translated and edited by Brett Larner
Three main races will be used to select the five members of the Japanese national women's marathon team for this summer's World Championships marathon in Berlin. The top Japanese finishers at the Tokyo International Women's Marathon, Osaka International Women's Marathon and Nagoya International Women's Marathon are automatically selected for the team, meaning last Sunday's Osaka International winner Yoko Shibui has now secured a place on the team alongside Tokyo International winner Yoshimi Ozaki. Joining them will be the top Japanese finisher at March's Nagoya International, in which 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya and 2002 Rotterdam Marathon winner Takami Ominami are scheduled to compete.
For the remaining two World Championships spots, the runners-up from these three races, thus far Tokyo International's Yuri Kano and Osaka International's Yukiko Akaba, will be considered along with 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner Yukari Sahaku and any runners who record strong results in major overseas marathons before April 30. The World Championships marathon course will be an International Olympic Committee-standard loop course different from September's always-fast Berlin Marathon course.
At a press conference in Osaka on Jan. 26 following her victory, Shibui was confident about her chances in August's World Championships and bold in her statement of her two major goals for the future. "I want a medal [at the World Championships] and I want to become a faster runner," she said. Beyond finishing in the top three at the World Championships, Shibui said that she also plans to try to break the world record of 2:15:25 held by Britain's Paula Radcliffe (35). Shibui's coach Hideo Suzuki (56) was likewise confident, saying, "The World Championships are going to be quite a duel."
Rikuren Long Distance Director Keisuke Sawaki shared the Shibui team's enthusiasm about her performance, acknowledging the tremendous growth she displayed in Osaka. "That was marvelous running. I was deeply impressed. All of her races up until now have followed one pattern, but this was another kind of race entirely." On the subject of Shibui's qualification for the World Championships Sawaki was optimistic, saying, "It appears as though Shibui is on her way to becoming the kind of runner who can respond to challenges and adapt." Asked for his opinion of Akaba's debut he commented, "She didn't fall apart [at the end]. Her potential for improvement is very high. The future of Japanese women's marathoning is bright," stifling a smile as it began.
Shibui won Osaka only 69 days after finishing 4th in the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon. "Both of my legs are really sore," she said, her face showing her fatigue but brightening when she told of receiving a call after Osaka from her senior teammate Reiko Tosa (32) who told her how much joy she felt watching Shibui's win. Shibui also received over 50 congratulatory emails after the race. Her plan now is, "to take it easy at an onsen somewhere," with her World Championships training beginning around April. Shibui also plans to run in some domestic track races in May. "I can't think about London [Olympics] yet, but the next year or two is going to be solid," she promised.
Translator's note: This article seems to confirm that March's Tokyo Marathon, which will feature an elite women's field with prize money for the first time, will not be included among the women's selection races. Tokyo will be used as a selection race for the men's team along with Hokkaido, Fukuoka, Beppu-Oita and Nagoya. The inclusion of women's results from overseas marathons appears to be a new and potentially positive development at least as far as encouraging Japanese runners to face international competition more often is concerned.