The 2003 Osaka Ladies International Marathon which is one of Japan’s selection races for their 2003 World Championships team, will be held this Sunday 26 January. The race will start and finish at Nagai stadium, the future venue of the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.
Defending champion Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya, heads the foreign challenge (PB 2:22:36 - 2000 Chicago Marathon), having become the first African to win this all women’s marathon. Her most recent race was the Egmond Half Marathon on January 12, which she won. Although she hopes to set the course record (2:22:54 by Lidia Simon), Kiplagat has emphasized that winning in Osaka is more important.
Two other foreign invited runners, Liu Min of China and Kerryn McCann of Australia, have respectable personal bests. However, although Liu won the 2001 Beijing Marathon with the World Junior record of 2:23:37, she did not run well in 2002. She dropped out of the Asian Games in Busan, before finishing dismal 36th in the Beijing marathon.
On the other hand Kerryn McCann, the reigning Commonwealth Marathon champion with a personal best of 2:25:59, is quite a consistent runner. She ran a very smart race and finished fourth in Osaka last year. She has been chasing the Australian record of 2:23:51, which was recorded by Lisa Ondieki in the 1988 Osaka Ladies Marathon.
The first Japanese in this year’s race will automatically be selected for the Paris World Championships team provided she finishes the race under 2:26, with the added incentive that the first Japanese finisher in Paris is guaranteed a place in the 2004 Olympic team, provided she wins a medal. Hence for the top Japanese, Osaka is the first step toward making the coveted Olympic team for Athens.
Although it is certainly possible for an unknown runner to come out of nowhere to win the race, as Yumi Kokamo did in the 1992 Osaka Ladies marathon, five Japanese runners stand out this year - Mizuki Noguchi, Megumi Tanaka, Masako Chiba, Mari Ozaki and Miwako Yamanaka.
In Osaka, Mizuki Noguchi and Megumi Tanaka will both be running their second marathons.
Last year in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, on her marathon debut, Noguchi led the race almost from the start to finish despite the unseasonably warm weather, and winning easily in 2:25:35.
Noguchi’s credentials at the half marathon are unparalleled among the Japanese. She has finished second, fourth, fourth and ninth in the last four IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, and also finished 13th at 10,000m in Edmonton 2001. A tiny runner (150cm tall), who is coached by Nobuyuki Fujita, a well-respected marathon/ekiden coach, she is ready to join the truly elite class of marathon runners, and is the favourite among the Japanese runners.
Megumi Tanaka was third (2:28:10) in that Nagoya race behind Noguchi, but is even better than her at the shorter events, being a former high school champion at 3000m, and having represented Japan at the 5000m in both the 1999 Worlds and 2000 Olympics. Her most recent race was the women’s ekiden championships last December, where Tanaka ran the fastest stage, 36:13 for 11.5Km. Last year in Nagoya, Tanaka just tried to hang on with the leaders as long as she could. Mitsuyo Wada (Yoshida), a 2.26 marathon runner, thinks that Tanaka needs to take the initiative in the latter part of the race.
Masako Chiba may be the sentimental favorite of many fans. Chiba who finished fifth in the 1996 Olympics and third in the 1997 Worlds at the 10,000m, also ran 1:06:43 for the Half Marathon in 1997.
Chiba has not been so fortunate at the marathon. She was beset with injuries several times preparing for her marathon debut, eventually running the 1999 Tokyo Ladies Marathon, but finished a disappointing fifth in 2:29:00. A year later she joined Sakura Athletes Club, the club started by Yoshio Koide, the coach behind Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, and under his guidance Chiba won the 2001 Hokkaido Marathon (2:30:39 in 30C heat) by surging at 30Km. She followed it up with a second place finish in the 2002 Rotterdam Marathon with a personal best of 2:25:11. Although her next marathon, the 2002 Chicago Marathon was a disaster (2:34:36) because she went out with the leaders, she won her most recent race, the Miyazaki Half Marathon on January 6, in 1:10:06, after surging at 17Km.
As a former national 10,000m record holder, she is generally considered to be the fastest runner in the field, though the former Paris Marathon champion Mitsuyo Wada (Yoshida) doesn’t “think Chiba’s speed is what it was in 1997.”
Mari Ozaki is the most anticipated marathon debutante in the Osaka, for her credentials at the shorter distances are quite good. She was second at 10,000m in the 2001 National Championships, and was 19th at the World Championships in Edmonton. She won the won the 2002 Marugame Half Marathon in 1:09:33, but was only 27th at the World Championships in Brussels. Her most recent race was the inter-Prefectural ekiden championships on 12 January, where she ran the uphill 6Km stage in 19:02
Miwako Yamanaka, who was fourth at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships, is making her first serious attempt at the marathon, which is exciting because a good cross country performance often translates to a good marathon. After high altitude training in New Mexico, in the last race on 12 January, Yamanaka ran the same uphill 6Km ekiden stage as Ozaki, in a record 18:44. But the experienced voice of Mitsuyo Wada wonders if Yamanaka is relaxed enough “to be able to finish strongly” in a marathon?
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Name PB Venue
Lornah Kiplagat (KEN) 2:22:36 2000 Chicago
Liu Min (CHN) 2:23:37 2001 Beijing
Kerryn McCann (AUS) 2:25:59 2000 London
Viktoria Klimina (RUS) 2:28:30 2002 Ocean State
Luminita Talpos (ROM) 2:31:05 1998 Marrakesh
Caroline Kwambai (KEN) 1:09:10 (Half) 2000
Olga Romanova (RUS) 1:11:37 (Half) 2002
Masako Chiba 2:25:11 2002 Rotterdam
Kayoko Obata 2:25:14 2000 Osaka
Mizuki Noguchi 2:25:35 2002 Nagoya
Aki Fujikawa 2:27:42 1999 Osaka
Megumi Tanaka 2:28:10 2002 Nagoya
Taeko Terauchi 2:28:10 1999 Osaka
Hisae Yoshimatsu 2:28:49 2002 Hokkaido
Ai Sugihara 2:30:50 2001 Nagoya
Mai Tagami 2:32:00 2002 Boston
Asami Obi 2:34:39 2002 Nagoya
Fumi Murata 2:34:46 2001 Nagoya
Naoko Sakamoto 1:09:27 (half) 2001
Mari Ozaki 1:09:34 (half) 2002