Preview Osaka, Japan

Third time lucky for Fukushi at the Osaka Women’s Marathon?

Kayoko Fukushi (Getty Images)Kayoko Fukushi (Getty Images) © Copyright

The 32nd Osaka Women’s Marathon on Sunday (27), an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be held on a course that is essentially the same as that used for the 2007 IAAF World Championships and local interest centres on whether Kayoko Fukushi can finally get it right and deliver a performance worthy of her potential.

Fukushi, now 30, has dominated distance running below the marathon in Japan during the last decade and her move up to the marathon in Osaka five years ago was highly anticipated. However, she dramatically hit the wall in 2008 and barely managed to finish the race, coming home in a hugely disappointing 2:40:54.

It deterred her from racing a marathon again for more than three years but her second attempt, when finishing third at the 2011 Chicago Marathon, was a much more respectable 2:24:38. However, it all went wrong again in Osaka 12 months ago when she struggled home ninth in 2:37:35 but with a half marathon best of 1:07:26 from 200, Fukushi still has high expectations and she is coming into this race in good shape with two good ekiden outings at the end of last year.

Yoko Shibui, the former national marathon record holder at 2:19:41 set in 2004 Berlin Marathon, is still the Japanese 10000m record holder but after winning 2009 Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:23:42 she has not won another major marathon. Nevertheless, like Fukushi, has alos been in good form in recent ekidens. 

Yuko Watanabe may be a runner to watch as she recorded 32:12 in a 10km ekiden leg two weeks ago. Her marathon best is only 2:29:20, set on her debut when finishing 13th at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon last March, but that is the only marathon of her career. 

Mari Ozaki, who has a best of 2:23:30, from 2003, had a baby in July of 2011 but in her most recent race in December, she was seventh in half marathon with 1:11:36.

Mizuki Noguchi, the 2004 Olympic champion and Asian record holder at 2:19:12, was originally scheduled to run in Osaka, where she has held the course record with 2:21:18 since 2003, but pulled out at the last minute due to stomach problem.

Five runners – Maria Konovalova, Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrkok, Mihaela Botezan, Karolina Jarzynska and Lisa Weightman – have been invited from overseas. 

Gamera-Shmyrko comes into the race having run what was a Ukraine national record of 2:24:32 when she finishing fifth in the London 2012 Olympic Games, her last competitive outing of any description. She knows the Osaka’s course well as she was second in Osaka last year with 2:24:46.

Konovalova, now 38, ran a 1:09:56 half marathon in 2012 and 2:25:38 for sixth place at the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Along with last November’s Yokohama Women’s Marathon and the upcoming Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March, the race is one of the qualifying races for the 2013 World Championships team. The first Japanese finisher in the race will be automatically selected for the marathon team provided she runs faster than 2:23:59.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Invited runners:

Overseas:
Maria Konovalova (RUS) 2:23:50, 2010 Chicago
Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (UKR) 2:24:32, 2012 Olympic Games
Mihaela Botezan (ROU) 2:25:32, 2003 London
Karolina Jarzynska (POL)  2:27:16, 2011 Yokohama
Lisa Weightman (AUS) 2:27:32,  2012 Olympic Games

Domestic:
Yoko Shibui 2:19:41, 2004 Berlin
Mari Ozaki 2:23:30, 2003 Osaka
Kayoko Fukushi 2:24:38, 2011 Chicago
Noriko Higuchi 2:28:49, 2011 Tokyo
Yuko Watanabe 2:29:20, 2012 Nagoya

Pace Makers:
Philes Ongori (KEN)
Alevtina Ivanova (RUS)
Azusa Nojiri 
Tomomi Higuchi