by Brett Larner
Kenyan star Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren) got the 25th anniversary Fukui Super Ladies' Ekiden started in style with a stage record performance on the 6 km 1st leg. After a conservative first kilometer in which she matched paces with fellow Kenyan Danielle Philomena Cheyech (Team Uniqlo) and top university woman Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.), Ongori sped away to clock 18:28, breaking the 12 year-old record by 7 seconds. Cheyech attempted to follow and initially opened a comfortable gap, but the gritty Kojima returned for a sprint finish in which Cheyech prevailed by only a stride, timed at 19:11 to Kojima's 19:12.
Hokuren's lead looked formidable as the team ran on course record pace through the end of the 4th stage, but despite a strong showing as anchor at last week's East Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden 5th leg runner Saori Nejo ran into trouble and lost ground to the chasers. Surprisingly, the team that was running her down was not 10-time champion Wacoal or another pro team but 2009 Morinomiyako Ekiden winner Bukkyo University.
While Ritsumeikan had chosen to run Fukui as an intramural competition with its squad split into three equal teams, Bukkyo put all its star power minus ailing ace Kasumi Nishihara into one A team. The A team's 4th and 5th leg runners Chinami Mori and Mai Ishibashi had particularly outstanding days, both outrunning Team Wacoal's pros by 4 seconds per kilometer to take large stage best titles. Anchor Hikari Yoshimoto caught Hokuren's Akane Sekino for the lead 2.5 km into the 8 km stage, but the celebrations were short-lived.
Behind her came Team Wacoal anchor Kayoko Fukushi, the 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder. Fukushi ran like she hasn't since before her disastrous marathon debut in January 2008, going through 3 km in 9:02 before sailing past Bukkyo's Yoshimoto at 3.8 km. Fukushi continued on without slackening, opening 44 seconds on Yoshimoto and blasting a new stage record of 24:40 to give Team Wacoal its 11th Fukui win with a total time of 1:35:54 for the 30 km course. After the race an elated Fukushi told reporters, "I felt really light and fresh. It's been a long time since I felt so good."
Bukkyo University finished 2nd in 1:36:38. Had Nishihara, who suffered minor injury problems at last month's Morinomiyako Ekiden and is resting for December's Nationals, been on the team the finish would likely have been very close indeed.
Similarly, 3rd place finisher Team Hokuren, 38 seconds behind Bukkyo in 1:37:16, was missing its top Japanese runner Yukiko Akaba, who has also been having injury issues and is focusing on January's Osaka International Women's Marathon. A fit Akaba may have resulted in an entirely different outcome, but regardless Team Wacoal brought the strongest squad of the day.
2009 Fukui Super Ladies' Ekiden - Top Team Results
click here for complete team and individual results
1. Team Wacoal - 1:35:54
2. Bukkyo Univ. A - 1:36:38
3. Team Hokuren - 1:37:16
4. Team Denso - 1:38:51
5. Meijo Univ. A - 1:39:57
6. Ritsumeikan Univ. C - 1:40:53
7. Ritsumeikan Univ. A - 1:41:08
8. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 1:41:46
9. Fukui Pref. Select Team - 1:41:54
10. Bukkyo Univ. B - 1:42:24
Top Individual Stage Performances
1st Leg - 6.0 km
1. Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren) - 18:28 - new stage record
2. Danielle Philomena Cheyech (Team Uniqlo) - 19:11
3. Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ. A) - 19:12
2nd Leg - 3.0 km
1. Betelhem Moges (Team Denso) - 9:07
2. Natsuko Honda (Ritsumeikan Univ. C) - 9:24
3. Kazumi Hashimoto (Team Hokuren) - 9:29
3rd Leg - 4.0 km
1. Kozue Matsumoto (Team Wacoal) - 12:44
2. Yuika Mori (Bukkyo Univ. A) - 12:45
3. Namiko Yamamoto (Ritsumeikan Univ. A) - 12:51
4th Leg - 4.0 km
1. Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ. A) - 12:37
2. Hiromi Chujo (Team Wacoal) - 12:52
2. Yuko Mizuguchi (Team Denso) - 12:52
5th Leg - 5.0 km
1. Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ. A) - 15:56
2. Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) - 16:15
3. Saori Nejo (Team Hokuren) - 16:21
6th Leg - 8.0 km
1. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 24:40 - new stage record
2. Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ. A) - 25:56
3. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) - 26:19
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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