by Brett Larner
Team Nissin Shokuhin returned to the top in the 50th East Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden Championships on the strength of its crop of star recruits over the last two years. Nissin's first five runners, Bene Zama, Yuki Sato, Gideon Ngatuny, Kazuyoshi Tokumoto and Satoru Kitamura, all took stage best titles and built up an insurmountable lead of a minute and a half which Sixth Stage runner Yuzo Onishi and anchor Kosaka Hoshina were easily able to maintain.
Last year's winner Team Honda was 2nd, with the formidable Team Konica Minolta just 17 seconds back in 3rd. Konica Minolta anchor Hirokatsu Kurosaki actually overtook Honda anchor Masakazu Fujiwara, the marathon university record holder, but Fujiwara was able to fire back and retake the runner up position. Defending national champion Team Fujitsu was only 9th, nearly eight minutes behind Nissin Shokuhin despite a strong run from team leader and 2:06 marathoner Atsushi Fujita. Surprisingly, the top 7 runners on the 6th stage broke the existing stage record.
The top 14 teams qualified for the January 1st New Year Ekiden, the corporate men's national championships. Just making the grade to qualify for its first New Year Ekiden was the tiny Team Press Kogyo. Press failed to clear the 10 minute time limit for the white sash start on the final stage, meaning they had to sweat out the few minutes between their finish and the last-place team's to make sure they had cleared the top 14 on time.
The women's race, in its 20th year also an anniversary edition, saw the end of an era. With ace Yoko Shibui still sidelined by the stress fracture which kept her out of August's World Championships marathon and two of its other top runners also out of commission, nine-time defending champion Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo was taken down by the same team that ended its streak at last December's National Championships. The young Toyota Jidoshoki squad had little trouble repeating its surprise defeat of Mitsui Sumitomo, taking its first East Japan win and perhaps signalling the start of a new dynasty.
Many of the well-known runners in the field, among them World Championships marathoners Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido), World Championships 10000 m runner Yukari Sahaku (Team Universal Entertainment) and 1500 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) had mediocre performances, while Kenyans Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren) and Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi) were outstanding. Along with Shibui, World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) was absent from the ekiden.
Team Hokuren took 2nd behind Toyota Jidoshoki on the strength of Obare's run and a near stage record run from anchor Saori Nejo. Team Universal Entertainment, formerly Team Aruze, was a close 3rd, with Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo only able to muster a 4th place performance. Team Daiichi Seimei rounded out the top five. With 13 of the 14 teams in the field qualifying for December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden only Team Acom came up unlucky, in last place from the gun and never able to regain ground. Team Yamada Denki took Acom's spot after missing out last year.
Click here for a play-by-play account of both the men's and women's races. Complete results are available here.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner