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Yuki Iwai Cracks 15 km World Record Mark as Team Asahi Kasei Wins 3rd-Straight Asahi Ekiden

by Brett Larner

Yuki Iwai reaches the finish of the 2009 Asahi Ekiden in world record time. Click photo for video highlights. The clip of Iwai's run begins at time index 8:16.

Still smarting from landing 3rd in the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden's sprint finish, Team Asahi Kasei came up from 3rd place to win the 60th Asahi Ekiden on Jan. 12 thanks to a stage-record run by anchor Yuki Iwai. Iwai covered the 16.7 km 7th stage in an astonishing 45:35, with the next fastest runner clocking 47:27. Iwai's pace was just under 2:44 / km, equivalent to 40:57 for 15km. The 15 km world record of 41:29 is held by Kenyan great Felix Limo. It was Team's Asahi Kasei's 3rd-straight Asahi Ekiden win and its 27th in the event's 60 runnings.

Team Asahi Kasei rival Team Honda was highly focused on the win after a dismal showing at the New Year Ekiden, taking two stage best titles. After leading the second half of the race on the strength of a stage-best run by Ethiopian ace Hailu Mekonnen the team ended in 2nd when Iwai took away the lead in the final moments of the race. Likewise, Asahi Ekiden first-half leader Team Yasukawa Denki could not make up the deficit opened up by Honda's Mekonnen and, despite taking three stage-best titles, settled for 3rd after being caught by Iwai.

With the withdrawal of Daiichi Kogyo University, 21 teams took part in the 7-stage, 99.9 km ekiden from Fukuoka to Kokura on Japan's southern island of Kyushu. A pack of six including the eventual top three teams plus Team Sumco Techxiv, Team Otsuka Seiyaku and Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko came through the 14.6 km 1st stage together in the 43:30's. In the midst of a snowstorm Team JFE Steel's Joseph Gitau clipped the leaders on the mountainous 9.9 km 2nd stage by one second, but by the end of the 11.2 km 3rd stage Team Yasukawa Denki was alone in front by a margin of 15 seconds over Team Asahi Kasei.

Mekonnen brought Team Honda to the front with a 41:03 stage-best run on the 14.8 km 4th stage, just off Limo's world record with 41:36 equivalency for 15 km. Team Asahi Kasei's Satoshi Sasaki overtook Team Yasukawa Denki's Shinji Tateishi to move into 2nd, but as the snow returned and grew heavier Asahi Kasei 5th and 6th stage runners Tomoya Adachi and Keita Tsuchihashi struggled and lost ground after dropping back to 3rd.

After a brief scare in which Team Yasukawa Denki's 5th stage runner Toru Okada came within 7 seconds of the lead, Team Honda's 6th and 7th stage runners Seigo Ikegami and Yoichiro Akiyama strengthed their position relative to Yasukawa Denki but could do nothing to escape Iwai's incredible onslaught. Iwai almost clipped Akiyama's feet as he cut in front while passing and was uncharacteristically animated as he celebrated the win coming down the final stretch. "I've been planning on winning this race for the team," he commented afterwards, "and I've been training to do it for quite a while. I'm really glad to add our names to this race's history."

Stage-by-stage results for the top 10 teams are available here.

2009 Asahi Ekiden
Stage Best Performances
1st Stage (14.6 km): Noritaki Fujiyama (Team Sumco Techxiv) - 43:34
2nd Stage (9.9 km): Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel) - 29:18
3rd Stage (11.2 km): Masayuki Obata (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 30:19
4th Stage (14.8 km): Hailu Mekonnen (Team Honda) - 41:03
5th Stage (15.9 km): Toru Okada (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 46:22
6th Stage (16.8 km): Seigo Ikegami (Team Honda) - 48:06
7th Stage (16.7 km): Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) - 45:35 - new stage record

Top Team Results
1. Team Asahi Kasei - 4:48:29
2. Team Honda - 4:48:51
3. Team Yasukawa Denki - 4:49:37
4. Team Kyudenko - 4:53:47
5. Team JFE Steel - 4:55:12
6. Team JAL Ground Service - 4:56:48
7. Team Otsuka Seiyaku - 4:56:49
8. Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko - 4:58:48
9. Team Nishitetsu - 4:59:56
10. Team Kurosaki Harima - 5:00:39

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


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