by Brett Larner
The 2009 National High School Ekiden Championships take place this Sunday, Dec. 20. The day begins with the girls' race, five stages totalling 21.0975 km, and continues with the seven-stage, 42.195 km boys' race.
On the girls' side, last year's winner Toyokawa H.S. returns with an almost identical squad now a year stronger, the main exception being the replacement of anchor Kenyan Wysela Wylim, who disappeared from the school under unknown circumstances earlier this year, with another strong Kenyan, Wainaina Murgi.
In taking its first-ever national title last year Toyokawa won by four seconds over Kojokan H.S., with Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. also within just twelve seconds. Both schools return strong this year, but perhaps the biggest threat is last year's 4th-placer Suma Gakuen H.S. which comes to the race this year ranked #1 on average 3000 m time.
In the boys' race it is a time of change. Defending champion Saku Chosei H.S. returns only one key member of last year's squad, anchor Sugeru Osaku, having lost the rest of its team including the phenomenal Akinobu Murasawa to graduation. It must be viewed as being in a rebuilding period and is unlikely to be a factor. Likewise for Samuel Wanjiru's alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S., which last year lost head coach Takao Watanabe and this year saw the graduation of aces Paul Kuira and Wataru Ueno.
Into the gap steps Sera H.S., despite a 4th-place finish last year the odds-on favorite thanks to the fastest average 5000 m time in the field and the presence of Kenyan ace Bitan Karoki, who holds a 5000 m PB of 13:32.79. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. has also been strong throughout the season, while last year's 3rd-place team Saitama Sakae H.S. could also threaten Sera again this year.
Both races will be broadcast live nationwide and commerical-free on NHK, the girls' race starting at 10:05 a.m. and the boys' race at 12:15 p.m. International viewers may be able to watch live online using the Keyhole TV software, but NHK's availability on Keyhole has been spotty in the past. In either case, JRN will offer live English-language commentary on its Twitter feed JRNLive. Complete entry lists are available here.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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