TOKYO, March 13 – Bahrain’s Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa won the Nagoya Women’s Marathon for the second year in succession on Sunday as Japanese runners jostled for Olympic spots behind her.
The Kenyan-born athlete, who holds the Asian Games gold, clocked 2hr 22min 40sec while Japan’s Tomomi Tanaka finished second to boost her hopes of going to Rio this summer.
“The hard work starts now,” Kirwa told reporters. “I know the Olympics will not be easy so I have to keep pushing in training.”
Tanaka struggled to hold back tears after the race.
“There was so much support I felt like I was going to cry,” said Tanaka. “I’m so determined to get to Rio that I didn’t want anyone to beat me.”
Mai Ito has already qualified for Rio after finishing seventh at last year’s world championships in Beijing while Kayoko Fukushi is virtually assured a spot, leaving a third Japanese berth up for grabs.
Former Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi’s dreams of a fairytale end to her career were dashed when the 37-year-old failed to keep up with the early pace and finished 23rd, fighting back tears as she crossed the line.
“After 30 kilometres the support was overwhelming,” said Noguchi, winner of the 2004 Olympics when she famously broke Briton Paula Radcliffe’s heart in an Athens heatwave to take gold.
“I tried to keep smiling because it was like a guard of honour coming home. I’ve no regrets.”
Marathon running is seen as something of a religion in Japan and reached its zenith when fan favourite Naoko Takahashi stormed to gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, followed by Noguchi’s Athens triumph in 2004.
The same year, Yoko Shibui won the prestigious Berlin Marathon but major success has been fleeting since, highlighted by Reiko Tosa’s 2006 Tokyo win, as Kenyan and Ethiopian runners in particular have come to the fore.