres in a pedestrian 9:11.99, but when the favourites made their move, she went from the front to close to the back inside a lap, and eventually finished 14th.
It rather summed up much of Japan’s week here. The host nation did not expect to do well – athletics is hardly the national sport – but they hoped, and still do, given the morning women's Marathon on the final day, that they don’t end the championships as the Canadians did in Edmonton, and the Swedes did in Goteborg 1995, a host nation without a medal.
Biggest hopes were pinned on the ample chest of Olympic Hammer Throw champion, Koji Murofushi, inevitably given that the championships are ‘at home’. But everyone ignored that Murofushi has been having problems with his technique all summer. He threw a season’s best of 80.46m, but it was way down on the medallists, and he finished sixth. But if he gets it right again in Beijing in a year’s time, all will be forgiven.
The other major hopes simply did not perform up to scratch. Athens Olympic and twice World bronze medallist (2001 and 2005) in the 400m Hurdles, Dai Tamasue, could not get through the heats, clocking close to two seconds outside his personal best set in Edmonton. Tamasue’s colleague, Kenji Narisako at least ran a season’s best of 48.44, but it wasn’t good enough to make the quarter hurdles final. Asian Games Long Jump champion, Kumiko Ikeda disappointed too, only 13th in her qualifying group, 40cm down on her best. And another Helsinki finalist, and Asian indoor Pole Vault champion, Daichi Sawano, came down from the heights of his personal best of 5.83m, to a no-height in qualifying.
Attention to the women's Marathon
So Japan turns to an event which could be described as the national sport, marathoning. The women’s race begins at 7 am Sunday morning, and there is an impressive trio carrying the rising sun on their vests. The Osaka International Women’s race in late January produced two top-ten in the world times, for Yumiko Hara, 2:23:48 and Mari Ozaki 2:24:29, and they were accordingly selected to come back for the championships. They are joined by veteran, Reiko Tosa, who has run 2:22:46. Kiyoko Shimahara, who has run 2:26:14, and Yasuko Hashimoto (2:25:21) complete the team. The Japanese men won the team race, without getting close to an individual medal, and marathons rarely go to form. But the whole nation will be willing one of the five, if not three (wouldn’t that be something!) to rise to the occasion. When you have two successive Olympic champions, in Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi, the nation expects little less.
Pat Butcher for the IAAF