by Brett Larner
The second running of the elite Yokohama International Women's Marathon takes place this Sunday, Feb. 20. Intended as a continuation of the legacy of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon, which fell under the wheels of the mixed elite and mass-participation Tokyo Marathon in 2008. Conceived of as a speed race with a spectator-friendly circuit course designed to help athletes qualify and prepare for world-level championship marathons held on similar loops, Yokohama has struggled to get off the ground thus far. It was bumped from its original Nov. 23 date last year by the APEC conference held in Yokohama, its hillier-than-promised course changed from a three-circuit loop through downtown Yokohama to a two-circuit loop this year with much of the race taking place on an out-and-back along the industrial waterfront south of the city, and relatively weak fields compared to those pulled in by Tokyo. This year will see two Yokohamas as it is scheduled to return to its Nov. 23 date for its London Olympics selection edition, but with the first runnings of the mass-participation Osaka and Kobe Marathons taking place in the three weeks beforehand Yokohama's position looks to remain precarious.
As a selection race for this summer's World Championships, Sunday's Yokohama is likely to be a virtual time trial for 2009 World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). The winner of the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon, Ozaki has not been in peak form since a fall last autumn hurt her right knee but holds such superior credentials to her domestic competition that barring a major breakdown her place is all but assured if she can break the 2:26 federation-mandated qualifying time.
Her nearest domestic competitors are two women with 2:29 PBs from 2010, Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) and Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC). Fujita has broken 2:30 in both of her marathons to date while Yoshida labored for years in the 2:30-2:32 range before finally doing it at last year's Chicago Marathon. Either could show an improvement in Yokohama, with Fujita young enough to still have room for growth and Yoshida coming in with an excellent half marathon win in January, but there seems little reason to think sub-2:26 would be in range of either. Five or six other women will be debuting or running their second marathons, but it would take a breakthrough for any to challenge Ozaki for a World Championships spot. Of these the ones most to watch are first-timers Yoshio Koide-coached Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) and Yuka Izumi of 2010 national champion Team Tenmaya, a team with a legacy of fast debuts. Veteran former elites Megumi Oshima (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) and Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya), Izumi's teammate and the marathon debut national record holder, are entered in the general division.
If Ozaki is in peak fitness she is likely to have company up front from at least two women, Ethiopian Azalech Masresha, who ran her 2:25:34 PB at last year's Paris Marathon, and Portuguese Marisa Barros who came close to winning last year's Osaka International Women's Marathon but ultimately settled for 2nd in a PB of 2:25:44. 20 years almost to the day since her win at the Chiba International XC Meet, 2009 New York City Marathon winner Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) holds a PB identical to Ozaki's, but if the race is fast it doesn't seem likely she will be in contention against a younger field. One little-known foreign entrant to watch is Karolina Jarzynska (Poland). Her PB of 2:29:10 from the 2009 Frankfurt Marathon is the weakest in the overseas field, but since setting it she has recorded PBs at every distance from 3000 m to half marathon, the latter just two weeks ago at the Marugame International Half Marathon.
The Yokohama International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live on Nihon TV beginning at 12:00 p.m. on Feb. 20. Click here to visit NTV's race website, somewhat more informative than the official site linked above. Overseas viewers should be able to watch live online for free via Keyhole TV, available here.
2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete field listing
1. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:23:30 (Helsinki WC '05)
2. Azalech Masresha (Ethiopia) - 2:25:34 (Paris '10)
3. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:25:44 (Osaka '10)
4. Alevtina Ivanonva (Russia) - 2:26:38 (Nagano '08)
5. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) - 2:29:10 (Frankfurt '09)
11. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:30 (Tokyo Int'l '08)
12. Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:36 (Nagoya '10)
13. Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:29:45 (Chicago '10)
14. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - 2:34:29 (Nagoya '10)
15. Kaoru Nagao (Team Universal Ent.) - debut - 1:10:45
16. Yuka Izumi (Team Tenmaya) - debut - 1:10:58
51. Saori Nejo (Team Hokuren) - 2:33:54 (Osaka '10)
52. Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) - 2:21:51 (Osaka '03)
53. Nicky Archer (U.K.) - 2:42:22 (London '10)
58. Megumi Oshima (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) - 2:24:25 (Nagoya '05)
59. Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:29:07 (Osaka '08)
60. Risa Hagiwara (Second Wind AC) - 2:28:14 (Nagoya '03)
61. Hitomi Nakamura (Team Panasonic) - debut - 1:13:58
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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