Japanese marathon runner Yuka Ando (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Osaka, Japan

Ando commands the spotlight at Osaka Women’s Marathon

Yuko Ando leads the field for the 37th Osaka Women’s Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (28).

The race serves as the 102nd women’s marathon national championships and one of the Japanese marathon team’s qualifying races for the 2018 Asian Games. It’s also part of Japan’s Marathon Grand Championship series, a group of qualifying races for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic marathon team trial race. In order to qualify for those trials, runners must finish in the top three with times under 2:28, or finish in positions four through six with time under 2:27.

Ando clocked the fastest ever debut marathon by a Japanese woman when finishing second at the Nagoya Marathon last year in 2:21:36. She went on to finish 17th in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. Sunday’s will be her third race over the classic distance.

Although Ando is not in the same form she was in Nagoya last year, she’s still considered to have a shot at breaking the course record of 2:21:18 set by Mizuki Noguchi in 2003.

Two young promising runners will toe the line on Sunday, Honami Maeda and Mizuki Matsuda. Maeda, 21, won last year’s Hokkaido Marathon in 2:28:48. She made her debut in Osaka last year, finishing 12th with 2:32:19. In December she improved her half marathon time by nearly two and a half minutes to 1:10:22; her goal for Sunday is to crack 2:26.

Matsuda, 22, will be making her debut over the distance. She won the national 10,000m title last year in 31:39.41 and later finished 19th at the World Championships. Her coach believes Matsuda can crack 2:24 which most likely will fulfill her goal of qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic team trials.

Other domestic invited runners include Kaori Yoshida, who has the best of 2:28:14 from the 2017 Nagoya Women’s Marathon, and Asami Furuse, who produced her 2:30:44 best in Osaka last year.

The field also includes Mari Ozaki, whose 2:23:30 run in her marathon debut in Osaka in 2003 remains her personal best. Ozaki, 42, ran 2:35:52 in Osaka last year and is looking to crack 2:30 on Sunday.

The fastest runner from abroad is a Kenyan Eunice Jeptoo, who clocked 2:26:13 in the 2017 Eindhoven Marathon. In the Dutch city, Jeptoo improved her lifetime best by more than six minutes. The next fastest marathon runner from overseas is Fayesa Robi of Ethiopia, who recorded 2:27:04 in Barcelona last March, an improvement of more than five minutes.

Other runners from abroad include Germany’s Anja Scherl, who recorded her personal best of 2:27:50 in the 2016 Hamburg Marathon; Gladys Tejeda of Peru, whose 2:28:12 was set in the 2015 Rotterdam Marathon; and Izabela Trzaskalska of Poland, who has a marathon best of 2:29:56. Tejeda said her goal was the 2:26:48 Peruvian national record set by by Ines Melchor at the 2014 Berlin Marathon.

However, perhaps the most promising runner from abroad is Ethiopian Goytatom Gebreselassie, who will be making her marathon debut. The 23-year-old has exhibited very good speed on the track with bests of 8:56.36, 14:57.33 and 31:14.52 over 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m respectively. Gebreselassie won the 2011 world youth title at 3000m and has raced over 15km and 10 miles on the road, but has yet contest a half marathon.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF