Yukiko Akaba takes the 2011 Osaka Women's Marathon (Agence SHOT) © Copyright
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Akaba out-duels Ito in windy Osaka

Surging away from Mai Ito just before the 39th kilometre, Yukiko Akaba won the 30th Osaka Women’s Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, clocking 2:26:29 on Sunday (30). 

The times were slow due to strong winds that shifted into headwinds in the last half. Thus Akaba, although she won the race, half of the requirement for making the Japanese squad for the World Championships, she was unable to crack 2:26, the other requirement to punch her ticket to Daegu. However, Keisuke Sawaki of the JAAF was quite impressed with Akaba’s performance, thus barring the emergence of a couple unexpected runners running very fast in either Yokohama and Nagoya, Akaba is likely to make the team.

The lead pack of nine runners, which was formed almost immediately, was reduced down to six runners (Akaba, Ito, Ryoko Kizaki, Chika Horie and Yoko and Hiroko Miyauchi) by 15Km.  The initial pace was quite good, passing 5Km in 17:00, 10Km in 33:49 and 15Km in 50:57. However, Yoshio Koide, who coached Naoko Takahashi to Olympic Gold as well as first sub-2:20 marathon, had different opinion. “A 2:24 pace is little too fast for them,” he observed. “In order to run 2:24 in this weather, one needs to be in 2:21 shape, and I don’t think they are. They will be forced to slow down in the last half.”  His prediction turned out to be correct.

When the last pace maker, Hungary’s Aniko Kalovics, dropped out at 25Km, the real racing started with Ito, running in her second marathon, taking the lead. Akaba and Kizaki covered her move but Horie and the Miyauchi twins were left behind. Horie soon joined the leaders - Ito, Akaba and Kizaki - and the four stayed together until 30Km, when Horie made her move and Kizaki fell behind. Horie was next to go around 33.5Km, leaving the race as a duel between Akaba and Ito. Their duel continued until 38.7Km when Akaba made a decisive move to leave Ito behind.

“I really wanted to make my move earlier, between 30 and 35Km, but the wind was just too strong,” said Akaba, who became a prohibitive favorite after Yumiko Hara pulled out of the race over the weekend. “So I waited until we entered the long straight way. Today I think I was able to show that I am a strong runner. Next I need to run faster,” said Akaba, who is planning to chase a faster time in the London Marathon.

After the race Akaba kept emphasizing the strong head wind in the last half of the course, which mostly heads south to Nagai stadium, the venue of 2007 World Championships.  Last year, Akaba was forced to drop out around the 39th kilometre so this year’s race was redemption for Akaba.

“Last year, I learned not to train too hard to the point of injury,” said Akaba, who started this year’s race injury free, unlike last year when she picked up an injury just prior to the Marathon.

Ito was second with 2:26:55, a personal best by more than two minutes. “I was able to stay with the leader longer than I did in my first marathon in Nagoya. So it was good,” said Ito, who still might have a chance to make the Worlds’ team.

Horie held on for third, while Anna Incerti of Italy ran a very smart race and finished fourth with a 2:27:33 personal best.  She was eighth at 25Km when the real racing started, but moved up steadily, to fifth by 35Km, and then fourth around 36Km to improve her personal best by nine seconds. 

Kizaki (2:29:35) and Mika Okunaga (2:30:36) rounded out the top-five.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Leading Results -
Weather (at the start):  Sunny; temperature: 3.0C; humidity 49%; very windy

1. Yukiko Akaba (JPN)       2:26:29 
2. Mai Ito (JPN)            2:26:55  Personal Best
3. Chika Horie (JPN)        2:27:26
4. Anna Incerti (ITA)       2:27:33  Personal Best
5. Ryoko Kizaki (JPN)       2:29:35
6. Mika Okunaga (JPN)       2:30:36
7. Adriana Pirtea (ROU)     2:32:44
8. Yoko Miyauchi (JPN)      2:36:43
9. Svetlana Zakharova (RUS) 2:36:56
10. Hiroko Miyauchi (JPN)   2:38:31

Splits (note pace makers were in front until 25Km, but their time was not reported neither on TV nor website) -
5Km - 17:00 - Mai Ito
10Km - 33:49 - Hiroko Miyauchi
15Km - 50:57 - Mai Ito
20Km - 1:08:13 - Mai Ito
25Km - 1:25:43 - Mai Ito
30Km - 1:43:08 - Mai Ito
35Km - 2:00:48 - Yukiko Akaba
       2:00:48 - Mai Ito
       2:00:57 - Chika Horie
       2:01:29 - Ryoko Kizaki
       2:01:37 - Anna Incerti
40Km - 2:18:41 - Yukiko Akaba
       2:18:54 - Mai Ito
       2:19:33 - Chika Horie
       2:19:50 - Anna Incerti