by Brett Larner
Mara Yamauchi (GBR, Second Wind AC) took a surprise win in cold, windless, intermittently snowy conditions at the Osaka International Marathon, running a PB of 2:25:10 for her first marathon victory. Taking the lead at 34.63 km from struggling first-time marathoner Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Yamauchi powered her way to the win, holding off a late charge from top Japanese finisher Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya). Morimoto finished 2nd in 2:25:34, a good time but not strong enough to seal her a spot on the Beijing Olympic team. Her fate is left up to the runners in March's Nagoya International Marathon, including Naoko Takahashi, Naoko Sakamoto, and possibly defending Osaka champion Yumiko Hara who dropped out shortly before today's race with a cold. Yamauchi's teammate Yuri Kano, one of the pre-race favorites, dropped out of the race with leg pain after only 17 km.
Osaka's other major pre-race favorite, Japanese national 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon record holder Fukushi, had a disastrous but courageous debut. Fukushi took the lead from the first km, going out completely alone at an aggressive sub-2:20 pace while the large pack settled around 2:23 pace. Fukushi held roughly to 3:20/km for the first 25 km, looking relaxed, smooth and powerful, laughing at teammates' messages written on her drink bottles, gargling with her special drink, and repeatedly waving off camera bikes that came too close. Naoko Takahashi's Sydney-era coach Yoshio Koide commented on-screen that he thinks Fukushi has the potential to run 2:16 in the future, but that the truth of her debut would come in the final 10 km.
After 30 km she began to show signs of strain, slowing to 3:42 during the 32nd km versus a 3:21 by the chase pack of Yamauchi, Morimoto, Julia Mombi (Team Aruze), and fellow 1st-time marathoner Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko). During the 33rd km Yamauchi broke away from the other runners with a 3:18 km. Fukushi rapidly lost her lead of over 500 m, surrendering 1st place to Yamauchi at 34.63 km and to the others shortly before 35 km. She continued to slow to 6 minutes per km and beyond.
Her final km was a replay of that of Hiroyuki Ono in the final km of this year's Hakone Ekiden 5th stage. Fukushi staggered, almost falling several times before finally going down in the last 800 m. She got up and continued, but after entering the stadium she abruptly fell flat on her face. After struggling to stand and pausing to regain her bearings, Fukushi resumed running. With less than 200 m to go she fell again, laughing as she got up and continued on only to fall a final time 10 m from the finish. She once more forced herself up, laughing and bleeding, and crossed the finish line in 19th place with a time of 2:40:54, a humbling demonstration of the marathon's power.
Among the many PBs in the top 10, Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) deserves special mention. Unable to stay with the chase pack of 4 runners, Ohira had fallen back and was running alone in the final 10 km. After overtaking Fukushi, Ohira was able to run hard enough to catch up to debutante Ogi and finish 4th in 2:26:09, a PB by 3 1/2 minutes.
In her post-race victory interview, Yamauchi, speaking in Japanese, said that she had learned from running the Osaka course during last summer's World Championships marathon. In that race Yamauchi had attacked during the course's hilly pass through the Osaka Castle grounds, a move which she admitted had taken too much out of her. She told interviewers that this time she was resolved to save some energy for the end. Race announcers noted the obvious effects in this regard of Yamauchi's first-ever 45 km training run. "Today was only a 3 second PB; I hoped to run faster but a win is a win!" Yamauchi enthusiastically smiled during the interview, thanking spectators for their warm support in the midst of the snowy conditions.
1. Mara Yamauchi (GBR, Second Wind AC): 2:25:10 (PB)
2. Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya): 2:25:34
3. Julia Mombi (Kenya, Team Aruze): 2:26:00 (PB)
4. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 2:26:09 (PB)
5. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko): 2:26:55 (debut)
6. Lidia Simon (Romania): 2:27:17
7. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko): 2:27:52 (PB)
8. Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido): 2:28:06
9. Constantina Tomescu (Romania): 2:28:15
10. Christelle Daunay (France): 2:28:23 (PB)
19. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 2:40:54
Complete results are available here.
Click here for the IAAF's coverage.
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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