by Brett Larner
Nov. 21 was a busy morning at Oda Field, central Tokyo's main public track. Alongside the high school and amateur clubs which had gathered for morning practice, 2009 double 1500 m and 5000 m Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) ran a solo workout of 400 m repeats to tune up for Monday's International Chiba Ekiden with one of his coaches in attendance. As he ran, members of Team Nissin Shokuhin began to assemble for a group workout.
Nissin won the East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships earlier this month. With a young roster including Gideon Ngatuny, Yuki Sato, Satoru Kitamura and Bene Zama they are the heavy favorites to win the 2010 New Year Ekiden national championships. Their full team including coaches was present at Oda Field, but several members were apparently injured. Ngatuny, originally slated for the International Chiba Ekiden but then left off the entry list, spent the entire workout sitting on the retaining wall and pouring drinks for the other team members. Hiroyuki Ono, the first-year rookie famous for repeatedly falling near the end of the 5th stage in the 2008 Hakone Ekiden while still a student at Juntendo University, jogged the warmup with the rest of the team but likewise sat out. 2004 Olympic marathoner Toshinari Suwa started the workout but dropped out during the second interval.
Except for Hiroki Matsumura, who did a set of 5000 m repeats alone, the remainder of the team ran a short menu: a fast 1000 m with 200 m recovery, 2000 m with 100 m recovery, 100 m with another 100 m recovery followed by a final 100 m. For the 1000 and 2000 m the ten men ran in single file behind Kosaku Hoshina, the team's anchor at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden. In both long intervals star Yuki Sato, who earlier this year ran 27:38 to become the all-time #3 on the Japanese 10000 m record list, started behind the rest of the group and gradually worked his way up to the pack.
In the 2000 m Sato started 5 seconds behind. As Hoshina led the group through 1000 m in 2:49 and 1600 m in 4:32 Sato drew closer, gaining contact around the 1500 m point. At 1600 m he went to the lead, covering the last lap in 61 seconds to finish in 5:29. The rest of the team with the exception of Suwa, who pulled out partway through the 2000 m, came through in 5:35 to 5:37 led by 2000 Olympian Julius Gitahi. With a quick 100 m recovery jog the team then went into 2 x 100 m individually and in pairs, then packed up and went home.
Sato's addition to Nissin's roster this year gives them the edge they need to take the prestigious New Year Ekiden title, but if Ngatuny is injured it will make a tremendous difference to their fortunes. Six weeks remain until the New Year Ekiden.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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