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World Championships Women's Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

A few months ago JRN had dinner with an executive member of an IAAF gold label overseas marathon.  "The World Championships marathon doesn't matter," this colleague told us.  "Nobody cares about it."  That may be true many places, but in Japan, where most athletes receive regular salaries and do not have agents pushing them into overseas big money races, patriotism still counts for more than the shot at a big payday and the country's best marathoners regularly line up for the chance to represent their country at the World Championships.  Even more so in years like this which precede an Olympics because if a Japanese athlete scores an individual marathon medal at Worlds their place on the Olympic team is secure.  The results speak for themselves.  In the last 20 years Japanese women have scored nine individual marathon medals at eight out of ten World Championships and the men at three along with team medals from both sides virtually every time.  For better or for worse, in the court of Japanese public opinion these medals mean far more than an equivalent placing at any of the World Marathon Majors would.

This year's team is no exception.  2009 World Championships silver medalist and 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) and 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) lead a team of five supported by three youngers runners each in her third marathon, Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu), Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku).  Read on for detailed profiles and season reviews of each athlete.

2011 World Championships Japanese Women's Marathon Team

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Born: July 1, 1981 (30 yrs.)
PB: 2:23:30 - 1st, 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon (all-time Japanese #10)
half marathon: 1:09:26
10000 m: 31:47.23
5000 m: 15:28.55

Other major career results:
2:23:56 - 1st, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon - CR
2:25:25 - 2nd, 2009 Berlin World Championships Marathon
2:26:19 - 2nd, 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon

Ozaki, coached by 1991 World Championships silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita, scored her silver medal at the 2009 World Championships the same way she won the 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon, with a long drive over the final kilometers, losing out only to a blazing last kick from China's Xue Bai.  Relatively flat throughout 2010, she suffered a bad fall in training late in the year but came back to win February's Yokohama International Women's Marathon in course-record time with a powerful long surge over the final three kilometers.  Since then she has rounded back into shape nicely, with a long training camp in Boulder culminating in a 50 km run with a focus on a long push at the end.  All systems appear to be go at this stage, so look for Ozaki to be shooting for gold with another long surge.

Results 2010-2011:
20:52 - 3rd, 2011 Steamboat Classic 4-Miler, Peoria, IL
33:30 - 13th, 2011 New York Mini 10 km, NY, NY
2:23:56 - 1st, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon - CR
1:11:02 - 9th, 2010 World Half Marathon Championships, Nanning, China
2:32:26 - 13th, 2010 London Marathon, London, UK
1:10:06 - 2nd, 2010 National Corporate Half Marathon Championships
32:19 - 5th, 2010 National Women's Ekiden 9th Stage (10 km)


Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren)
Born: Oct. 18, 1979 (31 yrs.)
PB: 2:24:09 - 6th, 2011 London Marathon
half-marathon: 1:08:11 (all-time Japanese # 3)
10000 m: 31:15.34 (all-time Japanese # 5)
5000 m: 15:06.07 (all-time Japanese # 4)

Other major career results:
2:26:29 - 1st, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon
2:24:55 - 6th, 2010 London Marathon
2:25:40 - 2nd, 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon - debut

Akaba returned in late 2007 from having a baby to become one of the best track runners in Japanese history.  Although she has the ambition and potential for 2:21 or better her marathon time has not yet matched her other bests in quality.  Nevertheless, since debuting in 2009 she has made gradual, steady improvement, taking 45 seconds off in 2010 and another 46 seconds this year.  Daegu will be her third marathon of the year after a 2:26:29 win at January's windy Osaka and a 2:24:09 PB for 6th at London in April.  Akaba has not raced since London but has been training steadily at altitude in Boulder and the reports on her coach's blog are positive.  Two strokes against her are her disastrous performances on the track at the Beijing Olympics and in the marathon at the Berlin World Championships, but like Ozaki, at this stage it looks like a green light for Akaba to be in medal contention.

Results 2010-2011:
2:24:09 - 6th, 2011 London Marathon, London, UK - PB
2:26:29 - 1st, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon
31:55 - 2nd, 2010 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships 3rd Stage (10 km)
32:26.25 - 4th, 2010 National Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m
1:12:57 - 3rd, 2010 Shibetsu Half Marathon
1:13:30 - 7th, 2010 Sapporo International Half Marathon
15:41.96 - 4th, 2010 National T&F Championshiops 5000 m
32:36.32 - 3rd, 2010 National T&F Championships 10000 m
2:24:55 - 6th, 2010 London Marathon, London, UK
1:11:09 - 2nd, 2010 Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon
DNF - 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon


Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu)
Born: June 24, 1988 (23 yrs.)
PB: 2:24:29 - 2nd, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon
half-marathon: 1:10:03
10000 m: 31:53.22
5000 m: 15:38.50

Other major career results:
2:34:29 - 12th, 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - debut
1:10:40 - 16th, 2009 World Half Marathon Championships, Birmingham, UK
1:10:03 - 4th, 2009 National Corporate Half Marathon Championships - PB

The youngest member of the team, Nakazato was very impressive in her 2nd-place finish at Yokohama in February as she stuck with the more-experienced Ozaki and Portugal's Marisa Barros in the late stages of the race on track for a ten-minute PB.  Nakazato tried to go with Ozaki's crushing surge with 3 km to go, but while she may have come up short she exhibited clear potential to run faster.  Since then her major performance was a 2nd-place finish at June's National T&F Championships 10000 m, not far off her PB despite humid conditions.  There have been no media reports on her World Championships preparations but it looks as though there is reason to be optimistic about her chances.

Results 2010-2011:
32:20.81 - 2nd, 2011 National T&F Championships 10000 m
2:24:29 - 2nd, 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon - PB
33:50 - 15th, 2011 National Women's Ekiden 9th Stage (10 km)
38:25 - 5th, 2010 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships 5th Stage (11.6 km)
15:38.50 - 1st, 2010 Nittai Univ. Time Trials 5000 m - PB
31:53.22 - 2nd, 2010 Niigata Big Athletics Festa 10000 m - PB
33:43 - 2nd, 2010 Shibetsu 10 km Road Race
32:12.10 - 2nd, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m
2:34:29 - 12th, 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - debut


Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei)
Born: June 6, 1982 (29 yrs.)
PB: 2:25:29 - 12th, 2011 London Marathon
half marathon: 1:10:53
5000 m: 15:43.94


Other major career results:
2:29:12 - 8th, 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon - debut
1:11:35 - 13th, 2010 World Half Marathon Championships, Nanning, China
1st, 2003-2005 Fuji Mountain Race (21 km with 3006 m climb)

Also coached by Yamashita at Daiichi Seimei, Nojiri has had a very interesting career path on the way to Worlds, a former champion mountain racer and national team-level pro XC skiier who only made the switch to full-time running in August, 2008.  Caught in the Christchurch earthquake along with Akaba and Ito while training for March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon and returning to Japan only to go through the Tohoku disasters and Nagoya's subsequent cancellation, Nojiri was forced to run London in order to qualify for the Daegu team.  Despite all these setbacks she clocked a nearly four-minute PB in London, attacking late in the race to overtake two-time World Championships team member Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) and secure her spot on the team.  Easily recognizable thanks to her bouncy, energetic form, Nojiri could be in contention for a top ten finish after training with Ozaki in Boulder.

Results 2010-2011:
2:25:29 - 12th, 2011 London Marathon - PB
38:14 - 2nd, 2010 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships 5th Stage (11.6 km)
1:11:35 - 13th, 2010 World Half Marathon Championships, Nanning, China
15:58.50 - 12th, 2010 National Corporate T&F Championships 5000 m
1:12:02 - 2nd, 2010 Sapporo International Half Marathon
2:29:12 - 8th, 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon - debut
32:49 - 13th, 2010 National Women's Ekiden 9th Stage (10 km)


Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku)
Born: May 23, 1984 (27 yrs.)
PB: 2:26:55 - 2nd, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon
half marathon: 1:11:11
10000 m: 32:14.43
5000 m: 15:48.35

Other major career results:
2:29:13 - 4th, 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - debut
1:11:11 - 1st, 2006 Kyoto City Half Marathon - PB

Ito has the weakest PB on the team, but her times in her two marathons to date don't tell the full story of her potential in the marathon.  In both her debut at the 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon and her follow-up in Osaka this past January she was the most aggressive runner in the field, attacking the better-credentialed leaders after 30 km before fading.  She lasted longer running into the headwind in Osaka than she did in Nagoya, so although she has not raced particularly well since then a similar progression in her stamina in Daegu would put her up with the best on the team.  Her coach Tadasu Kawano, who coached Takayuki Inubushi to Japan's first 2:06 men's marathon back in the 90's on a diet of higher quality and lower quantity than 'standard' Japanese training, had Ito do a hilly 30 km run on one of Boulder's hottest days of the summer to prepare for the Daegu conditions.  Ito sounds positive despite a disappointing showing at July's hot Shibetsu Half Marathon.

Results 2010-2011:
1:16:15 - 7th, 2011 Shibetsu Half Marathon
32:59.25 - 2nd, 2011 Kansai Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m
16:10.29 - 5th, 2011 Kansai Corporate T&F Championships 5000 m
15:55.64 - 6th, 2011 Oda Memorial T&F Meet 5000 m
32:54.15 - 8th, 2011 Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m
2:26:55 - 2nd, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon - PB
33:07 - 12th, 2011 National Women's Ekiden 9th Stage (10 km)
32:00 - 3rd, 2010 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships 3rd Stage (10 km)
32:21.37 - 3rd, 2010 National Corporate T&F Championships 10000 m
33:44 - 3rd, 2010 Shibetsu 10 km Road Race
9:32.56 - 2nd, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Kushiro Meet 3000 m
15:48.35 - 2nd, 2010 Hokuren Distance Challenge Shibetsu Meet 5000 m - PB
33:08.38 - 7th, 2010 National T&F Championships 10000 m
32:15.91 - 4th, 2010 Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m
2:29:13 - 4th, 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon - debut

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

yuza said…
I have mixed emotions about the Japanese giving an Olympic spot to a medallist from the preceding World Championships.

In essence it is a really good idea and it worked wonderfully for Noguchi in Athens, but after Beijing and the Tosa debacle I hope they have a better contingency plan if one of the women medal in Daegu. Basically in Beijing Tosa was not fit, and she had not been fit for most of the year, so why on earth she was allowed to run is still beyond me.

I just hope that if one of them does medal in Daegu her fitness is scrutinised a lot more closely leading up to the Olympics. Obviously I think this should apply across the board for all competitors in the marathon.

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