by Brett Larner
Near typhoon conditions throughout Japan on Friday and Saturday brought a nationwide heat wave and strong winds on Sunday, less than ideal for a handful of major races across the country.
The biggest of them, the Olympic selection-edition Yokohama International Women's Marathon, turned into a race of attrition decided by a final kick to the new waterfront finish, Yokohama's third course in three runnings. With all three female pacemakers running into trouble and dropping out suddenly at 8, 12 and 19 km rather than the planned 25 km, the race proceeded slower than the planned 2:22 pace, but favorites nevertheless dropped behind one by one. After a conservative first half far behind the lead pack, 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Mara Yamauchi (Great Britain) took the lead just before 25 km. After a big move from Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) at 31 km the race came down to three, defending champion Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) and the young Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) tailing behind leader Yamauchi. Kizaki and Ozaki began trading surges with 3 km to go in a dramatic turn. 3 seconds behind Ozaki with one km to go, the final decision coming to a blazing move by Kizaki with 600 m meters to go that left the strong-kicking Ozaki 17 seconds behind. Kizaki won in 2:26:32 with Ozaki, whose coach said she was dealing with anemia issues, 2nd in 2:26:49 and Yamauchi 3rd in a strong 2:27:24 after a long period of injury. Nagao faded to a distant 4th in 2:29:43, with South African Rene Kalmer an unexpected 5th in 2:29:59. Click here for complete Yokohama results.
Of the top three, Brit Yamauchi is the only one with better than even odds of making the Olympics. The Japanese federation did not declare explicit criteria pre-race for securing a place on the Olympic team. Ozaki has no chance of making the team on a 2nd-place finish, and with Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) placing 5th at the Daegu World Championships and marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and half-marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) both with their hats in the ring for the remaining two selection races Kizaki looks a little unlikely to be chosen off a 2:26 unless January's Osaka International Women's Marathon or March's Nagoya Women's Marathon play out to be unduly slow.
At the Ageo City Half Marathon, one of the world's deepest races, last year's runner-up Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), winner of last month's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km, became the first Kenyan to win an Ageo title, running a PB 1:02:27 to beat Toyo University sophomore Yuta Shitara and senior Kento Otsu、2nd and 3rd in 1:02:35 and 1:02:43. Ondiba also broke Waseda University's streak of Ageo wins, with the top-ranked Waseda University runner, Yuki Maeda, only 4th in 1:03:16. Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) ran 1:04:13 for 18th. Defending women's winner Miya Nishio ran 1:13:32 to win again, improving her time from last year by 35 seconds despite more difficult conditions. All told, 294 runners broke 70 minutes. Click here for complete results.
Another Waseda runner, however, did score a newsworthy and unexpected win. At the first running of the 23,000-strong Kobe Marathon, Waseda senior Takuya Nakayama, son of former national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama and largely absent from Waseda's ekiden squad throughout his university career despite running sub-29 in high school, front-ran the entire race in his marathon debut despite strong headwinds throughout the race. Nakayama ran only 2:24:13 for the win, but his performance nevertheless resonated with Japanese fans as it evoked a strong memory of his front-running father. Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ. AC) became the first women's champion in 2:40:45, outkicking veteran Chihiro Tanaka (AthleC AC) to take the win. 59+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) had a good tune-up run for next month's Fukuoka International Marathon, running 2:49:22. Click here for top results.
At the Nishi-Kanasa 14 km mountain road race, women's course record holder Minami Yamanouchi, 18, ran just two seconds off last year's record time, clocking 54:39 despite the conditions. Now graduated from high school, Yamanouchi is continuing to run with a local club in her hometown of Koriyama, Fukushima, an agricultural area hard-hit by March's nuclear disaster.
Overseas, Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) came up short in her first solo race since May, 2008. After co-leading the Netherlands' 7 Hills Loop 15 km with eventual winner Waganesh Mekasha (Ethiopia) through 5 km in 16:25 Noguchi began to feel discomfort in her left knee, reportedly stopping briefly at 11 km and splitting 17:13 for the final 5 km. Mekasha clocked 48:32, with Meijo University ace Aki Odagiri 2nd in 49:42 by one second over teammate Ayame Takagi. Noguchi fell to 5th in 50:23, clouding the optimism around her comeback to the marathon distance at January's upcoming Osaka International Women's Marathon. Click here for complete 7 Hills results.
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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