Thursday, April 14, 2011

Japanese Women's London Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner


L-R: Ogi, Matsuoka, Nojiri, Shigetomo, Nasukawa and Nakamura.

Eight top Japanese women will race this Sunday's London Marathon, an unusual sight in a race outside Japan. Following last month's earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan, the Nagoya International Women's Marathon scheduled just two days later was cancelled. The last of the three domestic selection races for the Japanese women's marathon team for this summer's World Championships team, Nagoya's cancellation meant that the entire domestic elite field would have to race somewhere else. The likely domestic replacement, the Apr. 17 Nagano Marathon, was cancelled along with dozens of other races across the country. The Japanese federation was quick to name overseas options: the Apr. 10 Daegu International Marathon, London, and the Boston Marathon a day later. Any woman who broke 2:26 at any of the races would stand an excellent chance of making the team.

The stress and uncertainty surrounding the disasters and the month delay in racing have made it difficult for the athletes to maintain their focus and the peak they had planned for the Mar. 13 Nagoya. Daegu runner Yuko Machida (Team ChemiCon) and London entrants Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) were training for Nagoya in Christchurch, New Zealand at the time of February's earthquake, returning to Japan not long before for the Mar. 11 disasters. London entrant and 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner and course record holder Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal) is a native of Iwate prefecture, one of the most devastated areas of the northeast; while she was not there at the time of the earthquake several of her teammates from the Iwate team at the National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden Championships were swept away in the tsunami. 2010 Nagoya winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and 2008 Hokkaido Marathon winner Yukari Sahaku (Team Universal Entertainment) have withdrawn from London with difficulties in maintaining their fitness for an extra month, Boston entrant Hiromi Ominami (Yutic AC) has injured her left leg trying to do the same, and Machida, the top Japanese woman at last Sunday's Daegu and a native of hard-hit Miyagi prefecture, could manage no better than 2:32:39 after her apartment and hometown were seriously damaged.

All told, the circumstances do not look conducive to seeing first-rate performances from the London women despite the extra motivation they have to bring back some good news to their stuggling country. Akaba, the fastest of the eight, is in a separate class from the others as she was already entered to run London and her result will not count toward World Championships selection. Akaba won January's windy, frigid Osaka in 2:26:29 and was 6th at last year's London where she set her PB of 2:24:55. Her background suggests she is capable of 2:20-2:22 and she has said she is doing London to get a fast time ahead of the World Championships, but having had her training cycle interrupted by two major disasters it's a question mark whether everything is in place for her this time.

For the other seven women, all originally entered in Nagoya, the goal for London is clear: get as far under 2:26 as possible. Only one of the five spots on the World Championships team is taken, by 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), but Osaka winner Akaba and Yokohama runner-up Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu), who clocked a strong 2:24:29, are virtual locks for spots on the team. Osaka runner-up Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was 26 seconds behind Akaba in 2:26:55 and is a possibility for the fourth spot on the team. With Machida only running 2:32:39 in Daegu and Ominami injured for Boston we can expect to see the top Japanese woman in London other than Akaba to pick up the fifth spot. The question mark comes after that: if the next Japanese woman after her can break the federation's stated time requirement of sub-2:26 she may be able to bump Ito from the lineup.

Only Tokyo course record holder Nasukawa and 2008 Nagoya winner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) have broken 2:26 before and by that criterion alone would be the favorites, but Nasukawa has only run as fast as 2:29 since then while Nakamura has gotten progressively slower in each of her marathons since her 2:25:51 debut and has not broken 2:30 again. Of the three other experienced marathoners in the field, former pro XC skiier Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei), a teammate of Yokohama winner Ozaki, is the best bet for a large improvement over her 2:29:12 debut last year, but both Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) and 2009 Nagoya winner Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) are also in range of a sub-2:26 PB. The two debutantes in the group, track runner Noriko Matsuoka (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) who recovered from a serious collision with a cyclist to regain world-level fitness, and Nakamura's teammate Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) who had an outstanding run at December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships to put Tenmaya into the lead late in the race for its first-ever win, both hold excellent potential and could make the Japanese women's sub-plot at this year's London Marathon women's race an engrossing part of the overall picture.

Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren)
PB: 2:24:55 - 6th, 2010 London Marathon
Other major performances:
1st, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:26:29
2009 National Champion, 10000 m - 31:57.44
1st, 2008 National Corporate Half Marathon Championships - 1:08:11 - CR

Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment)
PB: 2:25:38 - 1st, 2009 Tokyo Marathon - CR
Other major performances:
1st, 2011 Akabane Half Marathon - 1:14:12
7th, 2009 Chicago Marathon - 2:29:22
4th, 2004 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:29:49

Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya)
PB: 2:25:51 - 1st, 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon
Other major performances:
7th, 2010 Boston Marathon - 2:30:40
2009 National Champion, 5000 m - 15:25.31
13th, 2008 Beijing Olympics Marathon - 2:30:19

Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko)
PB: 2:26:55 - 5th, 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon
Other major performances:
1st, 2010 Rock 'n' Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon - 1:14:17
8th, 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon - 2:27:56
2nd, 2009 Miyazaki Women's Half Marathon -1:11:24

Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido)
PB: 2:28:13 - 1st, 2009 Nagoya International Women's Marathon
Other major performances:
14th, 2009 World Championships Marathon - 2:29:53
2000 National Champion, 5000 m
1999 World Championships 5000 m

Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei)
PB: 2:29:12 - 8th, 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon
Other major performances:
13th, 2010 World Half Marathon Championships - 1:11:35
3-time winner, Mt. Fuji Mountain Race
former pro cross-country skiier until 2008

Noriko Matsuoka (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)
Debut
Major performances:
1st, 2010 Nagoya Half Marathon - 1:11:13 - PB
4th, 2009 National Championships 5000 m - 15:29.38 - PB
1st, 2008 Niigata Time Trials 10000 m - 31:31.45 - PB


Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya)
Debut
Major performances:
Half marathon PB: 1:13:28
5th, 2010 Sanyo Women's 10 km - 32:38
1st, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (11.6 km) - 37:36

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2 comments:

Kevin said...

The field is missing Kayo Sugihara and Yumiko Hara.

Brett Larner said...

I haven't heard that either of them is scheduled to run London.