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One Step From Sapporo - Osaka International Women's Marathon and Osaka Half Marathon Preview

Gather round, y'all, Sunday's Osaka International Women's Marathon has a story to tell. It's the next-to-last chance for Japanese women to make the Sapporo 2020 Olympic team. All they have to do is be the first Japanese woman across the line and go 2:22:22 or better, as better as possible to keep the crosshairs that will be on their back at the Nagoya Women's Marathon in March down to a workable size. Three women on the list could conceivably play the protagonist and hit 2:22:22 on a good day, Rei Ohara (Tenmaya), Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) and Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal).

Ohara, last year's runner-up, has run as fast as 2:23:20 and currently has a provisional place on the 2020 Olympic team after finishing 3rd at September's MGC Race Olympic marathon trials. She's the one who stands to get knocked out if anyone hits the 2:22:22 standard, so while Nagoya might have made more strategic sense, here she is. A 28th-place finish at December's Sanyo Ladies Half wasn't encouraging, but she sounds optimistic.

Matsuda, whose 2:22:23 best in Berlin 2018 is the mark others have to beat to replace Ohara on the 2020 team, hasn't been in the same kind of shape since Berlin. She finished 4th at the Olympic trials in a gritty 2:29:51, putting her in the provisional alternate spot for the Olympic team. That by itself isn't good enough for her, and being the 2018 Osaka champion and a local she's opted to go for it on home soil.

Which leaves Fukushi. She's the only one who has actually cleared the standard before, running 2:22:17 to win Osaka in 2016 and make the Rio Olympic team. She had an extended break from marathoning after Rio and didn't do another one until Osaka last year, where she dropped out after an unlucky fall, but with a 2:24:09 a few weeks later in Nagoya she seemed to be close to being back to fully operational. If she pulls it off in Osaka and nobody betters her time in Nagoya, Fukushi will make her fifth-straight Olympic team. And that would be a gripping chapter indeed.

It's perfectly set up for that to happen, with four Ethiopian-born athletes, Haftamnesh Tesfay, Meskerem AssefaMimi Belete, and Sintayehu Lewetegn, and one Kenyan, Bornes Jepkirui, under 2:23 in the last two years and guaranteed to keep the action moving up front, plus last year's winner Fatuma Sado of Ethiopia. In the biggest plot twist, Hitomi Niiya (Sekisui Kagaku), who broke Fukushi's 2006 half marathon national record to win last weekend's Houston Half Marathon with support from JRN, will pace the first 12 km to try to help Fukushi and the other women make it to Sapporo. Having benefitted majorly from her pacers in that race, it's the least she could do to return the favor.

Held alongside Osaka, its companion Osaka Half Marathon has grown from a mass-participation mixed gender event to now feature as one of Japan's top post-ekiden season half marathons. Not being a national team selection event for the World Half Marathon Championships it doesn't get many of the big names, who mostly line up a week later in Marugame, but the fields are definitely not bad.

On the women's side, last year's winner Reia Iwade (Under Armour), the fastest female Japanese marathoner of 2019, is on the list as the only woman in the race to have broken 70 minutes. But she has serious competition from Yuka Hori (Panasonic), only 1:11:05 at the 2018 National Corporate Half but fresh off a 31:38.63 PB for 10000 m in December. 10000 m collegiate national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto (Daihatsu) should also be one of the bigger threats to Iwade after a brilliant anchor run at November's National Corporate Women's Ekiden.

On the men's side three men, Yuki Oshikawa (NTN), Naoya Takahashi (Yasukawa Denki) and newly-crowned Swedish marathon national record holder David Nilsson have all gone under 1:02:10 in the last year or so and make it a seriously close race up front. Sub-2:10 marathoners Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu), Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda) and Kohei Matsumura (MHPS) should also be near the front end if not leading.

The Osaka International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live on Fuji TV starting at 12:00 Japan time Sunday. You might have luck with live streaming on either TVJapanLive or JRN will be covering the race live on-site and on @JRNLive. Options for the Osaka Half Marathon are a bit rosier, with an official live stream embedded above.

39th Osaka International Women's Marathon

Elite Field Highlights
Osaka, 1/26/20
elite field listing
sub-elite field listing
times listed are best in last three years except where noted

Haftamnesh Tesfay (Ethiopia) - 2:20:13 (Dubai 2018)
Meskerem Assefa (Ethiopia) - 2:20:36 (Frankfurt 2018)
Mimi Belete (Bahrain) - 2:21:22 (Amsterdam 2019)
Bornes Jepkirui (Kenya) - 2:21:26 (Llubljana 2019)
Mizuki Matsuda (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:22:23 (Berlin 2018)
Sintayehu Lewetegn (Ethiopia) - 2:22:45 (Frankfurt 2018)
Kayoko Fukushi (Japan/Wacoal) - 2:24:09 (Nagoya Women's 2019)
Lisa Weightman (Australia) - 2:25:15 (London 2017)
Mizuki Tanimoto (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:25:28 (Nagoya Women's 2019)
Fatuma Sado (Ethiopia) - 2:25:39 (Osaka Women's 2019)
Rei Ohara (Japan/Tenmaya) - 2:25:46 (Osaka Women's 2019)
Hanae Tanaka (Japan/Shiseido) - 2:26:19 (Osaka Women's 2017)
Katharina Steinruck (Germany) - 2:27:26 (Frankfurt 2019)
Hisami Ishii (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:27:35 (Nagoya Women's 2017)
Haruka Yamaguchi (Japan/AC Kita) - 2:27:39 (Kobe 2019)
Miharu Shimokado (Japan/Brooks) - 2:27:54 (Nagoya Women's 2017)
Yukari Abe (Japan/Shimamura) - 2:28:02 (Osaka Women's 2019)
Shiho Takechi (Japan/Yamada Denki) - 2:29:12 (Nagoya Women's 2019)
Munkhzaya Bayartsogt (Mongolia) - 2:29:18 (Gold Coast 2019)
Michi Numata (Japan/Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:30:07 (Nagoya Women's 2018)
Ayaka Inoue (Japan/Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:30:43 (Nagoya Women's 2018)
Shiho Kaneshige (Japan/GRlab Kanto) - 2:31:56 (Kobe 2019)
Misaki Nishida (Japan/Edion) - 2:32:58 (Nagoya Women's 2019)
Hitomi Mizuguchi (Japan/Daihatsu) - 2:33:10 (Osaka Women's 2018)
Hiroko Miyauchi (Japan/Hokuren) - 2:33:55 (Osaka Women's 2017)
Asuka Yamamoto (Japan/Osaka Geijutsu Univ.) - 2:34:26 (Tokyo 2018)
Mitsuko Ino (Japan/Linkstyle) - 2:34:39 (Osaka 2017)

Miku Daido (Japan/Iwatani Sangyo) - 1:11:50 (Osaka Half 2019)
Momoe Nobuoka (Japan/Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 1:12:28 (Nat'l Univ Women's Half 2018)

Hitomi Niiya (Sekisui Kagaku)

Osaka Half Marathon

Osaka, 1/26/20
complete elite field listing
times listed are best in last three years except where noted

Reia Iwade (Under Armour) - 1:09:46 (Osaka 2019)
Yuka Hori (Panasonic) - 1:11:05 (National Corporate Half 2018)
Kotomi Tsubokura (Wacoal) - 1:11:08 (Osaka 2019)
Yuko Kikuchi (Edion) - 1:11:32 (Sanyo 2019)
Kaori Yoshida (Team RxL) - 1:11:54 (Ageo 2018)
Hikari Yoshimoto (Daihatsu) - 1:12:39 (Sendai 2019)
Mao Kiyota (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:12:41 (Gifu Seiryu 2017)
Rui Nishida (Sysmex) - 1:13:34 (Osaka 2018)
Yuki Kanehira (Sysmex) - 1:14:12 (Sanyo 2017)
Natsuki Omori (Daihatsu) - debut - 2:29:15 (Osaka Women's Marathon 2019)

Yuki Oshikawa (NTN)  - 1:02:01 (National Corporate Half 2018)
Naoya Takahashi (Yasukawa Denki) - 1:02:01 (National Corporate Half 2018)
David Nilsson (Sweden) - 1:02:09 (Ageo 2018)
Jo Fukuda (Nishitetsu) - 1:02:25 (Marugame 2019)
Kenji Yamamoto (Mazda) - 1:02:34 (National Corporate Half 2019)
Masaki Takamoto (Subaru) - 1:02:36 (National Corporate Half 2019)
Kohei Matsumura (MHPS) - 1:02:37 (National Corporate Half 2019)
Masanori Sumida (Aichi Seiko) - 1:02:37 (National Corporate Half 2019)
Masamichi Yasuda (Aichi Seiko) - 1:02:39 (National Corporate Half 2018)
Tatsuya Maruyama (Yachiyo Kogyo) - 1:02:42 (National University Half 2019)
Shinji Yoshimoto (Kurosaki Harima) - 1:02:45 (National Corporate Half 2019)
Yuto Fujiyama (Osaka Police) - 1:02:54 (Osaka 2019)
Daichi Takeuchi (Toenec) - 1:02:59 (Osaka 2019)

© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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