by Brett Larner
An Ethiopian team comprised mostly of teenagers outside their home country for the first time defeated defending champion Japan to win the 2008 International Chiba Ekiden in the event's second year featuring mixed-gender teams. The Ethiopian team covered the six stage, 42.195 km course in a record time of 2:05:27, taking four of the six stage best titles and setting two individual stage records. Japan was 2nd in 2:06:39.
Just past 1 km into the 1st stage.
Forecast rain began just moments before the start of the ekiden, with conditions deteriorating to a steady downpour and gusting wind by race's end. Ethiopia's Ali Abdosh ran 13:34 to open a 7-second gap on Japan's Yusei Nakao over the 5 km 1st stage, but Japanese women's 1500 m record holder Yuriko Kobayashi, running the last race of her teens, made up the difference on the 5 km 2nd stage, finishing 2 seconds ahead of Ethiopia's Sule Utura and clocking 15:08 to break 5000 m national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's stage record.
Japan's Naoki Okamoto and Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel lead the 3rd stage after 1 km.
Japan's Naoki Okamoto ran together with Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel for the first half of the 10 km 3rd stage but was unable to maintain the pace, finishing 23 seconds behind Gebremeskel's stage record 28:20, a fitting gift to himself on his 19th birthday.
Ethiopia's Belaynesh Fikadu leads the 4th Stage. Click here to see Japan's Yuko Shimizu, the 3rd place pack, and Sweden's Ulrika Johansson running against Brazil's Michele Chagas.
From there to the finish it was Ethiopia's race as the gap widened over each of the remaining three stages. 4th stage runner Belaynesh Fikadu made the biggest contribution to the team's ultimate 1:12 margin of victory, opening 38 seconds on Japan over 5 km to set another stage record of 15:34.
Ethiopia's Hunegnaw Mesfin leads the 5th stage. Click here to see Japan's Takayuki Matsumiya, the 3rd place pack, Canada's Eric Gillis, Sweden, China and Brazil, and Romania's Cristinel Irinia.
Japan's 5th and 6th stage runners Takayuki Matsumiya and Mizuho Nasukawa ran almost even times with Ethiopia's final two runners Hunegnaw Mesfin and Tsega Gelaw but were unable to close the gap.
Takayuki Matsumiya hands off to Mizuho Nasukawa.
Further back, Australia and Great Britain dueled for 3rd place through the 5th stage, where they were overtaken by the Russian and Japanese University teams, which advanced in the later stages to finish 3rd and 4th after slow starts. The 10 km 5th stage featured an interesting duel between Russian Anatoly Rybakov, whose identical twin brother Evgeny ran the 3rd stage, and the Japanese University team's Tomoya Onishi, who runs for Toyo University together with his identical twin brother Kazuki. Anatoly proved the stronger, outrunning Onishi by 4 seconds, 28:59 to 29:03. Curiously, Onishi's time tied that of the Japanese team's Takayuki Matsumiya, who runs for the professional Team Konica Minolta with his identical twin brother Yuko.
Australia finished 5th, with the British team overtaken on the anchor stage by the host Chiba Prefectural team, which moved up from 10th to 6th thanks to stage 2nd-best performances by 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya on the 4th stage and anchor Aya Nagata. Great Britain finished 7th.
The U.S. team peaked at 5th with Edward Moran's strong showing on the 1st stage, meandering between 6th and 7th place until 2004 Athens Olympian Dan Browne's disastrous run on the 5th stage. Browne covered the 10 km in 31:10, the slowest time of any of the thirteen teams in competition. American anchor Tera Moody recovered one position by overtaking Canada's Lisa Harvey. Harvey made a brave charge on the track at stage's end, moving up to Moody's shoulder on the final corner but unable to outkick the American. Moody brought the U.S.A. home in 8th, Canada 2 seconds behind in 9th.
China rounded out the top 10, with Sweden in 11th and Brazil in 12th. 2008 Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Tomescu had the dubious distinction of being the final runner to finish, running the 10th fastest time on the anchor stage to bring Romania to the goal in 13th place.
Complete results for the 2008 International Chiba Ekiden with stage-by-stage breakdown are available in English and Japanese here.
2008 International Chiba Ekiden
Team Results - click team to see finish video
1. Ethiopia - 2:05:27 - new course record
2. Japan - 2:06:39
3. Russia - 2:08:04
4. Japanese University Select Team - 2:08:47
5. Australia - 2:09:36
6. Chiba Prefecture - 2:10:00
7. Great Britain - 2:10:12
8. U.S.A. - 2:11:54
9. Canada - 2:11:56
10. China - 2:12:11
11. Sweden - 2:12:16
12. Brazil - 2:14:15
13. Romania - 2:15:37
Stage Best Performances
1st stage (5 km) - Ali Abdosh (Ethiopia): 13:34
2nd stage (5 km) - Yuriko Kobayashi (Japan): 15:08 - new stage record
3rd stage (10 km) - Dejen Gebremeskel (Ethiopia): 28:20 - new stage record
4th stage (5 km) - Belaynesh Fikadu (Ethiopia): 15:34 - new stage record
5th stage (10 km) - Hunegnaw Mesfin (Ethiopia): 28:54
6th stage (7.195 km) - Maria Konovalova (Russia): 23:31
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
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