by Brett Larner
Japan's excessively stacked national team did the expected, taking the 2009 International Chiba Ekiden over teams from Kenya, the U.S.A, Russia and elsewhere. The team, made up of 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B), women's 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshoki), 5000 m and 10000 m national university record holder Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B), women's 10000 m national champion Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), half-marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and women's 5000 m national champion Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), all of whom ran in the Berlin World Championships, the Beijing Olympics, or both, took the lead on the 5 km Second Stage and never looked back. Kobayashi, Takezawa, Akaba and Sato all took stage best titles, Akaba tying the 5 km Fourth Stage record of 15:34, but as a whole Japan fell 31 seconds short of breaking the mixed team-format course record set last year by a teenaged Ethiopian team.
Ueno was running 4th on the 5 km First Stage but with his last kick moved up to 2nd behind 2005 Helsinki World Championships 5000 m bronze medalist Craig Mottram of Australia who ran 13:23 in his first race back after a year of injury. Shortly afterwards Kobayashi overtook Australian Nikki Chapple, who herself turned in an outstanding performance over 30 seconds faster than her 5000 m PB and ran the second-best time on the stage. Japan's next three runners, Takezawa, Akaba and Sato, each widened the national team's lead, with Berlin World Championships marathon 6th place finisher Sato outrunning Kenyan gold medalist Abel Kirui by 13 seconds. Not until the anchor stage did another team make up any ground, in this case Bukkyo University sophomore Hikari Yoshimoto of the Japanese University Select Team.
The talented Yoshimoto outran national team anchor Yurika Nakamura by 27 seconds, passing the great Catherine Ndereba of Kenya to move the university team up from 3rd to 2nd. Ndereba, running just 8 days after her 3rd-place finish at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon, held off a charging Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) of the Chiba Prefecture team to bring Kenya home in 3rd. Niiya nevertheless clocked a faster time to take 3rd on the stage behind Yoshimoto and Nakamura.
The Japanese University Select Team's 2nd place performance was one of the biggest results of this year's International Chiba Ekiden, particularly in light of disappointing runs by stars Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) and Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) and the absence of alternate Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.). Other highs and lows included:
-On the 5 km Second Stage, a surprisingly strong stage 5th run by Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Dita (Romania) , who like Ndereba ran the Yokohama International Women's Marathon just 8 days ago.
-A DNF by Sweden's Third Stage runner Joel Boden which knocked the team out of the official competition.
-A 30:28 from Athens Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Stefano Baldini (Italy) for the hilly 10 km Fifth Stage.
-Stage top-three runs from American men Ian Burrell and Andrew Carlson.
For further details, click here to read JRN's live commentary on the 2009 International Chiba Ekiden.
Click here for complete, detailed stage-by-stage results.
2009 International Chiba Ekiden - Team Results
1. Japan - 2:05:58
2. Japanese University Select Team - 2:07:47
3. Kenya - 2:08:34
4. Chiba Prefecture - 2:09:26
5. U.S.A. - 2:09:42
6. Russia - 2:11:19
7. Australia - 2:11:35
8. Canada - 2:12:24
9. Italy - 2:13:13
10. Romania - 2:14:28
11. China - 2:14:47
12. Belarus - 2:15:11
13. Poland - 2:16:08
14. Finland - 2:16:48
DNF - Sweden
Stage Best Performances
1st Leg (5 km) - Craig Mottram (Australia) - 13:23
2nd Leg (5 km) - Yuriko Kobayashi (Japan) - 15:09
3rd Leg (10 km) - Kensuke Takezawa (Japan) - 29:07
4th Leg (5 km) - Yukiko Akaba (Japan) - 15:34 - ties stage record
5th Leg (10 km) - Atsushi Sato (Japan) - 28:57
6th Leg (7.195 km) - Hikari Yoshimoto (Japan Univ. Select Team) - 23:12
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved