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Rikuren Announces Japanese Women's WC Marathon Team

by Brett Larner

The Japanese federation Rikuren held a press conference Apr. 21 to announce the lineup of the Japanese women's marathon team for August's Daegu World Championships and to present the ten athletes on the men's and women's teams to the media. The men's team was announced late last month, but the women's team decision was delayed until this week following the cancellation of the Nagoya International Women's Marathon after the Mar. 11 disasters.

2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) returns to lead the team on the strength of her 2:23:56 win at February's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, accompanied by Daiichi Seimei teammate and former XC skiing national team member Azusa Nojiri who ran a PB of 2:25:29 at last weekend's London Marathon to finish as the top Japanese woman among those relocated to London following Nagoya's cancellation. Both Ozaki and Nojiri are coached by 1991 World Championships women's marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita.

As expected, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), fresh from a 2:24:09 PB at the London Marathon, was named to the team along with Yokohama runner-up Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu). The surprise came with the final member of the team, as Osaka runner-up Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was named over Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido), who ran a PB of 2:25:40 in London to finish as the second Nagoya relocatee. While Fujinaga cleared Rikuren's stated criterion of a sub-2:26 clocking in difficult circumstances following Nagoya's cancellation and the disasters in Japan and finished only 11 seconds behind Nojiri, Ito, coached by Rikuren's director of road racing Tadasu Kawano, ran 2:26:55 in Osaka in very windy conditions and was 26 seconds behind Akaba. The selection of Ito over Fujinaga elicited surprise and a series of questions from journalists as to the decision's rationale. Officials said that it was a difficult decision, and that while Ito was impressively aggressive throughout the race, Fujinaga had faded in the final stages of London and was passed by Nojiri in the final km. Regardless of the reasoning, it remains a controversial decision.

Rikuren officials also announced that all ten members of the men's and women's teams would be dedicated their World Championships runs to the Run for Japan charity initiative. Ozaki and Nojiri indicated that they would do the bulk of their training in Boulder, Colorado, while Nakazato said she plans to train in Flagstaff, Arizona. Akaba and Ito said they are still considering their plans. In individual comments, all five runners said they expected heat and humidity to be a major factor in the World Championships race and would be taking that into account in their preparations. "It'll be hot and humid. I don't think it'll be a fast race," said Akaba. "Kenyans and Africans may be faster," added Nakazato, "but we Japanese are tougher. In a difficult, hot race we can hang on until the end." "I'm good in the heat and am confident of my chances," said Ozaki. "In Berlin I won a silver medal, but this time I want gold."

2011 World Championships Japanese Women's Marathon Team

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Born: July 1, 1981 (30 yrs.)
PB: 2:23:30 - 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon, 1st
Other main results:
2:23:56 - 1st, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon
2:25:25 - 2nd, 2009 Berlin World Championships Marathon
2:26:19 - 2nd, 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon

Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren)
Born: Oct. 18, 1979 (31 yrs.)
PB: 2:24:09 - 2011 London Marathon, 6th
Other main results:
2:26:29 - 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 1st
2:24:55 - 2010 London Marathon, 6th
2:25:40 - 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2nd

Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu)
Born: June 24, 1988 (23 yrs.)
PB: 2:24:29 - 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon, 2nd
Other main results:
2:34:29 - 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, 12th
2009 World Half Marathon Championships - 16th
2009 National Corporate Half Marathon Championships - 4th

Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Born: June 6, 1982 (29 yrs.)
PB: 2:25:29 - 2011 London Marathon, 12th
Other main results:
2:29:12 - 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 8th
2010 World Half Marathon Championships - 13th
former XC ski national team member

Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
Born: May 23, 1984 (27 yrs.)
PB: 2:26:55 - 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 2nd
Other main results:
2:29:13 - 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, 4th
2006 Kyoto City Half Marathon - 1st


(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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