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Nagano Breaks National Interprefectural Ekiden Course Record; High School Senior Murasawa Runs 23:55 for 8.5 km Stage Record

by Brett Larner

Click picture for video highlights.

Despite anchor Yuichiro Ueno suffering stomach cramps and slowing in the final kilometers of his stage, Nagano Prefecture's 2009 team put together a winning run at the Jan. 18 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima, winning its fifth title in six years and covering the 48.0 km course in a record time of 2:18:43. Nagano's Akinobu Murasawa also set a new stage record of 23:55 on the 8.5 km 5th stage, breaking the previous record by 12 seconds. Of the seven members on Nagano's team, three including Murasawa were current students at 2008 National High School Boys Ekiden champion Saku Chosei High School, two were graduates of Saku Chosei, and the remaining two were junior high school students who will undoubtedly go on to attend Saku Chosei.

1st Stage - 7.0 km
Nagano's Kenta Chiba ran patiently at the front of the pack throughout the stage, covering a string of moves by the stage's other high school runners in the final two kilometers. Entering the last straightaway he briefly pulled into the lead but was outkicked by Saitama's Shodai Hattori and just clipped by Miyazaki's Yuki Maeda. Hattori finished first in 20:10, with Yamasaki, Saitama and Chiba a step behind. Nagano's expected major competition Hyogo and Fukushima finished the 1st stage in 7th and a distant 21st.

2nd Stage - 3.0 km
The short 2nd stage was one of two reserved for junior high school students. Nagano's Shun Morozumi took the lead in short order but was joined in the lead by Tochigi's Ken Yokote, who tied the stage record of 8:32. Saitama and Hyogo came in together just behind the two leaders, while Fukushima advanced to 17th. The surprise of the stage was Shizuoka's Yuta Katsumata, who jumped up from 33rd to 22nd place in a new stage record time of 8:30.

3rd Stage - 8.5 km
The 3rd leg was one of two open stages loaded with both university aces such as Yuki Sato (Nagano/Tokai Univ.), Ryuji Kashiwabara (Fukushima/Toyo Univ.), Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Tochigi/Komazawa Univ.) and Tomoya Onishi (Gifu/Toyo Univ.), and major professional runners including Yu Mitsuya (Fukuoka/Team Toyota Kyushu), Kazuyuki Maeda (Saga/Team Kyudenko) and Yuki Matsuoka (Kyoto/Team Otsuka Seiyaku).

Sato and Ugachi began together. They repeatedly switched the lead as they initially pulled away from the competition, but soon both showed lingering strain from the recent Hakone Ekiden and were overtaken by Yamazaki and Saitama. Behind them, 27-minute 10000 m runners Yu Mitsuya and Kazuyuki Maeda ran against each other for several kilometers before Mitsuya made a break to catch the pack of four ahead. When he made contact at 4 km he accelerated dramatically and sliced through the group, his pace never slowing as he sped away to a stage-best 23:49, building a 15-second lead.

Behind the five frontrunners other drama was unfolding. Ryuji Kashiwabara, who first came to national attention at last year's Interprefectural Ekiden with a dramatic win on the 1st stage as a high school student and became a star at this year's Hakone Ekiden with an awe-inspiring 5th stage record as a university first-year, overtook professional and older university stars alike as he went from 17th to 6th. He was a step away from 5th and 4 seconds from 2nd, his time of 23:56 the second-best on the stage and surpassing that of 27-minute 10000 m runners Sato and Maeda. Sato, the strongest runner on the Nagano team, vomited just before starting and had the team's weakest result, finishing 16th on the stage with Nagano in 4th.

4th Stage - 5.0 km
Nagano's Shota Hiraga quickly took control of the all-high school student 4th stage, passing Tochigi and Yamazaki before catching Fukuoka's Yutaro Matsuyama with room to spare. Matsuyama was not to be outdone, however, returning unexpectedly with the strongest last kick to be seen at this year's ekiden. Nevertheless, Hiraga clocked the stage best time and put Nagano into position to defend its title.

5th Stage - 8.5 km
The final high school stage was virtually a one-man show. Nagano's Akinobu Murasawa, a high school senior with a 5000 m best of 13:50, went out alone to swiftly overtake first and then set a new stage record of 23:55. Murasawa was smooth and under control over the entire stage, never faltering or showing signs of slowing. Although a different course from the 8.5 km 3rd stage, Murasawa's time on the 5th stage was one second faster than Kashiwabara's 3rd stage mark and 6 seconds slower than 27-minute 10000 m professional runner Yu Mitsuya's winning time on the 3rd stage. Murasawa, who will go to Tokai Univ. after his graduation this spring, commented afterwards that he had run 10 seconds faster than planned.

Hyogo's Fuminori Shikata ran the next fastest time on the 5th stage, 24:38, to put the 2007 Interprefectural Ekiden winning team into 2nd place. Saitama's Keita Shitara was also strong, moving up into 3rd, but regardless Murasawa had opened up a lead of 1 minute 12 seconds.

6th Stage - 3.0 km
Nagano's Rui Ueda continued to open up the lead on the junior high school students-only 6th leg, running a stage-7th 9:03 but picking up 6 seconds over Hyogo and Saitama. Saitama's Sho Takayanagi squeezed by Hyogo's Ryutaro Higami, but both runners finished low down on stage ranking as most of the action happened further back in the pack. Kyoto's Hideshi Ikegami took the stage best title in 8:51, moving from 16th to 13th.

7th Stage - 13.0 km
The anchor leg, the Interprefectural Ekiden's longest, was another battle stage for university and professional stars. At the stage's beginning Nagano's Yuichiro Ueno, a Hakone Ekiden star who spent much of 2008, his first year as a professional, hospitalized for stomach ailments, was far out of range of his nearest competitor, defending anchor stage winner Satoru Kitamura of Hyogo. Ueno started at 2:45/km pace, looking relaxed and comfortable through 10 km. He began to strain in the final 3 km after an attack of stomach cramping but held on to deliver Nagano the win in a course record time of 2:18:43, actually widening his lead by 2 seconds even with his late-stage troubles.

Kitamura held off a charge from Miyazaki's Satoru Sasaki to bring Hyogo home in 2nd but a disappointing 8th on the stage. Sasaki clocked the stage third-best time for a surprise 3rd-place Miyazaki finish.

Among the other big names on the stage, including professionals Takayuki Matsumiya (Akita/Team Konica Minolta), Atsushi Sato (Fukushima/Team Chugoku Denryoku), Tomoyuki Sato (Oita/Team Asahi Kasei), Bene Zama (Kanagawa/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Masato Imai (Fukuoka/Team Toyota Kyushu), Hiroshima's hometown Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) took a surprise stage best, outrunning 5000 m national record holder Matsumiya by 1 second.

Complete results for the National Interprefectural Ekiden are available at broadcaster NHK's race website.

2009 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden
Stage Best Performances
1st Stage (7.0 km) - Shodai Hattori (Saitama Pref.) - 20:10
2nd Stage (3.0 km) - Yuta Katsumata (Shizuoka Pref.) - 8:30 - new stage record
3rd Stage (8.5 km) - Yu Mitsuya (Fukuoka Pref.) - 23:49
4th Stage (5.0 km) - Shota Hiraga (Nagano Pref.) - 14:28
5th Stage (8.5 km) - Akinobu Murasawa (Nagano Pref.) - 23:55 - new stage record
6th Stage (3.0 km) - Hideshi Ikegami (Kyoto Pref.) - 8:51
7th Stage (13.0 km) - Naoki Okamoto (Hiroshima Pref.) - 37:55

Top Team Results
1. Nagano Pref. - 2:18:43 - new course record
2. Hyogo Pref. - 2:20:03
3. Miyazaki Pref. - 2:20:07
4. Fukuoka Pref. - 2:20:15
5. Fukushima Pref. - 2:20:42
6. Tochigi Pref. - 2:20:46
7. Saitama Pref. - 2:20:52
8. Chiba Pref. - 2:21:14
9. Oita Pref. - 2:21:18
10. Miyagi Pref. - 2:21:35

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


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