Bahrain’s Eunice Kirwa successfully defended her Nagoya Women’s Marathon title on Sunday (13) with 2:22:40, the third-fastest time in the history of the IAAF Gold Label Road Race.
Meanwhile there was a fierce battle to be the top Japanese finisher – in what was the final opportunity to impress the selectors for the Olympic team – with the winner only prevailing in the final few metres.
The pace makers were asked to run each 5km between 16:55 and 17:00, but the race preceded little on the slow side, passing 5km in 17:03 and 10km in 34:07.
Japan’s 2004 Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi, in a final bid to make another Olympic marathon team, started to drift off the rear of the lead pack just after 5km. The 37-year-old would eventually finished 23rd in 2:33:54 in what was her first marathon since 2013.
The race of attrition continued, passing 15km in 51:04. At that point, Asami Kato, one of the main contenders for the Olympic marathon team, started to fall behind. By 20km (1:08:06) only 13 runners were left in the lead pack.
After passing 25km in 1:25:06 and 30km in 1:42:15, the pace makers left the race and real racing started. Kirwa then surged, covering the next kilometre in 3:13, and only Tomomi Tanaka was able to cover Kirwa’s move.
Although Tanaka won the 2014 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, one of the qualifying races for last year’s World Championships, she was overlooked for the team as the selectors claimed that her race tactics were not aggressive enough. With that in mind, Tanaka was determined not to suffer a similar fate in Nagoya.
Tanaka was followed by Rei Ohara and a group consisting of Ryoko Kizaki, Reia Iwade and debutante Mao Kiyota.
With kilometre splits of 3:13 and 3:11, Kirwa extended her margin over Tanaka between 31km and 33km. After 35km, Ohara started to reel in Tanaka, finally catching her opponent just before 37km.
Kirwa passed 40km in 2:15:25, while Ohara and Tanaka passed the same point in 2:16:09. It was now impossible for the leading Japanese women to run faster than Kayoko Fukushi’s 2:22:17 winning time from the Osaka Marathon, making Tanaka and Ohara’s battle for the top Japanese spot all the more crucial.
Kirwa continued to lead, crossing the line in 2:22:40. The world bronze medallist became the second runner in history to win back-to-back titles at the Nagoya Marathon. The only other woman to achieve that feat is China’s 1988 and 1989 winner Zhao Youfeng. Two other women, Poland’s Kamila Gradus and Japan’s Naoko Takahashi, have won twice in Nagoya, albeit not in consecutive years.
“It was a good race,” said Kirwa, whose time was just 32 seconds shy of the course record she set last year. “The pace was little slower than last year, so I planned to push the pace after 30km.”
Tanaka and Ohara entered the Nagoya Dorm side by side. Both running with gritted teeth, Tanaka managed to edge ahead of her opponent in the final few meters and crossed the line in 2:23:19, one second ahead of Ohara.
Ohara fell to the ground just as she crossed the finish line, while Tanaka jumped up and down in celebration with her coach Sachiko Yamashita, the 1991 world silver medallist.
“Since winning the 2014 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, I was confident about my finishing speed,” said Tanaka, who will now eagerly await the Olympic marathon team announcement on 17 March. “I am happy to run faster than the personal best of (her former team-mate) Yoshimi Ozaki (which was 2:23:30). It was one of my long-term goals.”
Tenmaya track team has had athletes on every Olympic marathon team since 2000. But by being the second Japanese finisher in Nagoya, Ohara is unlikely to be able to continue Tenmaya’s legacy in Rio.
Behind them, Kiyota finished fourth in 2:24:32, the fifth-fastest marathon debut in history by a Japanese woman. She was followed by Iwade and then another debutante Sayaka Kuwahara, who finished sixth in 2:25:09.
Aside from Kirwa, all other finishers in the top seven set personal bests.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Eunice Kirwa (BRN) 2:22:40
2 Tomomi Tanaka (JPN) 2:23:19
3 Rei Ohara (JPN) 2:23:20
4 Mao Kiyota (JPN) 2:24:32
5 Reia Iwade (JPN) 2:24:38
6 Sayaka Kuwahara (JPN) 2:25:09
7 Shiho Takechi (JPN) 2:25:29
8 Betlehem Moges (ETH) 2:26:36
9 Michi Numata (JPN) 2:27:27
10 Ryoko Kizaki (JPN) 2:28:49
11 Asami Kato (JPN) 2:29:33
12 Bekelech Daba (ETH) 2:29:50
13 Iwona Lewandowska (POL) 2:30:15
14 Kaoru Nagao (JPN) 2:30:54