by Brett Larner
With the last-minute departure of defending gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) from the Japanese women's marathon team due to an injury and the absence of alternate Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya), also due to injury, the pressure on remaining competitors Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) and Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) in today's Beijing Olympics Women's Marathon was intense. Unfortunately the race conformed to a worst-case predication of how it would unfold.
Tosa has been in poor shape since winning the bronze medal in last summer's World Championships marathon. The latest in a long line of injuries, illnesses and training setbacks was a bunion on her right foot which developed during the last week of July. Tosa claimed that she had recovered sufficiently to race, but just 15 km into the Olympic marathon she drifted back from the lead pack despite its relatively slow pace. Within a short time she had slowed to a near walk and was clearly in pain. She ground on for an eternity before finally dropping out at the 25 km point. Japanese television coverage showed her being carried to an ambulance where she received medical attention. When her right shoe and sock were removed they revealed severe contortion in her toes and forefoot. The injury and missed year may well indicate the end of the 32 year-old veteran's career.
With Tosa out of the race, it was left to 22 year-old rookie Yurika Nakamura to uphold Japan's streak of four straight Olympic women's marathon medals. Nakamura ran well throughout the first half of the race, remaining near the front of the pack and even pushing once without actually taking the lead. The slow pace played well for her race plan of an aggressive attack after 30 km, but the second half of the race did not cooperate as well.
Nakamura's Team Tenmaya has had female marathoners in the last three Olympics, a highly impressive achievement. However, mention Tenmaya to almost anyone in the Japanese running industry and they will talk about how Tenmaya's runners are cursed to have only one good race in them. Nakamura, who had a sensational debut marathon this spring when she won the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, fell victim to the curse, fading from the lead pack once the pace began to accelerate. She was able to resume a marginally higher speed in the final kilometers, picking off several runners including world record holder Paula Radcliffe, but her 13th place 2:30:19 finish was far from her expectations. In a post-race interview she said that running against the best in the world gave her a better sense of her own level and how much she has to develop. She promised to work hard to be ready for the 2012 London Olympics, but long before then Japan must analyze what went wrong this year when three of its four marathoners came to the Olympics too badly injured to run.
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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