by Brett Larner
Yuri Kano's entry in yesterday's New York City Marathon brought attention to the fact that Japan's top marathoners rarely turn out for overseas fall marathons, in particular for New York. Among the reasons for this are the early-November regional qualifier ekidens for corporate teams hoping to make the national corporate championships in December and January. The companies which sponsor Japan's corporate teams prioritize the national championship ekidens above all else, meaning their runners have to schedule around ekiden season. For runners on teams based in eastern Japan the regional qualifier takes place in Saitama Prefecture on Nov. 3, a public holiday and a date which makes running in New York all but impossible.
This year's East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships is an anniversary edition, the 50th running for men and the 20th for women. The region is home to most of the best teams on both the men's and women's sides, meaning the races are dry runs for the December 13th National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships and the men's championships, the famous New Year Ekiden. 14 teams line up for the women's race. Among them are the powerful Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo, home of the great Yoko Shibui; defending national champion Team Toyota Jidoshoki; the recently renamed Team Universal Entertainment, formerly Team Aruze; Team Daiichi Seimei led by World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki; and Team Hokuren which sports a two-pronged attack in the form of Kenyan star Philes Ongori and Yukiko Akaba. Strangely, 13 of the 14 teams will qualify for Nationals.
The men's race features 24 teams, of which only 14 advance to the New Year Ekiden. Team Honda, Team Nissin Shokuhin and Team Komori Corporation include African heavy hitters Yacob Jarso (Ethiopia), Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya) and Josephat Ndambiri (Kenya) in their lineups, but the defending national champion Team Fujitsu, led by marathon great Atsushi Fujita, is also in the field. Team Kanebo and Team JR Higashi Nihon include World Championships marathoners Satoshi Irifune and Arata Fujiwara on their rosters, and potentially making their professional ekiden debuts are recently-graduated Hakone Ekiden stars Yuki Sato of Team Nissin Shokuhin and Masato Kihara of Team Kanebo.
Both the men's and women's ekidens will be broadcast nationwide on TBS from 1:55 p.m. to 4:53 p.m. on Nov. 3. International viewers should be able to watch online for free using the Keyhole TV software. Click here for more information. JRN will provide live commentary in English. Please check back for further details.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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