by Brett Larner
For many a long year Japanese women's marathoning has gotten far more media attention and public respect than the men; at the 2010 London Marathon the Japanese broadcast only followed the women and never mentioned that 5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and two-time World Championships team member Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) were in the men's race, even when they were inadvertently on-camera. It's telling, then, of expectations of this year's Japanese women's marathon team that government broadcaster NHK's pre-Olympic preview of six events for Japanese fans to follow prominently featured the men's marathon but said nothing about the women's marathon.
To give credit where it's due it's a good squad, featuring 2009 Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Daiichi Seimei), 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), whose 2:23:23 put her in the all-time Japanese top ten, and the fall 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), but few seriously expect them to contend against the superlative Kenyan and Ethiopian contingents or even against the miraculously high-performing Russians. For the first time all three women Olympians trained together this year, running workouts at altitude in Flagstaff and working on a Team Japan ethos, but it's the reality of the era that if the race goes out as fast as it should it'll remain to be seen whether this is enough to get them within a kilometer of the winners.
Ozaki would be the favorite among them, a silver medalist with experience and formidable closing speed, but with four serious marathons in 13 months leading into London, a breakdown at the Daegu World Championships and two stabs at qualifying for the Olympic team after being outkicked by Kizaki in Yokohama last fall there have to be at least a few question marks. After losing to Kizaki she said she wouldn't try again, but after mulling things over she took up the challenge in Nagoya only to be blown out of the water by 34-year-old Russian Albina Mayorova and her 1:10:52 second half. Will Ozaki fare better against even higher-level competition?
Shigetomo's second marathon was very solid, a 2:23:23 win in Osaka, a time good enough to land her the all-time #9 Japanese women's spot and to bump Ozaki from the top ten. Since then, however, she has stuggled, sciatic nerve problems which surfaced in mid-March forcing her to scale back her spring plans and setbacks in her final pre-London training causing her to miss workout goals. Shigetomo's coach Yutaka Taketomi has an outstanding record of taking marathoners to the Olympics, but it's equally true that his athletes have generally not lived up to the promise shown in the early-career breakthrough runs that got them there. With her reported difficulties Shigetomo looks in danger of following suit, but if she can pull things together she should be in contention for at least top ten.
Kizaki's nomination to the team over her 2:24 teammate Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) raised the odd eyebrow, but her 2:26:32 win in unseasonably hot conditions in Yokohama counted for more than a faster losing time in the eyes of the selection committee, particularly when she did it by outkicking Ozaki who in turn outkicked Nakazato at the final selection race in Nagoya. With only three marathons to her name there isn't much to go on beyond this single success, but if the race is slower than expected or if the midday temperatures turn hot Kizaki could emerge as a darkhorse.
Detailed bios follow:
Corporate Team: Daihatsu
Born: June 21, 1985 in Kyoto
Graduated: Bukkyo Univ.
Coach: Kiyoji Hayashi
marathon: 2:26:32 - Yokohama, 2011
half-marathon: 1:10:16 - Yamaguchi, 2009
10000 m: 31:38.71 - Niigata, 2011
5000 m: 15:35.12 - Hiroshima, 2009
2:26:32 - 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon (autumn), 1st
2:29:35 - 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 5th
2:27:34 - 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 6th
Corporate Team: Daiichi Seimei
Born: July 1, 1981 in Kanagawa
Graduated: Soyo H.S.
Coach: Sachiko Yamashita
marathon: 2:23:30 - Tokyo International, 2008
half-marathon: 1:09:26 - Udine, 2007
10000 m: 31:47.23 - Kobe, 2005
5000 m: 15:28.55 - Tottori, 2004
2:24:14 - 2012 Nagoya Women's Marathon, 2nd
2:26:49 - 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon (autumn), 2nd
2:32:31 - 2011 Daegu World Championships, 18th
2:23:56 - 2011 Yokohama International Women's Marathon (spring), 1st - CR
2:32:26 - 2010 London Marathon, 10th
2:25:25 - 2009 Berlin World Championships, 2nd
2:23:30 - 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon, 1st
2:26:19 - 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, 2nd
Corporate Team: Tenmaya
Born: Aug. 29, 1987 in Okayama
Graduated: Kojokan H.S.
Coach: Yutaka Taketomi
marathon: 2:23:23 - Osaka International, 2012 (all-time Japanese #9)
half-marathon: 1:10:58 - Osaka International, 2012
10 km: 32:38 - Okayama, 2010
5000 m: 15:32.41 - Himeji, 2006
2:23:23 - 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon, 1st
2:31:28 - 2011 London Marathon, 24th
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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