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Shibui is Back as Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo Takes 7th National Title

by Brett Larner

Shibui rides again. Click picture for sanspo.com's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden photo gallery.

Despite not taking a single stage best title, six-time national champion Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo returned to the top of the six-stage marathon distance 2009 National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships on Dec. 13 in Gifu with another win to make it seven. The team's chances depended largely on whether its star Yoko Shibui had recovered from the stress fracture that kept her out of the 2009 World Championships marathon. She had. Although she was far from her normal condition, Shibui's stage-4th 32:13 for the 10 km Third Stage was good enough to keep the team in position after a strong stage-2nd performance by First Stage runner Ikuyo Yamashita.

Fresh from last month's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, Miki Ohira ran the 2nd-best time on the Fifth Stage to take the lead and anchor Chisato Osaki likewise was 2nd on her stage to keep up front and return Mitsui Sumitomo to the top after last year's loss. Although Mitsui Sumitomo, joined by surprise guest Reiko Tosa, was celebrating early the race ended up being unexpectedly close as Team Tenmaya's Kaori Urata clocked the stage best for the anchor leg, nearly running down Osaki but running out of room instead.

Defending champion Team Toyota Jidoshoki, the overwhelming favorites, finished a shocking 9th. First Stage runner Aya Nagata, who had a memorably gutsy anchor run for the win last year, took the race out hard but by 4 km on the 6.6 km stage had faded from the large lead pack and ultimately finished 15th. The rest of the team's star squad was flat and unremarkable, only Fourth and Fifth Stage runners Rui Aoyama and Akane Wakita turning in credible performances as each finished 3rd on her leg. It's back to the drawing board for head coach Yoshio Koide, who before the race predicted an 8 to 10 year winning streak for his young squad. His arsenal will be strengthened next year by the addition of university champion Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.).

In the runner-up position was the perpetually-strong Team Tenmaya. After a weak start by First Stage runner Yuka Izumi the team gradually clawed its way up through the pack, ace Yurika Nakamura clocking stage 2nd-best on the Third Stage and anchor Kaori Urata taking the stage best but falling eleven seconds short of taking the lead.

In other noteworthy individual results:
  • 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) was 3rd on the First Stage, running 20:44 for 6.6 km. Little-known Chieko Gido was only 13th on the stage, but her early running at the front of the pack and top-half finish were a credit to her team Canon AC Kyushu which was only formed in April this year and yet made Nationals.
  • Kenyan Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi) clocked a new stage record of 10:02 for the 3.3 km Second Stage, beating Ethiopian Betelhem Moges (Team Denso) and Kenyan Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren) by one second and Kenyan Danielle Philomena Cheyech (Team Uniqlo) by four seconds. The National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships this year followed the trend of Japan's other major ekidens in the last few years in the questionable practice of restricting foreign-born runners, generally the best athletes on their teams, to the shortest stages. Besides minimizing the advantage of teams which can afford to recruit overseas runners, for broadcasters it means that with only 10 minutes of running time, between showing the back of the packers finishing the preceeding stage far behind the leaders, going through a computerized guide to the stage course, showing the runners on the following stage warming up and commercial breaks, they must devote minimal screen time to showing non-Japanese runners outrunning their domestic rivals. The implication for what they seem to think race viewers want to see is not very encouraging and is a disservice to fans who appreciate a good performance regardless of where it comes from. You'd like to hope this is the majority of the domestic TV audience.
  • Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) illustrated for the second time this season that she is fully operational and recovered from the injuries that have bothered her since her spectacular-for-the-wrong-reasons marathon debut at the 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon, passing ten teams and running a 31:02 new stage record on the 10.0 km Third Stage after a 15:14 first half. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya), Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) ran most of the stage together in the lead, pushing each other to the 2nd through 4th-best times on the stage while Fukushi came up from behind. When Fukushi blew by the leaders at 6.4 km Shibui, then leading, was unable to respond but Nakamura tried to go along and thereby became the only woman besides Fukushi to break 32 minutes. Asked how she felt about her new record after her run, Fukushi seemed to be back to her cocky old self as she told reporters, "Yeah! Congratulations to me! Pretty incredible, huh? It's been a long time since I've run this well. Actually, this is the first time." THIS was the Fukushi who could turn out a 2:18 marathon if she had the drive. If only we could be so lucky as to see it happen.
  • As strong as her Fifth Stage run was, Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was a distant 2nd on time, 49 seconds behind stage winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren). Akaba, deep in training for January's Osaka International Women's Marathon where she hopes to make up for her poor showing in the World Championships marathon and World Half Marathon, clocked 37:00 for 11.6 km, passing eight teams and surprising all with this display of speed.
2009 National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.6 km)
1. Aya Isomine (Team Shiseido) - 20:35
2. Ikuyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 20:39
3. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:44

Second Stage (3.3 km)
1. Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi) - 10:02 - new stage record
2. Betelhem Moges (Team Denso) - 10:03
2. Philes Ongori (Team Hokuren) - 10:03

Third Stage (10.0 km)
1. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 31:02 - new stage record
2. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) - 31:39
3. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 32:11
4. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 32:13

Fourth Stage (4.1 km)
1. Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 12:46
2. Yuko Mizuguchi (Team Denso) - 12:55
3. Rui Aoyama (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 12:57

Fifth Stage (11.6 km)
1. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 37:00
2. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo) - 37:49
3. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 37:53

Sixth Stage (6.595 km)
1. Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya) - 21:01
2. Chisato Osaki (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 21:15
3. Atsuko Muraoka (Team Shiseido) - 21:25

Top Team Results - 27 teams
1. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo - 2:15:27
2. Tenmaya - 2:15:38
3. Daiichi Seimei - 2:16:27
4. Shiseido - 2:16:43
5. Wacoal - 2:16:58
6. Denso - 2:17:16
7. Daihatsu - 2:17:35
8. Hokuren - 2:17:37
9. Toyota Jidoshoki - 2:17:57
10. Nihon Chemicon - 2:18:40

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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