Mao Ichiyama, Suguru Osako clinch Japan’s last Olympic marathon spots

Mao Ichiyama and Suguru Osako each secured berths at the Tokyo Games based on the results of Sunday’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon and Lake Biwa Marathon, the final selection races for Japan’s Olympic marathon team.

Ichiyama won the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in a race record time of 2 hours, 20 minutes and 29 seconds to claim the third and final spot available for Japanese women. Yuka Ando finished second in 2:22:41.

The 22-year-old Ichiyama pulled ahead after passing the 30-km mark and ran the remainder of the rain-soaked course in Nagoya uncontested. Her time satisfied the 2:21:47 conditional mark set by Mizuki Matsuda at the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January.

“I think that the real race started after 30 kilometers, and even though I was alone I was able to finish like I had practiced,” Ichiyama said. “I ran like I expected I would.”

Ichiyama clocked the fourth-highest women’s national time and rewrote the highest women’s national time set at an event in Japan, beating 2004 Athens Games gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi’s record of 2:21:18.

Thirty-seven-year-old Kayoko Fukushi, who was aiming to compete in her fifth consecutive Olympics, dropped out around the 30-km mark.

The race, which started and ended at Nagoya Dome, was limited to elite competitors due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak. A special “online marathon” is being offered as a replacement via a smartphone app for general participants who missed out on the event.

Osako, 28, secured the last spot on the men’s side since no Japanese entrants at the Lake Biwa Marathon were able to beat the national-record time of 2:05:29 he ran in the Tokyo Marathon on March 1, which was also scaled back to elite runners because of the coronavirus.

Kenya’s Evans Chebet crossed the tape first at Otsu’s Ojiyama Stadium in 2:07:29, while Naoya Sakuda posted Japan’s best result of 2:08.59 in fourth place.

Shogo Nakamura, Yuma Hattori, Honami Maeda and Ayuko Suzuki had already claimed the other four Olympic marathon spots available for the 2020 hosts.

The quartet were granted automatic berths after finishing in the top-two in the men’s and women’s races at last September’s Marathon Grand Championship, a trial for the Olympic races which were originally planned to be held in the Japanese capital.

The Olympic marathons and race walking events were moved to Sapporo, host city of the 1972 Winter Games, on Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido due to growing concerns about Tokyo’s extreme heat during the summer.

The women’s marathon is scheduled for Aug. 8, with the men’s marathon to follow on Aug. 9 ahead of the Olympic closing ceremony in Tokyo.

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