Transformed on the one-year anniversary of the Tohoku disasters from the small, elite-only format to the world's largest women-only marathon with 15,000 runners running a new course with an indoor finish unique in Japan, the Nagoya Women's Marathon marked the end of the Japanese Olympic team selection cycle. Russian veteran Albina Mayorova ran a massive negative split of over two minutes to effortlessly blow by Japan's best in the final part of the race and take the win in 2:23:52, nearly two minutes better than her 8 1/2 year-old PB. Tumbling in the turbulence behind her, 2009 World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) outkicked her 2011 World Championships teammate Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) to take the top Japanese spot, 2nd overall in 2:24:14, and put herself into the circle of contenders for the London team. Nakazato was 3rd in 2:24:28, a PB by one second and good enough to give her a chance of joining Ozaki in London. Past national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was a surprise and elated 4th in 2:25:02, her best performance in over three years and one which makes her the first Japanese woman to break 2:27 eight times, while current national record holder and Athens Olympics gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) was an emotional 6th in 2:25:33, her first marathon in over four years and the fifth-best time of her career.
While the lead pack of Japanese Olympic hopefuls set off at 2:23-flat pace, splitting exactly 1:11:30 at halfway, Mayorova and Ukrainian Olena Shurkhno ran a more conservative 1:13:00 first half. Both Mayorova and Shurkhno then turned it on, picking up the pace and catching stragglers from the lead pack one by one. The 34-year-old Mayorova, consistently at the 2:28-2:31 level since 2005 with a 2:25:35 best from the 2003 Chicago Marathon, split a stunning 1:10:52 for the second half, while Shurkhno managed a more modest 1:12:49 second half to take nearly three minutes off her best from last year's downhill Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon. Both clocked 7:20 for the final 2.195 km, the fastest in the field, to join other Eastern European women from the same athlete management firm, including the runner-up at January's Osaka International Women's Marathon Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko (Ukraine), 2011 Chicago Marathon winner Liliya Shobukhova (Russia) and 2011 Tokyo Marathon first and third placers Tatiana Aryasova (Russia) and Tatiana Petrova (Russia), in a remarkably consistent pattern of success over the last year: a negative split with the fastest last 2.195 km in the race, the kind of closing splits more commonly run by men. Combined with this race strategy, this group's seemingly innovative training methods make for a nearly unbeatable combination. Amazing.
In the race for the Japanese Olympic team, early casualties of the 2:23-flat pace included defending Nagoya champion Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido) and Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), both out of the lead pack after only 5 km. Kano's teammate Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) was next, then Mari Tanigawa Half-Marathon winner Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC). At 17 km Noguchi, looking heavy and jerky in her return to the distance, was also off the pack. Just past 20 km, favorite Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.), the top Japanese woman at February's Marugame International Half Marathon, had a very hard fall at a water station. Unable to get back up for a long time, she finally pushed herself back to her feet and started to run again, staggering and crying and eventually finishing 30th in 2:38:02. The lead pack of seven, Nakazato, Ozaki, Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei), Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku), Shibui and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) along with pacer Rene Kalmer (South Africa) went through halfway in 1:11:30.
With Kalmer's departure at 23 km the pace immediately slowed, 3:21 for her final km followed by a 3:26 and a 3:30. At 25 km Noguchi was over 20 seconds back, but as the pack ahead of her turned tactical she began to accelerate, regaining contact at 29 km and taking the lead at 30 km, with a 1:42:31 split as the entire nation gasped and held its breath. Miyauchi was the first victim of Noguchi's push to get the race back on track. Sensing danger, Ozaki responded just past 32 km with a long, hard surge to drop Akaba, then Shibui, then her teammate Katsumata, and finally Noguchi. Only Nakazato and Ito were left, but by 34 km Akaba had returned to the lead pack, which was now made up of four of the five members of Japan's Daegu World Championships marathon team.
Just past 35 km, looking fresh and strong Mayorova blew by the lead quartet of Japanese women, all but one of whom held faster PBs than her 2003 best. Akaba, who suffered a knee injury in February training, fell away as the other three Japanese women picked it up to tail the Russian. At 36 km Ozaki made a move to retake the lead, while Ito lost contact. At km 37 km Mayorova threw down the hammer again to sail off to the win in Nagoya Dome. Ozaki and Nakazato repeatedly traded the front position as they battled over the final 5 km, and not until the last 600 m did Ozaki make the move to put Nakazato away. Shibui overtook Ito for 4th, looking overjoyed as she crossed the line, while a tearful Noguchi came through seven seconds back in 2:25:33, two seconds better than her debut marathon time. Although Noguchi failed in her bid to return to the Olympics, she can take pride in having never given up on her dream over the years and in finally seeing it through even when she knew she was at less than 100%. Prior to today only one woman, Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) had ever beaten Noguchi in a marathon, and Noguchi can take additional pride in the fact that she was almost ten minutes faster than Ndereba in Nagoya after long years out of the game.
The Japanese Olympic marathon team lineup will be announced at a press conference at 3:30 p.m. on Mar. 12. With her Nagoya performance Ozaki joins Osaka winner Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) as probable placeholders on the team. In post-race interviews Ozaki said that while she had run slower than planned, she was happy to have been the top Japanese woman and get into Olympic contention. The third Olympian will come from among Akaba, Yokohama International Women's Marathon winner Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu), Osaka 3rd-placer Azusa Nojiri (Team Daihatsu) and Nakazato. Kizaki's win over Ozaki in Yokohama gives her an edge despite her relatively slow winning time. For her part, Noguchi said that although she missed her goal of making London she was very happy with how she had run considering the condition she was in, and she looks forward to building toward her next goal, a clear statement that this was not the end of her road.
2012 Nagoya Women's Marathon Top Results
1. Albina Mayorova (Russia) - 2:23:52 - PB
2. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:24:14
3. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - 2:24:28 - PB
4. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:25:02
5. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:25:26 - PB
6. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 2:25:33
7. Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) - 2:25:49 - PB
8. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:26:08
9. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:26:23 - PB
10. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:28:01 - PB
11. Eri Hayakawa (Amino Vital AC) - 2:28:19
12. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:28:44
13. Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) - 2:29:20 - PB
14. Jessica Tengrove (Australia) - 2:31:02 - debut
15. Korei Omata (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 2:31:13 - debut
19. Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:33:41
22. Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) - 2:35:08