Japanese race walker Eiki Takahashi in action (© Getty Images)
Eiki Takahashi successfully defended his national 20km race walk title in Kobe on Sunday (21), booking his spot on Japan’s team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Takahashi clocked 1:18:26, the second-fastest time of his career and just 23 seconds shy of his winning time from last year, a mark which stood as a national record for one month before training partner Yusuke Suzuki broke the world record.
Suzuki was absent from Sunday’s race due to a hip injury. He will also miss the other Olympic trial race next month in Nomi, meaning he will be unable to qualify for the Olympic Games.
With temperatures at 9C at the start of the race, Takahashi and Isamu Fujisawa were matched stride for stride throughout the first half. They passed 5km in 19:31 and by half way, reached in 38:51, they were 26 seconds in front of third-placed Takumi Saitou.
Satoshi Maruo was a further 18 seconds behind in fourth place, while 50km specialists Hirooki Arai and Takayuki Tanii passed the 10km point in 39:44, on course for their first sub-1:20 clocking.
Fujisawa and Takahashi shared the lead over the course of the next five kilometres, but the defending champion managed to make a break over the final few kilometres, opening up a 19-second gap on Fujisawa.
Takahashi crossed the line in a world-leading 1:18:26 – a time that only he and Suzuki have ever bettered among Japanese men – and Fujisawa followed in 1:18:45, taking 23 seconds off his PB.
World Championships 50km fourth-place finisher Arai caught Saitou in the closing stages to take third place in a PB of 1:19:54, replicating his finish from last year, albeit 41 seconds quicker.
Saitou was fourth in 1:20:14, the same time as Maruo in fifth. World 50km bronze medallist Tanii was sixth in 1:21:23.
“I’ve been having good practices and managed to turn in a spirited race, I was able to give everything I had,” said Takahashi. “The Olympics have been a dream of mine since I was little. I now stand on the starting line and will keep working to win a medal.”
At the start of the year, Takahashi had been targeting a top-eight finish in Rio. But he has now reassessed his goals. “For the sake of Yusuke, I will work hard to win a medal at Rio,” he said.
Kumiko Okada dominated the women’s race and, like Takahashi, successfully defended her title from 12 months ago.
The Asian silver medallist was alone in front from the early stages, passing 5km in 22:08 and 10km in 44:25. At half way her nearest challenger, Ai Michiguchi, was more than a minute behind.
Okada continued to extend her lead during the second half and went on to win in a PB of 1:29:40. Michiguchi was a distant second in a PB of 1:32:30.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF