Coming from behind in the 38th kilometre, Meskerem Assefa of Ethiopia cruised to a one-minute victory at the Nagoya Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, on Sunday (11).

Assefa passed Kenyan Valary Jemeli Aiyabei en route to victory in 2:21:45, the third fastest performance ever in Nagoya which this year underscored its status as the largest women’s-only marathon in the world, with 23,713 starting the race.

“I wanted to win, especially because it is a women only marathon,” Assefa said.

Aiyabei was second in 2:22:48 with Japanese debutante Hanami Sekine third in 2:23:07.

The pacesetters led the lead group through five kilometres in 17:03 and 10 in 33:51. By then, three contenders –Shiho Takechi, Mao Kiyota and Hanae Tanaka– had already lost contact.

Two more –Sairi Maeda and Misaki Kato– fell back a kiloemtre later. By 13 kilometres only seven runners –Aseffa, Aiyabei, Sekine, Flomena Cheyech Daniel, Merima Mohamed, Rei Ohara and Reina Iwade– and two pacemakers were left at the front. These seven runners passed 15 kilometres in 50:49 and 20 1:07:49.

The next casualties, just after the half marathon point (1:11:32), were Ohara and surprisingly, Cheyech, the second fastest woman in the field and the fourth place finisher at last year’s World Championships Marathon. Then, just before the pacemakers left the race at 25 kilometres (1:24:37), Iwade also fell back to leave just four runners –Aiyabei, Assefa, Mohammed and Sekine– to fight it out for the podium.

About 400 metres later, Aiyabei really started to push the pace. She covered the 25 to 26 kilometre stretch in 3:16 and followed it up with a 3:13 for the next kilometre, breaking up the lead pack. After covering the 25 to 30 kilometre stretch in 16:15, Aiyabei led Assefa by 17 seconds, with Sekine in third. Five kilometres later Aiyabei still led Assefa by 16 seconds.

Then Assefa began to narrow the gap on Aiyabei who was beginning to slow. The Ethiopian, a 2012 Olympian at 1500m, caught and passed Aiyabei in the 38th kilometre and forged on unchallenged to shatter her previous best of 2:24:18.

Sekine’s 2:23:07 in third was the fourth fastest marathon debut by a Japanese, behind Yuka Ando, Naoko Sakamoto and Mizuki Matsuda. Ando recorded the fastest Japanese marathon debut in Nagoya last year. Her performance was also the fastest third place finish in race history.

“I felt okay until the middle part of the race and was having fun,” Sekine said. “However, when the real racing started after the pacemakers left the race, I could not keep up with the leaders although I really wanted to stay close to them. I felt that truly elite runners are at much higher level.”

Along with Sekine, the next two finishers, Reia Iwade who clocked 2:26:28 and Keiko Nogami who finished with 2:26:33, qualified for Japan’s 2020 Olympic Marathon team trials race. Nogami improved her best by nearly two minutes from 2:28:18, while Iwade ran the second fastest marathon of her career. Hanae Tanaka, the fourth Japanese in the race and sixth overall, did not qualify for the trials race because she could not crack the required 2:27.

With the first season of qualification for the 2020 Olympic Marathon team trials race over, six women have qualified, still considerably less than the 13 who have qualified for the men’s race.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Leading results:


Weather: sunny, temperature 6C, humidity 45%, wind 1m/s northwest


1. Meskerem Assefa, ETH, 2:21:45 (17:03, 33:51, 50:49, 67:49, 71:33, 1:24:37, 1:41:09, 1:57:51, 2:14:37)

2. Valary Jemeli Aiyabei, KEN, 2:22:48

3. Hanami Sekine, JPN, 2:23:07 Debut

4. Reia Iwade, JPN, 2:26:28

5. Keiko Nogami, JPN, 2:26:33 PB

6. Hanae Tanaka, JPN, 2:27:40

7. Merima Mohammed, BRN, 2:27:41

8. Rei Ohara, JPN, 2:27:44

9. Mao Kiyota, JPN, 2:28:58

10. Misaki Kato, JPN, 2:29:22  

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