by Brett Larner
Two veterans made comebacks to win the 2009 Hokkaido Marathon in its first edition on a new course. In the men's race Kenyan Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) endured a relatively slow first 5k of 15:46, typical of hot, summery Hokkaido, before cutting loose at 12 km with a surge at world record pace. From 12 km to 18 km Njenga ran under 3:00 / km pace, clocking as fast as 2:50 / km to kill off all rivals. He hit halfway in 1:04:11 with a chase pack of three including fellow Kenyan Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel), Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and debutant Takayuki Tagami (Team Kyudenko) around 25 seconds behind.
A minute ahead of the Hokkaido Marathon record, Njenga began to slip in the heat and was down to 3:10 / km pace by 25 km. He continued to fade, but the chasers were likewise suffering and could make no headway. Approaching 40 km, first-timer Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) cruised past into second as Njenga dropped to 3:20 / km. Yamamoto almost closed the gap but fell 8 seconds short as Njenga crossed the line in 2:12:03, the second-fastest time ever in Hokkaido. Yamamoto was 2nd in 2:12:10, with Kagika a short way back in 3rd in 2:12:24. Defending champion Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) was 4th in a credible 2:13:05, while Kobayashi slipped to 5th. In his post-race interview Njenga said that he had been suffering leg pain earlier in the month and had been unsure whether to run Hokkaido, but was very happy to win. It was his first good marathon since his last win in the 2007 Tokyo Marathon and brought his lifetime marathon victory count to three.
2008 Honolulu Marathon champion and noted hot weather specialist Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) took the race out fast from the gun accompanied by her teammate Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC), the older sister of World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Challenges from 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) and Olympian Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) never materialized, and after a summer training in Albuquerque, NM with World Championships marathon 7th placer Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) both Shimahara and Ozaki were fit enough to make it a two-woman race. The pair were over 15 seconds ahead of Masako Chiba's Hokkaido Marathon record pace at 10 km before Ozaki lost contact, but at halfway Shimahara was still on track with a 1:11:02, her best half marathon time in three years and less than a minute off her half PB.
At 25 km she was still going strong and was 42 seconds up on the record, but at 28 km Shimahara abruptly began having some kind of trouble, clutching at the left side of her chest and tugging at the neck of singlet before her coach Manabu Kawagoe ran up on the parallel sidewalk and shouted advice to her. The crisis passed, and although her pace had dropped it was clear that barring a major disaster Shimahara would not only break 2:30 for the first time since 2006 but also crack her PB of 2:26:14 from Hokkaido '05 and possibly hold out for Chiba's record of 2:25:46. Her aggressive sub-3:25 / km splits never returned, but Shimahara held on for the win in 2:25:10, achieving not only the record and a new PB but also setting the second-fastest time of the year by a Japanese woman and tenth-fastest worldwide, faster than Xue Bai, Yoshimi Ozaki and Yuri Kano's times in the Berlin World Championships despite the heat. Like Njenga it was her third marathon win.
Akemi Ozaki held on for 2nd in 2:27:23, likewise a PB by over a minute. Nasukawa was never in the race, finishing a distant 7th in 2:34:17 after having convincingly beaten Shimahara in March's Tokyo Marathon. 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) was close behind in 8th, clocking her fastest time since 2003 and her best since giving birth to her second daughter.
Combined with Kano's run in Berlin, Shimahara and Ozaki's Hokkaido performances complete a big week which marks Second Wind and coach Kawagoe the dominant force in Japanese women's marathoning at the moment, a noteworthy achievement in that they are an independent group which broke away from Team Shiseido in 2007 to exist outside the jitsugyodan corporate team system. Shimahara's win shows that she is still competitive and gives her the confidence to try for the overseas major win which, apart from Honolulu last year, has thus far eluded her.
2009 Hokkaido Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult) - 2:12:03
2. Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) - 2:12:10 - debut
3. Laban Kagika (Team JFE Steel) - 2:12:24
4. Masaru Takamizawa (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 2:13:05
5. Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:13:27
6. Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:14:34
7. Shingo Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:14:35
8. Isamu Sueyoshi (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:14:37
9. Yoshiyuki Suetsugu (Team Kanebo) - 2:15:51
10. Yuichi Washio (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:15:32
1. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:10 - PB, MR
2. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:27:23 - PB
3. Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) - 2:33:55
4. Nami Tani (Team Aruze) - 2:33:59
5. Misuzu Okamoto (Hokukoku Ginko) 2:34:12
6. Chinami Fukaminato (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:34:16
7. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Aruze) - 2:34:17
8. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 2:35:15
9. Nozomi Iijima (Team Sekisui Giken) - 2:36:46
10. Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido) - 2:37:25
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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