by Brett Larner
With the memory of their 3-second loss at last year's National University Women's Invitational Ekiden to spur them on, Bukkyo University followed up on their win over rivals Ritsumeikan University at October's Morinomiyako Ekiden by handing Ritsumeikan their first-ever loss at the national championship ekiden. With four of its runners taking stage best titles, two setting new stage records and one equalling the existing stage record, Bukkyo covered the six-stage, 30.67 km course in Tsukuba, Ibaraki prefecture in 1:37:35, breaking Ritsumeikan's course record from last year by 58 seconds. Ritsumeikan was only two seconds slower than its record-setting performance last year but a full minute behind Bukkyo.
Bukkyo's Yuika Mori got the race started on the right note, leading a four-way breakaway on the 5.0 km First Stage and outkicking Kenyan Ann Kingori (Nihon Univ.) and 2008 National University 10000 m champion Michi Numata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) to win the stage in 15:44. Second Stage runner Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) tied the stage record of 9:25 for 3.0 km but lost the lead to Ritsumeikan's Namiko Yamamoto, who had a brilliant run to set a new stage record of 9:16.
The move proved Ritsumeikan's only challenge to Bukkyo's impending win. Bukkyo Third Stage runner Hikari Yoshimoto, the outstanding 2nd-year who beat 5000 m national champion Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) and all international challengers to win the anchor stage of last month's International Chiba Ekiden, easily dispatched Ritsumeikan's Risa Takenaka, and after Bukkyo Fourth and Fifth Stage runners Mai Ishibashi and Shiho Takechi set new stage records there was little hope of Ritsumeikan's anchor, the #1-ranked Kazue Kojima, catching Bukkyo's 2009 World University 10000 m champion Kasumi Nishihara.
Nishihara has been dealing with injury issues this fall but did her best to become the first woman to beat Kojima in a university ekiden in this, the final race of Kojima's university career. For her part, Kojima went out in hopes of a final stage record to cap off her career and help deliver Ritsumeikan another win. Although she had the satisfaction of outrunning Nishihara by 24 second over the 7.67 km stage, Kojima only succeeded in tying the stage record of 24:31 which Nishihara set at last year's race and was simply out of range for the win. Her school days thus end with a bitter loss. Next year Kojima will join 2008 National Jitsugyodan Champions Team Toyota Jidoshoki.
As with last year, Meijo University led the also-rans, finishing 3rd in 1:41:16. Strong teams Tamagawa University and Josai University finished 4th and 5th with ailing aces, while Matsuyama University, coached by the husband of 2007 World Championships women's marathon bronze medalist Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), was a surprise 6th. Despite holding two Kenyan aces and the talented Natsuko Goto, Nihon University finished a disappointing 10th.
2009 National University Women's Invitational Ekiden - Stage Best Performances
click here for complete results
First Stage - 5.0 km: Yuika Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:44
Second Stage - 3.0 km: Namiko Yamamoto (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 9:16 - new stage record
Third Stage - 5.5 km: Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 17:10
Fourth Stage - 3.5 km: Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 10:56 - new stage record
Fifth Stage - 6.0 km: Shiho Takechi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 19:25 - new stage record
Sixth Stage - 7.67 km: Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 24:55 - stage record tie
Top Team Results
1. Bukkyo Univ. - 1:37:35 - new course record
2. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 1:38:33
3. Meijo Univ. - 1:41:16
4. Tamagawa Univ. - 1:41:22
5. Josai Univ. - 1:42:27
6. Matsuyama Univ. - 1:42:33
7. Hakuho Univ. - 1:42:56
8. Josai Kokusai Univ. - 1:43:06
9. Kyushu Regional Select Team - 1:43:09
10. Nihon Univ. - 1:43:15
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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