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Time Trials Japanese Style Pt. II: The National Long Distance Meet in Tokyo

by Brett Larner

Jonathan Ndiku, Kazuhiro Maeda and Martin Mukule battle in the Pro A heat.

With the ekiden season drawing to a close, jitsugyodan and university teams across Japan are in the process of finalizing their lineups for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden and the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. Massive track time trials are common this time of year; last week JRN detailed the 199th Nittai University Time Trials meet. This week on Nov. 29 Team Konica Minolta hosted the National Long Distance Meet series of 10000 m time trials at Tokyo's National Stadium. Not a public meet in the usual sense of something publicized to attract fans, the National Long Distance Meet is in fact a day-long set of 19 heats of men's time trials, 13 for university students and 6 for jitsugyodan runners and a select few university aces, along with one 5000 m heat for university women. All 6 of the professional heats featured top Kenyans as pacemakers, most notably 2:06:16 marathoner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult). Complete results for the professional heats are available here, with university results here.

Among the more interesting heats was Heat 14, the jitsugyodan men's A group. Start lists promised an all-star showdown, but despite the absence of former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), 10000 m high school Olympian Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) and International Chiba Ekiden national team members Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Naoki Okada (Team Chugoku Denryoku), the race featured a battle between sub-28 minute runners Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), Yuki Sato (Tokai Univ.) and four Kenyans, Martin Mukule (Team Toyota), Charles Kamathi (Team Fujitsu), Martin Waweru (Team Fujitsu) and Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Cable). Pacemaker John Tsuo (Team Toyota) was assigned to run dead on 28:00 pace, but Ndiku and Mukule went out well ahead. Kamathi, Maeda, Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) and the remainder of the pack strung out in a line behind, running the target pace.

Sato, one of the two best university runners in Japan, has been injured much of the year and for the most part running poorly in his fall races. He started out conservatively and gradually moved up through the field. He looked to be on track for a solid comeback but after the halfway point dropped away from the leaders of the chase pack. Kamathi, not listed as a pacemaker, dropped out at 5000 m, leaving Maeda to follow Tsuo closer and closer to the two Kenyan leaders. In the end Ndiku broke away for a 28:08.28 win, just off the target pace. Maeda overtook Mukule in the final lap. Mukule attempted to outkick Maeda in the home stretch, but when he knew he could not retake 2nd the Kenyan abruptly stopped and walked off the track with 50 m to go. Maeda was 2nd in 28:20.73, while Iwai finished 3rd in 28:47.58. Sato was a distant 4th in a weak 29:03.54, almost overtaken by runners from the third pack. Sato's former co-leader at Tokai, the formidable Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku), finished only 7th in 29:15.87. Ex-Juntendo University star Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was last in 30:00.57.

Daniel Njenga acts as pacemaker for Takuya Nakayama, son of legendary marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama.

Heat 18, the jitsugyodan men's E group, included Matsuoka's identical twin brother Satoshi (also Team Otsuka Seiyaku) with pacemaking courtesy of marathon star Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult). Also in Heat 18 was Waseda University's Takuya Nakayama, one of its four star first-year recruits and son of the legendary Takeyuki Nakayama, a former national record holder at 10000 m and the marathon and a two-time Olympic marathon 4th place finisher. The elder Nakayama, who resides in southern Japan, surprisingly turned up to watch his son run. While Waseda's other first-years have turned in solid performances this season, Takuya has run poorly since joining Waseda. He surely felt pressure to perform with his father standing trackside watching him run, staying right behind Njenga from the start but unable to maintain the target pace. He faded from the lead after 4000 m, eventually ending up 11th in an unremarkable 30:03.21. Matsuoka was just behind, 13th in 30:08.16. Juntendo's Masaki Sekito won the heat, outkicking Njenga to finish in 29:17.55.

Toyo Univ.'s Tomoya Onishi runs a PB of 28:54.02 to win Heat 13.

Heat 13, one of the university rounds, was notable in that Toyo University's star Tomoya Onishi, fresh from a great performance with the Japanese University Select Team on the 5th stage of Monday's International Chiba Ekiden, continued his impressive season by leading from start to finish to run a PB of 28:54.02. Also of note in Heat 13 were Jobu University's Yusuke Hasegawa, 4th in 29:19.27, and Mao Fukuyama, 6th in 29:33.39. Jobu's team has only been in existence for 5 years. The team finished 3rd at October's Hakone Ekiden qualifier, making the elite race by having its ten scoring runners finish the 20 km race within 40 seconds of each other and another two runners just seconds behind. Hasegawa and Fukuyama's solid performances, not stellar in and of themselves, along with those of Jobu's runners in other heats confirm the overall uniform level of quality of their team, an asset which will go a long way in Hakone. Jobu's performance will be possibly the most interesting aspect of this year's Hakone Ekiden.

1991 World Championships marathon gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi and former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama watch the Pro F heat.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


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