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World Championships Women's Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

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Japanese women have dominated the World Championships marathon like no one else. Since 1991 they have won two gold, four silver and three bronze medals, most notably taking 2nd through 4th in Paris in 2003. There is an excellent chance of one or more Japanese women going home from Berlin with a souvenir, particularly with several of their major competitors out of the race. If, that is, their own big names are in one piece. Below is a quick guide to the members of the Japanese team in the Aug. 23 women's marathon, the highs and lows of their seasons, and some predictions. Athletes are listed in order of estimated chance of success. Click the names for photos and more detailed profiles.

Yukiko Akaba - SB/PB: 2:25:40 (Osaka '09 - debut)
Akaba is the best Japanese hope for a medal. Following a 2008 which saw her make the all-time Japanese top three or four over 5000m, 10000m and half marathon and double in the 5000m and 10000m in the Beijing Olympics she ran her marathon debut in January after an abbreviated training period interrupted by the winter ekiden circuit. This time she has trained without distraction, pausing only to take the 10000m national title in June, and is targeting at least a 2:22 in Berlin. There is little chance of her cracking and her finishing speed has only a handful of rivals in the Berlin field.
Plusses:
-2:25:40 debut, Osaka Int'l Women's Marathon, 1/25/09 - 2nd
-2009 national 10000m champion
-5000m, 10000m and half marathon PB, 2008
-Olympic and World Half Marathon experience
Minuses:
-only weak races in 2008 were Beijing Olympics and World Half Marathon
-only second marathon
Last three races:
-15:35.05, National Championships 5000m, 6/27/09
-31:57.44, National Championships 10000m, 6/25/09 - winner
-1:08:50, Sendai Int'l Half Marathon, 5/10/09 - winner
Verdict:
Medal winner, most likely silver.

Yoko Shibui - SB: 2:23:42 (Osaka '09 - winner) - PB: 2:19:41 (Berlin '04 - winner)
With world record holder Paula Radcliffe's participation looking iffy, Shibui holds the fastest time of the year and best PB in the field. If the Shibui who won Osaka in January arrived in Berlin she would be all but unstoppable, but after being out for the entire spring with an injury her condition seems to be far from what it was seven months ago. A half marathon personal worst in early July followed by an inscrutable 2:46:34 training run win in the San Francisco Marathon are her only post-injury performances. Always wildly unpredictable, in her most recent comments Shibui lacked her characteristic bravado despite saying she is ready. At this stage the chance that we're going to see the good Yoko looks very slim.
Plusses:
-2:23:42, Osaka Int'l Women's Marathon, 1/25/09 - winner
-2008 national 10000m champion
-Olympic and World Championships experience
-she's Yoko Shibui
Minuses:
-injured all spring and in doubtful condition
-1:14:09 -PW, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-history of instability in marathon
Last three races:
-2:46:34, San Francisco Marathon, 7/26/09
-1:14:09 -PW, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-16:29, Yokohama Int'l Women's Ekiden anchor stage (5.195 km), 2/22/09 - stage best
Verdict:
As much as it hurts to say, no. She's going to be a non-factor. Shibui will finish, but far back. If there is a miracle she will medal.

Yuri Kano - SB: 2:28:44 (London '09) - PB: 2:24:27 (Tokyo Int'l '08)
With an excellent record of half marathon performances to her name there is a lot of hope that Kano will break through to the top ranks of women's marathoning, but thus far she seems stuck at the 2:24 level. Her coach Manabu Kawagoe is talking about her running 2:21-22 in Berlin, but she lacks the credentials to really back such a statement up and after a flat spring filled with nagging minor injuries it's more likely that her best hope is for a top ten finish and top three among the Japanese women. In an outstanding run she might make 2:23.
Plusses:
-recent races point toward peaking at World Championships
-1:08:57 -PB, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 6/15/08
Minuses:
-minor injuries throughout the spring
-when running PB marathon in November, was overtaken in final kilometers by winner Yoshimi Ozaki
Last three races:
-1:11:19, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
-32:34.87, National Championships 10000m, 6/25/09
-33:43, New York Mini 10k, 6/8/09
Verdict:
Will start fast, fade, but still put in a credible performance, just making the top ten.

Yoshimi Ozaki - SB/PB: 2:23:30 (Tokyo Int'l '08 - winner)
Ozaki ran the fastest qualifying time on the Japanese team in only her second marathon when she won November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, coming from behind to overtake Shibui, Kano and 2009 London Marathon runner-up Mara Yamauchi. She should be a medal favorite, but after a mid-spring injury she was forced to take substantial time off and start over. Since then Ozaki has been virtually invisible, raising doubts about whether she is going to be in top form.
Plusses:
-fastest qualifying time on Japanese team, 2:23:30, at Tokyo Int'l Women's Marathon, 11/16/08, winner
-2:26:19 debut, Nagoya Int'l Womens Marathon, 3/9/08 - 2nd
-coached by 1991 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita
Minuses:
-injured in spring
-has not raced this year
Last three races:
-20:26, National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden 1st Stage, 6.6 km, 12/14/08
-2:23:30 -PB, Tokyo Int'l Women's Marathon, 11/16/08, winner
-39:03, East Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden 3rd Stage, 11.95 km, 11/3/08
Verdict:
Difficult to call in the absence of information. She should be among the leaders but with the interruption to her training base will probably be back in mid-pack.

Yoshiko Fujinaga - SB/PB: 2:28:13 (Nagoya '09 - debut, winner)
Fujinaga ran a great debut race, coming from behind to take the win and make the Berlin team, but there's no denying that she was lucky in that the top Japanese women all ran Tokyo and Osaka to qualify for the World Championships. A former teammate of Kano, Fujinaga has World Championships experience having run the 5000m in Seville while a high school student, but she doesn't look to be on the same level as the other four women on the team. Her recent races show her building toward the World Championships nicely but it would be a major surprise to see her be in contention even for the top ten.
Plusses:
-won debut marathon to qualify for Berlin World Championships
-seems to be building to well-timed peak
-World Championships experience
Minuses:
-marathon time only 2:28:13
-only one marathon
Last three races:
-32:26.63, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 10000m, 7/21/09 - 3rd
-15:53.54, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet 5000m, 7/16/09 - 3rd
-1:11:58, Sapporo Int'l Half Marathon, 7/5/09
Verdict:
Weather permitting will PB, but will not be a significant factor unless Shibui and Ozaki fail.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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