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Ritsumeikan Continues Dynasty at National University Women`s Ekiden

by Brett Larner

The Ritsumeikan University women`s ekiden team extended its national championship dynasty at the 5th All-Japan University Women`s Invitational Ekiden in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture on Dec. 24, defeating 19 other teams to win the event for the 5th time. Despite a strong challenge from Bukkyo University, who set new stage records on 3 of the 6 stages, Ritsumeikan once again prevailed over this 30.67 km course.

1st Stage: 5 km
All 20 runners on the first stage stayed together until the 2 km point when a few began to drift away from the back of the pack. At the 3 km point Ryoko Kisaki of Bukkyo broke away, dropping a 3:00 km between 3 and 4 km. Juntendo University`s Yuka Inatomi and Nihon University`s Kenyan 'exchange student' Ann Kingori followed, Kingori dropping Inatomi with 500 m to go. Neither was close to Kisaki, who was strong right to the finish in a new stage record time.

1. Bukkyo: 15:39 (Ryoko Kisaki, 4th yr., new stage record)
2. Nihon: 15:50 (Ann Kingori, 2nd yr.)
3. Juntendo: 15:52 (Yuka Inatomi, 4th yr.)

2nd Stage: 3 km
Nihon`s other Kenyan exchange student, Jemima Maina, went out aggressively to catch Bukkyo`s Chizuru Ideta but did not realize that Ideta herself was running new stage record pace. Maina faltered after 2 km and slowed dramatically, almost overtaken by the pack which enveloped Juntendo after 1.5 km. Ritsumeikan`s Kaori Onuma emerged from the pack before the handoff zone to take the 3rd position.

1. Bukkyo: 25:10 (Chizuru Ideta, 3rd yr.: 9:32 new stage record)
2. Nihon: 25:35 (Jemima Maina, 1st yr.: 9:45)
3. Ritsumeikan: 25:36 (Kaori Onuma, 1st yr.)

3rd Stage: 5.5 km
Ritsumeikan`s Kazue Kojima immediately passed Nihon`s Manami Takeuchi and began to advance on Bukkyo`s Yuika Mori, her rival since early high school days. At 2 km Meijo University`s Seika Nishikawa also overtook Takeuchi, eliminating Nihon from the top 3 slots. Kojima passed Mori at 4.1 km but Mori maintained contact and with 200 m to go sprinted back into the lead. Nevertheless, Kojima`s performance was good for a new stage record.

1. Bukkyo: 43:18 (Yuika Mori, 2nd yr.: 18:08)
2. Ritsumeikan: 43:19 (Kazue Kojima, 2nd yr.: 17:43 new stage record)
3. Meijo: 43:49 (Seika Nishikawa, 2nd yr.: 17:56)

4th Stage: 3.5 km
Bukkyo`s Rino Hakushi and Yukie Nakadomari of Ritsumeikan ran together for the 1st km, but with Nakadomari`s far superior PBs it was only a matter of time before she pulled away. Meijo`s Kaori Ito also advanced, significantly narrowing the gap between herself and 2nd place.

1. Ritsumeikan: 54:44 (Yukie Nakadomari, 3rd yr.: 11:25 stage best)
2. Bukkyo: 55:10 (Rino Hakushi, 3rd yr.: 11:52)
3. Meijo: 55:32 (Kaori Ito, 1st yr.: 11:43)

5th Stage: 6 km
Ritsumeikan`s 5th stage runner Akiko Matsunaga ran with special motivation. Ritsumeikan won October`s All-Japan University Women`s Ekiden with 5 of its 6 runners winning stage best honors. Matsunaga came 2nd on her leg in that race. She was determined to come away with the stage best title this time, but despite a solid run was outdone by Bukkyo`s Eriko Ogino who ran a new stage record. Mika Kawai of Meijo soldiered on in the 3rd position.

1. Ritsumeikan: 1:14:27 (Akiko Matsunaga, 3rd yr.: 19:43)
2. Bukkyo: 1:14:46 (Eriko Ogino, 2nd yr.: 19:37 new stage record)
3. Meijo: 1:15:28 (Mika Kawai, 2nd yr.: 19:56)

6th Stage: 7.67 km
Bukkyo`s anchor was star 1st-yr. recruit Kasumi Nishihara with a PB of 15:41. Nishihara had confidently predicted that if she was within 20 seconds of the leader she could win the anchor leg, making for Bukkyo`s 1st national ekiden title. When Ogino delivered her the tasuki with only a 19-second margin the stage looked set for a dramatic finish as Ritsumeikan`s anchor Noriko Higuchi held a 5000 m PB over 20 seconds slower than Nishihara`s. Both runners went on to do the unexpected, with Higuchi far outrunning the uncomfortable-looking Nishihara to widen the gap to 39 seconds. Meijo`s anchor Eri Sato managed to move a few steps closer to Nishihara but nowhere near to being in range of 2nd place. Tokyo Nogyo University`s Mariko Sase surprised all with a stage-best run to take 4th place away from a rebounding Juntendo.

1. Ritsumeikan: 1:39:33 (Noriko Higuchi, 4th yr.: 25:06)
2. Bukkyo: 1:40:12 (Kasumi Nishihara, 1st yr.: 25:26)
3. Meijo: 1:40:52 (Eri Sato, 3rd yr.: 25:24)
stage best: Mariko Sase, 3rd yr., Tokyo Nogyo: 25:04

Complete results will be added when the race website is updated.

Note: The race website linked above includes video interviews with runners from the top 12 schools in the ekiden.

© 2007 Brett Larner
All rights reserved

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