by Brett Larner
The final selection race for the 2009 Berlin World Championships women's marathon team takes place this Sunday, Mar. 8 at the 30th anniversary Nagoya International Women's Marathon. The top Japanese woman in Nagoya will automatically earn a place on the Berlin team, and with the almost complete absence of big-name domestic runners hopes are high that one of the younger, inexperienced runners will step up with a world-class performance. The chance is also there for one of the few veteran Japanese runners in the field to come back with a win.
Winning times in Nagoya over the last ten years have averaged 2:25:18, with the fastest mark being Naoko Takahashi's course-record 2:22:19 in 2000 and the slowest Yasuko Hashimoto's 2:28:49 in 2007. No foreign runner has won Nagoya since Russia's Lyubov Morgunova took the 1999 race, but this year the hosts' streak may be broken. China's Xue Bai has the strongest recent credentials in the field, with a 2:23:27 PB at the Xiamen Marathon in Jan., 2008 and a 2:26:27 win in Beijing in Oct., 2008. No other woman in the field has broken 2:27 in the last six years, and with no pacemakers running Nagoya Bai's competitors will be marking off her. Romanian Lidia Simon has been hovering around the 2:27 mark for the last few years, most recently at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, and if the race is slow she could be a factor. The other overseas elites are unlikely to contend for the win, but Kenyan Caroline Cheptonui Kilel's stage best run at last month's Yokohama International Women's Ekiden suggests she is in excellent shape and could be a surprise.
2003 Nagoya winner and two-time World Championships team member Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) is the most accomplished of the Japanese runners in the field, but having broken 2:30 only once since 2003 she would need a major return to form to have a chance of making a third team. Independent Haruko Okamoto, who recently quit Team Nortiz, likewise has not broken 2:30 since 2002. Chika Horie (Team Aruze) is the best bet among the experienced runners to take the top domestic position, having run 2:27:16 at last year's Nagoya after three years of steady improvement.
Nine other women in the field have marathon experience, but the majority are young and still improving, with only one or two marathons behind them. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) ran 2:28:50 at last year's Osaka International Women's Marathon to make her the fastest runner in this group, but the woman considered the favorite is Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki). Niiya won the 2007 Tokyo Marathon, her debut at age 18, and was 2nd at the 2008 Hokkaido Marathon after leading most of the way. In the fall and winter ekiden season she had noticeably stepped up her performances, and even though her coach Yoshio Koide does not sound particularly enthusiastic about her chances she will be one of the people to watch most closely.
Eight professional women are also making their marathon debuts in Nagoya. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) has the best half marathon time of the eight and Aya Manome (Team Shimamura) has been running well of late, but if history is any indication the runner with the best chance of a winning debut is Kei Terada (Team Tenmaya). Terada's half marathon times aren't especially impressive, but Team Tenmaya has a long history of its runners clocking strong debuts and selection races, including Olympians Eri Yamaguchi, Naoko Sakamoto, and last year's winner Yurika Nakamura, who won in 2:25:51. Terada may well follow this legacy.
Osaka runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) currently stands fifth in line for the five-member Berlin team. While the top Japanese woman in Nagoya will automatically make the team, the second domestic finisher also has a chance of being selected if she beats Akaba's time of 2:25:40. If Bai pushes the pace and the Japanese runners respond as hoped the winning time may well be in the 2:24 range. Whether it is achieved by Bai, a new face, or a veteran pulling off one more good day remains to be seen. Some even hold out hope that Naoko Takahashi, who retired from professional running last fall and it doing Nagoya as a goodbye run, will stage a surprise comeback, unlikely as that may be.
The 2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji T.V. beginning at 11:50 a.m. on Mar. 8. International viewers should be able to watch online through one of the sites listed here.
2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon Elite Field
Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:22:54 (Osaka '00)
Xue Bai (China) - 2:23:27 (Xiamen '08)
Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 2:23:43 (Rotterdam '02)
Kiyomi Ogawa (Team Kyocera) - 2:26:02 (Nagoya '05)
Chika Horie (Team Aruze) - 2:26:11 (Hokkaido '02)
Haruko Okamoto (Hyogo T&F Assoc.) - 2:27:01 (Osaka '02)
Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:28:50 (Osaka '08)
Tabitha Tsatsa (Zimbabwe) - 2:29:20 (Seoul '08)
Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) - 2:29:23 (Nagoya '08)
Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 2:29:30 (Nagoya '02)
Yuko Machida (Team Nihon ChemiCon) - 2:29:48 (Nagoya '06)
Caroline Cheptonui Kilel (Kenya) - 2:30:22 (Venice '03)
Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:31:01 (Tokyo '07)
Mika Hikichi (Team Tenmaya) - 2:31:03 (Nagoya '06)
Yuka Ezaki (Team Kyudenko) - 2:31:35 (Osaka '07)
Mika Hikita (Team Aruze) - 2:34:22 (Nagoya '02)
Sally Meyerhoff (U.S.A.) - 2:35:52 (Tempe '09)
Debut Marathoners With Half Marathon PB
Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) - 1:09:29
Kei Terada (Team Tenmaya) - 1:10:53
Aya Manome (Team Shimamura) - 1:10:59
Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 1:11:02
Yoshie Kitomi (Team Hokuren) - 1:13:55
Miki Oka (Team Daihatsu) - 1:14:00
Mizuho Kishi (Team Yamada Denki) - 1:15:02
Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 1:15:02
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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