Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fukushi and Noguchi Headline 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner

The organizers of the 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon have come out with the elite field for the Jan. 29 Olympic selection edition of the historic event.  Although the field includes veteran defending Olympic gold medalist Constantina Dita (Romania), it's no secret that this race will be noteworthy for one reason: Noguchi vs. Fukushi.

Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medalist, has run only two marathons since winning her medal, her 2:19:12 national record in Berlin '05 and her 2:21:37 CR at the old Tokyo International Women's Marathon in '07.  Beset by serial injuries since then, she is set to make a comeback and to go for the London Olympic team in Osaka.  Multiple national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) will be going up against her in her third marathon, with a failed debut in Osaka '08 and a decent 2:24:38 follow-up for 3rd at this fall's Chicago Marathon.  Noguchi, who will do her final tune-up on Friday at the Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, is talking tough about running an aggressive race, while Fukushi sounds uncharacteristically cautious.  Regardless, if both are close to 100% then it is unlikely the race will be slow enough for anyone else to factor in.

Only Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) or Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) could conceivably contend.  Nojiri, a former pro XC skiier and teammate of '09 WC silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki, ran her PB of 2:25:29 in difficult circumstances at London this year and was responsible for getting the Daegu World Championships marathon on track after a slow start, but she would need a major improvement is Osaka to have a shot at an Olympic spot.  Shigetomo had a disappointing debut in London this year, but Tenmaya runners, including general division entrant  Naoko Sakamoto, have a history of running well in Olympic and World Championships selection races, if seldom again.  Shigetomo had an outstanding run at last weekend's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships and, without the disruption to her training that she faced in shifting from Nagoya to London following March's disasters, she may be the safest bet for a top three finish outside the two big stars.

Rikuren, the Japanese federation, has not announced clear-cut selection criteria for the London Olympics marathon team.  Given the slow 2:26:32 winning time at the first selection race, last month's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, it's possible that both Noguchi and Fukushi could be chosen on the strength of their Osaka performances, but it would likely take each of them pushing the other to the fastest Japanese women's time since Noguchi's '07 Tokyo International record for that to happen.  And that will require both arriving on the starting line in one piece.

2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon Elite Field
and selected general division entrants
click here for complete elite field

Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 2:19:12 (Berlin '05)
Constantina Dita (Romania) - 2:21:30 (Chicago '05)
Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) - 2:21:51 (Osaka Int'l '03)
Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 2:24:38 (Chicago '11)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:25:10 (Hokkaido '09)
Lidiya Grigoryeva (Russia) - 2:25:10 (Los Angeles '06)
Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:25:29 (London '11)
Mihaela Botezan (Romania) - 2:25:32 (London '03)
Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:11 (Hokkaido '02)
Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:26:55 (Osaka Int'l 08)
Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:28:14 (Krakow '11)
Irene Kemunto Mogaka (Kenya) - 2:30:10 (Los Angeles '09)
Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 2:31:28 (London '11)

Pacers
Aniko Kalovics (Hungary)
Julia Mumbi (Kenya)
Chizuru Ideta (Team Daihatsu)
Kumi Ogura (Team Shikoku Denryoku)

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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