Mizuki Matsuda wins the Osaka Marathon (© Agence SHOT)
Breaking away from her final challenger after 30km, Mizuki Matsuda went on to win the Osaka Women’s Marathon in 2:21:47, winning the World Athletics Gold Label road race by almost one minute on Sunday (26).
It was the third-fastest time in the history of the Osaka Women’s Marathon and puts Matsuda sixth on the Japanese all-time list, but more importantly, she ran under the time (2:22:22) required to be considered for the third spot on the Japanese Olympic marathon team.
If no one runs faster than 2:21:47 at the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in March, Matsuda will clinch the team spot.
“I don't think anybody in Japan can run such a time,” said Matsuda, who finished fourth at last year's Marathon Grand Championship, Japan's main trial race for the Olympic Games.
“It was not the time I was hoping for, but I had achieved the minimum requirement,” added Matsuda, who also won in Osaka in 2018. “In order to be competitive at the Olympics, I need a national-record-level personal best. I also need to work on the final part of the race because I slowed down too much at the end today.”
The race was fast from the start with Matsuda clocking 16:36 at 5km, 33:07 at 10km, 49:44 at 15km and 1:06:17 at 20km. “In the early part of the race I was bit worried that we were going too fast,” said Matsuda, who reached the half-way mark in 1:09:54. “It was faster than my half marathon personal best (1:10:25).”
By 25km, the lead pack consisted of Matsuda, Bahrain’s Mimi Belete and two pace-makers. “The race went well until 30km,” said Matsuda, “but then it started to get tough. Each kilometre felt very long.
“I knew four runners had faster personal bests, so I expected them to be running in front of me. When I started to run alone in front (after 30km), I looked around and asked myself, ‘where are they?’ I was running with the goal of breaking the national record (2:19:12). I had to think that way to get under 2:22.”
Immediately after the 30km check point, Matsuda checked her watch and appeared to pick up the pace for the next two kilometres. She was unable to get back on schedule for a finishing time inside 2:20, but she started to open up a gap on Belete before going on to win in 2:21:47.
Belete, who suffered from stomach problems, particularly in the latter stages, held on for second place in 2:22:40, just 78 seconds shy of the PB she set in Amsterdam three months ago.
“In my country the Olympic team spots are given to those with the fastest times,” explained Belete. “Although someone may run a faster time, I think I can be selected with the today’s time.”
Ethiopia’s Sintayehu Lewetegn finished third with 2:23:03, the second-fastest time of her career and just 18 seconds short of her personal best. Meskerem Assefa, one of the favourites, was fourth while Australian veteran Lisa Weightman was fifth in 2:26:02, the second-fastest time of her career.
Matsuda and compatriot Haruka Yamaguchi, who clocked 2:26:35 as the second Japanese finisher, were the only athletes among the top 10 to set a PB.
Last year’s runner-up Rei Ohara was suffering from a cold and achilles problems. She lost contact with the leaders after 17km and eventually finished 13th in 2:28:12.
Kayoko Fukushi, the 2013 world bronze medallist, lost contact with the leaders after 20km and dropped out after 25km. “I will start my training with running the Nagoya Women’s Marathon in mind,” said Fukushi, who is still pursuing what would be a fifth consecutive Olympic team.
Ken Nakamura for World Athletics
1 Mizuki Matsuda (JPN) 2:21:47
2 Mimi Belete (BRN) 2:22:40
3 Sintayehu Lewetegn (ETH) 2:23:03
4 Meskerem Assefa (ETH) 2:23:31
5 Lisa Weightman (AUS) 2:26:02
6 Bornes Jepkirui (KEN) 2:26:24
7 Haruka Yamaguchi (JPN) 2:26:35
8 Fatuma Sado (ETH) 2:27:17
9 Haftamnesh Tesfay (ETH) 2:27:50
10 Hanae Tanaka (JPN) 2:27:51