The Japanese runner has a huge fan and media following.
Written by: David Monti
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
With national records at 3000m, 5000m and the half marathon, Kayoko Fukushi is Japan’s best distance runner. Her accolades include three medals at the Asian Games –including the gold at 10,000m in 2006– two Olympic Games appearances, five sub-15:00 5000m marks, and a sixth place finish at the 2006 IAAF World Road Running Championships. She is the undisputed star of her Wacoal corporate team, and enjoys a huge fan and media following.
But Fukushi, 29, is not yet a marathoner, at least by her own high standards. Back in 2008 she made her debut at the distance at the Osaka International Women’s Marathon with much fanfare.
Dressed in her fuchsia Wacoal uniform with matching pink arm warmers, a black scarf around her neck, and white gloves to ward off the chill, Fukushi was the first to exit the stadium and decided to race aggressively, despite her lack of experience at the distance.
By the 5K mark, she had opened a 23-second lead, and her margin widened to 1:45 by 20K. She was on a 2:21 pace, knowing that a victory in a fast time would insure Olympic team selection. By 30K (1:41:25) Fukushi was still leading by two minutes, but over the next 5 kilometers she began to slow dramatically. Briton’s Mara Yamauchi had broken away from the chase group and just before 35K passed the struggling Fukushi (Yamauchi went on to win her first marathon in a then personal best 2:25:10).
Fukushi continued to slow. In a dramatic meltdown chronicled on live television, Fukushi fell four times before finishing 19th in 2:40:54. Her last fall came just five meters from the finish line.
Managing a smile, she rose to finish under her own power, before being helped off the track by officials; she was immediately mobbed by photographers.
She has not attempted the distance since.
Fukushi hopes for a completely different outcome at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 9. She said recently that the Chicago race would be an important step in getting her on the starting line for the London Olympic Marathon in 2012, a race she would still have to qualify for at a Japanese Marathon next year. “At this year’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I want to challenge the 2:20 mark, and also test my own abilities in the marathon and what the distance involves,” Fukushi said through a press release sent by race organizers yesterday. “Racing in Chicago is the start of my preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games Marathon in London.”
Fukushi has raced well last year, including a fourth-place finish over 10,000m at the Asian Games, just two seconds out of the medals (she was also fifth in the 5000m). This year, she has raced sparingly. Although she rolled over the field in the Marugame Half Marathon last February and ran 30:54.20 at the Peyton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10,000m last May showing her best form, she skipped the Japanese national championships because she was recovering from an unspecified surgery.
Her most recent performance was a modest 1:17:19 at the Shibetsu Half-Marathon in Hokkaido on July 24.
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Chicago organizers also announced a diverse field of top runners for their race. In addition to two-time defending women’s champion Liliya Shobukhova of Russia (previously announced), executive race director Carey Pinkowski announced that France’s Christelle Daunay (2:24:22 PB), Australia’s Benita Willis (2:22:36), Russia’s Mariya Konovalova (2:23:50), and China’s Wei Yanan (2:23:12) had joined the women’s field. On the men’s side, Pinkowski has recruited two-time ING New York City Marathon winner Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil (2:06:34), and a host of Japanese athletes: Atsushi Sato (2:07:13), Takayuki Matsumiya (2:10:04), Takashi Horiguchi (2:12:05), Kouji Gokaya (2:12:07), Hironori Arai (2:12:17), Masaki Shimoju (2:12:18) and Yuuki Moriwaki (2:13:34).
Pinkowski had previously announced Kenya’s Moses Mosop and America’s Ryan Hall for the race. “This year’s elite field is one of the most internationally diverse and talented that we have ever hosted at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, with the top athletes in the world hailing from six continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia,” Pinkowski said through a statement. “The competitive atmosphere on October 9, will be like that of the Olympic Games, a true celebration of the global nature of the sport and a thrill for the residents and sports fans of our diverse city.”