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Great Marathon debut by Mizuki Noguchi in Nagoya International Women’s Marathon

Great Marathon debut by Mizuki Noguchi in Nagoya International Women’s Marathon
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
10 March 2002 - Another marathon star is born in Japan.  Although she could not set a marathon debut record as she promised before the race, Mizuki Noguchi won the 2002 Nagoya International Women’s Marathon in 2:25:35 despite unseasonably warm weather.  Hiromi Ominami who has run the Nagoya Women’s Marathon for the last four years in a row set a personal best of 2:27:29 while finishing second.  Finishing third in 2:28:10 was Megumi Tanaka, another debutante.  

Because Mizuki Noguchi had finished second, fourth and fourth in the last three World Half Marathon Championships, she is known as the “Queen of the Half Marathon” in Japan.  Unfortunately, because the half marathon is not as prestigious as the marathon in Japan, she has been ignored by the panel of experts in the Japanese Athlete of the Year voting.   For example, she received only one vote in the Athlete of the Year voting for the year 2000.  This should all change now with her spectacular success at the marathon on Sunday in Nagoya. 

Before the race, all the attention was on 23-year-old Mizuki Noguchi.  Originally she ha planned to run her first marathon in the 2001 Nagoya Women’s Marathon but was forced to postpone her debut because of an untimely injury last winter which hampered her marathon preparation.  Instead of running in Nagoya, Noguchi ran in and won the 2001 Japanese corporate team half marathon championships in 1:08:45.  She followed it up with another half marathon win in the East Asian Games in May. 

A month later, Noguchi finished third at the 10,000m in the national championships, which qualified her for the World Championships in Edmonton.  In Edmonton where Noguchi finished 13th at the 10,000m her coach Nobuyuki Fujita explained, “If everything goes well, Noguchi is making her marathon debut at the 2002 Nagoya Women’s Marathon.”

Earlier this year, in Miyazaki, where she won the Miyazaki Women’s Half Marathon in the record time of 1:08:22, sitting next to marathon debut record holder Yoko Shibui, Noguchi said, “My goal in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon is to break the marathon debut record.”  She then left for high altitude training in China. 

In the pre-race interview before Nagoya Women’s Marathon, she told Tatsuo Terada, “I spent  50 days between January 9th to February 27th in high altitude training in Kunming (China).  My training went well.  Some of the training, especially long interval workouts in the windy conditions were very tough, but I have done many 40Km long runs and I have no fear of distance.

“If the race conditions are good, then I will go for the time.  If not, then I will go for the win.  Perhaps it might sound too ambitious, but I would like to set a marathon debut record.”   It was quite unfortunate that the day was too warm for the marathon. 

Although the pace was not excessively fast (16:55 and then 17:18 for the first and second 5Km), the small lead group was formed almost immediately.  By 10Km, the lead group was already down to four runners - Mizuki Noguchi, Megumi Tanaka, Hiromi Ominami, and Sakiko Kato.  Amazingly, three of the four runners (Noguchi, Tanaka and Kato) were running their first marathon.  The day was calm.  The strong wind that historically  troubles the runners was absent this year.  Unfortunately, the day was unseasonably warm.  The temperature at the start was 16C, but it climbed up to 19C by 19Km.  By 15Km (51:34), debutante Sakiko Kato had lost the contact with the leaders, and the race was down to three runners who were expected to battle for the crown. 

For the next 10Km, Noguchi was always in front with Hiromi Ominami and Megumi Tanaka in tow.   The real racing started at 25Km. 

Surprisingly, it was Hiromi Ominami who had said, “I am in fantastic shape.  Unlike other years my training has gone very well.  I cannot wait for the race.  My goal is to break my twin sister’s personal best - 2:26:04,” who started to drift behind at 25.5Km.  

Yet another surprise was Megumi Tanaka who said, “I am in average shape for the race,” in the pre-race interview.  Amazingly she was still with the leader Noguchi.  

Tanaka was a former 400m/800m runner who won the 1993 national high school championships at 3000m.  

In the pre-race interview, Tanaka who run the 5000m in both the 1999 Worlds and 2000 Olympics said, “Although I have run a half marathon about six years ago, I have not run anything longer than 10,000m since then.  Running in the Worlds and Olympics, I felt that I cannot be competitive in track events.  Since Japanese women have done well in the marathon, I was hoping to run the marathon someday.  After the 2001 national championships (in June), I decided to give the marathon a try.  However, I have not altered my training much for the marathon.” 

When Noguchi surged at 26Km, Tanaka was left behind.  Noguchi ran 26Km to 27Km in 3:21 and she was all alone.   By 28Km, Noguchi led Tanaka by 10 seconds; Ominami was another ten seconds behind.  Two Km later, Noguchi had built up her lead over Tanaka to 28 seconds, while Ominami was another 18 seconds back.  But then Ominami started to reel back Tanaka, and by 33.3Km, Ominami not only caught Tanaka, but passed her to move into the second place.  Although it was her first marathon, Noguchi never faltered in the final stage of the race and won easily by nearly two minutes in 2:25:35, the second fastest marathon debut by a Japanese. 

Finishing sixth in 2:31:11 was Tomoe Abe who has run three marathons this winter.  Abe was 12th in 2:34:17 at the 2001 Tokyo Ladies Marathon in November, and was fifth in 2:29:16 at the 2002 Osaka Ladies Marathon in January.   For the 30-year-old marathon bronze medallist at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, this was her final race in Asahi Kasei uniform.  Although she will continue to run races at the elite level, Abe will soon leave Asahi Kasei track team. 

Tegla Loroupe who sounded confident in the pre-race interview had trouble again.  She stopped once around 5.5Km, apparently having trouble with her lower back.  Despite the problem, Loroupe worked her way back and finished seventh in 2:31:27.

Results (JPN unless otherwise noted): 

1)   Mizuki Noguchi  2:25:35    Debut
2)   Hiromi Ominami  2:27:29    PB
3)   Megumi Tanaka  2:28:10     Debut
4)   Chihiro Tanaka  2:29:30
5)   Tomoko Kai   2:29:47
6)   Tomoe Abe  2:31:11
7)   Tegla Loroupe (KEN)  2:31:27
8)   Sakiko Kato  2:31:29       Debut

Mizuki Noguchi’s splits:  (Weather:  Temperature: 16C, Humidity: 41%; Wind North 0.5m/s)
5Km     16:55
10Km    34:13           (17:18)
15Km    51:34   (17:21) 
20Km    1:08:54  (17:20)
Half    1:12:42
25Km    1:26:40  (17:46)
30Km    1:43:43  (17:02)
35Km    2:01:03  (17:20)
40Km    2:18:17  (17:14)
42.195K  2:25:35  (7:18)