by Brett Larner
The Nagano Prefecture team staged a coup at Sunday's 25th anniversary East Japan Women's Ekiden in Fukushima, clocking 2:18:36 for the 9-stage, 42.195 km course to beat two-time defending champion Tokyo by over a minute and take its first-ever win at the regional championships.
Nagano's Yuko Shimizu, a member of the Japanese national team for the International Chiba Ekiden later this month, got her team off to a strong start with a 2nd-place finish on the 6 km first leg, one second behind Aomori Prefecture's Miho Notagashira in 19:08. Tokyo's Chisa Fujimoto languished far behind, finishing 13th out of 17 in 19:56. While Tokyo spent the rest of the ekiden trying to claw its way back to the front, Nagano's second leg runner Yuka Hakoyama overtook Aomori's Nao Sasaki to build a lead which Nagano never relinquished.
The biggest excitement of the day came on the anchor stage where Tokyo's Azusa Nojiri, a former pro XC skier who began running professionally just over a year ago and is now a teammate of 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki at Team Daiichi Seimei, ran a sizzling stage best 32:33 for the 10 km anchor leg to take Tokyo from 7th to 2nd. Nojiri outran her nearest competitor, 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa of Iwate Prefecture, by over 30 seconds. Although she narrowed the gap to leaders Nagano by 55 seconds, Nojiri could not singlehandedly make up the remaining distance and finished 2nd in 2:19:53. Like Tokyo the Kanagawa Prefecture team worked its way up through the field and finished a close 3rd in 2:19:57.
Nagano's strong showing gives it a chance of joining the prefecture's winning men's team on the victory stand at January's National Interprefectural Ekiden Championships. To get there they will have to take down five-time defending champion Kyoto Prefecture along with western Japan powerhouses Okayama Prefecture and Hyogo Prefecture.
2009 East Japan Women's Ekiden - top team results
click here for complete team results
1. Nagano - 2:18:36
2. Tokyo - 2:19:53
3. Kanagawa - 2:19:57
4. Saitama - 2:20:29
5. Tochigi - 2:20:36
6. Ibaraki - 2:20:58
7. Fukushima - 2:21:07
8. Chiba - 2:21:08
9. Yamagata - 2:21:16
10. Gunma - 2:21:41
Stage Best Winners
1st Leg - 6.0 km - Miho Notagashira (Aomori) - 19:07
2nd Leg - 4.0 km - Hiroko Shoi (Miyagi) - 12:54
3rd Leg - 3.0 km - Naoko Koizumi (Niigata) - 9:53
4th Leg - 3.0 km - Yuka Kobayashi (Tochigi) - 9:32
5th Leg - 5.0875 km - Kiyomi Shibazaki (Saitama) - 16:48
6th Leg - 4.1075 km - Makiko Kuroda (Kanagawa) - 13:11
7th Leg - 4.0 km - Michiru Otsuki (Tokyo) - 13:00
8th Leg - 3.0 km - Ayaka Amaha (Saitama) - 9:21
9th Leg - 10.0 km - Azusa Nojiri (Tokyo) - 32:33
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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