Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko in action at the Osaka Marathon (© Takeo Yamaguchi/Agence SHOT)
Ukraine’s Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko will bid to become just the second woman to with the Osaka Women's Marathon for three straight years at the 34th edition of the IAAF Silver Label Road Race on Sunday (25).
Gamera-Shmyrko will be looking to emulate the feat of Romania’s Lidia Simon, who won three consecutive times between 1998-2000.
She has raced sparingly in preparation for this weekend and her last race was the Great Scottish Run in October where she was seventh in 1:13:42.
Nevertheless, in both of her victories in Osaka, Gamera-Shmyrko came from behind so it will not be a surprise if she is not among the leaders in the middle part of the race.
Her biggest rival might be Jelena Prokopcuka, not because the Latvian's marathon best of 2:22:56 makes her the fastest woman in the field as that performance was recorded back in 2005 when winning in Osaka, but because she is still in good form a decade later.
Now 38, Prokopcuka finished second at the 2014 Nagoya Women’s Marathon in 2:24:07, a time could be fast enough to win on Sunday. She aslo finished fourth in New York last November in 2:26:15, a good time in difficult conditions.
If Prokopcuka wins, it will be the second-longest span between victories at the Osaka International Women’s Marathon, after Katrin Dorre’s 13 years between victories, from 1984 when the German first won to 1997 when she got her fourth and final victory in Osaka.
Local favourite Risa Shigetomo has a best of 2:23:23 from when she won the 2012 Osaka International Women’s Marathon, a time no other Japanese woman has surpassed in the past two years.
Shigetomo has not run faster than 2:30 in her past four marathons, but she may be better prepared for this year’s race after training at altitude at Albuquerque recently and focusing more fully on Sunday’s race.
Mari Ozaki has personal best of 2:23:30 but it was recorded back in 2003 on her marathon debut, and nobody seriously expects her to approach this time. However, the 39-year-old Ozaki has said that she has a goal of 2:26.
Ethiopia’s Melkaw Gizaw may also potentially surprise although her marathon best is currently only 2:26:24.
The race is also a qualifying race for the IAAF World Championships marathon berths for the Japanese team. To guarantee a place on the plane to Beijing, athletes must run faster than 2:22:30.
One runner who has explicitly stated that this is her target time is Kaoru Nagao, who recorded a personal best of 2:26:58 when she finished fourth at 2011 Yokohama Women’s Marathon on her debut.
She is coached by the famous Yoshio Koide who coached Naoko Takahashi to the 2000 Olympic Games gold medal and the first sub-2:20 marathon in 2001.
Azusa Nojiri, the former cross-country skier who recorded 2:24:57 at the 2012 Osaka Women’s Marathon, performed well in her last marathon, the 2014 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, when she was fifth in 2:28:54.
After finishing third at the 2013 Osaka International Women’s Marathon in 2:25:56, some pundits considered Yuko Watanabe as the future of Japanese women’s marathon running.
Watanabe trained with Kayoko Fukushi and Mizuki Noguchi at high altitude in Albuquerque last summer and it will be intriguing to see if the results of this training camp translate into a breakthrough performance.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF