by Brett Larner
Yoshiko Fujinaga (l) and Azusa Nojiri (r). Click here to enlarge photo.
In spite of the stress of living through both the Christchurch and Tohoku disasters and the difficulties caused by trying to maintain a peak for a month after their target race, the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, was cancelled, the majority of the Japanese women at the Apr. 17 London Marathon ran well. The first three across the line recorded PBs, the next a strong debut, and the first five broke 2:30. Former pro XC skier Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) cleared the federation's World Championships qualifying standard and, pending formal confirmation, will join her teammate Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) on the women's team for this summer's championships. 2009 Nagoya winner Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) also cleared the 2:26 standard but must wait for the official decision following tomorrow's Boston Marathon on whether she will be picked over Osaka runner-up Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) for the final spot on the team.
While the lead pack led by defending London champion Liliya Shobukova (Russia) and half marathon world record holder Mary Keitany (Kenya) set off on 2:18 pace, 2011 Osaka winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), the only Japanese woman who had planned to run London, went out at a more conservative but still ambitious 2:21 pace. All seven Nagoya entrants went with her along with a small number of international competitors including 2009 Yokohama winner Inga Abitova (Russia). The pair of runners from the Tenmaya team were the first to falter and lose contact, with first-timer Risa Shigetomo ending up 24th in 2:31:28 and 2008 Nagoya winner Yurika Nakamura ultimately finishing 31st in a dismal 2:41:22, continuing the unfortunate decline in her performances in every marathon since her Nagoya debut win.
The rest of the second pack stayed together longer as the pace relaxed somewhat through the middle of the race, but when Portuguese steeplechase national record holder Jessica Augusto overtook them and tried to go ahead Akaba went with her, causing the rest of the pack to splinter. Akaba came out ahead of Augusto, 6th for the second year in a row in a PB of 2:24:09 as she overtook many of the casualties from the first pack, just seconds from overtaking 4th and 5th as well. Nojiri, the first of the seven women in contention for the World Championships spot, was next, 12th in a sizeable PB of 2:25:29. Along with 2011 Yokohama winner Ozaki, Nojiri's result confirms Team Daiichi Seimei, coached by 1991 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, as the best current women's marathon team in Japan.
Fujinaga and Nojiri. Click here to enlarge photo.
2009 Nagoya winner Fujinaga had trouble staying with the second pack but came through with a strong final 10 km. Clearing 2:26, she is a likely pick for the World Championships team as well. Having returned to peak fitness from a nearly career-ending collision with a cyclist only to see her planned marathon debut in Nagoya cancelled, Noriko Matsuoka (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) delivered a strong 2:26:54 performance. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) also cleared 2:30, with Tokyo Marathon course record holder Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) just missing the mark as she clocked 2:30:00.
The Japanese women's team for the Daegu World Championships marathon now includes teammates Ozaki and Nojiri. Akaba is a certainty for her Osaka win along with Yokohama runner-up Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu). Barring a surprise performance from injured Hiromi Ominami (Yutic AC) in Boston, the decision between Fujinaga and Osaka runner-up Ito will be difficult to call, not least because Ito's coach Tadasu Kawano is also the federation's director of road racing. The official decision is expected to be announced this week.
2011 London Marathon Women's Results
1. Mary Keitany (Kenya) - 2:19:19 - PB
2. Liliya Shobukhova (Russia) - 2:20:15 - PB
3. Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:20:46 - PB
4. Bezunesh Bekele (Ethiopia) - 2:23:42
5. Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia) - 2:23:50
6. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:24:09 - PB
7. Irina Mikitenko (Germany) - 2:24:24
8. Jessica Augusto (Portugal) - 2:24:33 - debut
9. Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:24:34
10. Mariya Konovalova (Russia) - 2:25:18
12. Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:25:29 - PB
13. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) - 2:25:40 - PB
16. Noriko Matsuoka (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:26:54 - debut
20. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:52
21. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) - 2:30:00
24. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 2:31:28
31. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) - 2:41:22
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved