by Brett Larner
Update: Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) have all withdrawn.
The first major Japanese marathon of the year takes place this Sunday with the Osaka International Women's Marathon. A small, elite-only event with an accompanying mass-participation half marathon, Osaka Women's is the second of three chances for Japanese women to make the 2013 World Championships team on home ground. The race will be broadcast live by Fuji TV starting at noon and should be available to international viewers by using Keyhole TV. JRN will also once again cover the race live on Twitter.
Last year the Japanese federation declared ambitious standards for the World Championships team, sub-2:08 for men and sub-2:24 for women. Last year's Osaka Women's winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) did it, but only fourteen Japanese women have ever cleared that standard and only two in the last five years. Amid a distinct sense of leaves changing colors three of the people who have done it will line up in Osaka, marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and two-time World Championships marathoner Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz). Shibui, the former Japanese marathon national record holder, last broke 2:24 while winning Osaka Women's in 2009 to make the Berlin World Championships team, but injuries she sustained in training for Berlin knocked her out of the top level of Japanese marathoning for almost three years until last March's Nagoya Women's Marathon where she ran a surprising 2:25:02. Noguchi has had perpetual injury problems and has only run two marathons since setting the national record in 2005, last breaking 2:24 in 2007 while setting the Tokyo International Marathon course record of 2:21:37 and making a comeback in Nagoya last year in 2:25:33. Ozaki is aiming to make a comeback of her own from childbirth, her last quality marathon coming in 2010 and her last sub-2:24 in Osaka in 2005.
Four years is a long time for an elite marathoner, let alone six or eight, but while the question facing them is whether any of them can take another step back toward their old selves, the bigger question may be whether half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) is ready to join them sub-2:24. Fukushi has run three marathons to date, two of them in Osaka and both disasters. Her only success came in Chicago two years ago where she ran 2:24:38 off a fast first half. Strong through the fall ekiden season, she was set to run the doomed New York City Marathon and carried her fitness over to a stunning run at December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden. Osaka has been unlucky for Fukushi, but with good conditions forecast at this stage this could be the race where she picks up the fallen mantle of Japanese women's marathoning and does what fans have been hoping for for years.
There isn't much international competition in Osaka Women's at the sub-2:24 level, with only two real contenders should Fukushi or the others take a serious shot at meeting the Federation's standard. Mariya Konovalova (Russia) had a long track career prior to her 2:23:50 at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, but since then she has stalled at the 2:25 level. Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) seemed to come out of nowhere last year, arriving at the 2012 Osaka International Women's Marathon with only a 2:28:14 PB and a 2:31:58 at the Daegu World Championships to her name but running near her half marathon best in the first half, faster in the second half, and clocking one of the fastest closing splits ever by a woman, 7:06 for the final 2.195 km, to set a Ukrainian national record of 2:24:46 for 2nd. And she did it again at the London Olympics, closing fast for another national record of 2:24:32 in 5th. All told she looks like the favorite on Sunday.
If the race plays out closer to 2:25 a second tier of athletes including Japanese runners Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko), Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) and Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) and overseas elites Mihaela Botezan (Romania), Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) and Lisa Jane Weightman (Australia) should add variables to the equation. Among the Japanese runners the Manabu Kawagoe-coached Watanabe is the one to watch, with 10000 m and half marathon PBs since her 2:29:20 marathon best in Nagoya last year including a 1:10:06 for 2nd at last month's Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, a minute and a half faster than Ozaki ran in the same race. 2012 winner Shigetomo's teammate Yoshie Kurusu (Team Tenmaya) in the general division is also worth keeping an eye on.
2013 Osaka International Women's Marathon Elite Field
click here for detailed field listing
31. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 2:19:12 (Berlin 2005) - withdrawn
32. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:19:41 (Berlin 2004)
38. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 2:23:30 (Osaka Women's 2003)
1. Mariya Konovalova (Russia) - 2:23:50 (Chicago 2010)
2. Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:24:32 (London Olympics 2012)
33. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 2:24:38 (Chicago 2011)
3. Mihaela Botezan (Romania) - 2:25:32 (London 2003)
34. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) - 2:25:51 (Nagoya Women's 2008) - withdrawn
35. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:26:55 (Osaka Women's 2008) - withdrawn
4. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) - 2:27:16 (Yokohama Women's 2011)
5. Lisa Jane Weightman (Australia) - 2:27:32 (London Olympics 2012)
36. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 2:28:49 (Tokyo 2011)
104. Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:28:50 (Osaka Women's 2008)
37. Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) - 2:29:20 (Nagoya Women's 2012)
105. Yoshie Kurusu (Team Tenmaya) - 1:11:22 (half)
103. Maiko Murayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 1:12:46 (half)
61. Philes Ongori (Kenya)
62. Alevtina Ivanona (Russia)
63. Azusa Nojiri (Toyama T&F Assoc.)
64. Tomomi Higuchi (Team Daihatsu)
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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