translated by Brett Larner
Japan won the first mixed male and female team edition of the International Chiba Ekiden on Nov. 23 in a time of 2:05:56. Osaka World Championships participant Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) ran the second-fastest time on the 5 km second stage of the ekiden, covering the course in 15:34. Anchor Yukiko Akaba (28, Team Hokuren), received the tasuki on the 7.195 km final stage just 4 seconds back from Osaka World Championships women`s marathon gold medallist Catherine Ndereba (Kenya) but passed her well before the goal. Akaba, who gave birth to daughter Yuna in August last year, is planning to run the 10000 m in the Beijing Olympics.
The `running mama` took a big step toward the gold medal in Beijing. Starting 4 seconds behind, Akaba pulled even with Catherine the Great after only 760 m and quickly pulled away to run alone to the finish. "When I got the tasuki with no real gap behind Ndereba I thought, `Oh yeah, this is going to be tasty.`" At the finish line she waved her left hand proudly to her coach and husband Shuhei who held little Yuna in his arms.
This was Akaba`s second time to take down a big name in less than a month. In the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women`s Ekiden on Nov. 3 she broke Sydney Olympic marathon champion Naoko Takahashi`s 9 year-old stage record on the 11.1 km fifth stage by 14 seconds with a time of 34:37. She has gained great confidence for the Beijing Olympics 10000 m from these performances.
It has only been just over a year since she gave birth, her weight having dropped during that time from 56 kg to 42 kg. After giving birth on Aug. 20 last year, her attitude toward the sport has changed. She offers an unambiguous, "I am aiming at the world. I want Yuna to see how well I can run." She is also grateful to Shuhei for supporting her and Yuna while she is training, joking that her only domestic responsibility is doing the laundry.
Akaba has her eye on the marathon as well. She wants to compete in the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon and plans to run either the Osaka or Nagoya International Women`s Marathon the same year to qualify. After making such an impressive comeback from childbirth, this running mama will be more and more in the public eye.