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Maeda Sets Collegiate National Record in Debut at Osaka International Women's Marathon

by Brett Larner

Marathons are often surprisingly unpredictable, but while there were a couple of big surprises at the 33rd edition of the Osaka International Women's Marathon, what was most surprising was how predictable three of the big results were.

One surprise was how aggressively Poland's Karolina Jarzynska took the race out.  With a best of just 2:26:45, Jarzynska pushed the first half through in 1:11:30 and by 30 km had a lead of 12 seconds as she clocked a 1:42:22 split.  Not too surprisingly, she tied up in the final 12 km and dropped to 3rd but was rewarded for taking her shot with a new PB of 2:26:31, just short of a new national record.

Two of the predictable elements came from the two women who ran her down.  For the third time, Ukrainian national record holder and defending champion Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko rocked the Osaka course with the fastest second half and final 2.195 km in the field to take her second Osaka win, coming from 42 seconds behind at halfway to win by 1:23 in 2:24:37, exactly as predicted.  It's amazing that she and virtually every other Eastern European woman to win in Japan over the last five years has been able to execute the identical strategy virtually every time.  Chalk it up to superior planning.

Almost equally predictable, in her final marathon, talk of a return to the Gold Coast Marathon notwithstanding, 2011 Osaka Women's winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) ran up front through the first half of the race, faded after halfway, turned it on to overtake the lead, then came up short of closing for the win as she landed in 2nd in 2:26:00.  It was a familiar pattern seen throughout her marathon career, one which more often than not landed her on the podium but even more often than not left her outside the winner's circle.  Akaba was largely responsible for making it an interesting race, relentlessly sparring with Jarzynska and Gamera-Shmyrko when their orbits coincided and was all smiles through most of the race, showing that although she couldn't quite grab hold of the gold, she was leaving with no bad feelings about what she has accomplished.

Most predictably, and most sadly, 2012 Osaka winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), who made the all-time Japanese top ten with her 2:23:23 win to make the London Olympics and was in great shape through this ekiden season, ran up front against Jarzynska and Akaba through 15 km before plummeting to a 64th-place finish in 2:58:45, her second time in her last three marathons to finish slower than 2:50.  What makes it predictable and sad is that it is the identical pattern so many other Tenmaya athletes have gone through before.  Head coach Yutaka Taketomi, who has enjoyed a tenure as director of Japanese women's marathoning post-Beijing, has an undisputed record as Japan's best coach at getting women to 2:21~2:23 in their first two marathons and on to Olympic teams and is equally and unequivocally Japan's worst coach when it comes to what to do next.  When one or two athletes never live up to their potential it might be bad luck, but when it happens predictably every time it's something else.  Some day a talented young woman may step up and break the curse of Tenmaya, but that day was not today.

Coming right after the news of the brilliant Hitomi Niiya's premature retirement it could have been a day dark as the clouds that blew through Osaka, but there was one unexpected ray of luminescence to give a little hope to Japanese women's marathoning. Bukkyo University ace Sairi Maeda, 22, quietly coming in to Osaka for her pre-graduation debut off a 30 km win in Osaka late last year, sat far back in the field through the first half. Two and a half minutes behind at halfway, she began to turn it on after 25 km and rolled all the way up to 4th, negative splitting to finish in 2:26:46 just shy of the fading Jarzynska. Maeda's time was a new national university record, a full five minutes faster than the old record of 2:31:46 set 18 years ago by Kozue Matsumoto (Chuo Univ.) and, with Akaba set to retire leaves her with a good chance of being named to the Japanese team for this year's Asian Games marathon.  Maeda  is set to join the Daihatsu corporate team post-graduation where her training partners will include Moscow World Championships marathon 4th-placer Ryoko Kizaki, as good a place as any for Maeda to develop into a future hope.

In Osaka's accompanying half marathon, Osaka policeman Noriyuki Nabetani was the surprise victor over corporate runners Yudai Yamakawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin), winning in 1:03:55 to mark one of the fastest times in the last ten years of the event's history.  2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) won the women's race in 1:12:44 as she works toward April's Boston Marathon.  2010 winner Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido) was 4th in 1:16:12.

33rd Osaka International Women's Marathon
Osaka, 1/26/14

1. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:24:37
2. Yukiko Akaba (Japan/Team Hokuren) - 2:26:00
3. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) - 2:26:31 - PB
4. Sairi Maeda (Japan/Bukkyo Univ.) - 2:26:46 - debut, NUR
5. Marta Lema (Ethiopia) - 2:28:06
6. Natalia Puchkova (Russia) - 2:28:44 - PB
7. Mari Ozaki (Japan/Team Noritz) - 2:31:17
8. Deborah Toniolo (Italy) - 2:31:42
9. Louise Damen (Great Britain) - 2:32:21
10. Sayo Nomura (Japan/Team Daichi Seimei) - 2:32:29 - debut
11. Nanami Matsuura (Japan/Team Tenmaya) - 2:33:24 - debut
12. Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Team Edion) - 2:34:01
13. Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Team Kyocera) - 2:35:03
14. Shizuka Kudo (Japan/Team Higo Ginko) - 2:37:52 - PB
15. Kaori Oyama (Japan/Team Noritz) - 2:39:47
-----
22. Yumiko Hara (AASP RC) - 2:49:29
64. Risa Shigetomo (Japan/Team Tenmaya) - 2:58:45

Osaka Half Marathon
Osaka, 1/26/14
click here for complete results

Men
1. Noriyuki Nabetani (Osaka Police Dept.) - 1:03:55
2. Yudai Yamakawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:03:58
3. Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:04:15
4. Tadashi Suzuki (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:04:20
5. Tsukasa Morita (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:04:52

Women
1. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 1:12:44
2. Yuka Hakoyama (Team Wacoal) - 1:13:35
3. Saori Noda (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 1:15:15
4. Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido) - 1:16:12
5. Mina Unno (Bukkyo Univ.) - 1:16:19

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
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