translated by Brett Larner
Yoko Shibui displayed peak form before her attempt to make the Beijing Olympic team at the Tokyo International Women`s Marathon. On the 10 km 3rd stage of the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden Shibui broke her personal stage best by 3 seconds, running 31:06 to take the top spot away from rivals Dai-Ichi Seimei and lead Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo to its 8th straight East Japan victory.
Shibui showed both the strength and speed she will need to beat Athens Olympic gold medallist, and current Japanese national record holder Mizuki Noguchi in Tokyo to make the Olympic team. She started the stage in 2nd place, passed Dai-Ichi Seimei`s Ozaki near the 5 km point, and finished the stage 0:44 ahead of Ozaki. Shibui`s previous best mark on the 3rd stage was set in `00; her new best is just 0:05 short of the stage record of 31:01 (Phyllis, Hokuren). After her run Shibui said "I didn`t do any ekiden training but it went pretty well. I`m looking forward to the race in 2 weeks. When there`s someone else fast running it`s more of a challenge and I can push harder."
After setting her previous stage record 7 years ago Shibui went on to her debut marathon at the `01 Osaka International Women`s Marathon. Recently she has struggled in the marathon, consistently slowing down in the later stages and failing to qualify for Olympic and World Championship teams. Her coach Hideo Suzuki said that this time they have tried to bring back the feeling and training that Shibui had in her most successful races, the `02 Chicago Marathon and `04 Berlin Marathon where she set the then-Japanese national record of 2:19:41. He said that Shibui has been running the workouts at the same level as in her peak days and that with the experience she has gained since that era she is an even match for Noguchi.
With a great run by their ace, Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo was able to pull off a victory. Based on today`s run in looks likely that they will take back the winner`s title from Shiseido at December`s All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden. Shibui`s teammate Reiko Tosa, already guaranteed a spot on the Beijing Olympic team thanks to her bronze medal performance at the Osaka World Championships, did not run today but is scheduled to run the anchor leg at All-Japan. If Shibui joins Tosa on the team by beating Noguchi, Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo will have one more reason to celebrate.