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37-Year-Old Mother of Three Sakamoto Becomes First-Ever Japanese Winner of Osaka Marathon

by Brett Larner

One of the ten biggest marathons in the world, the Osaka Marathon celebrated its first-ever Japanese winner this year.


The Osaka women's race was a one-woman show the whole way.  Amateur runner Yoshiko Sakamoto (Y.W.C.) a 37-year-old mother of three and former high school star who took up marathons at age 32 after not running for more than 10 years, went it alone from the gun.  35 seconds ahead of #1-ranked Nurit Yimam (Ethiopia) at 5 km, Sakamoto fearlessly pushed her pace under 2:30 by 15 km and stretched her lead to almost four minutes as Yimam and top club runner Yumiko Kinoshita (SWAC) held steady to 2:35~36 pace.  With a best of 2:36:29 Sakamoto was bound to pay for it, and after halfway she began to slow.  "After 33 km it felt like my right hamstring was going to cramp up," she told JRN after the race.  By 40 km she was barely clearing 4:00/km.

Behind her Yimam had dropped out, but Kinoshita was closing.  Kinoshita covered the 5 km from 35 to 40 km over a minute faster than Sakamoto, but with enough of a lead and the self-control to push it again after 40 km Sakamoto held on. "Right until the end I was trying to win, so I never gave up," she told JRN.   "I just kept pushing forward and forward."  Sakamoto crossed the finish line in 2:36:02, a new PB that made her the first Japanese runner male or female to win the Osaka Marathon. After a 2016 that saw her sit out January's Osaka International Women's Marathon when her children caught the flu, sit out February's Tokyo Marathon when she caught it from them,  DNF in freezing rain at April's Zurich Marathon, then rally with a 4th place finish at June's Jilin Marathon and 2nd at September's Muenster Marathon with support from JRN, her win was a perfect cap to Sakamoto's year.


2015 Osaka men's winner Daniel Kosgei (Kenya) led a sizable men7s lead pack through 5 km in a leisurely 16:03, mid-2:15 pace, before picking it up toward 2:12 territory.  Kosgei stayed in front at that pace through halfway before 2012 Osaka winner Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN) went to the front.  Bat-Ochir kept control for over 10 km, the pack dwindling even as the pace slowed until Tokyo-based Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) took over.

With a sub-2:10 best in Tokyo last year ranking him alongside Bat-Ochir as the favorite for the win Ngandu turned it on, dropping first Bat-Ochir, then last year's runner-up Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), and finally 2:12 man Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO Athletes) to score his first career marathon win in 2:12:47.  A graduate of Nihon University, Ngandu's sponsor Monteroza recently announced that it will disband its athletics team in the spring.  Breaking Osaka's 2:11:43 course record would have gone a long way to helping Ngandu stay in Japan, leading him to show obvious disappointment as he crossed the finish line.  "Next year there won't be a Monteroza," Ngandu said post-race.  "Please keep cheering for me and supporting me!"

6th Osaka Marathon
Osaka, 10/30/16
official results coming shortly

Men
1. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Monteroza) - 2:12:47
2. Hiroki Yamagishi (GMO Athletes) - 2:12:59
3. Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:35
4. Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/NTN) - 2:13:43
5. Sora Tsukada (SGH Group) - 2:15:16 - PB
6. Yasuyuki Nakamura (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:15:32
7. Koshi Watanabe (Subaru) - 2:15:36 - PB
8. Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business Service) - 2:15:50
9. Yosuke Chida (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 2:17:05 - PB
10. Brandon Mull (U.S.A.) - 2:18:14
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18. Daniel Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:27:57

Women
1. Yoshiko Sakamoto (Yokkaichi Wellness Club) - 2:36:02 - PB
2. Yumiko Kinoshita (SWAC) - 2:37:03
3. Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall) - 2:38:00
4. Mitsuko Iino (Running Team R2) - 2:44:00
5. Mayumi Uchiyama (Nitori) - 2:45:06
6. Shiho Satonaka (Running Team R2) - 2:47:22 - PB
7. Tomomi Matsuoka (Run Friends) - 2:47:29
8. Tomoko Horioka (Osaka Nittai Univ.) - 2:49:06 - PB
9. Mina Ogawa (Puma RC) - 2:49:32
10. Ai Ogo (Himeji T&F Assoc.) - 2:50:09
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DNF - Nurit Yimam (Ethiopia)

© 2016 Brett Larner
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