by Brett Larner
With six elite marathons in seven weeks, the crowded 2010 Japanese marathon season gets rolling this Sunday, Jan. 31 with the Osaka International Women's Marathon. With only an Asian Games spot at stake in a year without a major worldwide championships this year's Osaka has nevertheless attracted an interesting field containing a good number of relative newcomers and a few solid pros.
Osaka has been the site of some very memorable marathon debuts. Last year it was the site of track and half marathon star Yukiko Akaba's first marathon, 2nd overall in a credible 2:25:40. The Team Hokuren runner has been one of the main forces in the domestic track and ekiden scene for the last two years but her shaky appearances at the Olympics, the World Half Marathon and especially her disastrous run in the World Championships marathon have all weakened Akaba's reputation. With some expecting her to become Japan's next sub-2:20 woman Akaba is returning to Osaka to get her marathoning back on track before a planned appearance at April's London Marathon.
Also getting things back on track in Osaka is seasoned World Championships marathoner Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz). Ozaki is the second-fastest woman in the field by PB with her time of 2:23:30 from Osaka '03. She has been out of peak form the last couple of years but the talk around town is that she is fit and ready for a fast one.
Among the foreign elites, Marisa Barros (Portugal) and Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) look to be the most dangerous. Neither has extensive marathon experience, but each holds a 2:26 PB set last year. Barros ran a 10000 m PB of 31:31 earlier this month, suggesting she has the speed to improve her mark. Gobena, mother of a three year old son, has told the Japanese media she hopes to run 2:23. If she is true to her word it will take a serious effort from Akaba, Ozaki or the others in the field to outdo her.
As usual, there is a share of first-timers lining up in Osaka as well. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) was a university ace before joining Team Daihatsu, while Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) was a pro XC skiier before becoming a teammate of Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki a year and a half ago. Both women have been strong on the ekiden scene throughout the fall and winter, and with both clocking half marathon PBs of 1:10 at last year's Jitsugyodan Half Marathon. A debut of 2:27 or better would not be surprising for either.
Veterans in the field include perennial Osaka invitee Lidia Simon (Romania), Olivia Jevtic (Serbia), and in her last run, 2006 Asian Games bronze medalist Kayoko Obata (Team Acom).
Fuji TV will broadcast the race live nationwide from 12:00 to 2:55 p.m. Overseas viewers should be able to watch live online using Keyhole TV. JRN will be on-site for the race, with associate editor Mika Tokairin running the marathon and editor Brett Larner doing the pre-race half marathon. In the half marathon field are last year's winner Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) and her teammate Yuri Kano, along with 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu).
2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon Elite Field With Bib Numbers
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1. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:22:54 (Osaka 2000)
31. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 2:23:30 (Osaka 2003)
32. Kayoko Obata (Team Acom) - 2:25:14 (Osaka 2000)
2. Olivera Jevtic (Serbia) - 2:25:23 (Rotterdam 2003)
33. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:25:40 (Osaka 2009)
3. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:26:03 (Seville 2009)
34. Chika Horie (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:26:11 (Hokkaido 2002)
4. Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:26:53 (Los Angeles 2009)
35. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:28:50 (Osaka 2008)
5. Dulce Maria Rodriguez (Mexico) - 2:28:54 (Chicago 2006)
36. Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) - 2:29:23 (Nagoya 2008)
37. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 1:10:16 (Jitsugyodan Half 2009)
38. Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 1:10:53 (Jitsugyodan Half 2009)
6. Volha Krautsova (Belarus) - 1:11:33 (Philadelphia Half 2007)
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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