by Brett Larner
Update: Yumiko Hara (Team Univ. Ent.), Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), Adriana Fernandez (Mexico) and Tetyana Holovchenko have withdrawn with injuries.
The 30th anniversary Osaka International Women's Marathon takes place this Sunday, Jan. 30. With a new course which aims to be flatter and faster by eliminating the old course's most famous feature, the twisting and hilly turn through the ground of Osaka Castle, organizers are hopeful of seeing outstanding times in the first of the major domestic selection races for this summer's World Championships. 2009 World Championships marathoner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) says she is going to deliver.
Akaba, one of Japan's top track and half marathon runners in the last few years, came to last year's Osaka with a knee injury, but despite being less than 100% she led the race through a 1:10:45 in cold rain. Akaba ultimately DNF'd but said afterwards that she had just wanted to see what she could do in the shape she was in, and returned later in the spring to set a modest PB of 2:24:55 at the London Marathon. This year Akaba says she is fit and going not only for a World Championships spot but the win, and not only the win but a fast time. If she follows through on last year's performance the Japanese all-comers' record of 2:21:18 could be in range.
Two overseas women have faster PBs, Russians Liudmila Petrova and Svetlana Zakharova, but with both in their 40's it's questionable whether they could still be factors in a fast race. That leaves Italian Anna Incerti as the probable top foreign entrant, with a PB of 2:27:42. Not far off is Romanian Adriana Pirtea, who improved her PB to 2:28:52 after her infamous near-win at the Chicago Marathon.
The biggest potential news could come from two follow-up marathoners who debuted in 2010, Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) and Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku). Kizaki was the best all-around Japanese woman of 2010, with strong track performances, a good run at the World Half Marathon, and a 2:27:34 debut at last year's Osaka after following Akaba's 1:10:45 first half. She says she is shooting for a 2:24, which should be enough for at least 2nd Japanese. Ito was 4th at last year's Nagoya International Women's Marathon in her debut. Her time of 2:29:13 was not particularly remarkable, but it does not tell the full story of her run. Despite committing to the marathon only a month beforehand, Ito ran head-to-head against the experienced Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) in the latter stages of the race, pushing the pace before falling apart in the final 5 km and losing two places. Since then she has run 3000 m, 5000 m and 10000 m PBs, and with experience and better stamina this time around her coach Tadasu Kawano says she is ready for the win.
Osaka also features a number of other women in the 2:26-2:39 range, most of whom could be in the pack late in the race. Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.), Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) and Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) all hold solid experience behind them, with Okunaga having shown potential for something higher by running in the lead pack at the 2009 London Marathon. 2010's top two Japanese half marathoners, identical twins Hiroko and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) have yet to find success at the marathon but have the talent to be there.
The Osaka International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live on Fuji TV beginning at noon Japan time on Jan. 30. Overseas viewers should be able to watch for free online via Keyhole TV, available here. Live English commentary via Twitter will be available @JRNLive.
2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon
click here for complete field listing
1. Liudmila Petrova (Russia) - 2:21:29 (London '06)
2. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:21:31 (Chicago '02)
4. Anna Incerti (Italy) - 2:27:42 (Milan '08)
5. Adriana Pirtea (Romania) - 2:28:52 (London '08)
33. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:24:55 (London '10)
34. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:26:09 (Osaka '08)
35. Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:11 (Hokkaido '02)
36. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) - 2:27:16 (Osaka '09)
37. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 2:27:34 (Osaka '10)
38. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:29:13 (Nagoya '10)
39. Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:32:20 (Yokohama '09)
40. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:33:36 (Nagoya '10)
101. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:28:50 (Osaka '08)
102. Saori Nejo (Team Hokuren) - 2:33:54 (Osaka '10)
106. Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) - 2:33:55 (Sapporo '09)
62. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal)
61. Aniko Kalovics (Hungary)
63. Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya)
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved