Ichiyama clinches final spot on Japan’s Olympic marathon team in Nagoya

Going into the Nagoya Women’s Marathon on Sunday (8), the goal for Japan’s leading distance runners was clear: run faster than 2:21:47 at the World Athletics Platinum Label road race and secure a spot on the national Olympic team.

Mao Ichiyama, who had finished sixth at last year’s Marathon Grand Championship, Japan’s main trial race, broke away from the two fastest runners in the field at 30km to go on to win in 2:20:29, claiming the third and final spot on Japan’s Olympic marathon squad.

Before this race, Mizuki Matsuda – who had won the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January in 2:21:47 – was in line to take the third place on the team, but she will now be entered as a reserve after being supplanted by Ichiyama.

The pacemakers, aiming for a finishing time of 2:20:30, led a huge pack through 5km in 16:41 and 10km in 33:19. Nancy Kiprop was the first big name to drop out, stopping at 11km. Betsy Saina, who finished fifth in the 10,000m at the 2016 Olympic Games, did likewise one kilometre later.

After 15km, reached in 50:12, Olympic team contenders Reia Iwade and Kayoko Fukushi started to falter. 11 runners passed 20km in 1:06:50 and only Ai Hosoda had drifted out of the group by 25km (1:23:30). After passing 30km in 1:40:31, Ichiyama made a decisive move, covering the next five-kilometre segment alone in 16:14.

By 35km Ichiyama was 25 seconds ahead of Rionoripo. By the time she reached the finish line in 2:20:29, a PB by four minutes, the 22-year-old was more than two minutes ahead of the next finisher.  

Yuka Ando, who passed four runners in the final seven kilometres, finished second in 2:22:41, the second-fastest time of her career. Rionoripo, who was in second at 40km, finished third in 2:22:56, while Ethiopia’s Hirut Tiberu was fourth in a PB of 2:23:17. Marathon debutante Sayaka Sato was fifth in 2:23:27.

Ichiyama is now the fourth-fastest Japanese woman in history, behind Mizuki Noguchi, Yoko Shibui and Naoko Takahashi, all legendary runners in Japan. Her winning performance is also the fastest time by a Japanese woman on home soil, replacing Noguchi’s 2:21:18 from Osaka in 2003.

“I had been dreaming of a day like this,” said Ichiyama. “The weather was bad, so I thought it would look great if I ran fast today. My goal was to run under 2:21:47, so I am very happy to run much faster.

“I trained to run alone from 30km on, so I am happy that the race went as planned. However, my time is still not world class, so I am going to train at a higher level for the Olympics and produce a great performance at the Games for my country.

“Last year at the Tokyo Marathon the weather was even worse, but that was a good rehearsal for today,” she added. “My only concern today was my time, so I was not worried about my overseas opponents. The race went exactly as I imagined. At about 37km, I was sure I could run under 2:21. But after 40km, it was starting to get tough.”

posted Sunday March 8th
by World Athletics