Japanese distance runner Kayoko Fukushi (© Getty Images)
The Osaka International Women’s Marathon is a qualifying race for the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, but the IAAF Gold Label road race on Sunday (27) is also a qualifying race for Japan’s Marathon Grand Championships in which the first two finishers will qualify for the Olympic team.
The Marathon Grand Championships (MGC) will be held on 15 September on the course that will be used for the Olympic Games.
Only eight women so far – including Rei Ohara, who is racing in Osaka on Sunday – have qualified for the MGC, but a host of Japanese runners on the Osaka start line will be aiming to join their compatriots at the MGC.
To qualify for the MGC, they will have to finish within 2:28 and be among the first three Japanese women, or within 2:27 if they’re among the next three finishers.
At the pre-race press conference on Friday, Hanae Tanaka and Hisami Ishii explicitly stated that MGC qualification is their main aim.
Kayoko Fukushi, who recorded 2:22:17 when winning in Osaka in 2016, is the fastest in the field. The 2013 world bronze medallist ran the marathon at the 2016 Olympic Games and was the top Japanese finisher, placing 14th in 2:29:53, but she hasn’t contested a marathon since then.
Tomomi Tanaka was the second Japanese finisher at the 2016 Olympics but, like Fukushi, hasn’t contested a marathon since then. Her PB of 2:23:19, set at the 2016 Nagoya Marathon, makes her the second-fastest woman in the field.
Rei Ohara finished just one second behind Tanaka in Nagoya three years ago, clocking a PB of 2:23:20. Unlike many of her compatriots who will be running on Sunday, Ohara has already qualified for the MGC after running 2:27:44 at the 2018 Nagoya Marathon and 2:27:29 in Berlin four months ago.
At the press conference Ohara revealed that despite running the fastest in the 11.4km stage at last week’s KitaKyushu women’s ekiden, she had recently lost two weeks of training prior to that. “I realise 10k and marathon are different,” she said.
A trio of Ethiopians with similar PBs to the leading Japanese runners will also be in Osaka. Abebech Afework was eighth at the 2015 Dubai Marathon in 2:23:33, Sutume Asefa was fourth at the 2016 Dubai Marathon in 2:24:00, and Fatuma Sado ran 2:24:16 at the 2015 Toronto Waterfront Marathon.
With a best of 2:24:19, Bornes Jepkirui might not have the fastest PB of the field, but the Kenyan recorded that when winning last year’s Prague Marathon. No one else in the field has run faster within the past year, which makes the Kenyan a marginal favourite.
Other Japanese runners with a good chance of qualifying for the MGC include Misato Horie, Hanae Tanaka, Ayako Fujimoto, and Hisami Ishii, all of whom have sub-2:28 PBs.
Fujimoto was the first Japanese finisher at the 2017 Tokyo Marathon, recording the fastest ever marathon by a Japanese teenager. Tanaka was ninth at last year’s Asian Games while Horie was second at both the 2016 and 2017 Osaka Women’s Marathon.
In its 37-year history, only three African runners – Lornah Kiplagat, Catherine Ndereba and Amane Gobena – have won in Osaka. The Ethiopian and Kenyan contingent in Osaka this year have a good chance, but the desire for qualify for the MGC will be strong for Japanese runners and will make them tough to beat.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Kayoko Fukushi (JPN) 2:22:17
Tomomi Tanaka (JPN) 2:23:19
Rei Ohara (JPN) 2:23:20
Abebech Afework (ETH) 2:23:33
Sutume Asefa (ETH) 2:24:00
Fatuma Sado (ETH) 2:24:16
Bornes Jepkirui (KEN) 2:24:19
Misato Horie (JPN) 2:25:44
Eunice Jeptoo (KEN) 2:26:13
Hanae Tanaka (JPN) 2:26:19
Ayaka Fujimoto (JPN) 2:27:08
Hisami Ishii (JPN) 2:27:35
He Yinli (CHN) 2:27:54
Kaori Yoshida (JPN) 2:28:24
Hiroko Yoshitomi (JPN) 2:30:09