by Brett Larner
Top-seeded Lydia Cheromei (Kenya) braved windy seaside conditions to solo a course record 2:23:07 at the 4th Yokohama International Women's Marathon after breaking from the pack at only 15 km. As predicted, 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) took top Japanese honors, 2nd overall in 2:26:42 after an exciting four-way battle over the last 7 km.
The first of three major women's selection races for the 2013 Moscow World Championships, Yokohama saw Japanese women butting heads with the Federation's seemingly excessively ambitious sub-2:24 qualifying time. In difficult conditions three pacers led by the promising Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) took things out on schedule, but after Kato's departure at 14 km the pace slackened and Cheromei grew impatient. Moving ahead of remaining pacers Maria Konovalova (Russia) and Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) at 15 km she forged on ahead, fluttering on either side of the 2:23 line with the vagaries of the wind all the way to the finish and the record. Race announcer, former world record holder and Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi was critical of the top Japanese women's refusal to follow Cheromei's effort to keep things on pace and their complacency in sticking behind sagging pacers.
Shurkhno appeared to drop out ahead of schedule, leaving Konovalova to take the chase pack through 25 km. Along the way big names including Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu), Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania), Jelena Procopcuka (Latvia) and Marisa Barros (Portugal) fell off one by one until only Nasukawa, Daegu World Championships team member Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and New York City Marathon refugee Kim Smith (New Zealand) were left. Post-Konovalova, Smith was forced to take over pacing duties as Ito and Nasukawa sat behind her from 25 km to 35 km on 2:25 pace, two minutes short of the Federation standard and drifting toward 2:26.
At 35 km Barros, 3rd in Yokohama's second edition, unexpectedly regained contact with the leaders. Ito surged in response, and for the next 5 km the chase pack race took a turn for the turbulent. Each of the four women in the pack, Barros, Ito, Nasukawa and Smith, took a stab with a surge, alternately gapping the competition and playing catchup. After having done the work through the wind for 10 km Smith was the first to drop, losing touch at 39 km. Nasukawa's decisive move came at just before 40 km, putting Ito away for good and outclassing Barros with a sustained surge to the finish. In another unexpected turn veteran Procopcuka showed her savvy by coming from nowhere to run down Smith and Ito in the final km, just missing Barros but taking 4th in 2:26:55, her best time in over five years.
With a record-setting performance in difficult conditions from Cheromei, the question mark lies on Nasukawa. An exciting, powerful dismantling of the competition around her but no effort to go with the winner in pursuit of the time goal and ultimately almost three minutes shy. Will the Federation put its money where its mouth is? Will they leave Nasukawa off the World Championships team for not achieving a standard only fourteen Japanese women have ever managed? January's Osaka International Women's Marathon will give some hint but Nasukawa's fate ultimately won't be known until after April's London Marathon.
4th Yokohama International Women's Marathon
Yokohama, Kanagawa, 11/18/12
click here for complete results
1. Lydia Cheromei (Kenya) - 2:23:07 - CR
2. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:42
3. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:26:51
4. Jelena Procopcuka (Latvia) - 2:26:55
5. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:27:06
6. Kim Smith (New Zealand) - 2:27:35
7. Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:02
8. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:31:43
9. Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto) - 2:33:21
10. Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:33:21
DNF - Amy Hastings (U.S.A.)
DNF - Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu)
DNF - Adriana Nelson (U.S.A.)
DNF - Jo Pavey (GBR)
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved