Yumiko Hara and Yukiko Akaba will be the focus of attention at the 30th annual Osaka Women’s Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race which doubles as a Japanese qualifying race for this summer’s World Championships in Daegu, on Sunday (30).
UPDATE - SATURDAY 29 Jan 2011 organisers have announced that Yumiko Hara and Tomo Morimoto have pulled out of Sunday's Osaka Women's Marathon. Hara pulled her right thigh muscle, while Morimoto came down with stress fracture in left foot.
The course has been modified this year to eliminate some hills around Osaka castle. More specifically, hills around the 15Km point and multiple hills from 24Km to 27Km, which amounts to elevation gain and loss of around 20 metres each, were eliminated from the course. The new course may be half a minute faster than the old one. So, is the event record of 2:21:18 set by Mizuki Noguchi in 2003, a year before she won the Olympic Gold medal, in danger?
Because the runners can qualify for the World Championships Marathon team, the competition among Japanese will be fierce. The first Japanese will earn a spot to the squad provided she runs under 2:26. On paper, the race is between Yumiko Hara, who won the 2007 edition of the race with 2:23:48, and Yukiko Akaba, for they are generally considered to be the best in the field.
Additionally, Akaba thinks she is in the best Marathon shape of her career. Because of her personal best at 10,000m (31:15.34) and Half Marathon (1:08:11), Akaba should have a faster Marathon than her 2:24:55 personal best indicates.
Hara is no slouch either. She has a 10,000m best of 31:24.33 and won her latest marathon, the 2010 Hokkaido Marathon, and has clocked under 2:25 three times in her career.
However, two runners running their second Marathons – Ryoko Kizaki and Mai Ito – could be on the verge of a breakthrough and pull off a surprise. In her debut last year, Kizaki was sixth in 2:27:34. Later in the year, Kizaki was second in both the 5000m and 10,000m at the national Championships, 10th in the World Half Marathon Championships, and 8th at 5000m in the Asian Games. She hopes to run 2:24 and make the World Championships team. Ito is also running her second Marathon. After only a month of Marathon training, Ito challenged eventual winner Yuri Kano in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon last March. She eventually finished fourth with 2:29:13. After March, Ito set personal best at both 5000m and 10,000m.
If these runners falter, then the next in line for making the team may be Tomo Morimoto, who is a relatively consistent runner with four sub-2:27 runs in her seven starts. She had only one bad race where she was 12th with 2:38:24. Other top Japanese in the field are Miki Ohira, who finished either 4th or 5th in her four Marathon attempts and Chika Horie, who finished under 2:30 seven times in ten starts, but they need to move up to higher level in order to contend for a spot on the Daegu-bound squad. Mika Okunaga, who has a personal best of 2:27:16, and the Miyauchi twins (Yoko and Hiroko), who have sub-32 minute 10,000m credentials, have not yet run under 2:30 for the Marathon, will also need to move up to another level if they are to contend for the spot on the marathon team.
The invited runners from abroad are Russians Lyudmilla Petrova and Svetlana Zakharova, Adriana Fernandez of Mexico, Italian Anna Incerti, Adriana Pirtea of Romania, and Tetyana Holovchenko of Ukraine. The most intriguing runner from abroad is Petrova, whose 2:21:29 personal best is the fastest among the entrants. More significantly, she has the world master’s (over 40 years old) record of 2:25:43, set at the 2008 New York City Marathon. Petrova is now 42 and thus she could challenge the fastest Marathon by a 42 year old, 2:26:51 by Priscilla Welch in 1987 at London. In her last marathon she clocked 2:29:41 in New York last fall. Since New York is much tougher course than Osaka, Petrova may have 2:26 marathon in her in Osaka.
Zakharova, the 2001 World bronze medallist, turned 40 last year, and thus she has a chance to challenge Petrova’s over 40 marathon record in her presence. Zakharova’s latest marathon was 2:31, but in 2009, she ran 2:25:06.
Among the runners from abroad, Incerti and Holovchenko may have the best chance to challenge the leaders. Although her personal best is a quite modest 2:27:42, Incerti won bronze in her latest marathon, 2010 European Championships in Barcelona. Although she’s never run the Osaka Woemen’s Marathon, Incerti did run at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, finishing 17th.
Holovchenko has run only one marathon so far in her career. She won the Warsaw Marathon in September 2010 with 2:31:27. However, since Holovchenko has 15:26.88 and 31:59.98 credentials on the track, she perhaps is able to run a few minutes faster than her current personal best.
The race begins at 12:10 PM local time (GMT +9). Follow my twitter account (@KKenNakamura) for experimental live commentating.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Ed. Note: A statistical reference (PDF, 1 MB), prepared by Nakamura, is attached in the ‘Related Items’ section at right. Nakamura is solely responsible for all content.