Lydia Cheromei winning the 2011 Marseille-Cassis road race (Claude Nucera) © Copyright
Preview Yokohama, Japan

Cheromei the fastest in the field, as Japanese seek Moscow team places in Yokohama

The 2012 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, which doubles as one of the qualifying races for the marathon team at the World Championships in Moscow, will be held on Sunday 18 November in Yokohama, Japan.  The race has been held only three times in Yokohama, it was previously held in Tokyo from 1979 to 2008.  The race will attract a lot of attention from the Japanese marathon fans, for the first Japanese finisher in the race will be automatically selected for the marathon team provided she runs faster than 2:23:59. 

The Yokohama Women’s Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.

Three Japanese runners stand out in the race for the 2013 World Championships Marathon team. They are Yukiko Akaba, Remi Nakazato, and Mai Ito, who was 5th, 10th and 22nd, respectively, in the 2011 World Championships. All three runners, however, failed to make the Olympic Marathon team a year later. Akaba finished eighth in the 2012 Nagoya Women’s Marathon last March, while Nakazato was third and Ito fifth in the same race, and their Olympic dreams were dashed.

Although these three runners have the three fastest personal bests among the invited Japanese runners, they should be able to run faster.  Akaba, who has the Marathon best of 2:24:09, has the Half Marathon best of 1:08:11, so she should be able to run near 2:20.  Although her personal best is only 2:24:28, many experts consider 24 years old Nakazato as one of the most promising runners in Japan.  Ito finished ninth at the 2012 World Half Marathon Championships last month, but after the race in Kavarna Ito said “I wanted to see how well I can run with the marathon training.” So her real targeted race is Yokohama Women’s Marathon.  She should be in better shape than she was in Kavarna. Nakazato has run this course before, for she was second in 2011.

Other contenders for the Japanese World Championships marathon team are Mizuho Nasukawa with the best of 2:25:38, Noriko Matsuoka with the best of 2:26:54, Eri Hayakawa with the best of 2:28:11, Sumiko Suzuki with the best of 2:29:25, Mayumi Fujita with the best of 2:29:36 and Kaori Yoshida with the best of 2:29:45.  Among them, Matsuoka may have the best chance to improve her Marathon personal best, for she has run only one Marathon, 2:26:54 in 2011 London Marathon. Since Matsuoka has 10,000m personal best of 31:31.45, she should be able to run faster Marathon. 

Among the foreign contenders this year, Marisa Barros set her personal best of 2:25:04 in the 2011 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, while Zivile Balciunaite was sixth in 2009 edition, but the race was run on the different course.

Several runners who were originally scheduled to run the New York City Marathon, have entered the Yokohama Women’s Marathon after the New York race was cancelled. The fastest among them is Jelena Prokopcuka, who has a Marathon best of 2:22:56. However, her personal best was recorded back in 2005, and she has not broken 2:25 since April of 2006. Prokopcuka, who has a 10,000m best of 30:38.78 and 5000m best of 14:47.71, recorded a half marathon best of 1:08:09 this year at the  Great North Run in Scotland, so perhaps she might be able to run fast again. 

Only Kim Smith, with bests of 5000m 14:39.89, 10,000m 30:35.54, and Half Marathon 1:07:11 has faster personal bests at these distances than Prokopcuka.  Smith recorded her Half Marathon PB in the 2011 Philadelphia Half Marathon, which then made her the 18th fastest Half Marathon runner in history, one second faster than the best by Loroupe, a former World record holder at the Marathon. So it should be easy for Smith to improve her personal best of 2:25:21, perhaps even to the near 2:20, like Loroupe. 

Like Smith, Britain’s Jo Pavey also has a relatively ‘soft’ personal best at the Marathon, which comes from her one Marathon in her career so far, 2:28:24 in 2011 London Marathon. Thirty-nine years old Pavey is still endowed with a superb speed, for she was seventh at 5000m and 10,000m in the 2012 Olympics. Incidentally, the fastest marathon by 39 years old is 2:22:18 by Irina Mikitenko from 2011 Berlin Marathon, which should not be out of reach for Pavey considering her personal bests at 5000m (14:39.96) and 10,000m (30:53.20 set this year).  

The fastest Marathon runner in the field is Lydia Cheromei, the fastest 34-years-old Marathon runner in history with 2:21:30.  Cheromei won the junior division of the World Cross Country Championships in 1991 as a 13-year-old. Twenty-one years later, Cheromei set her Half Marathon personal best of 1:07:26 in March and then finished fourth in the World Half Marathon Championships in October.     

Three US runners, Amy Hastings, Serena Burla and Adriana Nelson, who were not able to start the New York City Marathon, will start in Yokohama.  Hastings, who failed to make the Olympic Marathon team in January, but came back to make the Olympic 10,000m team in June, may be the best American in the race. She has yet to break 2:27 in her two Marathon starts, but considering her track personal best (15:14.31 at 5000m and 31:10.69 at 10,000m) a huge personal best at the Marathon is overdue. 

2012 is the best year for the Marathon in history.  The number of sub-2:20, sub-2:22, sub-2:24 and sub-2:26 performers as well as performances are all the highest ever in history.  However, the number of sub-2:28 performers/performances this year has not yet reached the level of 2011. 

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF 

Elite field

Lydia Cheromei (KEN) 2:21:30, 2012 Dubai

Marisa Barros (POR) 2:25:04, 2011 Yokohama

Zivile Balciunaite (LTU) 2:25:15, 2005 Tokyo

Kateryne Stetsenko (UKR) 2:27:51, 2010 Dublin

Joanne Pavey (GBR) 2:28:24, 2011 London


Runners who originally scheduled to run NYC marathon

Jelena Prokopcuka (LAT)   2:22:56, 2005 Osaka

Kim Smith (NZL) 2:25:21, 2010 London 

Amy Hastings (USA) 2:27:03, 2011 Los Angeles

Serena Burla (USA)            2:28:27, 2012 Seoul (Dong A)

Adriana Nelson (USA) 2:28:52, 2008 London


Yukiko Akaba 2:24:09, 2011 London

Remi Nakazato 2:24:28, 2012 Nagoya

Mai Ito 2:25:26, 2012 Nagoya

Noriko Matsuoka 2:26:54, 2011 London

Eri Hayakawa 2:28:11, 2004 Honolulu

Mizuho Nasukawa 2:25:38, 2009 Tokyo

Sumiko Suzuki 2:29:25, 2012 Tokyo

Kaori Yoshida 2:29:45, 2010 Chicago

Mayumi Fujita 2:29:36, 2010 Nagoya


Pace makers

Asami Kato

Nanami Matsuura

Maria Konovalova (RUS)

Olena Shurkhno (UKR)