by Brett Larner
The Japanese selection races for the country's marathon teams for the London Olympics wrap up this Sunday with the new-and-improved Nagoya Women's Marathon. Modernizing from a small, elite-only race to the world's largest women-only mass participation field of 15000 and an accompanying co-ed half-marathon, Nagoya retains its elite history with what may be the closest thing the country has seen to a straight-up single-race Olympic trial. Fifteen elite Japanese women will be going for what are generally believed to be the two remaining Olympic team places, at least eight of them with a realistic chance of making the team. Fuji TV will be broadcasting the race live nationwide starting at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday, Mar. 11, and overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via the lo-res splendor of Keyhole TV. Twitter coverage via @JRNLive will unfortunately not be available for this race.
Races need an international field of at least five different nationalities to maintain IAAF label status, and Nagoya's organizers have duly complied with an overseas field of five, one athlete each from Kenya, Romania, Russia, the Ukraine and Lithuania. Veteran medalists Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) and Lidia Simon (Romania) return for their perpetual Japanese invites along with Eastern Europeans Albina Mayorova (Russia), Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) and Rasa Drazdauskaite (Lithuania), but barring a dramatic improvement and remarkable closing ability like Ukrainian Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, it doesn't seem likely that any of the foreign competition will factor into what is generally expected to be a fast race.
Fifteen Japanese women are on the invited list to contend for the Olympic team. General opinion has two places available, with Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) a lock after her 2:23:23 victory but Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) given little chance of making the Olympic team with only a 2:26:32.
The favorites look to be Daegu World Championships 5th-placer Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Berlin World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Akaba already had a solid chance for the London team on the strength of her Daegu performance but passed up a planned shot at a fast time at last month's Tokyo Marathon in order to try to improve her standings in the selection rankings in Nagoya. To do that she will have to run fast and win. Ozaki faltered in Daegu and lost out to Kizaki in the last stretch of Yokohama in November, so likewise she will need to be fast and in first to earn her spot on the team.
Athens Olympics gold medalist and national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and her NR predecessor Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) are scheduled to start, and given their sub-2:20 credentials they cannot be discounted. Noguchi has not raced a marathon since 2007 due to a never-ending series of injuries and pushed her public goodwill to the limit over the winter with a series of highly-publicized domestic comeback runs only to withdraw at the last minute virtually every time, most recently at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon. Nagoya is her absolute last chance to qualify for London. Is she really ready? Has the all the comeback talk just been a marketing ploy? If she is even close to fit she is a leading contender. Shibui has not raced well since winning the 2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon, her recent marathon best a 2:29:03 at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon nearly ten minutes off her former NR. But like Noguchi if she is even close to her old self she is the match of any of the other Japanese women. It may be a bigger stretch, but she is Yoko Shibui.
At the next level are a handful of younger runners with the potential for a step up to the next level. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) was impressive in her 2:24:29 runner-up performance at last spring's edition of Yokohama to make the Daegu World Championships. Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) was only 4th in both runnings of Yokohama last year but switched to Nagoya from Tokyo after a 1:10:32 PB to finish as the top Japanese woman at last month's Marugame Half-Marathon. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was 2nd at Osaka 2011 to make the Daegu World Championships, beating veteran Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) in the selection process despite a faster PB performance by Fujinaga under difficult circumstances in London last year. Both are possibilities in Nagoya, with Ito having soundly beaten Fujinaga in Marugame.
More distant possibilities are 2010 Nagoya winner Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido), 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) and, elevated to winner of the 2011 Tokyo Marathon following the doping disqualification of Russian Tatyana Aryasova, Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal). Although neither Kano nor Nasukawa have shown recent fitness, Higuchi ran well in Marugame, suggesting she may be the best bet of the three.
Rounding out the invited field are Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC), Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera). Yoshida won January's Mari Tanigawa Half-Marathon in a solid 1:11:16 but ran poorly last month at the Ome 30 km. A teammate of Ozaki's, Katsumata's debut was only a 2:31:10 but she showed potential for better and could be a darkhorse. Miyauchi is the most talented of this group but has not yet been able to execute a strong marathon.
With the drama in the men's Olympic selection races coming with the team announcement on Mar. 12, Nagoya should be a dynamic cap to the winter Japanese marathon season and Olympic-qualifying series as the women's team lineup is likely to be clear once the second Japanese woman is across the finish line.
2012 Nagoya Women's Marathon Elite Field
Nagoya, Mar. 11, 2012
click here for complete elite field listing
1. Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 2:18:47 (Chicago 2001)
2. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:22:54 (Osaka Int'l 2000)
3. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:25:35 (Chicago 2003)
4. Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) - 2:28:34a (San Diego 2011)
5. Rasa Drazdauskaite (Lithuania) - 2:29:47 (Turin 2011)
11. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 2:19:12 (Berlin 2005)
12. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:19:41 (Berlin 2004)
13. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:30 (Tokyo Int'l 2008)
14. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:24:09 (London 2011)
15. Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido) - 2:24:27 (Tokyo Int'l 2008)
16. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - 2:24:29 (Yokohama Int'l 2011)
17. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:25:38 (Tokyo 2009)
18. Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) - 2:25:40 (London 2011)
19. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:26:55 (Osaka Int'l 2011)
20. Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:26:58 (Yokohama Int'l 2011)
21. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 2:28:49 (Tokyo 2011)
22. Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:29:45 (Chicago 2010)
23. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 2:29:54 (Nagoya Int'l 2010)
24. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:31:10 (Tokyo 2011)
25. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:33:36 (Nagoya Int'l 2010)
51. Aniko Kalovics (Hungary)
52. Rene Kalmer (South Africa)
53. Sayo Nomura (Meijo Univ.)
54. Mao Kuroda (Team Yutaka Giken)
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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