by Brett Larner
After heavy pre-race favorite Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) faltered soon into the second half of the Jan. 29 Osaka International Women's Marathon, second-time marathoner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) was there to pick up the pieces as she took eight minutes off her debut time from last year's London Marathon to win in 2:23:23, the fastest time by a Japanese woman since Mizuki Noguchi's 2:21:37 course record at the Nov., 2007 Tokyo International Women's Marathon. Shigetomo's performance puts her as the leading contender for a spot on the Olympic team with one selection race to go, and barring a slew of spectacular runs at the Mar. 11 Nagoya Women's Marathon she is likely to become the fourth-straight Tenmaya runner to make an Olympic team. Ukrainian Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko and former pro XC skiier Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) also ran well, both running new PBs under 2:25 to take 2nd and 3rd after Gamera-Shmyrko ran a solid negative split to pass Nojiri coming onto the track.
The race went out largely according to schedule, with a group of four pacers taking the lead pack out on low-2:22 pace with Fukushi patiently staying at the back of the group. Gamera-Shmyrko, running a crafty race, hung back with veterans Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) and Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) in the second pack. By 20 km the lead pack was down to pacer Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku), Fukushi, Nojiri and Shigetomo as the pace ratcheted down into 2:21 territory. Shimizu, with a half marathon PB of 1:12:22, deserves significant props for taking the leaders through halfway in 1:10:58 after the premature exit of the other pacers. Nojiri fell away before the 22 km turnaround, and when Shimizu finished her duties a few hundred m later it was down to a duel between Shigetomo and Fukushi.
Surprisingly it was Shigetomo, impressively relaxed and smooth, who did the breaking as she took the pace under 3:20/km, opening a few m on Fukushi. The separation turned into a gap, and by 27 Shigetomo was free. She sailed on at sub-2:22 pace before slowing in the later km, but her final time of 2:23:23, very close to pre-race best-case scenario expectations, was the 17th-fastest ever by a Japanese woman and made her the all-time 9th-best Japanese woman, a welcome newcomer and a good start to the year if somewhat pale behind the glow of Friday's Dubai Marathon where the task of what Japanese women face if they hope to regain their global medal competitiveness was made more than clear.
Fukushi faded and was run down first by Nojiri, then others one by one. Nojiri was strong over the final km, taking over 30 seconds off her PB despite getting caught by the fast-closing Gamera-Shmyrko, who took 3 1/2 minutes off her best and opened 11 seconds on Nojiri over the final 400 m lap of the track with a 7:06 final 2.195 km split, the fastest in the field by a wide margin. Second-packers Horie and Shimahara both just went under 2:30, Shimahara in her final race before taking time off to start a family. Fukushi dropped as far as 9th, finishing only 2 1/2 minutes faster than her disastrous debut four years ago. Having said that she is not thinking about the track at all for the London Olympics despite running sub-31 less than a year ago, Fukushi's next move remains a question mark. At this stage with one selection race remaining Shigetomo and Daegu World Championships 5th-placer Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) look very solid for the Olympic marathon team, with the final place a toss-up between Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) and the winner in Nagoya. With the Osaka results in hand expect Akaba to make an announcement shortly on whether she will run next month's Tokyo Marathon or try to improve her standing in Nagoya.
The Osaka Half Marathon, held concurrently with the marathon, continued its development into a significant early-year event with decently strong performances on both the men's and women's sides. 2:11 marathoner Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei), in a tuneup for the Tokyo Marathon, won the men's race in 1:03:54 two seconds ahead of fellow 2:11 man Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku). Maiko Murayama (Team Yamada Denki) had the women's win by over a minute, running 1:12:46.
2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon
click here for complete results
1. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 2:23:23 - PB
2. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:24:46 - PB
3. Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:24:57 - PB
4. Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:28:35
5. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:29:51
6. Yumi Sato (Team Shiseido) - 2:32:49
7. Irene Mogaka (Kenya) - 2:35:36
8. Lauren Shelley (Australia) - 2:35:57
9. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 2:37:35
10. Naoko Sakamoto (Team Tenmaya) - 2:39:27
11. Constantina Dita (Romania) - 2:40:08
DNF - Lidiya Grigoryeva (Russia)
2012 Osaka Half Marathon
click here for complete results
1. Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:03:54
2. Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:03:56
3. Kenichi Shiraishi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:03:57
4. Takanobu Otsubo (Osaka Police Dept.) - 1:03:57
5. Noritaka Fujiyama (Team Sumco) - 1:04:11
1. Maiko Murayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 1:12:46
2. Yui Ouchi (Team Noritz) - 1:13:58
3. Kanade Iida (Osaka Geidai Univ.) - 1:14:19
4. Rei Miura (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:14:24
5. Shiori Hayashida (Osaka Geidai Univ.) - 1:15:04
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved