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Fujinaga Returns to World Championships After 10 Years With Debut Marathon Win in Nagoya

by Brett Larner

Running her marathon debut at age 27, Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) won the 2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon on Mar. 8, booking her first ticket to the World Championships since competing in the 5000 m in Seville 1999 as a high school student. Fujinaga was patient and tenacious, falling behind the lead pack of Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya), Bai Xue (China) and pre-race domestic favorite Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) five times over the course of the race but gradually working her way back up each time before taking the lead from Niiya at 36.9 km. Fujinaga ran unchallenged over the final 5 km to win in 2:28:13 and take the third and final guaranteed spot on the five-member Berlin World Championships team.

Niiya was likewise patient for the first two-thirds of the race, tailing early leaders Kilel and Xue when the foreign pair broke away after a slow first 5 km but ignoring Kilel's frequent surges. Rounding the 28.5 km turnaround Kilel made a definitive move to which only Niiya could react. Xue, the runner holding the strongest recent credentials, rapidly dropped back as Fujinaga likewise slipped away. Niiya took her time retaking Kilel having accurately sized up the Kenyan's abilities during her many surges. She took the lead for the first time at 29.7 km, recording a 3:18 km split. It was a brave move but ultimately too much too soon. Despite opening a lead of over 30 seconds, Niiya was in visible discomfort by 35 km and by 36 km was losing ground to Fujinaga who was now in 2nd. Over the final 5 km Niiya could only watch helplessly as runner after runner who had stayed conservatively far back in the main pack went by her. Niiya slipped to 8th, finishing in a meager three-second PB of 2:30:58.

The invited foreign elites in this year's race failed to make much of a mark. Lidia Simon (Romania), who was 5th in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon in a strong 2:27:14, was laboring heavily and dropped back from the lead pack within the first 3 km, eventually finishing in 2:41:12. Tabitha Tsatsa (Zimbabwe) and Sally Meyerhoff (U.S.A.) likewise fell out of the lead pack in the early stages. It came as no major surprise that 2:30:22 PB-holding Kenyan Kilel faded in the final quarter of the race after aggressively leading and repeatedly surging up until that point, but Xue's sudden breakdown after only 28.5 km was the shock of the day. Xue's face grew red very early in the race, causing her to look overheated and uncomfortable even though her highly unusual form continued unaltered. She eventually finished in 2:35:17.

Last year's 5th place finisher Chika Horie (Team Aruze) was the first of those who overtook the withering Niiya, finishing as runner-up behind Fujinaga. Her time of 2:29:09 was far slower than those of Tokyo International Women's Marathon runner-up Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Osaka International Women's Marathon runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren). Kano's 2:24:27 virtually assures her one of the two remaining spots on the Berlin team. Akaba is likely to be selected for the last place on the team having run 2:25:40 in Osaka, but there is still the off chance that another runner will be named in her place thanks to the inclusion of results from major international marathons in this year's selection process. The final lineup for the team will be announced in late April following the London Marathon.

In a post-script to this year's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, Nagoya course record holder and national heroine Naoko Takahashi ran her retirement race in Nagoya as she promised she would, fashionably dressed and smiling and waving to courseside fans for the entire race. Takahashi ran the first kilometer with the lead pack, which clocked 3:25, then let go and ran a more conservative pace, eventually tapering off to a 2:52:23 goal time but never losing her smile.

Click here for complete results for the 2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon in PDF format.

2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - Top Finishers
1. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) - 2:28:13 - debut
2. Chika Horie (Team Aruze) - 2:29:09
3. Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 2:29:35 - PB
4. Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:56 - debut
5. Kiyomi Ogama (Team Kyocera) - 2:29:58
6. Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) - 2:30:16
7. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:30:53
8. Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:30:58 - PB
9. Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya) - 2:31:42
10. Yoshie Kitomi (Team Hokuren) - 2:32:08 - debut

DNF - Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai)
DNF - Sally Meyerhoff (U.S.A.)

Leading Runners' Splits
5 km - 17:40
10 km - 34:34 (16:54)
15 km - 51:47 (17:13)
20 km - 1:09:17 (17:30)
half - 1:13:16
25 km - 1:27:09 (17:52)
30 km - 1:44:38 (17:29)
35 km - 2:02:16 (17:39)
40 km - 2:20:28 (17:43)
finish - 2:28:13

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Anonymous said…
Hara should have run in Nagoya. If she runs 2:26:57 here she would have won and get selected. I wonder how Hara feels right now. Is she disappointed? She shouldn't be cause she needs to realize she's really talented. Her time in osaka is actually faster then the winner in Nagoya.
Anonymous said…
Why does Yoshio Koide train Niiya. She really young and inexperience. He could train Hara up to be the best distance runner in Japan with her experience.
Anonymous said…
These runners run such pedestrian times. And Madoka Ogi ran faster than fujinaga and she was only 8th. I rather pick Ogi then Fujinaga.
Brett Larner said…

I know what you mean in that quite a few runners in Osaka beat Fujinaga's time. On the other hand, assuming the Berlin team lineup is more or less fixed now, there is a pretty good balance between the present and future. One experienced veteran (Shibui), two runners with a few marathons behind them and still on the improvement curve (Kano and Ozaki), and two novices (Akaba and Fujinaga). That's not too bad a team, even if some faster runners are getting shut out.
Anonymous said…
It's very hard to stand out as a Japanese distance runner. Rikuren has like 10 good athletes but they can only choose 5. What's Hara number? What does Hara plan to do this season? Is she going to run a spring marathon? Chika is the best Koide runner. Her result is better then Niiya and Wakita.

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