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Gobena and Cheyech Top Field for Nov. 13 Saitama International Marathon

by Brett Larner

In its first running last year the Saitama International Marathon tagged a small elite women's race, the descendant of the defunct Yokohama International Women's Marathon and Tokyo International Women's Marathon, onto a new 3500-runner amateur race.  Tokyo International was a high-profile, high-prestige elite event that served an important role in both the development of women's marathoning worldwide and Japanese national team selection.  The profile and prestige dipped with the move to Yokohama, its 2014 winner Tomomi Tanaka controversially left off the 2015 Beijing World Championships team, and both dropped again last year with the move out to Tokyo's northwestern suburbs in Saitama.

Its legacy as the inheritor of Japan's premier women's race and nominal current role as a women's event are obscured by the co-ed mass marathon, local boy Yuki Kawauchi proudly splashed across the Saitama website's top page for this year's Nov. 13 race, and with the National Corporate Women's Ekiden moving from mid-December to Nov. 27 this year Saitama is in an even more dire situation than the Fukuoka International Marathon for recruiting elite Japanese marathoners good enough to belong on a national team.  The Tokyo Marathon or even October's Osaka Marathon would make way, way more sense as high-profile selection events, but the powers that be are bound and determined to keep a selection race, however unnecessary, in November, logic, quality and outcome be damned.

Which is not to sound too negative about it.  The elite field is better than last year's, solidly silver label with eight internationals and all of four Japanese women on board.  Five of the overseas elites are familiar faces in Japan with big wins behind them, Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) the 2010 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner and runner-up in Tokyo this year, former Uniqlo corporate team runner Filomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) the 2010 National Corporate Half Marathon champion, Monica Jepkoech (Kenya) the 2013 Osaka Marathon winner, Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) the 2012 Tokyo Marathon winner, and Maryna Damantsevich (Belarus) the 2014 and 2015 Osaka Marathon winner.  The other three internationals, Deborah Toniolo (Italy), Japan-based Winfridah Kebaso (Kenya/Team Nittori) and Cassie Fien (Australia) have all raced in Japan before too, Kebaso taking 5th in Saitama in her debut last year.

The Japanese field is predictably small, led by Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) who returned from Japan's only public EPO suspension to set a PB 2:28:43 for 2nd in Saitama last year.  Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Universal Entertainment) was 2nd in Yokohama once upon a time but hasn't run a quality marathon in many a long year.  With a 1:11:43 half marathon best Aki Otagiri (Team Tenmaya) looks to have potential, but in seven marathons to date she has yet to crack 2:30:00, finishing 8th in Saitama behind Yoshida and Kebaso last year in 2:36:29.  Akane Sekino (Imabari Zosen) is a borderline amateur whose first marathon finish was a 2:38:00 in Nagoya last spring, but like Otagiri her 1:11:17 half marathon PB in February this year suggests the potential to go better than that.

With January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and March's Nagoya Women's Marathon still to come, realistically there is almost no scenario in which one of these Japanese women would be picked for the London World Championships marathon team barring a legendary breakthrough.  Yoshida won August's Hokkaido Marathon, hypothetically included in consideration for the London team, and one source connected with Saitama told JRN that if Yoshida were to win Saitama too it would force the JAAF to put her on the team after all the bad press around Tanaka's omission last time around. That's a real Hail Mary plan if true.  Short of Yoshida or another Japanese woman running an improbably great time, say 2:23 or better, having Saitama as a national team selection race looks like a lose for the JAAF whether they put her on the team or not.  And that's a hole the JAAF has dug for itself.  Let's hope for something dramatic.

2nd Saitama International Marathon Elite Field Highlights
Saitama, 11/13/16
click here for detailed field listing
times listed are best within last three years

Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:21:51 (Tokyo 2016)
Filomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) - 2:22:44 (Paris 2014)
Monica Jepkoech (Kenya) - 2:27:26 (Toronto 2015)
Kaori Yoshida (Japan/RxL) - 2:28:43 (Saitama 2015)
Atsede Habtamu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:40 (Toronto 2015)
Maryna Damantsevich (Belarus) - 2:30:07 (Warsaw 2015)
Aki Otagiri (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:30:24 (Nagoya 2015)
Mizuho Nasukawa (Japan/Universal Entertainment) - 2:30:27 (Yokohama Women's 2013)
Deborah Toniolo (Italy) - 2:31:28 (Berlin 2015)
Winfridah Kebaso (Kenya/Nitori) - 2:32:08 (Saitama 2015)
Cassie Fien (Australia) - 2:33:36 (London 2016)
Akane Sekino (Japan/Imabari Zosen) - 2:38:00 (Nagoya Women's 2016)

© 2016 Brett Larner
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