Friday, December 27, 2013

The Top Ten Japanese Women of 2013

by Brett Larner
click here for Japanese men's 2013 rankings

Where 2012 was largely negative, 2013 was a mixed year for Japanese women.  On the one hand a Japanese woman won a World Championships marathon medal, another placed 3rd in the even more competitive London Marathon, there was a new all-time Japanese #3 mark for 10000 m, and the state of Japanese women's half marathoning seemed to turn around from its recent slide with a sub-1:09 for the first time since 2009 and five women sub-1:10, the most since 2008.  On the other hand there were only three marathoners at the Moscow World Championships thanks to new tough love policies from the Federation with just two finishing, only seven women broke 2:27, none went under 15:20 for 5000 m, and the nominally elite Yokohama International Women's Marathon registered barely a blip of significance on the international radar.

Marathon national record holder and Athens Olympics gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) improbably made it back to the national team level for the Moscow World Championships after years of injury but then dropped out partway. Collegiate women regained a season-ending national championship ekiden with the new Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden, but another women-only race, the Matsue Women's Half Marathon, announced plans to move to a mixed format.  JADA announced a domestic biological passport system, but marathoner Kaori Yoshida (Puma RC) tested positive for EPO.  The Federation established a support service for athlete victims of sexual and power abuse, but revelations came out that national champion Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. ekiden team members, including girls, had been regularly beaten by their coach.  With the balance of good and bad there's no telling where things are headed, but there is telling where they have been.  Using a scoring system that takes into account quality, range and performance relative to rivals, JRN ranked the top ten individual Japanese women of the year.



1. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 260.5 pts.

half marathon: 1:08:59 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013
marathon: 2:24:43 - 3rd, London Marathon, 4/21/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - 1:11:31
6th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 33:17.13
9th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 16:18.68
1st, Gold Coast Marathon, 7/7/13 - 2:27:17 - CR
2nd, Hokkaido Marathon, 8/25/13 - 2:32:10
2nd, Lille International Half Marathon, 8/31/13 - 1:10:24
7th, Chicago Marathon, 10/13/13 - 2:27:49
4th, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (12.2 km), 11/3/13 - 40:00
2nd, East Japan Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 11/10/13 - 32:23
6th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 36:33
2nd, Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, 12/23/13 - 1:09:24

Akaba, one of Japan's best-ever over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, had a busy year, with two of the fastest Japanese women's half marathons of 2013 and four marathons including three top-three finishes, one a course record win at July's Gold Coast Marathon. Her 2:24:43 3rd place finish at April's London Marathon was one of the best results of the year by a Japanese woman but fell through the cracks of the Federation's arcane selection system for the Moscow World Championships women's marathon.  Akaba stayed home in favor of empty seats despite delivering a better performance in a more competitive race than others who did make the team, an outcome that didn't generate the talk it should have about how a system that generated this situation came to be in place.

In London Akaba displayed the familiar race strategy that came into play countless other times in her busy 2013 schedule, ignoring the pack's motion and letting them go before turning it on late in the race and trying to run down as many people as possible.  It was a strategy that succeeded in netting her seven noteworthy podium finishes over the course of the year, but only two wins.  Having announced her retirement after January's Osaka International Women's Marathon hopefully she is planning to go on top and run for the win in her last major race.

2. Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) - 210 pts.

5000 m: 15:26.61 - 1st, Nittai University Time Trials, 11/30/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013
10000 m: 32:05.88 - 1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
20th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:50
1st, Hyogo Relay Carnival 5000 m Asics Challenge, 4/20/13 - 16:06.43
6th, Oda Memorial Meet 5000 m Grand Prix, 4/28/13 - 15:43.82
4th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat A, 5/11/13 - 15:34.40
8th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 16:17.96
12th, National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 6/9/13 - 15:53.79
9th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13, 32:24.42
1st, Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials 5000 m Heat Four, 10/12/13 - 15:45.29
3rd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.795 km), 11/3/13 - 21:55
12th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:10

A major college star who had a rough transition to the pro circuit, Nishihara weathered tough times at the Yamada Denki team this year as a large number of members including her former Bukkyo University teammate Hikari Yoshimoto quit in March.  Off more than on, she had four strong wins on the track including a win over top ten-ranked women Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) at the Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet in July that played a large role in her placement high up on the year-end rankings.  Strong throughout October and November with two 5000 m wins on the track and a 3rd-place finish on the East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage she looked set for a good run at December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden but faltered, finishing only 12th.  Here's hoping 2014 is a better year for her and Yamada Denki, which sports several talented younger runners in its post-shakeup lineup.

3. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 150 pts.

marathon: 2:23:34 - 1st, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/10/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
5th, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:27
4th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13 - 2:31:28
1st, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.7 km), 10/27/13 - 21:19
1st, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 12/15/13 - 32:40

Kizaki didn't race much in 2013 but when she did was reliable and brought her best.  Her 2:23:34 win at March's Nagoya Women's Marathon, the fastest Japanese time of the year and just outside the all-time Japanese top ten, made her the only Japanese athlete, male or female, to meet the Federation's sub-2:08/sub-2:24 criteria for automatic nomination to the Moscow World Championships team, and in Moscow she lived up to that with a 4th-place finish.  After some down time she returned for ekiden season with stage wins at both the West Japan qualifier and Nationals in December.  Kizaki has had several good years in a row now and has proven herself capable in both hot and cold conditions.  Hopefully in 2014 she'll take another big chunk out of her marathon best ahead of the big races to come in 2015 and 2016.

3. Hitomi Niiya (Team Universal Entertainment) - 150 pts.

10000 m: 30:56.70 - 5th, Moscow World Championships, 8/11/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13  - 31:17
1st, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:00
82nd, World Cross-Country Championships Senior Women's 8 km, 3/24/13 - 27:20
1st, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 31:06.67 - MR

Tied with Kizaki for #3 of the year is 10000 m national champion Niiya, who like Kizaki raced sparsely but seriously.  After wins on the National Women's Ekiden's most competitive stage and at the Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet she had a disastrous run on the tough World Cross Country Championships course, finishing 82nd.  She came back in June for a 10000 m win at the National Championships, lapping the entire field in a meet record 31:06.67 despite running the first 3000 m in 9:32 with the lead pack.  Niiya's run in the 10000 m at the Moscow World Championships was a credit to Japanese distance running as a whole, taking the lead at PB pace and relentlessly pushing to burn off competition despite the inevitable outcome and despite having been so nervous pre-race that she started crying while walking to the starting line.

30:56.70 was a great time that improved her standing as the third-fastest Japanese woman ever, but 5th was not what she went to Moscow for.  "I feel like I shouldn't be here," she said in a painfully devastated and sincere interview immediately post-race.  "There's no reason to be Worlds if you can't medal."  A while later she tweeted, "I think that race might have killed my career." Niiya hasn't raced since Worlds, reportedly due to injuries, and has in the past had incidents where she has quit the sport and left her sponsoring team due to stress.  One of the most original and interesting runners in Japan today, hopefully she'll have things worked out and be back in action soon.

5. Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 140.4 pts.

half-marathon: 1:09:18 - 2nd, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
13th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:35
3rd, Chiba International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 8 km, 2/10/13 - 26:53
4th, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:44
75th, World Cross-Country Championships Senior Women's 8 km, 3/24/13 - 26:56
12th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m Heat One, 4/28/13 - 32:25.05
5th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 32:37.10
16th, National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 6/9/13 - 15:58.72
1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13 - 15:45.57
3rd, Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, 9/15/13 - 1:10:02
2nd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Fourth Stage (3.8 km), 11/3/13 - 12:08

One of the legion of Team Daiichi Seimei runners to make big gains in the half marathon this year, Tanaka ran one of the fastest Japanese times in years to take 2nd behind Akaba at March's National Corporate Half Marathon in 1:09:18.  With a series of ups and downs throughout the spring and summer she seemed to get into a good rhythm in the fall with a 3rd-place finish at September's Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, a 2nd-place finish on her stage at November's East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden and tweets about ambitious half marathon goals in the winter, but following East Japan she disappeared and did not start for Daiichi Seimei at Nationals in December.  No doubt sidelined with injury, Tanaka doesn't seem likely to resurface at the half marathon distance before February at the earliest.

6. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 126 pts.

10000 m: 32:07.41 - 3rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #6 Japanese, 2013
half marathon: 1:10:00 - 3rd, Berlin Half Marathon, 4/7/13 - #6 Japanese, 2013
marathon: 2:28:37 - 7th, London Marathon, 4/21/13 - #10 Japanese, 2013


Other major performances:
11th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:28
2nd, Kansai Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/17/13 - 16:02.98
3rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13 - 15:49.41
1st, Shibetsu Half Marathon, 7/21/13 - 1:12:27
3rd, Hokkaido Marathon, 8/25/13 - 2:32:54
4th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 32:09.16
7th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/21/13 - 15:52.53
13th, National Sports Festival 5000 m, 10/4/13 - 15:54.32
2nd, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 32:34
4th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 36:29
8th, Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, 12/23/13 - 1:11:06

Daegu World Championships marathoner Ito was very busy in 2013 but never seemed to step into the spotlight, her best results being a 3rd-place 1:10:00 PB finish at the Berlin Half Marathon in April, a 32:07.41 track 10000 m PB in July and a 1:12:27 win at the hot Shibetsu Half Marathon two weeks later.  Even her two double-digit finishes this year, 11th on the 10.0 km Ninth Stage at January's National Women's Ekiden and 13th at the National Sports Festival 5000 m in October, were decent time-wise, 32:28 and 15:54.32 respectively.  She ran well in ekiden season, but finishing only 8th at the year-ending Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, one of the selection races for the Japanese 2014 World Half Marathon Championships team, it seems likely she'll turn up at the National Corporate Half Marathon in February to try to firm up her standing for the Copenhagen team.

7. Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 108 pts.

5000 m: 15:21.73 - 2nd, National Track and Field Championships, 6/9/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:35
10th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - 1:11:16
3rd, National Corporate Women's 10 km, 3/17/13 - 32:58
6th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 5000 m Heat One, 4/28/13 - 15:27.84
9th, Moscow World Championships 5000 m Heat One, 8/14/13 - 16:16.52
1st, National Sports Festival 5000 m, 10/4/13 - 15:43.03
3rd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Second Stage (3.1 km), 11/3/13 - 9:33
1st, Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 11/10/13 - 19:08
3rd, International Chiba Ekiden Fourth Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 15:53
2nd, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Second Stage (3.9 km), 12/15/13 - 12:22

Onishi has shown steady improvement over the last few years and ran well in the 5000 m at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in April but was still a surprise when she broke the Moscow World Championships 5000 m B-standard for the first time to win the national title at June's National Championships (behind Kenyan pacer Felista Wanjugu of Team Universal Entertainment) in the fastest Japanese time of the year.  Onishi was a bust at Worlds, finishing 9th in her heat, but since then has been rock-solid, winning the National Sports Festival 5000 m in October and placing in the top three in all four of her road performances during ekiden season.  With quality training partners including 2013 top ten placer Yuko Shimizu Onishi should have plenty of chances to keep building on an overall successful year.

8. Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) - 103.25 pts.

10000 m: 32:08.73 - 4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #8 Japanese, 2013
half-marathon: 1:09:45 - 3rd, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
2nd, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:11
2nd, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 32:32.15
9th, Oda Memorial Meet 5000 m Grand Prix, 4/28/13 - 15:46.94
4th, Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/11/13 - 16:27.16
5th, Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 34:42.92
DNF, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13
4th, Lille International Half Marathon, 8/31/13 - 1:11:24
5th, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.8 km), 10/27/13 - 36:20
6th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 12/15/13 - 33:56

Another in the line of top talent to come through the Tenmaya corporate team, Ohara placed in the top five in nearly every race she ran this year, whether on the track or on the road, domestically or abroad. Her 3rd place finish at the National Corporate Half Marathon in March in 1:09:45 was her best performance of the year, #4 among Japanese women for 2013.  Another possibility for the Copenhagen World Half Marathon team, the 23-year-old Ohara may also follow the Tenmaya trend toward an early marathon debut in the next year or so.

9. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 103 pts.

10000 m: 32:07.70 - 8th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #7 Japanese, 2013
half marathon: 1:09:32 - 3rd, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
10th, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:58
2nd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 32:16.58
1st, East Asian Games 10000 m, 10/8/13 - 32:50.42 - MR
5th, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (12.2 km), 11/3/13 - 40:03
3rd, East Japan Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 11/10/13 - 19:45
1st, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 35:51

Ekiden specialist Shimizu ran big in the half marathon this year with a 1:09:32 for 3rd at the Marugame International Half, #3 for the year behind Akaba and Tanaka, before switching gears to the track with quality 10000 m runs at Payton Jordan and the National Championships.  In the fall she picked up East Asian Games 10000 m in a meet record 32:50.42, and in ekiden season she showed what she does best, going from 5th on her stage at the East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden to 3rd on her stage a week later at the East Japan Women's Ekiden before ending her year with a win on the longest stage at the National Corporate Women's Ekiden.  Like others in the top ten this year, Shimizu's next move is likely to be the Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships in March.

10. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 100.8 pts.

marathon: 2:24:21 - 2nd, Osaka International Women's Marathon, 1/27/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m Heat One, 6/29/13 - 32:42.56
3rd, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13 - 2:27:45 (ACR)
7th, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 33:01
13th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:19

2013 marked the year that 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Fukushi made the move to being a full-time marathoner.  She did little else this year than take 2nd after leading most of the race at the cold Osaka International Women's Marathon in January and win bronze at the Moscow World Championships Marathon in a race served up on a burning hot primetime platter for Japanese TV audiences by broadcaster and official IAAF partner TBS, a run JRN readers picked as the Japanese women's distance performance of the year.  After the race Fukushi laughingly said that she'd had enough of marathons and would not run any more, and with a world level medal finally in her hands at age 31, who could blame her if that ended up being true?  Her ekiden season performances following Moscow were far below her usual standard of domination and it would not be at all surprising to see her bid farewell in the near future.  Or to continue like the woman who tied her for #10.

10. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 100.8 pts.

marathon: 2:24:05 - 3rd, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/10/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, Sendai International Half Marathon, 5/12/13 - 1:10:36
DNF, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13
3rd, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 32:37
16th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:38

Marathon national record holder and Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist Noguchi's comeback after years and years of injury setbacks was one of the feel-good stories of 2012, and in 2013 she continued that with an aggressive and touching run in Nagoya in March that showed flashes of who she used to be, a run seemingly meant to inspire younger generations to work harder to be their best.  She faded to 3rd but still ran 2:24:05, the second-best Japanese time of the year behind winner Kizaki and against the odds made her first World Championships team since 2003.  Her follow-up win at the Sendai International Half marathon two months later seemed to spell big things for Moscow, but it was not to be as she faded in the heat and dropped out of a marathon for the first time in her career.  In ekiden season she was back, but with only mixed results.  For the third year in a row she is on the entry list for January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, but having pulled out the last two years it's a very big if as to whether she will really run there.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2 comments:

TokyoRacer said...

Thanks, Brett. Great job putting this together.

Hope we get some new talent to step up in 2014 and take over from Akaba and Fukushi.

Anna Novick said...

Great article. Too bad Akaba is retiring from competition. If my wagamama could come true, I hope she goes into coaching.