Reigning world champion Paula Radcliffe may be absent through injury, but a field brimming with quality is guaranteed to provide a mouthwatering battle.
The 2003 World champion and Helsinki silver medallist Catherine Ndereba heads the formidable Kenyan team bidding to become the first woman to win this title twice. The 35-year-old has not raced a marathon this year, but the second fastest women marathoner in history has prepared specifically for Osaka and is expected to be a major threat.
Asian Games champion and world No1 Zhou Chunxiu will be seeking a prominent showing for China ahead of next year’s Beijing Olympics. Zhou, who ran 2:20:38 to win the London Marathon in April and is the eighth fastest women’s marathoner of all-time, is a much improved athlete from the one which finished fifth in Helsinki behind Radcliffe two years ago.
China also boast three other sub-2:25 runners including Wei Yanan, who triumphed in the Seoul Marathon earlier this year in 2:23:12.
Russian record-holder Galina Bogomolova became the second fastest European of all-time after setting 2:20:47 to finish second in last autumn’s Chicago Marathon. The former track runner, who finished sixth in the 10,000m at the 2003 World Championships, did not finish in April’s London Marathon, but is another to be respected.
Japan took the 1993 and 1997 titles through Junko Asari and Hiromi Suzuki, and Reiko Tosa leads the host’s hopes of securing gold medal No3. Tosa, the 2001 World silver medallist, is an experienced performer who will not be fazed by the hot and humid conditions. Her compatriot Yumiko Hara, who won the Osaka Marathon in January with a new lifetime best of 2:23:48, could also be a factor.
Bolstering the Kenyan team will be Rita Jeptoo, the 2006 Boston Marathon winner, and 40-year-old Edith Masai, the three-time IAAF World Cross Country short course champion, who has a marathon best of 2:27:06.
Ethiopia have, surprisingly, yet to win a medal in this event but Magarsa Assale Tafa, winner of the Paris Marathon earlier this year in 2:25:07, will be looking to break that duck.
Central American record-holder Madai Perez of Mexico, who has a personal best time of 2:22:59 and finished third in April’s Boston Marathon, also cannot be discounted.
Japanese-based British athlete Mara Yamauchi, who finished sixth in the London Marathon and has a best of 2:25:13, could be another dark horse. The 2001 World champion Lidia Simon of Romania is also entered.
Osaka 2007 News Team/sl