by Brett Larner
Click picture for video highlights.
Identical twin sisters Moe and Haruka Kyuma were the surprise stars of the 2009 National Interprefectural Women’s Ekiden on Jan. 11, the two junior high school students making up most of Kyoto Prefecture’s 1 minute 24 second margin of victory in its 5th-straight national title and putting anchor Kazue Kojima in position for a comfortable anchor run.
47 teams, one from each of Japan’s prefectures, competed in the 27th running of the nine-stage 42.195 km national competition in Kyoto which teams up professional runners with university, high school and junior high school runners. Two stages were reserved for junior high school runners and two for high school athletes, the other five stages being a mix of runners from all four categories. Slightly windy conditions hampered defending champion Kyoto’s chances of breaking its course record of 2:14:58 from last year’s running but did not prevent two new stage records.
1st Stage – 6.0 km
Yurika Nakamura (Okayama Pref.), the only Japanese woman to finish the Beijing Olympic marathon, led the entire 1st stage, eventually forming a breakaway pack of three with Ryoko Kisaki (Kyoto Pref.) and Natsuko Goto (Saitama Pref.). Nakamura gradually upped her pace over the final km, causing Goto to slip away. Kisaki answered Nakamura’s moves, and, in a last sprint, appeared to just clip her at the line. Although both runners clocked the same time and race announcers initially said Kisaki had won the stage, official results listed Nakamura as the stage winner.
2nd Stage – 4.0 km
3000 m SC national record holder Minori Hayakari ran the 2nd stage for Kyoto but was unable to match Okayama’s Rei Obara, dropping to 3rd after being overtaken by Shoko Miyazaki (Yamaguchi Pref.). The star of the stage was 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo Pref.), who came up from 32nd place to pass 29 runners including Hayakari and put Hyogo into 3rd with a new stage record of 12:07. Kobayashi’s time broke her own previous stage record by 11 seconds.
3rd Stage – 3.0 km
The short 3rd stage was the first of the junior high school student showcases. Riding Kobayashi’s momentum, Mao Watanabe (Hyogo Pref.) overtook both Yamaguchi and Okayama to move into the lead. Yamaguchi’s Miho Fujishige continued to drop back, overtaken by Misaki Kuroiwa (Saitama Pref.). Following close behind Watanabe was Haruka Kyuma, who likewise overtook Yamaguchi and Okayama, then caught Watanabe with 300 m to go. It looked as though Kyuma would continue on into the lead, but Watanabe fought back with a last spurt to keep Hyogo 1 second ahead at the handoff zone.
4th Stage – 4.0 km
Hyogo’s Akane Yabushita had a quick start, widening her lead over veteran marathoner Mari Ozaki (Kyoto Pref.). It proved to be too quick as Ozaki soon returned, taking the lead at 2.9 km. Her lead was short-lived, however, as Risa Shigetomo (Okayama Pref.) also moved up, passing Yabushita and then Ozaki in rapid succession to put Okayama back into the lead. Further back, both Miyazaki and Yamaguchi passed Saitama to round out the top five.
5th Stage – 4.1 km
Ikumi Natsuhara (Kyoto Pref.) and Maki Kawakami (Hyogo Pref.) initially worked together to try to narrow the gap to Okayama’s Kaori Urata, but Natsuhara’s stage-best pace was too much for Kawakami and she soon fell away. Natsuhara ran strongly but Okayama was out of range. Further back, Saitama advanced back into 5th place with a large pack of runners shortly behind.
6th Stage – 4.1 km
Nothing changed among the top three on the first of the two consecutive high school student stages, but behind the leaders Hiromi Nakajo (Aichi Pref.) and Miu Kato (Nagano Pref.) had strong performances, putting their teams into the top five for the first time in the race.
7th Stage – 4.0 km
On the second of the high school student stages, Aya Ito (Kyoto Pref.) nearly took the lead as she came within 4 seconds of leader Aika Tsutsumi (Okayama Pref.). Aichi was again strong as Tamaka Shimomura overtook Miki Hayashi (Hyogo Pref.) to move into 3rd. Kumamoto replaced Nagano in 5th.
8th Stage – 3.0 km
3rd stage winner Haruka Kyuma’s identical twin sister Moe immediately grabbed attention on the second of the junior high school student stages when she began at what looked like a full sprint and flashed past leader Asuka Kaneko (Okayama Pref.) within meters. Race commentators including former marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi were bemused at the young runner’s naïve and exuberant overpace, laughing out loud when she hit the 1st km mark on the uphill 3.0 km stage in 2:58.
The laughter faded as Kyuma continued to widen her lead, her form remaining dynamic, powerful and smooth even as she inevitably slowed as the uphill grew steeper. 2 km passed in 6:20. When it was clear that Kyuma was going to smash the stage record of 9:53 by a wide margin an amazed Takahashi could only offer up the praise, “She’s going to be big. I can’t believe this is a junior high school student!” Kyuma handed off with a 9:41 clocking, 12 seconds faster than the previous stage record and with a lead of 53 seconds over Okayama’s Kaneko.
9th Stage – 10 km
The ekiden was over when Kyuma handed off to Kyoto anchor Kazue Kojima, the #1-ranked university woman. Kojima ran as usual, opening up the lead to 1 minute 24 seconds. Okayama anchor Yuka Izumi had little hope of catching the university star despite being a professional with Team Tenmaya, and it was all she could do to hold off Hyogo’s anchor Yuri Kano, who despite currently suffering from Achilles problems cut the gap to Izumi down to 39 seconds.
Aichi anchor Wakana Okuda faded badly, while Kumamoto and Fukuoka came on strong to break into the top five after a pack finish which saw the 4th through 10th place teams finish in 2:19. 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya (Chiba Pref.) outkicked 2008 Honolulu Marathon winner Kiyoko Shimahara (Team Yamaguchi) to take 12th, beating Kojima's time by 1 second for a surprise stage best title.
Kyoto’s win was its fifth-straight and its thirteenth in the 27 editions of the National Interprefectural Ekiden. Its time was short of its 2008 course record, but a strong team performance overall which revealed two potential future stars in the Kyuma sisters. The National Interprefectural Ekiden continues on Jan. 18 with the men’s competition in Hiroshima. Complete results for the women’s race are available through broadcaster NHK’s race website.
2009 National Interprefectural Women’s Ekiden
Top Team Results
1. Kyoto: 2:15:39
2. Okayama: 2:17:03
3. Hyogo: 2:17:42
4. Kumamoto: 2:19:09
5. Fukuoka: 2:19:18
6. Saitama: 2:19:22
7. Miyazaki: 2:19:23
8. Nagano: 2:19:28
9. Nagasaki: 2:19:33
10. Aichi: 2:19:56
Stage Best Performances
1st Stage (6.0 km) – Yurika Nakamura (Okayama Pref.) and Ryoko Kisaki (Kyoto Pref.): 19:14
2nd Stage (4.0 km) – Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo Pref.): 12:07 – new stage record
3rd Stage (3.0 km) – Haruka Kyuma (Kyoto Pref.): 9:21
4th Stage (4.0 km) – Risa Shigetomo (Okayama Pref.): 12:50
5th Stage (4.1075 km) - Ikumi Natsuhara (Kyoto Pref.): 13:11
6th Stage (4.0875 km) - Ai Kuboki (Okayama Pref.): 12:54
7th Stage (4.0 km) - Aya Ito (Kyoto Pref.): 12:26
8th Stage (3.0 km) – Moe Kyuma (Kyoto Pref.): 9:41 – new stage record
9th Stage (10.0 km) - Hitomi Niiya (Chiba Pref.): 32:31
© 2009 Brett Larner
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