Naoko Takahashi after winning the 2005 Tokyo Women's Marathon (Koichi Nakayama/Agence SHOT) © Copyright

Can Takahashi rise to an occasion? - Nagoya Women’s Marathon preview

The Nagoya Women’s Marathon, the final qualifying race for the Japanese Olympic team, and an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be held this coming Sunday. With Reiko Tosa, who won a bronze medal at the World Championships pre-selected, and Mizuki Noguchi, who won the 2007 Tokyo Women’s Marathon with 2:21:37 almost certain to be selected, only one slot is left on the Olympic marathon team.

Thus the contest is likely to be very competitive, especially because the field is loaded.  Although Tomo Morimoto, who finished second to Mara Yamauchi in the Osaka Ladies Marathon, has a chance to make the team, the general consensus is that the winner of the Nagoya Women’s Marathon will be selected to the team. 

Is Takahashi up to the task?

The big question in the race is: Can 35-year-old Naoko Takahashi rise to the occasion once more? Expecting high media interest, the organisers have expanded the media center to accommodate 500 journalists/photographers.   

Although five runners - Joyce Kirui, Lidia Vasilevskaya (Marathon best of 2:29:24 in 2002), Lioudmila Korchaguina (Marathon best of 2:29:42 in 2006), Margaret Toroitich, and Natalia Kulesh - are invited from abroad, all eyes will be on the Japanese, especially Takahashi, the 2000 Olympic champion who failed to make the 2004 Olympic team. 

In her last Marathon, Takahashi was third in the 2006 Tokyo Women’s Marathon with 2:31:22. Is she over the hill? Because she has not run any race since, the answer must wait until Sunday. Takahashi has been training hard at high altitude in Kunming, China where she has completed several super long training run exceeding 60Km.

Hiroyama, Sakamoto and others also in the running

Takahashi is not the only sentimental favorite in the field. Harumi Hiroyama, who was eighth at 5000m in the 1997 World Championships, fourth at 10,000m in the 1999 World Championships and eighth at the Marathon in the 2005 World Championships, is another favorite of the marathon fans.  Although she ran the 5000m in the 1996 Atlanta Games, 10,000m in the 2000 and 2004 Games, Hiroyama attempted, in 2000 and 2004, but was unable to make the Olympic team at the Marathon. Although she will turn 40 in September of this year, Hiroyama has not slowed down much. She won the 2006 Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:23:26 and finished second in the 2007 Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:28:55.  More recently, a month ago, she was fourth in the Marugame Half Marathon with 1:10:09.  Apparently, she was able to do her best Marathon training ever. 

Naoko Sakamoto, who was fourth in the 2003 World Championships and seventh in the 2004 Olympics, is finally training injury-free. She was fifth in the 2007 Berlin Marathon, her first marathon in over three years, with 2:28:33.  Her strength, like Takahashi’s, is a superb change of pace in mid-race. Like Takahashi, Sakamoto can ran away from the field with sub-16 minutes 5Km splits after 30Km, especially if the pace is slow, which is a distinct possibility because there will be no pace setter. 

Two runners - Yumiko Hara and Yuri Kano - whose original plan was to make the team at the Osaka Ladies Marathon, will make another attempt in Nagoya. Hara pulled out of Osaka in the last minute due to sickness, while Kano was forced to drop out around 18Km due to left heel pain. Hara won the 2005 Nagoya Women’s Marathon on her debut over the distance and then finished sixth in the 2005 World Championships. She set her personal best of 2:23:48 in the 2007 Osaka Ladies Marathon. Kano was third in the 2007 Osaka Ladies Marathon, her Marathon debut, with 2:24:43, and then won the 2007 Hokkaido Marathon in September. Kano along with her teammate Kiyoko Shimahara, were training in New Mexico for the Marathon. 

Shimahara may not be a super fast runner, but she is consistent. Her Marathon personal best may only be 2:26:14, but it was recorded in a hot summer race. A testament of her consistency is her sixth place finish in the 2007 World Championships and silver medal in the 2006 Asian Games.   

Yasuko Hashimoto, the defending Nagoya champion who was 23rd in the 2007 World Championships, has run in Nagoya five time, thus is familiar with the course. Hashimoto, however, admits that her training has not gone very well.

The runner who knows the course even better is Takami Ominami, for she ran in Nagoya seven times, starting with her debut in 1998. She won in 2003, and finished second in 2001. Her personal best, 2:23:43, was recorded in the 2002 Rotterdam marathon. 
Other invited runners are Kiyomi Ogawa, who was fifth in the 2005 Nagoya edition with 2:26:02; Chika Horie, who won the 2002 Hokkaido Marathon with 2:26:11; Yuko Machida, who was fifth in the 2006 Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:29:48; Ayumi Hayashi, who was seventh in the 2006 Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:29:59; and Yuko Manabe, who was seventh in the 2007 Nagoya Women’s Marathon with 2:30:34. 

Not to be overlooked is Megumi Oshima, a two-time Olympian (at 5000m in 2000 and 10,000m in 2004). Oshima, two-time runner up in the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, finished tenth at 5000m in 1999 Worlds and tenth at the Marathon in the 2005 World Championships. 

Two highly anticipated marathon debutantes - Akane Taira, who was twelfth in the 2007 World Road Running Championships, and Yurika Nakamura, who was seventh at the 2006 World Road Running Championships – are invited.  Taira has a Half Marathon best of 1:09:17, while Nakamura has a Half Marathon best of 1:10:03. They could be a surprise.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Invited runners -

Joyce Kirui (KEN)
Lidia Vasilevskaya (RUS)
Lioudmila Kortchaguina (CAN)
Margaret Toroitich (KEN)
Natalia Kulesh (BLR)

Japanese -
Naoko Takahashi
Naoko Sakamoto
Harumi Hiroyama
Takami Ominami
Yumiko Hara
Yuri Kano
Yasuko Hashimoto
Kiyomi Ogawa
Chika Horie
Kiyoko Shimahara
Yuko Machida
Ayumi Hayashi
Yuko Manabe
Akane Taira
Yurika Nakamura

Other top runners -
Megumi Oshima
Mikie Takanaka
Kaori Yoshida
Maya Nishio
Kaori Tanabe
Ikumi Wakamatsu
Yoko Yagi
Fujiko Takahashi
Yoshimi Ozaki