Eunice Kirwa will be gunning for an unprecedented third straight victory at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, on Sunday (12).
Of the top seven finishers from the last year’s event, five will return to run this year’s race. Only Tomomi Tanaka and Rei Ohara who finished second and third last year are missing from this year’s start line. Ohara was originally entered, but pulled out recently due to a stress fracture in her left foot.
But it’s Kirwa, a two-time Nagoya winner, who will start as the prohibitive favorite. If she wins Kirwa will be the first three-time winner of this event, breaking her tie with China’s Zhao Youfeng, the 1988 and 1989 winner, and Naoko Takahashi, who won in 1998 and 2000.
Kirwa, the the 2014 Asian Games champion, 2015 World Championships bronze medallist and 2016 Olympic Game silver medallist, has never lost a race in Japan. In addition to her Nagoya titles, she also won the last two Marugame Half Marathons and the last two Gifu Seiryu Half Marathons. Kirwa has a personal best is 2:21:41 recorded in the 2012 Amsterdam Marathon and holds the Nagoya record with 2:22:08.
The next fastest runner in the field is 40-year-old Valeria Straneo who is a superb championships marathon runner. Second in both the 2013 World Championships and 2014 European Championships, she was also eighth at both the 2012 Olympic Games and World Half Marathon Championships in 2014 and more recently, 13th at the Rio Olympic Games. After making her debut over the distance in Carpi in 2009, she’s cracked the 2:30 barrier in each of her races since the 2011 Berlin Marathon, except for the 2016 Wurzburg marathon. The fastest marathon by a 40-year-old is 2:26:41 by Irina Mikitenko. Can Straneo challenge the mark?
Other invited runners from abroad include Ethiopian Fatuma Sado who has a best of 2:24:16, Spaniard Alesandra Aguilar with a 2:27:00 best, Kenyan Monica Jepkoech with a best of 2:27:26 and Janet Cherobon-Bawcom of the US who’s clocked 2:29:45.
Sado produced her best in the 2015 Toronto Marathon, but in her last two marathons failed to break 2:37. Aguilar recorded her best in the 2011 Rotterdam Marathon, but her last sub-2:30 effort came in at 2015 London Marathon. On the other hand Jepkoech, who recorded her best at the 2015 Toronto Marathon, was third in the 2016 Saitama Marathon with 2:28:56, and thus may be in the best form among the second group of challengers.
In final London 2017 qualification race, fierce domestic battle on tap
For domestic runners, Sunday’s race is the final qualifying contest for the Japanese squad for the IAAF World Championships London 2017. The race is expected to be fierce.
The main protagonists are Mao Kiyota, Reia Iwade, Sayaka Kuwaraha and Shiho Takechi, who finished fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, respectively in Nagoya last year.
Kiyota, whose 2:24:32 outing in Nagoya last year was the fifth fastest marathon debut by a Japanese, may be ready be ready to challenge for the top spot on the podium on Sunday after showing good form in recent races. She recorded the fastest stage in November’s East Japan Women’s Ekiden and then recorded third fastest stage in January’s Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden. She told Tokai TV that her goal is 2:22:30 and to finish as the top Japanese.
Iwade was third in her marathon debut, clocking 2:27:21 at the 2014 Yokohama Women’s Marathon, the fastest performance by a Japanese teenager (not a U20 record, as she was born in December) at the time. She recorded her current personal best of 2:24:38 in Nagoya last year and then finished fourth in Berlin Marathon with 2:28:16. But she hasn’t shown good form in her recent races. She was 14th with 1:13:24 in the Sanyo half marathon in December and then was only 38th in the 2017 Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden.
Asami Kato, who has run four marathons, has a 2:26:30 best from Rotterdam in 2015. She was only 11th in Nagoya last year after being hit by injury one week before the race. Most recently, she finished third in January’s Osaka Women’s Half Marathon with 1:11:39.
This year’s most anticipated debutante is Hisami Ishii. Last year she recorded bests of 15:29.12 in the 5000m, 31:48.24 in the 10,000m and 1:10:25 in the half marathon. Her goal for Sunday is to run 2:22 with a long-term goal to medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Although not among the invited runners, Ai Utsunomiya also has a shot at making the team by finishing as the first Japanese. The 22-year-old won a half marathon on 12 February clocking 1:10:47 and then won a 30km road race a week later. She is in good shape.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF