by Brett Larner
Yoko Shibui celebrates her first marathon win in over four years.
Yoko Shibui said she was going to run Osaka like an adult and she kept to her words. After running her last two marathons with 1:10-1:11 first halves only to fall apart each time, Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) sat in the pack for nearly 30 km before going on the offense to take the win in the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon, her third victory in eleven attempts. Enduring a 1:13:01 first half, Shibui ran 16:11 between 30 and 35 km and clocked splits as fast as 3:08/km in the final quarter of the race, running a 1:10:41 second half while laughing to supporters along the course to finish in 2:23:42. Shibui covered her final 2.195 km in 7:02; at last month's elite men's Fukuoka International Marathon only winner Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) ran a faster finish, 6:25, as second-fastest finishing man Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) clocked 7:03.
Shibui's first win at the 2001 Osaka was a then-world record for debut marathon and earned her a spot on the 2001 World Championships team, while her second win in Berlin 2004 was a then-national record. Shibui's third win today secures her place at the 2009 Berlin World Championships.
Shibui's main rival was debutante Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren). Akaba ran a sensible and mature race, holding a position at the head of the pack and throwing in occasional pushes, but after breaking from the pack with Shibui she was unable to match the winner's incredible acceleration. Nevertheless, with a 2:25:40 clocking Akaba scored an impressive negative split debut and, with a second place finish, has the possibility to be named to the World Championships team.
Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) was a distant 3rd in 2:26:57, showing the effects of the food poisoning she suffered earlier in the month in her inability to stay with Shibui and Akaba's move. The other major domestic debutante, Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) dropped back from the pack after only 25 km and finished 9th. 1992 Barcelona Olympics marathoner Yumi Matsunaga (First Dream AC), attempting a comeback, missed her goal of breaking her Barcelona time and finished 58th in 2:58:52. Expected contender Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) was a surprise last-minute withdrawal.
After leading much of the race, veteran three-time winner Lidia Simon (Romania) finished 5th in a credible 2:27:14 as the top foreign finisher. Kenyan Ruth Wanjiru (Second Wind AC) was close behind, 7th in 2:27:38 in her marathon debut, but other top non-Japanese competitors Workenesh Tola (Ethiopia), Peninah Arusei (Kenya) and Dulce Maria Rodriguez (Mexico) all faded badly after running in the pack until Shibui's big play. Tola landed just outside the top ten, Rodriguez ended up well down in the field, and Arusei dropped out.
After jumping around and screaming at the finish, Shibui was surprisingly low-key and emotional in post-race interviews, her normal comic tough-girl facade slipping as she appeared dazed with joy. "I wasn't really planning on taking off like that," she said in response to a question about her spurt after the slow first half. "At the halfway turnaround I thought, 'If I keep going like this I'm going to lose,' so I just took off." She became even more emotional when Rikuren Long Distance Director Keisuke Sawaki offered an uncharacteristically effusive evaluation of her run and told race commentators, "I'm not a strong athlete at all, but I want to become faster." When asked how fast she laughed and replied, "2:15!"
The lead pack at 3 km.
Following snow in the hours before the race, conditions at the start were cool, sunny and breezy, with the track and roads wet from the melting snow. It was immediately clear as the race began that Shibui would not be following her usual strategy of trying to lead start to finish. Free of pacemakers, 2:30 marathoner Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC) led the pack through a slow first 3 km in 10:34 before Lidia Simon grew impatient and picked up the pace. With Simon at the helm and Akaba on her shoulder the pack of fifteen leaders went through 5 km in 17:25, then 10 km in 34:31. Along with Simon and Akaba, Shibui, Wakita and Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido) made up the front of the pack. First Yoshida and then general division runners Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) and Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) were unable to cope with Simon's pace and lost contact with the pack, Yoshida dropping out after 5 km.
At 5.5 km Shibui clipped Fujikawa's feet and both runners almost fell. At 11.5 km, Fujikawa, who appeared to be running comfortably, tripped again and this time went down, apparently clipped from behind by Tola in the tight pack. She lay on the pavement for a few seconds before getting up and going after the pack. She appeared to regain some ground over the course of a kilometer but her stride had noticeably shortened and she began to drift away, destined to finish 16th in 2:41:02. Yoshida's teammate Akemi Ozaki, the older sister of 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), was the next to lose contact.
Click here for video of the lead pack at 15 km (begins at 0:30).
Akaba began to push the lead as the top group approached 15 km, reaching the mark in 51:49. Her coach and husband Shuhei Akaba was waiting for her just past the 15 km point and called out to her to calm down and stick to the plan. She backed off and Simon resumed the lead.
Click here for video of the lead pack at 21.5 km.
At the 180' turn just before 20 km Akaba went wide, but Shibui accelerated on the inside to take the lead for the first time. Simon, Akaba, Wakita and Arusei responded, the rest of the pack falling behind by a few strides. Shibui then relaxed, and Simon and Akaba again led the leaders, now down to thirteen, though the 20 km point in 1:09:10 and the halfway mark in 1:13:01.
Click here for video of the lead pack at 23 km.
As the lead group approached Osaka Castle, the most tactical section of the course with significant uphills and downhills, Rodriguez suddenly dropped out of the lead pack and domestic runners Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) and Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) appeared to be barely hanging on. At 25 km Akaba made the first significant move of the race, stringing out the pack as she hit the mark in 1:26:39. Simon, Shibui, Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) and Tola followed, but Arusei and Wakita could not respond and quickly dropped away.
Through the twists, curves and hills of Osaka Castle the pack regrouped but was now down to ten. Coming out of the castle grounds Shibui attacked at 28.7 km, immediately dropping Ominami and Okunaga. Akaba and Tola went with her, with Hara slow to respond but overtaking Tola who in turn fell away. Shibui hit 30 km in 1:43:56, with Akaba, Hara, Ohira, Ogi, Wanjiru and Simon in a line behind her.
After 30 km Shibui went to work, clocking splits of 3:13, 3:16 on an uphill, and 3:09 on a downhill. Hara and the runners behind her weren't up to the challenge as they were 48 seconds behind by 33 km, and even Akaba was 10 seconds behind at 33 km. From there on Shibui maintained a steady pace, running 3:19 or better for every remaining kilometer but the 39th, for which she clocked 3:20. She hit 35 km in 2:00:07 and 40 km in 2:16:40, while behind her Akaba, her face showing the strain of her first marathon, ran just under 3:30 per km.
Click here for video of the leaders at 35 km (begins at 2:10).
Shibui didn't appear to be concentrating as she continued to accelerate, beginning to look around, smiling and laughing to acknowledge the cheers of her supporters and even turning around to talk to a camera motorcycle. Rain began to fall as she approached the stadium, but she sped on undeterred to one of her fastest-ever finishes. It was a masterful, controlled performance, the kind of running she hasn't shown in a marathon since her glory days in the early years of the decade, and perhaps a signal that she's finally ready to run seriously at the world level.
As in last summer's National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, Akaba had to settle for a 2nd place finish behind Shibui. She was in obvious discomfort as she came to the finish line but held on for a negative split. Her time fell short of her hopes but was sufficient to put her into 4th place on the current list of candidates for the five-member World Championships team. Her fate will not be decided until next month's final selection races.
Hara was overtaken by Ogi and Shibui's teammate Miki Ohira after losing touch with the leaders. The three ran the final section of the race together before Ogi withered away and was overtaken by the third pack of Simon, Okunaga and Wanjiru. Hara outkicked Ohira for 3rd, a bitter position as it gives her no chance of being selected for the World Championships team regardless of her time. With only six weeks until the Nagoya International Women's Marathon it's unlikely she will try again, meaning that Hara's quest for a third-straight appearance at the World Championships is all but over.
Complete results from the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon are available here.
2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon Top Finishers
1. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:23:42
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:25:40 - debut
3. Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) - 2:26:57
4. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:27:08
5. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:27:14
6. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) - 2:27:16 - PB
7. Ruth Wanjiru (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:38 - debut
8. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:27:56
9. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:31:16 - debut
10. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:32:09
Leader's 5 km Splits
5 km - 17:25 (Simon)
10 km - 17:07 (Simon) [34:32]
15 km - 17:18 (Akaba) [51:49]
20 km - 17:20 (Akaba/Simon) [1:09:10]
half - 1:13:01 (Simon)
25 km - 17:29 (Akaba) [1:26:39]
30 km - 17:16 (Shibui) [1:43:56]
35 km - 16:11 (Shibui) [2:00:07]
40 km - 16:33 (Shibui) [2:16:40]
42.195 km - 7:02 (Shibui) [2:23:42]
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved