The high-class Olympic qualifying race for Japans marathon women ended with a
triumph for Naoko Sakamoto in Osaka. The 23 year-old, who was fourth in the
World Championships in Paris in 2003, should now have secured her place in the
Olympic team for Athens. While the silver medal winner from Paris, Mizuki
Noguchi, gained automatic selection for Athens, it is still an open question
who could take the third place in Japans prestigious Olympic marathon team.
In tough weather conditions with temperatures slightly above freezing level
and a very cool wind Naoko Sakamoto clocked a fine time of 2:25:29. Masako
Chiba, who had been third in the World Championships edging out Sakamoto for
the Bronze medal, was second with 2:27:38. Fighting for a possible third
Olympic ticket Hiromi Ominami lost the battle against Chiba by just two
seconds. But is far from sure that Chiba will get the third ticket for
Naoko Takahashi will be strongly in mind of the selectors. The Olympic
Champion would come to Athens as the previous winner. But she was not able to
show convincing form in her latest marathon. She had to be content with second
place in the Tokyo marathon in December (2:27:21). A possible solution might be
to choose Takahashi if she can prove her form in a shorter race. Additionally
there is one more qualifying marathon to be run on 14th March in Nagoya.
A tactical race developed in Osaka on Sunday. So split times were slow in
the first half of the race, although three women had personal bests of sub
2:22: Yoko Shibui (2:21:22), Masako Chiba (2:21:45) and Naoko Sakamoto
(2:21:51). They covered the first half in 1:15:34, but then real racing started
and Sakamoto was timed 1:09:55 for the second part.
Initially it was Masako Chiba who increased the pace soon after the half way
point. “I had planned to force the pace by 30 k. But it was obvious to me
that I had to go with the others“, Sakamoto later reported.
At first Shibui and Ominami were able to cope with Chibas and Sakamotos
pace. But Shibui was to slow considerably and finally finished far behind in
9th place. When Sakamoto kept the pace high she dropped Chiba and Ominami as
well. In contrast to former marathons this time she managed to keep going right
to the finish. Chiba had beaten her in Paris and a year ago in Osaka in the
final stages of each race. Sakamoto told that monthly training of almost 1,000
kilometres made her strong.