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Gobena Wins Osaka, Kano and Yamaoka Take Half

by Brett Larner
photo by Mika Tokairin

Osaka top 8 Simon, Obata, Barros, Gobena, Ozaki, Kizaki, Horie and Nojiri at the post-race award ceremony.

Ethiopian Amane Gobena and 2009 World Championships marathon 6th place finisher Marisa Barros of Portugal outlasted the domestic competition to go 1-2 in miserable conditions at the 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon on Jan. 31. Both women recorded PBs, Gobena clocking 2:25:14 and Barros 2:25:44. In her first marathon since the 2007 World Championships Mari Ozaki (Team Daihatsu) was third in 2:26:27. Domestic favorite Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) was an unfortunate DNF after pushing the race at 2:21 pace for the first 25 km. In the accompanying Osaka Half Marathon, Masayoshi Yamaoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) outleaned Tsukasa Morita (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) in a great sprint finish, both timed at 1:04:04 as the top six men broke the course record. Second Wind AC women Yuri Kano and Kiyoko Shimahara, running as official guests out of competition, took the top two spots, finishing in the 1:11 and 1:14 range. 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) was the first official finisher in 1:17:39.

After days of beautiful weather race day dawned cool and rainy. The rain let up just in time for the half marathon start one hour before the marathon, and although the ground was wet conditions in the early stages of the marathon were a comfortable 10 degrees. Akaba, who debuted at last year's Osaka, controlled the race through the early stages. After a decent 17:05 split for the first 5 km, Akaba took things down to 16:41 for the next 5 km and then continued on at 3:20/km. The initially large lead pack rapidly whittled down as people let go one by one. At halfway the leaders were down to six as they crossed the line in 1:10:45, on track to give Mizuki Noguchi's course and Japanese all-comers record of 2:21:18 a shot.

But, you know what they say about the marathon finding your weaknesses. Akaba came into the race nursing an injury to her left knee. Staying in the lead through the hills around Osaka Castle in the middle section of the race, after 25 km Akaba began to drop back for the first time and soon lost contact with Gobena, Barros and Ozaki. Her pace plummeted and near 30 km she stopped and rubbed her knee in pain. Resuming running, she dragged herself on at 4:40/km pace before her husband and coach Shuhei jumped out from courseside just past 36 km at physically pulled Akaba off the road.

The leaders stayed together through 30 km, but at point conditions worsened dramatically. Temperatures had fallen to 4 degrees and the rain returned, building steadily through the last quarter of the race. Few in the field of 356 finishers were able to maintain their pace through such weather. All three of the top women slowed to the mid-18 range for the final 5 km, with the winner decided by who slowed the least. Ozaki was the first to drop back as the trio approached 35 km, and Barros was likewise unable to hang on to Gobena just before 40 km.

On a day like this experience counts. Sydney Olympics marathon silver medalist Lidia Simon (Romania) was a surprising part of the lead pack at halfway before letting go, but she maintained a steady pace and advanced past Akaba and ambitious first-time Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) to take a solid 4th. 2006 Asian Games bronze medalist Kayoko Obata (Team Acom), running her 26th and final marathon before her retirement in March, was another surprise in the fast lead pack through 15 km before settling back to something more realistic. Never significantly fading, she had the second-fastest time after 40 km to move up to 5th. The fastest closing time, 7:38, went to another veteran, Chika Horie (Team Universal Entertainment). Horie never went with the lead pack put stayed on at a steady 17:40 per 5 km, finishing hard to take 7th.

Rounding out the top eight, Kizaki and former pro XC skiier Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) had credit-worthy debuts, 6th and 8th overall and both under 2:30. Both women initially ran with the lead pack, Nojiri lasting through 10 km and Kizaki through halfway. Although Kizaki faded harder, her faster early pace meant a better overall finish than Nojiri, who settled into a steady rhythm just ahead of Obata after losing touch with the leaders. Considering the conditions, both women leave Osaka with ample room for improvement.

Akaba, on the other hand, is in a difficult position. After an excellent 2007-2009 on the track and ekiden circuits Akaba's marathon debut last year was only good. Her next marathon, the 2009 World Championships, was very far from good. With a DNF now in her third marathon her trajectory is headed in the wrong direction and may be hard to turn around. Akaba had announced before Osaka that she will run April's London Marathon, but in the wake of her disappointing day it remains to be seen whether this will actually happen.

2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:25:14 - PB
2. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:25:44 - PB
3. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 2:26:27
4. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:27:11
5. Kayoko Obata (Team Acom) - 2:27:19
6. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 2:27:34 - debut
7. Chika Horie (Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:28:29
8. Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:29:12 - debut
9. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:32:43
10. Seika Iwamura (Team Daihatsu) - 2:33:15

2010 Osaka Half Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Men
1. Masayoshi Yamaoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:04:04 - CR
2. Tsukasa Morita (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:04:04 - CR
3. Takanobu Otsubo (Osaka City Hall AC) - 1:04:14 - CR
4. Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:04:25 - CR
5. Masato Ando (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:04:52 - CR
6. Michinori Takano (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:05:09 - CR

Women
1. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 1:11:**
2. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 1:14:**
3. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 1:17:39

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
photo (c) 2010 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

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