by Brett Larner
It was a familiar story: clocking an unprecedented fourth-straight new stage record at the major national university women's championship Morinomiyako Ekiden, ace senior Kazue Kojima led Ritsumeikan University, except for 2005 when it was 2nd the national champion every year since 2003, to break its own course record by nearly two minutes. But there was something strange. TV cameras showed Ritsumeikan's women crying and devastated at the finish. What had gone wrong? The answer: cross-town rival Bukkyo University had beaten them by another margin of nearly two minutes to take its first-ever national title.
Bukkyo's performance was just a few degrees off perfection. First Stage runner Mai Ishibashi took a slow first half before taking off in the second half to win the leg by 2 seconds over Ritsumeikan's Hanae Tanaka. From there on every Bukkyo runner just went out hell-bent at 100% from the start, recklessly running stage-record pace and daring Ritsumeikan to try to keep up. Most faded, but three of the team's six members managed to hang on for new individual stage records.
The lone Bukkyo runner to miss winning her stage was the team's star Kasumi Nishikawa, who was up against Ritsumeikan's mighty Kojima on the Third Stage. Nishikawa inherited a 31-second lead and proceded to open the gap even further, but as she faded in the final kilometers the experienced Kojima, who has never lost an ekiden stage in her university career, ratched down her til-then steady pace and closed to within 10 seconds. Nishihara held her off by running just 5 seconds slower than Kojima's old course record, but Kojima was easily the stronger as she broke her own record by 25 seconds.
Bukkyo's remaining runners over the second half of the ekiden were extremely impressive, in particular Fifth Stage runner Chinami Mori who bettered the old record by 25 seconds over 4.0 km, and anchor Hikari Yoshimoto who ran the first km of the 8.0 km Sixth Stage in 3:03 and broke the stage record by nearly 40 seconds. Although the team will lose Nishihara and captain Yuika Mori to graduation in the spring, its strong contingent of first years suggests a good future over the next few seasons. Ritsumeikan had no real flaws in its performance, with two new stage records and four stage 2nd-best marks. Bukkyo was just better. Ritsumeikan will suffer from Kojima's graduation but having had strong recruitment last year will still be in position to continue its rivalry with new champion Bukkyo.
There were another 24 teams in this year's Morinomiyako Ekiden, but none was in the same class as Bukkyo and Ritsumeikan. 2005 winner Meijo University was 3rd again, a familiar position since its last win, with Josai Kokusai University 4th. Josai University, Kyoto Sangyo University and Tokyo Nogyo University had an exciting battle for 5th and 6th, the final two seeded places for next year's national ekiden. Tokyo Nogyo came up short thanks to outstanding anchor performances by Josai's Miki Yamada and Kyoto Sangyo's Misato Yamakawa. Tamagawa University and Nihon University were among the disappointments, finishing well outside the seeded bracket in 9th and 12th.
2009 Morinomiyako Ekiden - National University Women's Ekiden Championships
Top Team Results - 38.6 km, six stages
1. Bukkyo Univ. - 2:03:32 - new course record
2. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:05:13 - new course record
3. Meijo Univ. - 2:08:17
4. Josai Kokusai Univ. - 2:09:47
5. Josai Univ. - 2:10:02
6. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:10:15
----- top six seeded for 2010
7. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 2:10:40
8. Hakuho Univ. - 2:11:03
9. Tamagawa Univ. - 2:11:16
10. Juntendo Univ. - 2:11:17
Top Individual Results - click here for complete results
First Stage (6.0 km) - Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 19:21
Second Stage (6.6 km) - Yuika Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 20:51 - new stage record
Third Stage (9.1 km) - Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 29:15 - new stage record
Fourth Stage (4.9 km) - Shiho Takechi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:23
Fifth Stage (4.0 km) - Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 12:42 - new stage record
Machiko Iwakawa (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 12:55 - new stage record
Sixth Stage (8.0 km) - Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 25:25 - new stage record
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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