Ukraine’s Tetyana Gamera-Shmyrko winning the 2013 Osaka Women’s Marathon (© Yohei Kamiyama - AgenceSHOT)
The champions from the past three editions of Osaka Women’s Marathon – Tetiana Gamera-Shmyrko, Risa Shigetomo and Yukiko Akaba – have returned to contest the IAAF Silver Label Road Race, which this year doubles as a selection race for the 2014 Asian Games, on Sunday (26).
Five runners – Katrin Dorre, Lidia Simon, Lorraine Moller, Carey May and Yoko Shibui – have won the Osaka Women’s Marathon more than once.
Can one of this trio add her name to this list?
The favorite may be Ukraine’s defending champion Gamera-Shmyrko, who also finished second in 2012.
Gamera-Shmyrko, fifth in the London 2012 Olympic Games but who dropped out of her last marathon, the 2013 New York Marathon, has returned full of optimism that she will bounce back after her disappointment in the Big Apple just under three months ago. This year, in her own words, she is in great shape.
Her main challenger may be local star Risa Shigetomo, who held off the challenge of Gamera-Shmyrko in 2012 to win with 2:23:23.
However, after her breakthrough in the 2012 Osaka Women’s Marathon, Shigetomo has not run a good marathon. She finished 79th at the 2012 Olympic Games in 2:40:06, 12th at the Hokkaido Marathon in a modest 2:51:55 and 11th at the New York Marathon in 2:31:54.
Nevertheless, Shigetomo has shown good form over shorter distances recently. In the Queens’ Ekiden last month, she was second-fastest on the 10.9km stage with 35:55 and then in the Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden earlier this month, she was the fastest in the 10km stage with 31:50.
The third woman who has a chance to be a multiple winner is 34-year-old Yukiko Akaba, and the 2014 Osaka Women’s Marathon will be the final serious race of her career.
Akaba won the 2011 Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:26:29, and ran a personal best of 2:24:09 at the 2011 London Marathon, but she will also be remembered for her fifth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.
Ever since she decided to finish her top-level career in Osaka, Akaba has repeatedly said that she wants to finish her career with the win.
Yuko Watanabe, who was third last year in 2:25:56, is potentially one of the women who could spoil the top trio’s dreams of a repeat win.
But there is a question mark over her recent form as she was only 34th fastest on the 10km stage of the Inter-Prefectural Women’s Ekiden. However, Watanabe says her training since then has gone well and she feels that she can, at least, improve her personal best.
For Mari Ozaki, 37, who recorded a personal best of 2:23:30 in her marathon debut at the 2003 Osaka Women’s Marathon, Sunday’s race will be her sixth outing in Osaka. In fact, the only other marathons she has run in her career are the 2010 London Marathon and the 2005 and 2007 IAAF World Championships, but since Ozaki still ran 2:26:41 for the fourth place last year, she should not be counted out.
A lot of eyes will also be on Poland’s Karolina Jarzynska who, after finishing sixth in Osaka 12 months ago, reduced her personal best at the marathon to 2:26:45 in Lodz last April and set a Polish 10,000m record of 31:43.51 in Ostrava last summer, the latter being the fastest European time of the year over 25 laps of the track.
Ethiopia’s Marta Lema Megra may also be on the verge of a breakthrough. She ran three marathons in 2013, culminating with 2:28:02 for second place at the Kosice Marathon and says that her goal for Sunday is to break 2:25.
Great Britain’s Louise Damen recorded her personal best of 2:30:00 at the 2011 London Marathon and her goal is also to improve her personal best. Damen has received advice about the course from her countrywoman and 2008 Osaka Women’s Marathon champion Mara Yamauchi.
Other invited runners from abroad are Kenya’s Hellen Mugo, who recorded her personal best of 2:27:16 in Carpi in 2010, Russia’s Natalya Puchkova, who recorded her personal best of 2:30:17 at the 2012 Hannover Marathon, and Italy’s Deborah Toniols, who has a best of 2:28:31 although that was set back in 2006.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF