Ottawa Marathon champion Arata Fujiwara going for the WIN in Tokyo!

February 26th.  A BIG thanks to Ken Nakamura for his Summary of the elite athlete comments from yesterday’s Tokyo Marathon Press Conference.

Arata Fujiwara's fledgling independent career got a big boost with his win and CR in Ottawa last May

The reigning Ottawa Marathon champ and Course Record holder, Arata Fujiwara, who launched his independent, professional-athlete career with a surprise, impressive 2:09:33 in Ottawa last May says he’s ready for tomorrow’s Tokyo Marathon, and visualizing victory.

Fujiwara’s story is an interesting one, and offers insight into the Japanese system for elite athletes, and the transformation that is beginning, brought about by the impact of “big-city, world-marathons” and the impact of the global Marathon Movement on Japan.

Ottawa was HUGE for Fujiwara. Traditionally, the Japanese distance running scene has been dominated by Corporate running leagues and their teams, such as Japan Railway, Honda, or Yamada Denki.  The distance runners are full-time, paid employees of the corporations, but are full-time professional runners with all the training infrastructure [including altitude camps] necessary to support their success. They then compete in highly structured leagues, and “eikiden” relays, with big TV audiences. While this has elevated the quality of distance running and public interest enormously, it has meant that there was little or no opportunity for athletes to participate in races outside the system — other than major championships like the Olympics or Asian Games, or IAAF World Championships — where they have done exceptionally well.

Last winter, Arata Fujiwara gave all this up and walked away from all his professional athlete support as a star on the JR Higashi Nihon team. He did so, to be able to compete more internationally, and in the exciting array of big-city, world-marathons. Ottawa was his first test. Could a Japanese distance star succeed on his own, without all the traditional corporate infrastructure behind them?

The 2:09:34 victory in Ottawa said it all and left Fujiwara beaming.  That earned him a start place in the ING New York City Marathon in November. There, the Big Apple took a bite out of him, and like our own Simon Bairu, he didn’t finished.

As he said in yesterday’s Press Conference in Tokyo, he’s recovered and ready to rock on Sunday!

Arata Fujiwara: I started to train for the marathon in December [after New York recovery].  It was mostly in the form of speed workout over the grassy uneven surfaces.  Then starting in January, I started to train like a marathon runner. My fitness level went down for a while, but then in February, my fitness started to come back up slowly.

My goal is to win with sub-2:08 clocking. I will try to conserve my energy in the first 30Km. Since anything is possible after 30Km, I don’t have any specific plan for the last part of the race. But I want to be ready for anything other runners will throw at me. 

I was not able to run to the best of my ability in the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. So before the Olympics, at the World Championships, I want to see how good I really am.  And that is why the Tokyo Marathon, a ticket to Daegu [Japanese Team, IAAF World Championships' marathon on September 4th], is important for my career.

In the last few months, I have always imagined myself running with Masakazu Fujiwara side by side at the Tokyo Marathon, so I am bit disappointed that he is not running. Although I imagined defeating him at the end of the race to gain the World Championships berth, I try not to think that team spot just go closer because he is out of the competition.

The 2010 Ottawa Marathon and his “Canadian experience” was a very important part of Arata Fujiwara’s developing career. We’ll be following it closely and wishing him well tomorrow!

IAAF Tokyo Marathon race preview story available at:  http://www.iaaf.org/LRR11/news/newsid=59401.html

POST-race Reports:

– from IAAF

– from Japan Running News

Our Canadian connection — Ottawa Marathon champ, Arata Fujiwara didn’t have a good day. Little news on this, but here are @JRNLive tweets:

#12-Fujiwara & #16-Kawauchi are not in corporate team system. If make WC team will be big news, esp. Kawauchi.

#12-Fujiwara running wide of pack after H20, looks to be losing touch

#12-Fujiwara barely moving. Limping and looking down. Looks like probable DNF. TAdesse & Okamoto fly past him.

Fujiwara looks injured, great guy I am feeling very sorry for him

No doubt about it, the marathon can be tough! But it’s also about triumph, and the day belonged to full-time government worker, part-time runner, Yuki Kawauchi, who placed 3rd in 2:08:37. That gives him a place on the Japanese team for the World Championships in Daegu, Korea, where the Men’s marathon will be run on September 4th.

A small Candian footnote: Team Honda’s Takashi Horiguchi, who was supposed to come to Toronto Waterfront with Team Japan last Fall, but was a late scratch owing to injury, ran a PR of 2:12:05 for 10th place.

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