Skip to main content

An Update on Eastern European Women in Japan

by Brett Larner

Yesterday it was announced that Russian Albina Mayorova has received a four-year suspension after testing positive for elevated testosterone. Mayorova was a four-time winner of Japan's major women's marathons and a regular at the Tokyo Marathon. Her suspension follows that of a number of other Eastern European women to have won Japanese marathons in the last ten years, including Inga Abitova, Tatiana Aryasova, Mariya Konovalova, and Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko, all five represented by Russian agent Andrey Baranov and his Spartanik agency. What impact have these and other women from former Soviet nations had on the domestic Japanese women's marathon circuit?

Below is a list of every time one has finished in the top three in one of Japan's five main women's marathons in the last 20 years plus other results by those who later tested positive. During this period, women from former Soviet nations have won Japanese marathons 21 times. Of those, thirteen were by athletes who tested positive or had adverse biological passport findings. Thirteen of the 21 wins were in the last ten years, nine by later suspended athletes.

Looking at top three finishes, in the last 20 years 42 were by former Soviet nation women, 19 of whom were suspended. Of those 42, 19 came in the last ten years, 11 by suspended athletes. Despite this record, virtually all of the races maintained their relationships with Baranov until very recently. The Saitama International Women's Marathon invited Belarus athlete Maryna Demantsevich to its most recent running in November, 2016.

What has the impact of these performances been on Japanese women? Of the nine times that later-suspended Eastern European women won Japanese marathons in the last ten years, Japanese women came 2nd six times.

  • Kiyoko Shimahara was 2nd to Abitova at the first running of the Yokohama International Women's Marathon in 2009.  
  • In her marathon debut Noriko Higuchi was 2nd to Aryasova at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon. 
  • 2009 Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki dominated the 2012 Nagoya Women's Marathon while trying to make the London Olympic team, only to have Mayorova blow by with ease in the final kilometers.
  • Azusa Nojiri was 2nd to Mayorova at the 2013 Yokohama International Women's Marathon while trying to make the 2014 Incheon Asian Games team.
  • Kayoko Fukushi finished 2nd behind Gamera-Shymyrko at the 2013 Osaka International Women's Marathon after leading the entire race.  
  • The great Yukiko Akaba was 2nd to Gamera-Shmyrko in Osaka in 2014, a race Akaba had announced as her final race before retiring.

Looking at top three placings, twelve Japanese women were kept out of the top three a total of thirteen times in the last 20 years, nine of them in the last ten years. Former national record holder Yoko Shibui was kept out twice, once by Aryasova in Tokyo 2011 and again by Mayorova in Nagoya a year later. The podium in Japan usually runs eight deep, and looking at that level there are even more.

I've written before about the long-term psychological effects of winning and losing in relation to Eastern European doping and Japanese women.  How might Higuchi and Fukushi's careers have been different with those early wins?  How might Ozaki have been different in the London Olympics had she gone in a champ instead of running one of the best races of her career and still getting destroyed? Nojiri might have made the 2014 Asian Games had she won in Yokohama, and as a newly-independent runner a win would have had enormous impact on her sponsorship opportunities. Akaba's career would have been capped by a victory on home soil.

All of these came during the post-Beijing Olympics slump during 2009-2014 when Japanese women's marathoning was perceived to be at its weakest and the athletes were regularly subject to hearing that they weren't as good as the people who came before them. What would six big wins have done for their mindset, personally and collectively, to the perception of their true standing in the modern sport, to the standards set for them to chase based on that standing?

Stolen glory and prize money aside, in Japan its greatest champions, international medalists and winners of the biggest domestic marathons, are revered and reap major financial benefits post-career in guest appearances at races and TV commentating work. Being elevated to 1st years later doesn't have the same cachet and does nothing to fix their names in the public's mind. How many people remember that Shimahara was 2nd in Yokohama? How many would have remembered her as the first Yokohama champion?

There's no giving back any of that and no answers to many of those questions, but as things seem to be turning in the right direction here two questions that need public answers are the why and who of this situation persisting for so long even after races had already gotten burned.

Top three placings by Eastern European women in Japan's major women's marathons over the last 20 years.  Athletes whose names are in bold underwent suspensions for positive drug tests or adverse biological passport findings.

Tokyo / Yokohama / Saitama International Women's Marathon
2013
1. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:25:55
2. Azusa Nojiri (Japan) - 2:28:47
3. Jessica Augusto (Portugal) - 2:29:11
4. Mizuho Nasukawa (Japan) - 2:30:27
-----
DNF - Tatyana Filonyuk (Ukraine)

2009
1. Inga Abitova (Russia) - 2:27:18
2. Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan) - 2:28:51
3. Catherina Ndereba (Kenya) - 2:29:13
4. Bruna Genovese (Italy) - 2:29:57
-----
7. Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:32:09

2005
1. Naoko Takahashi (Japan) - 2:24:39
2. Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:25:15
3. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - 2:26:50
4. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:26:55
5. Mara Yamauchi (Great Britain) - 2:27:38

2003
1. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - 2:24:47
2. Naoko Takahashi (Japan) - 2:27:21
3. Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan) - 2:31:10
-----
7. Irina Timofeyeva (Russia) - 2:39:01

2002
1. Banuela Katesigwa (Tanzania) - 2:24:59
2. Rie Matsuoka (Japan) - 2:25:02
3. Irina Timofeyeva (Russia) - 2:26:45
4. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - 2:29:31

2001
1. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:25:08
2. Irina Timofeyeva (Russia) - 2:25:29
3. Bruna Genovese (Italy) - 2:25:35
4. Constantina Dita (Romania) - 2:26:39

1999
1. Eri Yamaguchi (Japan) - 2:22:12
2. Fatuma Roba (Ethiopia) - 2:27:05
3. Valentina Yegorova (Russia) - 2:28:06
4. Jane Salumae (Estonia) - 2:28:56
5. Masako Chiba (Japan) - 2:29:00

Osaka International Women's Marathon
2015
1. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:22:09
2. Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) - 2:24:07
3. Risa Shigetomo (Japan) - 2:26:39
4. Yuko Watanabe (Japan) - 2:28:36
5. Chieko Kido (Japan) - 2:29:08

2014
1. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:24:37
2. Yukiko Akaba (Japan) - 2:26:00
3. Karolina Jarzynska (Poland) - 2:26:31
4. Sairi Maeda (Japan) - 2:26:46
5. Mara Lema (Ethiopia) - 2:28:06
6. Natalia Puchkova (Russia) - 2:28:44

2013
1. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:23:58
2. Kayoko Fukushi (Japan) - 2:24:21
3. Yuko Watanabe (Japan) - 2:25:56
4. Mari Ozaki (Japan) - 2:26:41
DNF - Mariya Konovalova (Russia)

2012
1. Risa Shigetomo (Japan) - 2:23:23
2. Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine) - 2:24:46
3. Azusa Nojiri (Japan) - 2:24:57
4. Chika Horie (Japan) - 2:28:35
DNF - Lidiya Grigoryeva (Russia)

2005
1. Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) - 2:22:56
2. Mari Ozaki (Japan) - 2:23:59
3. Harumi Hiroyama (Japan) - 2:25:56
4. Miki Oyama (Japan) - 2:26:55

1999
1. Lyubov Morgunova (Russia) - 2:27:43
2. Mayumi Ichikawa (Japan) - 2:27:57
3. Hiromi Ominami (Japan) - 2:30:19
4. Masae Ueoka (Japan) - 2:32:41

1998
1. Naoko Takahashi (Japan) - 2:25:48
2. Madina Biktagirova (Russia) - 2:27:19
3. Harumi Hiroyama (Japan) - 2:28:12
4. Tomoko Kai (Japan) - 2:28:13

Tokyo Marathon
2015
1. Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:23:15
2. Helah Kiprop (Kenya) - 2:24:03
3. Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) - 2:24:26
-----
8. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:34:21
9. Yukari Abe (Japan) - 2:34:43

2014
1. Tirfi Tsegaye (Ethiopia) - 2:22:23
2. Birhane Dibaba (Ethiopia) - 2:22:30
3. Lucy Kabuu (Kenya) - 2:24:16
-----
6. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:28:18
7. Mai Ito (Japan) - 2:28:36

2013
1. Aberu Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:25:34
2. Yeshi Esayias (Ethiopia) - 2:26:01
3. Irina Mikitenko (Germany) - 2:26:41
4. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:26:51
5. Yoshimi Ozaki (Japan) - 2:28:30

2011
1. Tatiana Aryasova (Russia) - 2:27:29
2. Noriko Higuchi (Japan) - 2:28:49
3. Tatiana Arkhipova (Russia) - 2:28:56
4. Yoko Shibui (Japan) - 2:29:03
5. Misaki Katsumata (Japan) - 2:31:10

2010
1. Alevtina Biktimirova (Russia) - 2:34:39
2. Robe Tola (Ethiopia) - 2:36:29
3. Nuta Olaru (Romania) - 2:36:42
4. Maki Kono (Japan) - 2:39:01

Nagoya Women's Marathon
2015
1. Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) - 2:22:08
2. Mariya Konovalova (Russia) - 2:22:27
3. Sairi Maeda (Japan) - 2:22:48
4. Mai Ito (Japan) - 2:24:42

2014
1. Mariya Konovalova (Russia) - 2:23:43
2. Jelena Prokopcuka (Latvia) - 2:24:07
3. Ryoko Kizaki (Japan) - 2:25:26
4. Eri Hayakawa (Japan) - 2:25:31
5. Tomomi Tanaka (Japan) - 2:26:05
-----
26. Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:36:59

2012
1. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:23:52
2. Yoshimi Ozaki (Japan) - 2:24:14
3. Remi Nakazato (Japan) - 2:24:28
4. Yoko Shibui (Japan) - 2:25:02
-----
7. Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) - 2:25:49

2010
1. Yuri Kano (Japan) - 2:27:11
2. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:28:13
3. Hiromi Ominami (Japan) - 2:28:35
-----
19. Tatyana Aryasova (Russia) - 2:41:03
DNF - Lyubov Denisova (Russia)

2003
1. Takami Ominami (Japan) - 2:25:03
2. Risa Hagiwara (Japan) - 2:28:14
3. Irina Bogacheva (Kyrgyzstan) - 2:28:17
4. Eriko Amo (Japan) - 2:28:57

Nagano Marathon
2014
1. Alina Prokopyeva (Russia) - 2:30:56
2. Rika Shintaku (Japan) - 2:36:02
3. Shoko Shimizu (Japan) - 2:37:21
4. Risa Takemura (Japan) - 2:37:43

2013
1. Natalya Puchkova (Russia) - 2:30:40
2. Beatrice Mutai (Kenya) - 2:36:51
3. Seika Iwamura (Japan) - 2:41:19
4. Mika Okunaga (Japan) - 2:44:21

2010
1. Lisa-Jane Weightman (Australia) - 2:28:48
2. Olena Burkovska (Ukraine) - 2:31:53
3. Eri Hayakawa (Japan) - 2:33:05
4. Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan) - 2:34:46
DNF - Irina Timofeyeva (Russia)

2009
1. Irina Timofeyeva (Russia) - 2:30:08
2. Irene Limika (Kenya) - 2:30:50
3. Akemi Ozaki (Japan) - 2:31:18
4. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:34:17
5. Tatiana Aryasova (Russia) - 2:34:32

2008
1. Alevtina Ivanova (Russia) - 2:26:39
2. Katherine Smith (Australia) - 2:28:51
3. Donta Gruca (Poland) - 2:31:54
4. Miyuki Ando (Japan) - 2:34:25

2007
1. Alevtina Ivanova (Russia) - 2:27:49
2. Dire Tune (Ethiopia) - 2:28:59
3. Lyubov Morgunova (Russia) - 2:29:34
4. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:34:48
5. Askanech Mengistu (Ethiopia) - 2:37:39

2006
1. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:28:52
2. Sylvia Skvortsova (Russia) - 2:29:28
3. Nina Rillstone (New Zealand) - 2:29:46
4. Yoshimi Hoshino (Japan) - 2:36:56
5. Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia) - 2:39:21

2005
1. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:28:21
2. Lidia Simon (Ukraine) - 2:31:20
3. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:31:58
4. Gladys Asiba (Kenya) - 2:36:12

2004
1. Fatuma Roba (Ethiopia) - 2:28:05
2. Valentina Yegorova (Russia) - 2:31:47
3. Nataliya Berkut (Ukraine) - 2:32:49
4. Alevtina Ivanova (Russia) - 2:33:09
5. Asami Obi (Japan) - 2:33:34
6. Yoshimi Hoshino (Japan) - 2:37:48
7. Madina Biktagirova (Russia) - 2:38:48

2003
1. Madina Biktagirova (Russia) - 2:28:23
2. Alevtina Ivanova (Russia) - 2:29:05
3. Fatuma Roba (Ethiopia) - 2:31:05
4. Hisae Yoshimatsu (Japan) - 2:32:17
5. Tomoe Yokoyama (Japan) - 2:36:27

2002
1. Madina Biktagirova (Russia) - 2:26:09
2. Fatuma Roba (Ethiopia) - 2:27:16
3. Dorota Gruca (Poland) - 2:31:08
4. Masako Koide (Japan) - 2:32:21
5. Irina Bogacheva (Kyrgyzstan) - 2:32:54

2001
1. Akiyo Onishi (Japan) - 2:31:20
2. Chihiro Tanaka (Japan) - 2:32:05
3. Natalia Galushko (Belarus) - 2:32:51
4. Hideko Yoshimura (Japan) - 2:37:49

2000
1. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - 2:24:55
2. Valentina Yegorova (Russia) - 2:26:26
3. Alla Zhilyayeva (Russia) - 2:28:27
4. Chika Horie (Japan) - 2:29:12
5. Naoko Sato (Japan) - 2:35:31

1999
1. Valentina Yegorova (Russia) - 2:28:41
2. Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - 2:28:59
3. Malgorzata Sobanska (Poland) - 2:31:02
4. Xiu-juan Ren (China) - 2:33:58

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Brett Larner said…
Corrections and additions welcome.
CK said…
Excellent if necessarily depressing analysis and speculation.
So few distance runners are able to compete satisfactorily at elite level after announcing retirement intentions - they have usually half-retired psychologically by this point already - that Akaba's 2014 Osaka "victory" should be a celebrated TV highlight to be revisited again and again for years (or maybe decades) to come, emphasizing what a talented and gutsy athlete she was. But a single dope-fueled performance from a runner that should never have been invited has probably destroyed a legend.
By 2014 JNR had identified Baranov and the pattern, and it was referenced time and time again. It is absurd to presume that JAAF and big race promoters remained genuinely oblivious.
So "...the why and who of this situation persisting for so long..." are indeed relevant, vital questions that demand scrutiny, probably by an external body since JAAF would appear to have been integrally complicit and so should not be trusted to "investigate" it.
Is any of this being discussed in the mainstream or sports-specific Japanese media ?
TokyoRacer said…
I agree with CK. It would be good if you could translate this into Japanese and disseminate it somehow.
Brett Larner said…
CK - Thanks. However, I've been writing about this for over five years, well before 2014. No, I don't think this problem is discussed or likely to be discussed in the JPN media. Newspaper companies are the main sponsors for most of the marathons. At least one of the Japanese people largely responsible for perpetuating the problem comes into it from that side. C'est la vie.

Most-Read This Week

60-Year-Old Hiromi Nakata Wins Tottori Marathon Overall Women's Race

The Tottori Marathon held its 12th running on March 10. In light rain and 11˚C temperatures 3717 people ran Tottori's one-way course that passes local historic sites such as the Tottori Sand Dunes and the Tottori Castle ruins. Running 3:12:44 for the overall women's win was 60-year-old Hiromi Nakata.
"I was as surprised as anyone that I won," said Tanaka. "I had to stop at the toilets early on and lost some time, but I tried using the double inhale, double exhale breathing method that the actor Kankuro Nakamura uses on the Idaten TV show and got into a good rhythm. Thanks to that I could just keep going and going. I had no idea I was in 1st, and when they put up the finish tape as I was coming in I thought, 'No way!'""
Nakata is a resident of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. In 2017 she ran the fastest time of the year in Japan by a 58-year-old, 3:05:02. In the mornings she does housework and works in her garden for an hour, fitting in 30 to 60-minute run…

Japan's Oldest-Ever Olympic Marathoner Suehiro Ishikawa Retires at 39

At a press conference in Sayama, Saitama on Mar. 20, 2016 Rio Olympics marathoner Suehiro Ishikawa, 39, announced that he will retire from competition at the end of the month. At the time of the Rio Olympics Ishikawa was 36 years and 11 months old, surpassing 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathoner Hiromi Taniguchi's record of 36 years and 3 months to become Japan's oldest-ever Olympic marathoner. He finished 36th.

"Since I started running high school it's been 24 years," said Ishikawa at the press conference. "I've been with Honda for 17 years, and I made it all the way to the top, the Olympics. I'm glad that I've kept going this long. I thank you all."

Ishikawa ran the Mar. 10 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon but dropped out after only 10 km. It was to be the last race of his career. "It was the first time in my career that I'd ever DNFd, and I thought, 'OK, this is where it ends,'" said Ishikawa. Shortly after the race he made …

Yoshitomi Survives Four Marathons in Four Weeks to Win Saga Sakura Marathon

Arguably the highest-volume elite-level marathoner in the world, Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) survived four straight weekends of marathons to win her hometown Saga Sakura Marathon yesterday.

Starting the month off at the Mar. 3 Tokyo Marathon Yoshitomi ran 2:32:30 for 13th. A week later at the Mar. 10 Nagoya Women's Marathon it was 2:34:49 for 31st. Last weekend she headed overseas in a bid to win the Mar. 17 New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon in Taiwan, but in a rare off day she finished 6th in only 2:48:45. Heading back home she rallied to win the Mar. 24 Saga Sakura Marathon in 2:42:02.

At an expo talk show appearance the Wan Jin Shi organizers billed Yoshitomi as "the female Kawauchi," but not even he has come close to the kind of volume of racing Yoshitomi has been turning out over the years while working at her parents' botanical farm. Expect to see more, and more, and more from her in the months to come.



photos courtesy of Wan Jin Shi Marathon organizers
text …