by Brett Larner
Tenmaya teammates Rei Ohara and Risa Shigetomo won today's Osaka Half Marathon and Osaka International Women's Marathon with dominating performances. Ohara, the fastest female Japanese half marathoner of 2015 and second-fastest last year, took the half marathon out hard, splitting 15:58 for the first 5 km, 1:07:22 pace with a 1:08 target. She faded steadily from there but held on to win by 52 seconds in 1:10:02, bettering her fastest time of 2016 by 2 seconds. Having missed the Rio Olympic team by 1 second despite running 2:23:20 at last year's Nagoya Women's Marathon, Ohara will line up in Nagoya again in March in hopes of joining the London World Championships team.
Her teammate Shigetomo was one step ahead in making that goal a reality. A member of the 2012 London Olympics and 2015 Beijing World Championships marathon teams, Shigetomo won Osaka in 2012 in 2:23:23, still her PB, to make the London team, and was controversially added to the Beijing team for frontrunning Osaka in 2015 before crashing and burning in the second half, duly following JAAF instructions to frontrun at all costs. This the time the JAAF was saying they would value a negative split, and Shigetomo was happy to oblige.
The unscheduled departure of pacer Eloise Wellings of Australia after just 10 km left second pacer Filomena Cheyech Daniel of Kenya to take the lead group through halfway around 1:12 flat. From 12 to 13 km Cheyech went from 3:25 to 3:17 per km, dropping all but three Japanese women, 2016 Gold Coast Airport Marathon course record breaker Misato Horie (Team Noritz), 2016 Hokkaido Marathon winner Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) and the ambitious young Misaki Kato (Team Kyudenko). Shigetomo fell as far as 25 seconds back, the lead group hitting halfway in 1:11:46 with Shigetomo and a small chase group clocking 1:12:10.
After Cheyech's departure Yoshida took over, Kato soon losing touch just before Horie went to the front at 25 km. From 25 to 30 km Horie split a hard 16:51, but behind her Shigetomo began to close. By 29 km Shigetomo was up to 2nd, and by 35 km she had closed the gap to just 7 seconds. 500 m she flew past into the lead, and from there it was basically over. Shigetomo ran almost exactly even splits, just 2 seconds slower over the second half as she took the win in 2:24:22. Horie fell far behind but still managed a PB of nearly a minute for 2nd in 2:25:44, with Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) running a 16-minute PB of 2:26:19 for 3rd in her first serious marathon. A big surprise came in 4th as American Serena Burla, out of sight of the leaders for most of the race, ran down most of the frontrunners with a 7-second negative split for 4th in a PB of 2:26:53. Kato faded to 10th in 2:31:28, with Yoshida dropping out after 35 km.
Shigetomo now stands as the leading contender for the London women's team. It's an unusual situation in many respects. Tenmaya runners often run what ends up being their career best in their first or second marathon, never again able to run up to the same level. Up to now Shigetomo has followed the familiar never pattern, never coming within 3 minutes of her 2012 win, her second marathon, until today. Her time today was just 59 seconds from her 5-year-old PB, a rarity in the Tenmaya stable. It's also a bittersweet irony that she will probably be named to the London team for running exactly the kind of race that kept 2014 Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) off the Beijing team in favor of Shigetomo.
In that race Tanaka ignored an unrealistic surge by an inexperienced pacer, running down everyone who went with her and defeating a tough international field that included the defending Olympic gold medalist, while two months later Shigetomo went out at a blazing pace only to fade to a distant 2nd-place finish. In choosing Shigetomo over Tanaka they cited Shigetomo's frontrunning, seeming to characterize Tanaka's smart come-from-behind win as gutless. Today Shigetomo was farther back against a weaker field, admittedly faster overall but still coming up short of the JAAF's goal of a negative split despite JAAF development director Toshihiko Seko saying post-race that Shigetomo had run "exactly the kind of race we wanted."
It's a complicated situation that highlights the problems with selection based on subjective criteria, especially when the coach of the athlete involved just so happens to be a senior Federation executive. Whatever the outcome, Japanese women's selection for London wraps up in March with the Nagoya Women's Marathon.
Along with the women's half marathon, Osaka also features a men's half marathon that has continued to grow into one of the better early-year races. This year a large pack of 11 went through halfway well on track for a new course record, splitting 29:46 at 10 km. By 15 km it was down to two, Osaka police officer Shunsaku Shibata and corporate league runner Akifumi Ueki (Team Toenec). Shibata proved to have the stronger finish, breaking the course record as he won by 5 seconds over Ueki in 1:03:05. No doubt he'll be getting more work patrolling on foot. The top 7 all cleared the old course record, with high-profile Tokyo Marathon entrant Takuya Fukatsu (Team Asahi Kasei) 6th in 1:03:24.
Osaka Half Marathon
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1. Shunsaku Shibata (Osaka Police) - 1:03:05 - CR
2. Akifumi Ueki (Toenec) - 1:03:10
3. Koki Tanaka (Kanebo) - 1:03:17
4. Masamichi Yasuda (Aichi Seiko) - 1:03:20
5. Yuichi Okutani (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 1:03:21
1. Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) - 1:10:02
2. Rika Toguchi (Route Inn Hotels) - 1:10:54
3. Asami Kato (Panasonic) - 1:11:39
4. Honoka Tanaike (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:53
5. Runa Tabuchi (Wacoal) - 1:13:04
Osaka International Women's Marathon
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1. Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) - 2:24:22
2. Misato Horie (Noritz) - 2:25:44 - PB
3. Hanae Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) - 2:26:19 - PB
4. Serena Burla (U.S.A.) - 2:26:53 - PB
5. Shitaye Habtegebrel (Bahrain) - 2:28:36
6. Risa Takenaka (Shiseido) - 2:28:44
7. Iwona Bernardelli (Poland) - 2:29:37
8. Muluhabt Tsega (Ethiopia) - 2:30:38
9. Asami Furuse (Kyocera) - 2:30:44 - PB
10. Misaki Kato (Kyudenko) - 2:31:28
DNF - Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL)
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