Report19 Feb 2023

Ikeda secures Budapest spot with Japanese 20km Race Walking Championships win


Koki Ikeda wins at the Japanese 20km Race Walking Championships (© Ikumi Kodama / JAAF)

Koki Ikeda splashed through puddles to win the 106th Japanese 20km Race Walking Championships on Sunday (19) and book a slot in Japan’s team for the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.

The world and Olympic silver medallist looked as if he could have sung in the rain, so effortless was his victory in Kobe.

He timed his bid for home when it mattered and was duly rewarded with an excellent 1:18:36.

Ikeda’s last challenger in the race was six-time winner Eiki Takahashi, who brandished gold coloured No.1 on his bib but couldn't win another medal of the same colour and finished in 1:19:07.

The first and second places were decided by the 16km mark, when Ikeda struck out. But the pair had been clear of everyone else for a lot longer than that.

All of Japan’s big hitters toed the line ahead of the 1km loop on Rokko Island at the southern end of Kobe. That is, all bar world champion Toshikazu Yamanishi, who has the luxury of a wild card for Budapest tucked up his sleeve.

But he was scarcely missed. The pace was so quick, the elite field had spread out 100 metres after just a single lap.

Needless to say, Takahashi, Ikeda and other favourites led the charge to record 3:51 for that first loop.

By 3km, reached in 11:44, there was clear daylight – well, as clear as a murky, rainy morning in Kobe would allow – between the five at the front, and the rest.

Tomohiro Noda was the first of the five to fall away, but he was to enjoy an amazing sprint right at the end.

Going into the sixth lap, all bets were off, as bib numbers one and two quickly became first and second - and on their own.

Masatora Kawano, world 35km race walk silver medallist in Oregon, couldn’t live with the pace, although he was gamely trying to get back in touch, while Daisuke Matsunaga, with a PB of 1:17:46, was already another 20 metres further back.

By 7km, Takahashi and Ikeda were forced outside to circumnavigate the large number of lapped walkers in the 72-strong field, who all bar a handful boasted PBs inside 1:30:00.

The lead of the front two over the third-placed athlete had grown to 18 seconds, while Kawano had another 11 seconds over the next pair, but he too was suffering.

Two kilometres later, he got reeled in by Matsunaga and Hiroto Jusho, while up front Ikeda went through halfway in a blistering 38:49, with Takahashi a footstep behind.

They were more than half a minute clear of anyone else by now, so barring a disaster the winner was going to be one of the two.

The race for third appeared settled when the blue-vested Jusho pushed on to leave Kawano, incongruously wearing sunglasses, in his wake just after 12km.

However, the Oregon silver medallist dug deep to get back in touch over the next lap.

Behind them, the gap was 40 seconds to Matsunaga and Noda, and the rest of the field bar a mere half dozen were all in danger of being lapped.

It was 58:45 at 15km, and another circuit was enough for Ikeda to shed his shadow.

In the space of 200m, he opened up a 10-metre lead on Takahashi, and there was nothing the Kobe multi-winner could do. With 2km to go, the gap had grown by 10 seconds, and it was game over for last year’s champion.

Over the last two laps, Noda pulled out all the stops to finish third in 1:19:52, achieving the same place as last year although with a better time by 32 seconds. He had been 1:20 shy of the leaders at 15km.

An exhausted Jusho, who collapsed at the finish line, was followed home a few seconds later by Kawano, who is more likely to compete at the longer distance in Budapest.

The women’s 20km race also went to form.

Nanako Fujii, with a PB of 1:28:58, and last year’s winner Kumiko Okada were well clear of the 31-strong field by 5km, with Fuji recording 22:22 to Okada’s 22:26.

Thereafter, the lead steadily grew so that by halfway (44:45) the former had gained another 11 seconds over her lone pursuer.

That became almost a minute by 15km, and Fujii, sixth and seventh in the last two World Championships, was the only athlete to dip under 1:30:00 at the tape, with 1:29:54.

In contrast, Okada recorded 1:31:21, and in third, 20-year-old Ayane Yanai, making her debut at the distance, recorded a very creditable 1:33:46.

Fuji will have to wait to see whether she too is headed to Budapest having missed out on the time standard, 1:28:30, despite winning here.

She and others who want to join Yamanishi and Ikeda will get another chance at the All-Asian Championships in Nomi on 20 March.

Paul Warburton for World Athletics


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