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Simon versus Japan on the streets of Edmonton

Simon versus the Japanese on streets of Edmonton
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
11 August 2001 - Edmonton - Since the World Championships in Athletics was inaugurated in Helsinki in 1983, seven men and seven women marathon runners were crowned as the World Champion  (Abel Anton won twice).  During the same period, five men and five women marathon runners were crowned as the Olympic Champion.  Only two marathon runners - Rosa Mota in Roma and Seoul, and Gezahegne Abera in Sydney and Edmonton - have won both of the coveted titles.  It is very unfortunate that the Olympic marathon champion, Naoko Takahashi chooses not to run in Edmonton, and thus not be able to join the list.

Unlike the last year's Olympic Games, where the only three of the top 14 marathon runners in the combined 1999/2000 list were missing, unfortunately, Edmonton will be missing many of the established top marathon runners of the world.  Of the top fourteen runners on the combined 2000/2001 list, eight runners are known to be missing from the race.  But don't despair, for the marathon is an event in which relatively unknown runners can prevail at the end, as witnessed in the 1999 Worlds in Seville. 

At the present time, two women marathon runners stand out.  They are Naoko Takahashi, the reigning Olympic Champion who has won her last three marathons, and Catherine Ndereba the world leader in 2000 who has won the three consecutive big city marathons.  It is very unfortunate that both Naoko Takahashi and Catherine Ndereba will be missing in Edmonton.  Instead of challenging for the Worlds/Olympic double, Naoko Takahashi will be challenging the world best time and sub 2:20 marathon in Berlin marathon.  It would be less of the loss for the sport if Catherine Ndereba were joining Takahashi at Berlin, but unfortunately Ndereba (and L Kiplagat) are running the Chicago marathon...

The Worlds Championships should be where the best runners should meet.  The anticipation for the showdown at the summit is what the track and field is all about.  It is very unfortunate that some athletes don't share this view. 

In the absence of Ndereba, and Takahashi (and also of Lornah Kiplagat), favourite for the gold medal in Edmonton is likely to be Lidia Simon, the Olympic Silver medallist at the marathon.  Challenging Simon are young Japanese led by Yoko Shibui, who recorded a world debut best of 2:23:11 in the 2001 Osaka Ladies marathon.  Simon is one of the most consistent marathon runners in recent years; she has won a medal in all major championships since 1997.  However, she does not have a gold medal from any of the major championships.  Shibui on the other hand is almost an unknown factor, because she has only run one marathon.  Some runners who made spectacular debut failed miserably in their second marathon (e.g., Yumi Kokamo who ran 2:26:26 in the 1992 Osaka Ladies marathon, but ran miserably in the Olympics).  On the other hand some runners made a spectacular debut and followed it up with another win in the second marathon (e.g., Abel Anton, and Catherina McKiernan).   

Unfortunately, Shibui may not be at the top of her game.  At the press conference on Thursday, Shibui admitted that she is nowhere near the shape she was in before Osaka Ladies marathon in January.  Coach Suzuki who coaches both Shibui and also Tosa said, "Because the weather in Boulder, Colorado where Shibui was training was unseasonably hot, she could not complete the planned training session, which have shaken her confidence."  Assessing from the press conference, the top Japanese seems to be Kazumi Matsuo who is undefeated in the three marathon starts, and Reiko Tosa who has run two consecutive sub 2:25 marathons.  Yutaka Taketomi who coaches Matsuo and Matusoka said, "Matsuo has done good training for this race.  I don't like slow race, but Matsuo can handle either slow or fast pace."

"Because the course is predominantly uphill, meaning the length of uphill portion of the course is longer than the downhill portion, it is risky to break away from the lead pack early.  Anybody doing so will be caught before the finish line. Depending on various circumstances, the first 5Km could take more than 17:30.  In that case the winning time will be around 2:26.  The turning point of the race will come around 40Km, but it can come down to the sprint on the track just like the men's race.  In that case I think Simon is the woman to beat," said coach Takeuchi who is the personal coach of Takami Ominami. 

Coach Taketomi basically agrees:  "This is a hard race to predict, but basically I think the pack will stay intact until the end of the downhill.  Having seen what happened in the men's race, I think runners will be cautious and wait until after the end of the uphill. If you go any sooner, I don't think it is possible to completely breakaway."  Coach Suzuki had a similar view: "It is very difficult to predict the winning time.  First of all, the course is quite difficult.  It all depends on the temperature at the start and also near the end of the race.  I think they will run a conservative pace at the beginning, and I expect  2:25 to win.  I think it is very important to stay focused throughout the race."

Of course Zakharova of Russia or some unknown runner can be a factor, as marathon is such an unpredictable event.  However, the race is most likely to be between Lidia Simon and the Japanese, probably Kazumi Matsuo and Reiko Tosa.  But don't count out Shibui... Follow it live in the IAAF Forums with Tegla Loroupe

Combined 2000/2001 Performance List 

1 2:21:33 1 Catherine Ndereba KEN 1 Chicago 22 Oct 2000
2 2:22:19 2 Naoko Takahashi JPN 1 Nagoya 12 Mar 2000
3 2:22:36 3 Lornah Kiplagat KEN 2 Chicago 22 Oct 2000
4 2:22:54 4 Lidia Simon ROM 1 Osaka 30 Jan 2000
5 2:22:56 5 Harumi Hiroyama JPN 2 Osaka 30 Jan 2000
6 2:23:11 6 Yoko Shibui JPN 1 Osaka 28 Jan 2001
7 2:23:14   Naoko Takahashi   1 Sydney (OG) 24 Sept 2000
8 2:23:22   Lidia Simon   2 Sydney (OG) 24 Sept 2000
9 2:23:31 6 Esther Wanjiru KEN 3 Osaka 30 Jan 2000
10 2:23:43 7 Marleen Renders BEL 1 Paris 9 Apr 2000
11 2:23:47 8 Maura Viceconte ITA 1 Wien 21 May 2000
12 2:23:53   Catherine Ndereba   1 Boston 16 Apr 2001
13 2:23:57 9 Derartu Tulu ETH 1 London 22 Apr 2001
14 2:24:02 10 Joyce Chepchumba KEN 1 Tokyo 19 Nov 2000
15 2:24:04 11 Svetlana Zakharova RUS 2 London 22 Apr 2001
16 2:24:12   Joyce Chepchumba   3 London 22 Apr 2001
17 2:24:15   Lidia Simon   4 London 22 Apr 2001
18 2:24:29 12 Elfnesh Alemu ETH 5 London 22 Apr 2001
19 2:24:33 13 Tegla Loroupe KEN 1 London 16 Apr 2000
20 2:24:36 14 Reiko Tosa JPN 2 Nagoya 12 Mar 2000
21 2:24:45   Joyce Chepchumba   3 Sydney (OG) 24 Sept 2000
22 2:24:46   Lidia Simon   2 London 16 Apr 2000
23 2:24:47   Elfenesh Alemu   4 Osaka 30 Jan 2000
24 2:24:47   Reiko Tosa   2 Tokyo 19 Nov 2000
25 2:24:55   Elfenesh Alemu   1 Nagano 9 Apr 2000
26 2:24:57   Joyce Chepchumba   3 London 16 Apr 2000