• Kyodo

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Yuka Ando made a sensational start to her marathon career Sunday, crossing the Nagoya Women’s Marathon finish line second to punch her ticket to this summer’s world athletics championships.

Ando set a time of 2 hours, 21 minutes, 36 seconds — the fourth fastest in history by a Japanese woman, and the fastest ever by a first-time female Japanese marathon runner.

The 22-year-old — known for her unorthodox “ninja-like” form in which she barely swings her arms — finished behind only Bahrain’s Kenyan-born star Eunice Kirwa, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who won the race for the third straight year (2:21:17).

Ando’s time comfortably met the qualifying standard of 2:22:30 for the world championships in London in August. The Nagoya Women’s Marathon doubles as a qualifier for the worlds.

“I was nervous and I was worried, but it was my first marathon so I just decided to go for broke,” Ando said. “I’m so happy I was able to run the race (under 2:22:00).”

“I was trying to keep up with Kirwa who is an Olympic silver medalist,” she continued. “I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I knew that if I couldn’t keep up here, I won’t stand a chance on the world stage.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m thrilled. I want to keep working hard so I can hold my own when I go abroad.”

The women’s marathon team for London will be officially announced on Friday following a board meeting of the Japan Association of Athletics Federations.

Ando is expected to be joined on the team by Risa Shigetomo, winner of the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January, and Mao Kiyota, who placed third here in Nagoya in 2:23:47.

Expectations are already rising fast for Ando, who, at this rate, will not only be counted on to reach the podium at the worlds this summer but in three years’ time at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Ando went toe-to-toe to the finish with Kirwa, who is arguably the world’s best runner at the moment,” said Mitsugi Ogata, the JAAF’s senior managing director. “She deserves all the praise.”

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