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Koide Prescient: Yurika Nakamura Wins Nagoya in 2:25:51 Debut

by Brett Larner

Of all the scenarios forecast for the final selection race for the Japanese women's marathon team at the Beijing Olympics, run today at the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, few included 21 year old first-time marathoner Yurika Nakamura of Team Tenmaya. A longshot with a half marathon PB of only 1:10:03, Nakamura's sole vote of confidence came from a knowledgeable source, legendary coach Yoshio Koide. Koide had picked Nakamura as the most likely contender after Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoko Takahashi. Takahashi faded after only 9 km, but with an extremely slow and tactical 1st half of 1:14:43 it looked as though the winner would be irrelevant as the time needed to make the Beijing Olympics, faster than the 2:25:34 run by Tenmaya's Tomo Morimoto in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, was all but out of reach.

Nakamura had other ideas. After Team Shiseido's Yumi Hirata and Harumi Hiroyama pushed the pace in the 2nd half, most of the big names launched a series of attacks. First went two-time World Championships entrant Yumiko Hara at the 25 km mark, dropping Kiyoko Shimahara and Megumi Oshima from the lead pack. Next Athens Olympics team member Naoko Sakamoto opened a gap on the pack after the 28.6 km turnaround point, with only Yoshimi Ozaki following. Four runners caught back up, and the lead pack was down to six. Chika Horie was the next to make a move, trying to get away at the 31.7 km point. Yuri Kano, Ozaki and Nakamura followed, with Hara and Sakamoto falling away.

All of this was just a lead up to Nakamura's move at 32.6 km. She definitively dropped the rest of the field, recording a 5k split of 16:31 from 30 to 35 km and another of 16:44 between 35 and 40 km. It was clear with 2.195 km to go that Morimoto's time would be hard for her to reach, but she did all that was possible. She ran 7:13 over the final stretch to win in 2:25:51, a 1:11:08 2nd half but 16 seconds short of Morimoto's time.

Nakamura's fate is now in the hands of Rikuren, the governing body of Japanese Track and Field. Morimoto ran a faster time in Osaka but finished 2nd a short distance behind winner Mara Yamauchi of the U.K. Nakamura won in a slower time but in a far more impressive performance which accurately simulated the early strategic style of race which often occurs in Olympic and championship events. Only one of the two runners will be selected for the team when Rikuren announces its decision tomorrow, Mar. 10. The irony is that the two rivals for the Olympic Team are otherwise teammates at Tenmaya.

Beyond the Olympic Team outcome, Nagoya was significant in that a new generation came out on top. While Yuri Kano and Yumiko Hara, two of the brightest prospects to emerge in recent years, came 3rd and 4th, the top two slots were taken by younger first-time marathoners, Nakamura and Yoshimi Ozaki. Despite not being part of the elite field, each recorded a 7:13 final 2.195 km, the fastest in the field and competitive even by men's standards. Regardless of whether Nakamura is selected for Beijing, these two runners will be welcome additions to the Japanese marathoning scene.

Takahashi, on the other hand, made what may well be her final elite performance. After showing difficulty as early as the 5 km point despite the slow opening split of 17:53, she dropped away from the leaders but continued on relatively consistently to a 27th place 2:44:18 finish, her slowest time ever. To Takahashi's credit, her decision to soldier on to the finish showed that her motto is more to her than just words. All the best to her hereafter.

Top 10 Results
1. Yurika Nakamura: 2:25:51 (debut)
2. Yoshimi Ozaki: 2:26:19 (debut)
3. Yuri Kano: 2:26:39
4. Yumiko Hara: 2:27:14
5. Chika Horie: 2:27:16
6. Megumi Oshima: 2:29:03
7. Yumi Hirata: 2:29:23 (debut)
8. Maya Nishio: 2:29:34 (PB)
9. Harumi Hiroyama: 2:29:50
10. Naoko Sakamoto: 2:30:21

Complete results are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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