Naoko Takahashi winning Olympic Marathon gold in Sydney (Getty Images) © Copyright

Takahashi’s last marathon; China’s Xue the outstanding favourite for Nagoya Women’s Marathon – PREVIEW

The 2009 Nagoya Women’s Marathon, the 30th edition (for the first four years it was a 20km) takes place on Sunday 8 March on the out and back course from Mizuho stadium in Nagoya, Japan.

This will be a very poignant occasion for Japanese distance running fans, as 2000 Olympic champion Naoko Takahashi, who won this race in 1998 and 2000, will run her farewell marathon in Nagoya, a race for which she has some of her fondest memories.  She set her first national record in 1998 and clinched a spot on the Olympic team in 2000. She still holds the course record of 2:22:19.

The Nagoya Women’s Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.

The race is the final national qualification race for the upcoming World Championships in Berlin. The first Japanese in the race is guaranteed a spot on the marathon team.  Furthermore, the second Japanese may have a chance to make the Berlin team, if she ran fast enough. So far, Yoshimi Ozaki, who won Tokyo Women’s Marathon last November and Yoko Shibui, who won the Osaka Ladies Marathon in January are assured of their spot on the team.  The second Japanese in Tokyo was Yuri Kano who recorded 2:24:27, and the second Japanese in Osaka was Yukiko Akaba who recorded 2:25:40. So if the second Japanese in Nagoya run faster than Akaba’s time, she has a chance to make the team. 

Five runners from abroad and eleven domestic runners have been invited. Romania’s Lidia Simon, the 2001 World champion and 2000 Olympic silver medallist with a 2:22:54 personal best, has best marathon credentials. However she has not broken 2:24 since that race. She can still run good marathons though, finishing eighth in the Beijing Olympics, and followed that up with a fifth place finish in this year’s Osaka Ladies Marathon with 2:27:14.  She is running Nagoya only six weeks after Osaka.

However, China’s 20-year-old Bai Xue must be the favourite on Sunday, for her best in the last few years is the fastest among the invited runners. Bai finished second in last year’s Xiamen Marathon with 2:23:27, and won the 2008 Beijing marathon with 2:26:27.

Other invited runners from abroad are Tabitha Tsatsa, who was fourth in the 2008 Seoul Marathon with 2:29:20, Caroline Cheptonui Kilel, who was second in 2003 Venice Marathon with 2:30:22, and Sally Meyerhoff, who was fifth in the 2009 Rock n Roll Arizona Marathon with 2:35:52. Among them Kilel, who recently recorded the stage best in the Yokohama Women’s Ekiden, maybe ready for a breakthrough, especially because she recorded her half marathon best of 1:10:17 last December. 

Among the Japanese, Takami Ominami has the fastest personal best of 2:23:43, but it was recorded back in the 2002 Rotterdam Marathon. Her last sub 2:30 marathon was two years ago in Nagoya, while her last sub 2:26 marathon was back in 2003.

The best domestic hope is on Hitomi Niiya. In high school, Niiya was a superb runner, recording a 5000m best of 15:28.70 back in 2005 when she was 17-years-old, and in the same year Niiya won a bronze medal at 3000m in the 2005 World Youth Championships. She is now coached by Yoshio Koide, whose knowledge about the marathon training is one of the best on the planet. Niiya has run two marathons so far, her debut marathon was the 2007 Tokyo Marathon with 2:31:01, which was sort of a training run, and then she finished second with 2:32:19 in the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon. She is currently in superb shape, having recorded the stage best at both Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden as well as the Kitakyushu Women’s Ekiden, both contested in January. 

Three domestic invited runners – Yoshiko Fujinaga, Aya Manome, and Mayumi Fujita - are making their marathon debut in Nagoya.  Fujinaga won a bronze medal in the junior division of the World Cross Country Championships, and ran the 5000m in the 1999 World Championships in Sevilla buit has field to progress, her personal best at 5000m (15:22.68) was set in 1999, while her personal best at 10,000m (31:47.82) was set in 2001. However, in her most recent race, the 2009 Marugame Half Marathon, Fujinaga ran very respectable time of 1:10:24. Manome may also have high potential. Last year, she set personal bests at both 5000m (15:28.76) and 10000m (31:59.90).

Other invited runners are Chika Horie, Haruko Okamoto, Ayumi Nakayama, Yumi Hirata, Yuko Machida, and Yuka Ezaki.  Among them Horie and Okamoto has best chance for the fast marathon. Horie ran 2:26:11 in the 2002 Hokkaido Marathon, while Okamoto ran 2:27:01 in the 2002 Osaka Ladies Marathon. Last year, Horie was fifth in Nagoya with 2:27:16, which may mean, she is ready for a real breakthrough.

And interesting footnote is that several times in the past editions of the Nagoya women’s marathon, eventual winner come from behind to overhaul the leader.  In 2006, Harumi Hiroyama came from nearly a minute behind to pass Yoko Shibui with only 1Km left in the race. In 2004, Reiko Tosa came from behind to overhaul Megumi Tanaka to clinch a spot on the Olympic team.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Top runners

Foreign guests
Lidia Simon (ROU)  2:22:54      2000 Osaka
Bai Xue (CHN)  2:23:27  2008 Xiamen
Tabitha Tsatsa (ZIM)  2:29:20 2008 Seoul
Caroline Kilel (KEN)   2:30:22 2003 Venezia 
Sally Meyerhoff (USA)  2:35:52 2009 Rock n Roll Tempe 

Takami Ominami   2:23:43 2002 Rotterdam
Chika Horie    2:26:11 2002 Hokkaido
Haruko Okamoto   2:27:01 2002 Osaka
Ayumi Nakayama   2:28:50 2008 Osaka
Yumi Hirata   2:29:23 2008 Nagoya
Yuko Machida   2:29:48 2006 Nagoya
Yuka Ezaki    2:31:35 2007 Osaka 
Hitomi Niiya    2:31:01 2007 Tokyo
Yoshiko Fujinaga   debut
Aya Manome    debut
Mayumi Fujita    debut