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EDITORIAL | Maeda's New Marathon Record Sets the Bar for Olympic Hopefuls

At the Nagoya Women's Marathon in March, Japanese runners vying to make the Olympic team will have to beat the national record set by Honami Maeda in Osaka.

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Honami Maeda finished second at the Osaka International Women's Marathon, breaking the national record set by Mizuki Noguchi in 2005 on January 18 at Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka. (©Sankei by Kan Emori)

Honami Maeda set a new Japanese national record of 2:18:59 at the Osaka International Women's Marathon. She broke into the 2:18 range for the first time, well under the Paris Olympic qualifying standard of 2:21:41. The previous record of 2:19:12 was achieved by Mizuki Noguchi in 2005. 

Before the race, Maeda had used the Japanese word "are" (you know what) to talk about her goal. A native of Amagasaki in Hyogo Prefecture, she was paying homage to Hanshin Tigers manager Akihiro Okada, who also hails from the city. He famously used the word "are" instead of "victory" to avoid jinxing or pressuring the players during the Japan Series championships.

Before the Osaka marathon, Maeda made it clear to her mother that her goal was to break the national record. During the race, she overtook the pacemaker at the 21-kilometer mark for a solo break. Although she was caught up by Ethiopia's Workenesh Edesa after the 31-kilometer mark, she managed to stay close behind until the very end.

Honami Maeda writes "are" next to her photo. January 29, Hotel New Otani Osaka. (©Sankei by Naru Nemoto)

Elevating Sports

When it comes to setting records, someone needs to break the barrier for others to follow and make even greater progress. In 2001, Naoko Takahashi became the world's first woman to shatter the 2:20 barrier. This was later surpassed by Yoko Shibui in 2004 and Mizuki Noguchi in 2005. All three times were set in the mixed-gender Berlin Marathon, which is relatively flat. Following a period of stagnation, Hitomi Niiya came close to Noguchi's record in the 2:19 range at the mixed-gender Houston Marathon in January 2023.

Now, Maeda's national record has elevated the competitive level of the sport even further. Anyone vying for an Olympic spot will have to beat her time at the Nagoya Women's Marathon in March.

The current women's marathon world record stands in the 2:11 range. However, breaking the 2:18 barrier in women-only races is deemed a top-level accomplishment. There are expectations that athletes will achieve even more groundbreaking feats at the Paris Olympics.

Table Tennis Qualifiers

In the realm of table tennis, the All Japan Table Tennis Championships concluded on January 28. Qualifiers for the Olympic singles matches were determined using the Table Tennis Association's points-based selection process.

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For the women's singles, championship winner Hina Hayata and Miu Hirano secured their Olympic spots. However, Tokyo Olympics ace Mima Ito finished third in the selection process, failing to qualify.

Hina Hayata competing at the All Japan Table Tennis Championships on January 26 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. (©Kyodo)

Since childhood, Hiyata, Hirano, and Ito have competed and supported one another. Hirano and Hayata served as substitutes for Ito and other team members at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and Tokyo in 2021, respectively. 

It is unclear whether Ito will be competing for the women's team. Nevertheless, such drama and unpredictability are inherent in any sport, with the pinnacle of them all being the Olympics.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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