Sunday, January 30, 2011

Yukiko Akaba Wins Cold and Windy Osaka International Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner
photo by Mika Tokairin


2011 Osaka top six, L-R Akaba, Ito, Horie, Incerti, Kizaki and Okunaga.

On a near-freezing, windy day the top Japanese marathoner of 2010, Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), took her first marathon victory with a 2:26:29 win at the 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon. Second-time marathoner Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) ran a bold race, repeatedly surging to the lead in an unsuccessful effort to break Akaba and was rewarded with an over two-minute PB of 2:26:55. Both women fell short of the 2:25:59 requirement for an automatic spot on the 2011 World Championships team and thus must wait until March to hear the official team announcement, but each earned praise from notoriously critical Rikuren director Keisuke Sawaki for their strong performances in difficult conditions. Regardless of the outcome, Akaba indicated that she plans to run April's London Marathon to go for a fast time prior to the World Championships.

Along with Akaba and Ito, veteran Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) was likewise impressive, coming back from being dropped several times and even taking the lead before finishing 3rd in 2:27:26. Italian Anna Incerti ran a smart race, staying back in the second pack and then moving up to overtake Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), one of the pre-race favorites for the win, for 4th in a 9-second PB of 2:27:33. Kizaki, one of the best Japanese women of 2010 but hampered by Achilles trouble of late, rounded out the top five in 2:29:35.

In its 30th anniversary, Osaka this year featured its first course change in 20 years, the elimination of the old course's most famous feature, the hilly and twisting turn through Osaka Castle, intended to make the already-fast course even faster. JRN associate editor Mika Tokairin (Namban Rengo AC), who ran Osaka, described the new course as, "Fantastic. Without the wind it could be an extremely fast course." Osaka also for the first time featured pacemakers, with Hungarian Aniko Kalovics and young Japanese runners Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) and Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya) performing their duties well. With a target pace of 17:00 per 5 km the lead pack went through 5 km in 16:59, 10 km in 33:47 and 15 km in 50:56. All eight elite Japanese women followed, while the four foreign elites, Incerti, Adriana Pirtea (Romania), Liudmila Petrova (Russia) and Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) ran some distance behind in a pack of their own.

Following pacer Higuchi's departure at 15 km the pace slowed gradually as the strong wind became a drain upon the runners. By halfway the lead group had slowed to low-2:24 pace. Ito surged into the lead with the withdrawal of the final pacer at 25 km and the next 5 km were marginally faster. Akaba and Kizaki were the only ones to follow Ito's lead, while Horie spent some time working her way back up to the lead trio. Despite Ito's efforts each successive 5 km then slowed, but first Kizaki and then Horie were unable to keep up with the press. Finally with 3 km to go Akaba made her move, leaving Ito behind with ease as she went on to her first win. Only Italian Incerti shook up the running order, moving up to overtake five of the elite Japanese women and coming up just short of catching Horie.

Five races factor into the selection of the five spots on the 2011 World Championships team. With two-time WC team member Yumiko Hara (Team Univ. Ent.) coming in at only 2:34:12 in winning last August's Hokkaido Marathon and no marathon medals at November's Asian Games, all five spots should come from Osaka, February's Yokohama International Women's Marathon and March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon. Despite missing the automatic qualifying time of 2:25:59 Akaba is all but certain to make the team. Ito is likely to be named on the strength of run but must wait to see the results in Yokohama and Nagoya before her place is secure.

In the accompanying half marathon, Naoto Morimoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) ran in a lead pack of five through 10 km before accelerating over the second half to win the men's division in 1:04:39 by a margin of nearly 30 seconds. In the women's division 19 year old Shiori Hayashita, surprisingly enough a student at the Osaka University of the Arts, ran a patient race some distance behind early leader Risa Hagiwara (Second Wind AC) before taking the lead in the final 5 km and winning in 1:15:28 to Hagiwara's 1:15:42. Masters runner and mother of two Chihiro Tanaka (Athlec AC) was 3rd for the second year in a row, while two-time World Championships marathon medalist Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) returned to racing after giving birth last April, 4th in 1:22:40. Tosa is scheduled to run the Tokyo Marathon next month.

2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:26:29
2. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:26:55 - PB
3. Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:27:26
4. Anna Incerti (Italy) - 2:27:33 - PB
5. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 2:29:35
6. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko) - 2:30:36
7. Adriana Pirtea (Romania) - 2:32:44
8. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:36:43
9. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:36:56
10. Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:38:31

2011 Osaka Half Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
Men
1. Naoto Morimoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:04:39
2. Osamu Ibata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:05:06
3. Yusuke Kataoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:05:16

Women
1. Shiori Hayashita (Osaka Univ. of the Arts) - 1:15:18
2. Risa Hagiwara (Second Wind AC) - 1:15:42
3. Chihiro Tanaka (Athlec AC) - 1:17:34
4. Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 1:22:40

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
photo (c) and (p) 2011 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

1 comment:

Scott Brown said...

Sitting here with windburn tonight but I can tell you it will be a fast course with the right conditions.

How good is "Chihiro Tanaka"? (Re the half) She keeps on keeping on with efforts like this! A role model for all but especially masters runners and parents alike!