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1500 m Olympian Assefa Wins Nagoya, 22-Year-Old Sekine 2:23:07 Debut

Two-time 1500 m Olympian Meskerem Assefa (Ethiopia) ran down favorite Valary Jemeli (Kenya) with 4 km to go to win the 2018 Nagoya Women's Marathon, with the home town crowd wowed by the debut of the latest next big thing, 22-year-old Hanami Sekine (Japan Post).

Supported by three pacers, a lead pack of seven including Assefa, Jemeli, Sekine, Ethiopian Bahraini Merima Mohamed, Saitama International Marathon winner Flomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) and top-ranked Japanese women Reia Iwade (Dome) and Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) went through halfway in a decent 1:11:32. This proved too hot for a few of the past next big things to have run well in Nagoya the last few years, as Sairi Maeda (Daihatsu), 2:22:48 in Nagoya three years ago, and Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), 2:23:47 last year, were off the back of the pack in the first 10 km.

By 25 km Cheyech, Ohara and Iwade joined them off the back, leaving only Sekine in contention with the African trio of Jemeli, Assefa and Mohammed. Sekine, a Rio Olympian in the 10000 m who turned 22 only two weeks ago and had never raced longer than a 10.9 km ekiden stage, showed no fear in her debut, unable to keep up with Jemeli's big surge after 25 km but dropping Mohammed and picking up the pace to try to chase down Assefa in 2nd.

Jemeli's move was hard and fast, splitting 16:15 from 25 to 30 km and opening up 17 seconds over Assefa and 41 on Sekine. There she stalled, Assefa matching her speed over the next 5 km and then starting to close. At 38 km Assefa drew even, momentarily looking like she would tuck in and save herself for a last kick but then changing her mind and leaving Jemeli behind. Unchallenged in the closing kilometers, Assefa took two and a half minutes off her best to win in 2:21:45.

Down 58 seconds on Jemeli at 35 km, Sekine also closed hard to cut that down to 19 seconds by race's end. It looked like Sekine had a shot at becoming only the fourth Japanese woman to debut sub-2:23, but as Jemeli crossed the finish line 2nd in 2:22:48 it was clear Sekine was just out of range. Her time of 2:23:07 was good enough to put her ahead of Yoko Shibui's then-debut world record 2:23:11 at all-time #4 on the Japanese debut charts, a huge boost to the national optimism as the first stab at the marathon from the innovative Japan Post corporate team that counts Sekine's fellow track stars Ayuko Suzuki and Rina Nabeshima on its roster.

Iwade, a former corporate leaguer who quit the Noritz team to go the independent sponsorship route, retook Mohammed to move into 4th but was almost taken down in the home straight by the fast-closing Keiko Nogami (Juhachi Ginko), who moved up from the second pack to come within 5 seconds of Iwade, running a PB 2:26:33 to Iwade's 2:26:28.

Sekine, Iwade and Nogami all cleared the sub-2:28 standard for the top three Japanese finishers in Nagoya to qualify for the new MGC Race 2020 Olympic trials. The next three Japanese women had to clear 2:27:00 to make the MGC cutoff, but with second-packer Hanami Tanaka (Shiseido) leading Ohara and Kiyota home in 2:27:40 all three missed out. The day's results brought the number of female qualifiers at the end of the first MGC season to six compared to thirteen for the men. Until this summer's Asian Games and Hokkaido Marathon Japanese women will have to run 2:24:00 or produce a two-race average under 2:28:00 in overseas races to join the ranks of the qualifiers and bring their numbers closer to parity.

Last year Kiyota's teammate Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) ran the debut national record of 2:21:36 in Nagoya. Both Ando and Kiyota were sub-par in the London World Championships, and with Ando only 2:27:37 in Osaka in January and Kiyota 2:28:58 today it showed how hard it is for the new hopefuls to stay on top after running big young. Ohara's 2:27:44 and Maeda's 2:30:54 reinforced this point, a reason for caution at reading too much into the success of Sekine or 22-year-old Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu), 2:22:44 in her debut in Osaka in January. But at the same time, with a steady stream of women popping up and running 2:21 to 2:23 in their early 20s all it will take is one of them to get it right at the main event in Tokyo just over two years away.

Nagoya Women's Marathon

Nagoya, 3/11/18
click here for complete results and splits

1. Meskerem Assefa (Ethiopia) - 2:21:45 - PB
2. Valary Jemeli (Kenya) - 2:22:48
3. Hanami Sekine (Japan/Japan Post) - 2:23:07 - debut
4. Reia Iwade (Japan/Dome) - 2:26:28
5. Keiko Nogami (Japan/Juhachi Ginko) - 2:26:33 - PB
6. Hanae Tanaka (Japan/Shiseido) - 2:27:40
7. Merima Mohammed (Bahrain) - 2:27:41
8. Rei Ohara (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:27:44
9. Mao Kiyota (Japan/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:28:58
10. Misaki Kato (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:29:22
11. Yurie Doi (Japan/Fujitsu) - 2:29:49 - PB
12. Michi Numata (Japan/Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:30:07
13. Ayaka Inoue (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:30:43 - debut
14. Karolina Nadolska (Poland) - 2:30:46
15. Sairi Maeda (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:30:54
16. Ayano Ikemitsu (Japan/Kagoshima Ginko) - 2:31:21 - debut
17. Yuko Mizuguchi (Japan/Denso) - 2:32:14 - PB
18. Yomogi Akasaka (Japan/Meijo Univ.) - 2:32:28 - debut
19. Flomena Cheyech Daniel (Kenya) - 2:33:01
20. Kaori Yoshida (Japan/Team RxL) - 2:34:17
21. Mizuki Tanimoto (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:35:58
22. Chiharu Suzuki (Japan/Kyudenko) - 2:36:32 - debut
23. Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Japan/Noritz) - 2:36:37
24. Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) - 2:37:05
25. Miharu Shimokado (Japan/Nitori) - 2:37:18

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


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