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Marathon: Suzuki, Okamoto win Hokkaido Marathon for spots in Olympic qualifier

Naoki Okamoto (L) and Ayuko Suzuki (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Ayuko Suzuki and Naoki Okamoto won the women's and men's races, respectively, in the Hokkaido Marathon on Sunday, booking spots in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic marathon qualifying race.

On her marathon debut, Suzuki crossed the tape at Sapporo's Odori Park in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 32 seconds. In the men's race, veteran Okamoto clocked a personal best 2:11:29 for his first career marathon victory.

With the wins, Suzuki and Okamoto each booked spots in the Marathon Grand Championship Series, the qualifying race for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic marathon, to be held in September next year.

"I felt assured running out there, and I was relieved to earn the right to participate in the MGC," Suzuki said. "I had some abdominal pain along the way, but just like in practice I stayed calm and kept running."

Okamoto, who also races at the 5,000 meter, 10,000 meter and half-marathon distances, said he was able to pick up the pace as the race wound down.

"My body got lighter in the last five kilometers and I thought I'd be able to make it. I was really able to enjoy the race over the last two kilometers," Okamoto said.

Suzuki, 26, made her Olympic debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 after earning a berth in the women's 10,000 meters at that year's national athletics championships.

Okamoto, who is aiming to make his Olympic debut in 2020, said the Tokyo Games would be a culmination in his career as a 36-year-old long distance runner.

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