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Time for the Next Generation? Osaka International Women's Marathon and Osaka Half Marathon Preview

by Brett Larner

The Osaka International Women's Marathon holds its 34th running Sunday, with two-time winner Tetiana Gamera (Ukraine) going for a third-straight win and Japanese women going for places on the 2015 Beijing World Championships team.  Gamera's best of 2:23:58 came in Osaka two years ago, and with the withdrawal of Kenyan Margaret Agai it means that if Gamera is anywhere near the same shape this time then her main competition is likely to be 38-year-old Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) whose best of 2:22:56 also came in Osaka a decade ago but is still running strong with a 2:24:07 in Nagoya last spring.

Japanese women are facing a sub-2:22:30 requirement for Beijing representation, more realistic than the laughable sub-2:06:30 requirement for men but still a time no Japanese woman has run since 2007.  Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) has the fastest time since then with a 2:23:23 in Osaka three years ago, but with nothing under 2:30 since then there's not much reason to think she's ready for a 1-minute PB.  39-year-old Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) is yet another runner whose best came in Osaka, a 2:23:30 back in the golden years in 2003, and while she is reportedly in excellent condition her 2:31:17 in Osaka last year doesn't inspire much confidence.  Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease) ran her best of 2:24:57 in Osaka three years ago behind Shigetomo but since leaving the corporate system to go independent she has been more at the 2:28+ level, and after finishing 44th of 47 on her stage at the National Women's Ekiden two weeks ago it's a good question whether she is fit.

Which means it will be time for some new blood to step up.  Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion), Rika Shintaku (Team Shimamura), Shoko Mori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and in particular Sakiko Matsumi (Team Daiichi Seimei), a Sachiko Yamashita-coached training partner of 2014 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Tomomi Tanaka, are all promising athletes looking to improve on their debuts from the last year or two.  Osaka has made its want for future talent to step up clear this year with its new "Next Heroine" development program featuring university and young corporate runners taking a shot at the marathon.  2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon team member Chieko Kido (Canon AC Kyushu) leads this group with a 1:10:11 half marathon best, followed by collegiate rivals Yukiko Okuno (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) and Eri Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.).  There's not much chance any of them will break 2:22:30, but considering that Tanaka only needed to run 2:26:57 to win Yokohama and that the fastest Japanese women's time last year was just 2:25:26 anything under 2:30 would put them in a good position near the top of the current generation of Japanese women.

If anything the Osaka Half Marathon accompanying the main race looks at least as exciting.  2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) is running in a tune-up for her marathon debut next month in Tokyo, with her teammate Misaki Kato, sporting a solid 1:10:44 debut at the 2013 Great North Run, the likeliest contender for runner-up.  Defending champion Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) and 2013 winner Saki Tabata (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) are also in the field.  With a 1:07:51 best it shouldn't take much for Chepyego to take down the 1:09:55 course record.

The men's half marathon field is also good, with last year's winner Noriyuki Nabetani (Osaka Police Dep't) and 2012 champ Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) both returning to face probable favorite Shusei Ohashi (Team JR Higashi Nihon) and, in training for the Tokyo Marathon, Kenichi Shiraishi (Team Asahi Kasei).

Follow @JRNLive for live coverage of the 2015 Osaka International Women's Marathon starting at noon Japan time on Sunday, Jan. 25.

34th Osaka International Women's Marathon
Elite Field Highlights
Osaka, 1/25/15
click here for complete listing

Marathon
Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) - 2:22:56 (Osaka Women's 2005)
Risa Shigetomo (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:23:23 (Osaka Women's 2012)
Mari Ozaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:23:30 (Osaka Women's 2003)
Tetiana Gamera (Ukraine) - 2:23:58 (Osaka Women's 2013)
Azusa Nojiri (Japan/Hiratsuka Lease) - 2:24:57 (Osaka Women's 2012)
Yuko Watanabe (Japan/Edion) - 2:25:56 (Osaka Women's 2013)
Melkam Gizaw (Ethiopia) - 2:26:24 (Dusseldorf 2013)
Kaoru Nagao (Japan/Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:58 (Yokohama Women's 2011)
Hisae Yoshimatsu (Japan/Shunan City Hall) - 2:28:49 (Hokkaido 2002)
Rika Shintaku (Japan/Shimamura) - 2:30:37 (Gold Coast 2014)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) - 2:32:20 (Yokohama Women's 2009)
Bornes Jepkirui (Kenya) - 2:33:50 (Hannover 2014)
Shoko Mori (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:35:10 (Hokkaido 2014)
Sakiko Matsumi (Japan/Daiichi Seimei) - 2:36:45 (Nagoya Women's 2014)
Yuri Yoshizumi (Japan/Osaka T&F Assoc.) - 2:37:56 (Hokkaido 2013)

Debut
Chieko Kido (Japan/Canon AC Kyushu) - 1:10:11 (Sanyo Women's 2013)
Yukiko Okuno (Japan/Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:44 (Matsue Women's 2014)
Eri Tayama (Japan/Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:12:44 (Matsue Women's 2014)
Kanae Shimoyama (Japan/Noritz) - 1:14:28 (Matsue Women's 2014)

Half Marathon - Women
Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Kyudenko) -  1:07:51 (World Half 2014)
Noriko Higuchi (Japan/Wacoal) - 1:10:51 (Marugame 2010)
Yuka Hakoyama (Japan/Wacoal) - 1:11:32 (Sanyo Women's 2012)
Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) - 1:11:57 (Corporate Half 2014) - 1:10:44a (Great North Run 2013)
Saki Tabata (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:13:01 (Osaka 2013)
Ai Migita (Japan/Wacoal) - 1:14:05 (Inuyama 2014)
Mika Sawa (Japan/Noritz) - 1:14:09 (Sanyo Women's 2011)

Half Marathon - Men
Takanobu Otsubo (Japan/Osaka Police Dep't) - 1:01:55 (Corporate Half 2005)
Kenichi Shiraishi (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:23 (Corporate Half 2007)
Noritaka Fujiyama (Japan/Sumitomo Denko) - 1:02:26 (Corporate Half 2009)
Shusei Ohashi (Japan/JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:02:39 (Marugame 2014)
Tsukasa Morita (Japan/Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:02:42 (Sendai 2008)
Takaaki Koda (Japan/Asahi Kasei) - 1:02:52 (Corporate Half 2008)
Koji Kageyama (Japan/Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) - 1:03:28 (Ageo 2002)
Daisuke Kumon (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:03:31 (Corporate Half 2014)
Noriyuki Nabetani (Japan/Osaka Police Dep't) - 1:03:55 (Osaka 2014)
Mahoro Ikeda (Japan/Aichi Seiko) - 1:03:56 (Gifu Seiryu 2012)

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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