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Gamera-Shmyrko Over Fukushi for Osaka Women's Win in 2:23:58

by Brett Larner

London Olympics marathon 5th-place Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) once again put on a show of her astounding finishing speed, running down race leader Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) in the final km to break her best for the third time in the last year as she won the 2013 Osaka International Women's Marathon in 2:23:58.  Fukushi managed a PB of 2:24:21 for 2nd, just missing the Federation's sub-2:24 requirement for a guaranteed place on the Moscow World Championships team, with 25-year-old Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) coming through with a 3 1/2 minute best for 3rd in 2:25:56.

A cold and sunny day and the carrot provided by the Federation's time goal meant a quick race.  After a rocky and erratic start the pace settled into a steady mid-to-low-2:23 groove, with Gamera-Shmyrko, Fukushi, Watanabe, 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and, in her first marathon since giving birth, Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) making up a steady pack of five trailed by assorted stragglers including Australian Lisa Jane Weightman, Poland's Karolina Jarzynska and 2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal).

As the first half of the race went by the lead group's pace strayed into world-leading high-2:22 territory.  Gamera-Shmyrko and Watanabe made what would prove to be a wise call, letting go and staying on low-2:23 pace.  The lead group gained more than 10 seconds on them, but as the pace slowed nearing halfway both women rejoined Fukushi, Ozaki and Shibui up front in relatively well-rested condition.  Fukushi made her first move near 25 km, shaking up the lead pack but not forging ahead for real until a drink station a few km later. Soon she was alone with the two pacers, Gamera-Shmyrko and Ozaki several seconds behind and Shibui and Watanabe an equal distance back from them.

Gamera-Shmyrko had a PB just sub-2:29 when she split 7:06 for the final 2.195 km to finish 2nd last year in Osaka, and given that fact and her similar performance at the London Olympics Fukushi knew that she needed to built up a margin to be able to fend off Gamera-Shmyrko's supercharged finish.  With the pacers' departure at 30 km Fukushi continued on alone at high-2:22 pace, her lead growing to 140 m by the 5 km to go sign.

Gamera-Shmyrko dropped Ozaki and started her hunt, and ahead of her Fukushi's sun began to go down.  Fukushi's splits strayed over 3:30/km, and by 40 km it was plain that the Ukrainian was going to overtake the lead.  With just under 1 km to go, turning onto the path leading into Nagai Stadium and the finish Gamera-Shmyrko blew by Fukushi looking strong and kicking the last lap of the track for her first time under 2:24 with a 7:14 closing split.  Fukushi just missed doing the same, disappointed at her loss but with the consolation of a small PB.

Further back Ozaki had faded off her aggressive early pace and was caught by the Manabu Kawagoe-coached Watanabe, whose 2:25:56 best for 3rd stands her a chance of World Championships team selection at this stage.  Ozaki took 4th in a successful comeback at age 37, but there was no luck to be had for Shibui, who faded badly and was run down by Weightman, Jarzynska and Higuchi to finish 8th.

Shibui and Fukushi trained together for Osaka, Shibui, the former marathon national record holder, offering Fukushi her support and advice and sharing her bottle after Fukushi missed hers at the first drink station.  In her post-race interview Shibui immediately asked, "Did Fukushi win?" and was visibly disappointed at the answer. Shibui's pre- and post-race comments about her future were ambiguous, leaving open the question of whether she plans to retire.  Her performance in Osaka had the feeling of being at least in part for Fukushi's benefit, an effort to try to help restore the broken lineage of Japanese women's marathoning that stretched from Naoko Takahashi to Shibui to Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex).  Although she lost the race Fukushi's performance was a big step in the right direction, confident and controlled in running world-leading pace alone and a PB even when coming up short.  But, as she laughed to her coach right after finishing, "It's going to take a little more time."

In the accompanying mass-participation half marathon, corporate runner Saki Tabata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) had an easy win over collegiates Mami Onuki (Hyogo Univ.) and Kanade Iida (Osaka Geidai Univ.) in 1:13:01 in the women's race, while 2008 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) took the men's race in 1:04:54 in a tight sprint finish over Komazawa University graduate Noritaka Fujiyama (Team Sumitomo Denko).

2013 Osaka International Women's Marathon
Osaka, 1/27/13
click here for complete results

1. Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:23:58 - PB
2. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 2:24:21 - PB
3. Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) - 2:25:56 - PB
4. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 2:26:41
5. Lisa Jane Weightman (Australia) - 2:29:09
6. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) - 2:30:29
7. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 2:32:16
8. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:32:41
9. Shiori Hayashida (Osaka Geidai Univ.) - 2:39:36 - debut
10. Yui Ouchi (Team Noritz) - 2:39:39

DNF - Mariya Konovalova (Russia)
DNF - Mihaela Botezan (Romania)

2013 Osaka Half Marathon
Osaka, 1/27/13
click here for complete results

Women
1. Saki Tabata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:13:01
2. Mami Onuki (Hyogo Univ.) - 1:15:25
3. Kanade Iida (Osaka Geidai Univ.) - 1:15:57

Men
1. Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 1:04:54
2. Noritaka Fujiyama (Team Sumitomo Denko) - 1:04:55
3. Kosuke Tsuji (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:04:58

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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