by Brett Larner
photo by Shoji Shimomitsu
Little-known Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) ran a race of genius in only her 2nd marathon, coming up from 4th place to overtake favorites Mara Yamauchi (U.K.), Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) for a 2:23:30 victory in the 30th and final edition of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. Ozaki missed being selected for the Beijing Olympics after running 2:26:19 to finish 2nd in her debut, March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, but her Tokyo victory gives her the honor of being the 1st woman to secure a spot on the Japanese women's team for the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon and her time puts her into the all-time Japanese women's top 10.
photo by Kazuo Chiba
In their own ways, all of the top 4 women ran brilliant races, aided by overnight and early morning rain which brought misty conditions on race morning with average temperatures of 15 degrees and almost no wind. Yoko Shibui was an image of soaring inspiration. With her sub-2:20 marathon PB making her without question the best runner in the field she could easily have run conservatively and edged out her rivals. Instead, she did what she does best, going out hard and trying for something epic. Shibui took the lead pack out in a first kilometer of 3:18 with no pacemakers to get in the way. Almost immediately there were only 3 people with her, Kano, Ozaki and Kenyan Magdaline Chemjor. The 4 went through 5 km in 16:22, on pace for a low 2:18 finish. Yamauchi and Kenyan Salina Kosgei trailed, running low 2:24 pace. Kano and Ozaki quickly let go, with Chemjor, a former race walker with only 2 marathons and a PB of 2:28:16 to her name, keeping up the pressure.
Shibui and Chemjor went through 10 km in 32:54 with Kano and Ozaki 12 seconds behind. Chemjor, obviously dreaming, kept it up for another 2 km but then burst, sinking through the field to finish among the talented amateurs in the mid 2:40's. From then on it was a race of individuals. Shibui blazed on alone. Ozaki dropped Kano, while Yamauchi and Kosgei maintained low 2:24 pace. Kano regained contact with Ozaki after 2 km, running comfortably and beautifully at PB pace. Kano and Ozaki overtook Chemjor. Shibui hit 15 km in 49:39. With each 5 km she was slowing ever so slightly, but it was clear she wasn't just going for a win and a ticket to the World Championships, or for Mizuki Noguchi's year-old course record of 2:21:37. She wanted the first sub-2:20 on Japanese soil, a mark which would make her the 3rd woman to clock 2 sub-2:20 marathons.
Kano dropped Ozaki just before the 18 km mark to move into 2nd. A kilometer later Yamauchi, having opened a small gap on Kosgei, passed Chemjor. Shibui hit 20 km in 1:06:26, seconds off sub-2:20 pace, with Kano just over 30 seconds behind. Halfway came for the leader in 1:10:06, a sub-2:20 looking more and more unlikely but still far ahead of Noguchi's course record. Shibui reached 25 km in 1:23:14, her pace slipping the tiniest bit by bit. Further back, Yamauchi caught Ozaki at 24.5 km, opening a small gap to put Ozaki into 4th place.
Shibui clocked 1:40:21 for 30 km, her first 5 km split over 17:00 but still on track for a course record. Kano was 54 seconds behind, with Yamauchi another 30 seconds behind and Ozaki just trailing. Just past 33 km things began to change. Ozaki began to accelerate, pulling away from Yamauchi. Shibui continued to slow and now lost ground to Kano, who looked as strong and poised as ever. Shibui came to 35 km in 1:58:06, a 17:45 5 km split. It looked certain that Kano would overtake her for the lead on the Tokyo course's famous uphill between 35 and 40 km.
Just past 36 km one of the race commentators made the startling announcement that although Kano looked fine and was advancing on Shibui, Ozaki was now only 20 seconds behind. A classic finish was in the making. At 37 km Shibui hit the base of the 30 m elevation gain hill. Kano was only 30 seconds away. The camera cut back to show Kano, and Ozaki was right there, just seconds behind her. At 37.8 km Ozaki went by Kano with ease. Shibui was just ahead. Ozaki surged, absolutely flying by Shibui at 38.4 km. The rest was history, as Ozaki sailed on to an incredible victory.
Kano came for Shibui at 38.9 km, Yamauchi following suit at 40.9 km.
Ozaki, Kano and Yamauchi all ran PBs, Kano finishing just behind Ozaki for the 2nd time and Yamauchi just missing her goal of a sub-2:25 but, like Ozaki and Kano, deserving praise for a run of outstanding discipline and strategy. Shibui stumbled in for a 2:25:51 finish, but my hat is off to her for not following the safe course and instead trying to make the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon something truly spectacular and immortal.
In 2009 a new elite women's marathon will begin in Yokohama to take the place of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. The Tokyo Marathon will also introduce an elite women's component to its race complete with world-class prize money. The Osaka and Nagoya International Women's Marathons continue, but, inspired by the success of the Tokyo Marathon, Osaka is contemplating a mass participation marathon and has indicated that this will be at the expense of existing races. The question of whether Japan's small, elite-only women's marathons have a viable future alongside major marathons with enough money to attract true elite fields remains to be answered, but the Tokyo International Women's Marathon ended with a race to remember, one in which it was truly a shame that there could be only one victor.
2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon
Top Finishers - click name for finish video
1. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:30 - PB
2. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 2:24:27 - PB
3. Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) - 2:25:03 - PB
4. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:25:51
5. Salina Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:30:34
6. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:30:42
7. Yukiko Matsubara (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:34:39
8. Ayumi Hayashi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:35:04
9. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:36:47
10. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 2:37:03
Complete results are available here.
Yoshimi Ozaki's victory interview complete video including coach Sachiko Yamashita, and the award ceremony for the top finishers.
Other coverage of the 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon:
Athletics-Leics * BBC * IAAF * The Telegraph * UK Athletics
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved