by Brett Larner
In a sight already familiar from the women's 5000 m heats and 10000 m final, the Japanese women ran up front together through most of the Beijing World Championships women's marathon, the slow early pace and low-hanging fruit of the JAAF's promise of a place on the Rio Olympic team to the first of them to make the top 8 combining to ensure they stayed near the front until things really got moving. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was the first Japanese woman to go to the lead, joined in short order by domestic favorite Sairi Maeda (Team Daihatsu) and the controversial Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya). Apart from periodic surges at water stations by Mare Dibaba and other members of the Ethiopian team the Japanese trio led until well into the second half tailed all the while by rival Hye-Song Kim (North Korea).
Shigetomo, again followed by Kim, made the first real effort to get the pace moving faster after halfway, killing off the European members of the lead pack and sending Ito and Maeda to the back row. Ito slipped a few meters behind and appeared to be in trouble, but on the uphill of an overpass it was Maeda who first really lost touch with the leaders. A surge from 2014 Asian Games champion and 2015 Nagoya Women's Marathon winner Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) dropped all the non-African-born contenders, leaving six up front with Ito leading a chase group of five.
Up front it came down a sprint finish with Dibaba taking gold in 2:27:35 a stride ahead of Helah Kiprop (Kenya), Kirwa consigned to bronze in 2:27:39. Further back, Ito pulled away from Kim and the others in pursuit of Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia), a straggler from the lead group, but could not close the gap. 7th in 2:29:48, she nevertheless cleared the JAAF's requirements and scored herself a place on the Rio Olympic team, along with men's 50 km racewalk bronze medalist Takayuki Tanii one of only two Japanese athletes to do it in Beijing. Maeda overtook Shigetomo late in the race, 13th in 2:31:46 with Shigetomo 14th in 2:32:37.
The sight of the entire Japanese women's team frontrunning made for good TV for the home crowd and played to memories of the golden years, but ultimately the results were only passable. In some events, say the men's 200 m or women's 5000 m, a top 8 finish by a Japanese athlete would be meaningful, but in the women's marathon where Japanese athletes have made the top 8 at every World Championships except 1983, 1987 and 1995, it was a virtual handout. With the remaining two places on the Rio team to be settled between three domestic selection races the assigning of one place now leaves plenty of room for the same kind of chicanery that saw Shigetomo named to the Beijing team over Yokohama selection race winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei). The wisdom of this process and whether Japanese women will prove relevant in Rio either way remain to be seen a year from now.
15th IAAF World Championships Women's Marathon
Beijing, China, 8/30/15
click here for complete results
1. Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:27:35
2. Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:27:36
3. Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:27:39
4. Jemima Sumgong (Kenya) - 2:27:42
5. Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) - 2:28:18
6. Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia) - 2:29:12
7. Mai Ito (Japan) - 2:29:48
8. Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) - 2:30:54
9. Hye-Song Kim (North Korea) - 2:30:59
10. Serena Burla (U.S.A.) - 2:31:06
13. Sairi Maeda (Japan) - 2:31:46
14. Risa Shigetomo (Japan) - 2:32:37
(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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