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Banuelia Mrashani of Tanzania wins Tokyo International Ladies Marathon

Banuelia Mrashani of Tanzania became the first Tanzanian woman to win a major marathon at the 24th annual Tokyo International Ladies Marathon on Sunday, 17 November.  In the process she improved her personal best and the national record by nearly five minutes, from 2:29:51 to 2:24:59.

This was fifth time Mrashani had improved the national record, having bettered the record earlier at the 2001 Dubai Marathon (2:42:23), 2001 Pyongyang Marathon (2:40:52), 2001 Milano Marathon (2:33:15), and 2002 Torino Marathon (2:29:51).  Although Mrashani failed to improve her personal best in her last marathon, the 2002 Hokkaido Marathon in August, she improved the record for this relatively tough course which includes a 30m climb in the final part of the course.  Her time was the fourth fastest time on a particularly difficult course.  Only Eri Yamaguchi in 1999 (2:22:12), Joyce Chepchumba and Reiko Tosa in 2000 have ran faster.

Finishing second two seconds behind, and qualifying for the 2003 World Championships marathon team was Rie Matsuoka.  Matsuoka was an alternate for the 2001 World Championships team.  She ran in Edmonton because Yukiko Okamoto pulled out in the last minute because of an injury; unfortunately, perhaps because of the last minute change of plan, she was only 22nd in Edmonton. 

On Friday at the pre-race press conference Matsuoka told Tatsuo Terada that she would like to be selected for the 2003 World Championships team outright, not as an alternate. On Sunday, because she satisfied the selection criteria set by the Japanese AAF - first Japanese in the race with the finishing time under 2:26 - she became the first runner to be selected for the World Championships marathon team. 

On Friday Naoko Takahashi held press conference to announce her decision to pull out of the race, which she said was decided only five minutes before the press conference.  "I ran 20Km this morning, finishing the workout with 3:10 Km pace.  A doctor tells me that it is amazing that I can still run with such an injury.  It is painful, but it is within my pain tolerance."

But the defence of the Olympic title remains her main goal. "Thinking of the possibility of affecting my Olympic plan, I could not decide to run the race on Sunday."  She explained the course of her decision in length, from which it can be inferred that it was quite a tough choice for her. 
 
With Naoko Takahashi out of the race, the two Japanese with the best chance to make the World Championships team were considered to be Rie Matsuoka and Ari Ichihashi, a 1999 World Championships silver medallist. 

However, Ichihashi, who told reporters on Friday that her training for the race was less than perfect, was out of contention early.  By 5Km she was already ten seconds behind the lead pack. After a cautious start (5Km in 17:03 despite of the downhill), the pace picked up dramatically in the next 10Km (16:16 and 16:35).  Thus it soon became a four woman race.  Three Africans - Banuelia Mrashani of Tanzania, Alice Chelangat of Kenya, and Elfenesh Alemu of Ethiopia - led the race along with Rie Matsuoka who was second in the 2002 Paris Marathon.  As the Africans surged Matsuoka lost contact with the leaders a couple of times, only to work her way back to the lead pack each time. 

A runner who attracted much attention was Fernada Ribeiro of Portugal, because of her track credential.  With Paula Radliffe's phenomenal success in both the London and Chicago marathons earlier this year, more attention has been focused on leading track runners who move up to the marathon. Gete Wami's debut in Amsterdam was quite promising, but Sonia O'Sullivan was not so impressive in New York.  The marathon fans were interested to see what Ribeiro could do at the magical distance of 42.195Km.  In Fridays' pre-race press conference Ribeiro who dropped out of her debut marathon in London in 2000, said: "I have been training since early July for the marathon and am in very good shape. My goal is to complete the marathon in around 2:25.  Since I am an inexperienced marathon runner, my plan is to run the first half conservatively with the hope of picking up the pace in the last half."
Ribeiro did run conservatively in the first half; she was 30 seconds behind the leaders at 10Km.  At the half way, she was a minute and 39 seconds behind the leaders, which was still on the pace for a 2:25 marathon.
However, she fell off the chase pack after 30Km and finished a disappointing
10th with 2:37:04.  

By 16Km the race was all about three women, as Alice Chelangat, who has the personal best of 2:26:36 from the 2001 Milano marathon lost contact with the three leaders.  Passing the half way in 1:10:46, a minute and 15 seconds behind the record pace split, there was still hope for a fast time.  Unfortunately the pace slowed down and each 5Km took over 17 and 1/2 minutes.  The three ran together for the next 20Km until 35Km aid station at which point Alemu lost contact with the leaders leaving Mrashani of Tanzania and Rie Matsuoka to duel it out over the 30m climb to the national stadium. 

Up the toughest part of the hill, Mrashani surged at 39Km, only to be caught by Matsuoka a few hundred metres later.  They passed 40Km (2:17:43) together.  The hilly 5Km took them only 17:41, which compared favorably with the 17:32 for the same 5Km Tulu recorded a year ago when she won the race. 
Mrashani surged again just as they entered the national stadium; this time she was able to finally break from Matsuoka for good, going on to win by three seconds from the Japanese.
Irina Timofeyeva who finished second last year finished one place down this year. 

Twenty year old, Yuka Hashimoto, a teammate of Matsuoka finished fifth. 

Tanzania whose marathon glory in the past are decorated with such male marathon greats as Gidemas Shahanga (1978 CWG champion) and Juma Ikangaa (1982 CWG runner up, 1986 Fukuoka Marathon and 1989 New York Marathon champion) finally can boast a female marathon champion. 

Results  (JPN unless otherwise noted) 
1)  Banuelia Mrashani (TAN)     2:24:59  
2)  Rie Matsuoka                2:25:02
3)  Irina Timofeyeva (RUS)      2:26:45
4)  Elfenesh Alemu (ETH)        2:29:31
5)  Yuka Hashimoto              2:30:51
6)  Tomoe Abe           2:31:12
7)  Renata Paradowska (POL)     2:31:17
8)  Ichiyo Naganuma             2:33:51
9)  Yukari Komatsu              2:36:34
10) Fernanda Ribeiro (POR)      2:37:04
11) Franca Fiacconi (ITA)       2:38:17
Splits (unofficial):
5Km     17:03
10Km    33:19 (16:16)
15KM    49:54 (16:35)
20Km    1:06:57 (17:03)
1/2 Marathon    1:10:46
25Km    1:24:36 (17:39)
30Km    1:42:25 (17:49) 
35Km    2:00:02 (17:37)
40Km    2:17:43 (17:41)
Finish  2:24:59 (7:16)