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The Japanese Women Marathon Team

Japanese Women’s marathon runners
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF 10 August 2001 - Edmonton - While the Japanese men’s marathon runners failed to take home an individual medal, on Sunday morning, the Japanese women will be ready take on the challenge of medalling in three consecutive World Championships.  I have already written short bios of the best Japanese marathon runner in Edmonton - Yoko Shibui.  Unfortunately, by her own admission, Shibui is not in the shape she was in Osaka.  Because the weather in Boulder, Colorado where she was training has been very hot, not all the scheduled training was run according to plan.  But at the press conference, Shibui promised that she would not give up the race easily.  When asked about a possible race scenario, Shibui said: “I expect the pack to stay together in the early part of the race.” All the coaches of Japanese marathon runners expect that race will be won in 2:24 to 2:25 range.  They also agreed that the lead pack probably will stay together until late in the race.  “It is not possible to run away from the field on this couse,” was the conclusion of three coaches present at the press conference. Note that two sets of teammates will be running the marathon in Edmonton. Yoko Shibui and Reiko Tosa are teammates in Mitsui Kaijyo track team, while Kazumi Matsuo and Rie Matsuoka are teammates at the Tenmaya track team. Kazumi Matsuo: Although she does not have a very fast personal best (2:26:01) at the marathon, she is undefeated at the distance, having won three marathons in three starts.  She joined Tenmaya track team in 1995, however, because she could not distinguish herself as a track runner, she was giving serious thought to giving up the sport in 1999.  Her best at the time was a fourth place finish in the 1999 Japan corporate half marathon championships.  As her final competition before the retirement, she entered the 1999 Hokkaido marathon, which she won in 2:32:14 despite 25°C temperature and 64% humidity.  Obviously she changed her mind and continued to train.  After Eri Yamaguchi, her teammate at the Tenmaya track team, was selected for the Olympic marathon team in 2000, Matsuo was selected as Yamaguchi’s training partner.  Training with Yamaguchi on her buildup toward the Olympic marathon, Matsuo also rounded into fine shape.  Hating to waste such good training, Matsuo entered the 2000 Berlin marathon.  Surging with 4Km to go, Matsuo won the race in 2:26:15.  Her third marathon was a close contest.   However, Matsuo managed to outkick Takami Ominami on the homestraight at the 2001 Nagoya Women’s marathon when she recorded 2:26:01 to improve her marathon PR for the second time.   With this performance, Matsuo was selected for the World Championships team. The Japanese women’s marathon team press conference was held in Edmonton on Thursday.  Matsuo who is reported to be in fine form, perhaps her best ever, said, “My training has gone so well, so I am looking forward to the race.  I am not a front runner, so I am not thinking about leading the race, but if I stay with the leaders, everything should turn out OK.”  It should be noted that her high school coach Shigeo Hasegawa said, “Matsuo always set a goal for herself, and makes her best effort to attain her goal.” Reiko Tosa: Reiko Tosa who played basketball in junior high school joined the track team when she entered high school.  Both of her parents were track and field athletes in their youth - her father a middle distance runner, while her mother was a javelin thrower who also ran relays.   However, her track and field career in both high school and college was undistinguished.  She never made it out of the heats at the national inter-high school championships.  After graduating from college, Tosa joined Mitsui Kaijyo track team where she finally started to fulfill her potential.  She first distinguished herself when she finished sixth in the 1999 World Half Marathon Championships.  She followed this up with the second place behind Naoko Takahashi in the 2000 Nagoya Women’s marathon with 2:24:36.  Although it was her second marathon, it was effectively her debut, because her debut at Matsuyama marathon where she won in 2:54:47 was not a serious effort.  Although Tosa failed to improve her marathon best, she ran a second consecutive sub 2:25 marathon in the 2000 Tokyo marathon when she was second to Joyce Chepchumba with 2:24:47, which qualified her for the Worlds.  She is a teammate of Yoko Shibui.  It is said that Tosa was instrumental to the rise of Shibui as a world class marathon runner.  Shibui realized that she should train with consistency to follow Tosa’s step to the top of the marathon scene.  According to her training mate Yoko Shibui, “Tosa is in the best shape of her life.”  Tosa’s goal is to be like Harumi Hiroyama who continued to excel after marriage, which is quite rare in Japan. Takami Ominami: With her twin sister Hiromi, Takami Ominami has run three marathons in her career, all in Nagoya. In her debut marathon in 1999, she was fifth in 2:33:05, while her twin sister Hiromi was third in 2:30:19.  Takami finished ahead of her twin sister in their second marathon at the 2000 Nagoya Women’s marathon. Takami was third in 2:26:58 while Hiromi was fifth in 2:28:32.  After the 2000 Nagoya women’s marathon, Takami went through surgery on her thyroid in April of 2000, which caused her to miss training until September.  As a consequence she was not fit during the fall, however, she was rounding into shape by December and started to train for the 2001 Nagoya marathon.  In her third marathon, Takami improved her marathon best again to 2:26:04 when she lost the sprint at the 2001 Nagoya Women’s marathon against Kazumi Matsuo.  At the press conference in Edmonton, Takami said, “I cannot say my training went well, however, after arriving at Edmonton I am slowly rounding into shape.  Although I am not as good shape as I was for Nagoya women’s marathon, I would like to finish as high as possible.” Rie Matsuoka:  When Yukiko Okamoto withdrew at the last minute, Rie Matsuoka, a teammate of Kazumi Matsuo in the Tenmaya track team was officially selected to run the marathon in Edmonton.  “I have been training with Kazumi Matsuo since March as her training partner for her buildup to the World Championships marathon,” said Matsuoka at the press conference.  So the last minute change should not be a problem.  Matsuo has run only two marathons in her career.  Her marathon debut was in the 2000 Hokkaido marathon where she led early.  Unfortunately she faded after 25Km, and finished second in 2:35:10.  She was more restrained in the 2001 Osaka Ladies’ marathon, a World Championships qualifying race.   Staying behind in the second pack, she was hoping to reel in the runners ahead of her.  Unfortunately, she also slowed down and could not clear the World Championship selection criteria, 2:26.  After Osaka marathon, Matsuoka said, “The time was better than those of Hokkaido.  I set a personal best.  However, I could not attain my goal of running sub 2:26 marathon and place ahead of all other Japanese.  So I am not happy with the race.”  When the marathon team was announced Matsuo was selected as an alternate.  Said her coach Yutaka Taketomi, “Matsuoka ran the race without completely recovering from her hard training.”   Edmonton will be her third marathon.  She and her coach should have learned valuable lessons from her two previous marathons.

The Edmonton 2001 Women's Marathon will be covered live in a special IAAF Forum with World Marathon Best Tegla Loroupe (KEN - 2:20.43), starting 1500 GMT on Sunday 12 August.