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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Meet provides measuring stick for Japanese track, field athletes

Staff writer

KAWASAKI — With less than 100 days to go until the London Olympics, top track-and-field athletes from around the world have started their tuneup work, participating in tournaments to gauge their current level.

News photo
Race you to the finish: Allyson Felix of the United States (1) competes against Chisato Fukushima in the 100-meter race at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix on Sunday at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki. Felix triumphed in 11.22 seconds and Fukushima placed third. KYODO

But as far as Japanese competitors are concerned, they seem to have a lot of work to do to compete on an equal footing at the top level in the Summer Games.

In Sunday's Seiko Golden Grand Prix meet, most of the locals had to walk through the mixed zone after their respective events with a sour face or a bitter smile at best.

The weather was far from ideal. The wind was blowing hard and unpredictably throughout the meet, and rain showers hit Todoroki Stadium a few times.

But there were equal conditions for everyone including the foreign participants, and some managed solid performances, such as China's 110-meter hurdle star Liu Xiang, who won his race in 13.09 seconds.

Veteran sprinter Shinji Takahira, who ran for the Japan 4x100-meter relay team on Sunday, said his team failed to show anything positive coming third in 39.03 seconds.

"We only showed bad things," said Takahira, who helped Japan win the relay bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "The wind may have affected us, but once we get to London, you can't afford to make an excuse like that."

Masashi Eriguchi, who was also on the relay unit on Sunday, agreed with Takahiro's sentiments.

Eriguchi, Japan's current top sprinter, said Japan won't be competitive if it doesn't clock at least a sub-38.5 in Britain.

"We need to work on our individual sprint ability, so we can qualify for the Olympics," said Eriguchi, who's aiming to earn his first Olympic berth.

Top 400 runner Yuzo Kanemaru, who competed in the men's 4x400 relay, said his team's performance wasn't worth watching. He added that regardless of the conditions, he had ruined a chance to gain a better qualifying mark for the Olympics.

"We needed to have a better time, no matter what," Kanamaru said. "And if we don't improve and we are lucky enough to make (the Olympics), we'll end up just being there and no more."

Chisato Fukushima, Japan's double national record holder in the 100 and 200, was one of the day's main attractions. Fukushima competed against American star sprinter Allyson Felix in the 100, but placed third with a slightly disappointing time of 11.39.

The 23-year-old Hokkaido native regretted not giving Felix a better duel, but ran near her personal best of 11.21.

"(Felix) ran with the time I was looking for," said Fukushima, who in Beijing became the first Japanese female sprinter to compete in the 100 in an Olympics since Ayako Yoshikawa at the 1952 Helsinki Games. "If I was at my best, I could've put up a better race."

Felix said there is no need for Fukushima to worry too much about Sunday's performance, because as the season progresses she should be able to get quicker. And the key, the California native added, is to keep training and competing.

"The more she runs, the more the race comes together," Felix said after the race. "That's something I've learned over time."

For Japan, meanwhile, there's a ray of hope in the men's javelin. Yukifumi Murakami and Genki Dean both appear to be improving and are locked up for London.

Dean, born to a Japanese mother and British father, won the event with a meet-record toss of 81.43 meters, followed by Murakami's 80.26.

It was the first time that two Japanese notched 80-meter throws in the same competition since javelin rules changed in 1986.

"Competing with foreigners along with Murakami for the first time in the season, I was able to do well, staying cool, that's the positive thing I had today," said the 20-year-old Dean, who threw close to or past the 80-meter mark on four of his six attempts.

Murakami, the bronze medalist in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, is coping with a right foot injury and had three fouls on Sunday, but managed to make his best toss of the day on his last try.

Knowing his physical condition wasn't in top form and there is still time to develop, Murakami looked back on his performance in a mild mood.

"I was basically looking to know how much I could do at the moment," Murakami said. "Also, today's conditions (wind, rain) were something we'd not experienced, so it turned out to be a good learning opportunity . . . to think about things like what kind of a javelin I should use."

Murakami added, however, that he should be in a better condition for the national championships in late June in Osaka. He predicted that in Osaka he should finish ahead of everyone else, including Dean, who passed Murakami for Japan's current best throw at 84.28 on April 29 at the Oda Memorial meet in Hiroshima.

"I'm aiming at the national record (87.60 of Kazuhiro Mizoguchi, set in 1989)," said Murakami, whose personal best is 83.53. "Once I can run (on the runway), I should have no problem.

"I didn't necessarily have the best mark in this competition, but in myself I found good feelings."

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