Horiguchi, Yoshitomi to bring strong Japanese presence to Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon

TORONTO. September 7th.  Takashi Horiguchi of Team Honda and Hiroko Yoshitomi of First Dream Athletic Club are both confirmed for this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 20th. “We’re delighted to have Takashi and Hiroko on this year’s start line,” said Race Director Alan Brookes. Japan has always been passionate about the marathon, with a tradition built around Fukuoka (where Jerome Drayton set his Canadian National Record in 1975) and ekiden relay races that garner massive TV and “live” spectator audiences. Arguably the second-home of the Marathon, after Greece,  Japan is currently leading an unprecedented explosion in the sport across Asia. In 2011, the fledgling Tokyo Marathon had 330,000 applications for 30,000 places. Following Fukushima, the number was reportedly “down” to just 280,000 applicants!

“In Takashi and Hiroko, we have two great representatives of this marvellous Japanese marathon culture in our race,” said Brookes. He adds, “They represent a lovely contrast. Horiguchi is the experienced veteran, a product of the traditional corporate athletics’ culture, resurgent in a second running career. Yoshitomi is a new runner,  part of the mass, New Wave that is sweeping Japan, a representative of a “people’s”running club.  Toronto Waterfront has built an international reputation for ‘breakthrough performances’. Takashi and Hiroko are both great candidates; they’re perfect for our race in so many ways”.

We’d like to thank BRETT LARNER of Japan Running News, who will accompany the athletes to Toronto, and who has provided us with the following profiles.

Takashi Horiguchi takes aim on victory at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, by Brett Larner.

Takashi Horiguchi Eight years is a long time to wait. Back in 2003, the same day his future Honda corporate teammate Masakazu Fujiwara was making a triumphant 2:08:12 debut at age 21 at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, 23-year-old Takashi Horiguchi was across the Pacific making his own debut in Los Angeles. His time of 2:12:06 didn’t quite match Fujiwara’s but was still a quality first outing, especially as it came overseas and at a young age.

Fast forward seven years and both Fujiwara and Horiguchi, now pushing 30, had stalled in their marathon careers, overtraining and serial injuries keeping either from ever approaching their promising debut times again. The turnaround came at the 2010 Tokyo Marathon, when Fujiwara outran all international competition and three of Japan’s very best in freezing rain to become the only Japanese man to have taken the Tokyo crown. Inspired to get his own career back on track, Horiguchi was in Tokyo a year later to try to match his teammate’s success. The win proved out of reach, but Horiguchi crossed the line in a new PB of 2:12:05. After an eight-year wait one second never tasted so sweet.

Revitalized, he focused everything on finally running the race he had dreamed of, and with a place on the London Olympic team at stake he ran the 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon. All the stars aligned and Horiguchi took nearly three minutes off his Tokyo time with a new best of 2:09:16. Nearly all the stars; unfortunately that time wasn’t enough for the London team, but his breakthrough was a personal triumph that gave Horiguchi deep satisfaction. “I’ve run the kind of time I always thought I could,” he says. “All that’s left now is the win.”

With that target in mind Horiguchi comes to Toronto for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Given the quality of the field at this year’s race it may well take a new PB for him to reach that goal, but make no mistake: he is in it for the win.

Hiroko Yoshitomi follows new path of First Dream Athletic Club to international marathoning at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, by Brett Larner.

Hiroko Yoshitomi_1When she toes the Start line at Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on October 20th, farm-girl Hiroko Yoshitomi has something big to prove. Not only will this be her first international appearance, but she comes as a member of the First Dream Athletic Club from the Fukuoka area. Like her more-famous male counterpart Yuki Kawauchi, now a national superstar , Hiroko has chosen an independent path, to pursue a marathon career outside the traditional corporate structure that dominates competitive running in Japan.

Corporate-sponsored running teams make up the backbone of Japan’s elite running world, groups of eight or more pro athletes with a coaching and support staff, team uniforms and a salary who compete in a league like in any other professional sport. Their bread and butter are ekidens, massively popular road relays whose live, nationwide TV broadcasts pull in ratings as high as 30%. The system has long been the only choice for talented young athletes dreaming of adding to Japan’s legacy of Olympic and World Championships marathon medalists, but as the popularity of ekidens has continued to grow and the corporations that sponsor the teams have insisted that coaches prioritize them Japan’s marathoners have found it harder and harder to keep pace with the African-driven upping of the worldwide marathon game.

But in recent years there has been a growing number of top-level Japanese talent who dream of success as marathoners first and foremost finding their way outside the system, in amateur club teams, with individual sponsors, or by supporting themselves with full-time jobs. Many of them, like Arata Fujiwara, Yuri Kano and Yuki Kawauchi, have risen to the top of the Japanese ranks, winning marathons domestically and abroad and earning places at the London Olympics and on the Berlin, Daegu and Moscow World Championships teams.

Right now Hiroko Yoshitomi is the best of the Japanese women who’ve chosen to follow her own road. A native of Saga on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, she joined the Sanix women’s corporate team in Fukuoka after graduating and as its star runner led them to win the Kyushu region women’s championships and to place as high as 6th nationally. But when the Sanix corporation pulled its sponsorship in 2008 and the team broke up Yoshitomi was faced with the choice of looking for another home in the corporate leagues or retirement at age 24. Instead, she chose a new way.

Joining together with a small group of amateur local women and a retired coach, she helped found the First Dream Athletic Club in 2009. Working on her family’s farm and training on local country roads and in Fukuoka’s Ohori Park on weekends, in 2010 she took her first shot at the marathon and hit the mark with a 2:38:01. Encouraged that she was on the right path, Yoshitomi kept chipping away and ran marathon PBs in both 2011 and 2012. At this year’s Tokyo Marathon she made the leap to the big leagues, finishing 10th in 2:31:28 and earning acclaim in the Japanese media as the female Kawauchi, the full-time working amateur man who ran 2:08:37 in Tokyo in 2011 to capture the nation’s imagination.

With a world-class time now to her name Yoshitomi earned an invitation to make her international debut at this year’s Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. “My main goal is to break 2:30 for the first time, and the course and field at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon look perfect for helping me get there,” she said. “It’ll be an important step for me in making the teams for the Beijing World Championships and the Rio Olympics, and if I can do that it’ll prove that our club concept is right, that you can make it to the top as an amateur training in your local park.” Having proven her worth on the country lanes at home, the ambitious Yoshitomi’s next challenge comes on the streets of Toronto.





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