by Brett Larner
Check JRNLive for the detailed play-by-play.
Sera H.S. wins the 2009 National High School Boys' Ekiden Championships. Click photo for video highlights.
Toyokawa H.S. and Sera H.S. lived up to pre-race predictions, taking the win in the girls' and boys' races respectively at the 2009 National High School Ekiden Championships Dec. 20 in Kyoto. After an almost brutal first stage which saw three separate falls, Toyokawa, the defending champion in the girls' race, scored only its second-ever victory as it covered the five-stage, half-marathon distance in 1:08:27.
With defending boys' champion Saku Chosei H.S. in a rebuilding year, Sera stepped up thanks in large part to Kenyan ace Bitan Karoki to take the seven-stage, marathon distance boys' race in 2:04:09. It was Sera's sixth victory in the ekiden's 60 year history and its first since 2006. Sera's strategy was relatively simple: its first two runners would just keep a decent position rather than trying to lead, leaving it up to third stage Kenyan Karoki to make up whatever deficit they created and to fourth stage Japanese ace Ikki Takeuchi to build on Karoki's work. Sera's final three runners would then just try to hold off whichever teams had put their strongest runners last.
Saku Chosei senior Sugeru Osako, who took the stage best title last year on the anchor leg of the team's winning run, got the defending champs off to a good start with another stage best, this time on the 10 km first leg. Second leg runner Takumi Matsushita lengthened the lead, while behind him Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.'s Otake Ishiwaka ran a stage best to move his team, a pre-race contender, from 9th up to 3rd. Despite its first two runners' efforts there was no escaping fate on the third leg for Saku Chosei. Sera's Karoki, hell-bent on breaking Samuel Wanjiru's stage record of 22:40, devoured the road and his rivals as he made up the 47 second gap to the lead within the first 4 km. After sailing into the lead Karoki was constantly checking his watch, visibly picking up the pace each time the splits were not to his liking. In the end he fell short, clocking 22:48 for the 8.1075 km stage but building a solid lead. Behind him, first Nishiwaki Kogyo's Fuminori Shikata and then Aomori Yamada H.S.'s Kenyan Michael Gichinji overtook Saku Chosei's Toshihiro Usuda.
For the final four stages little changed up front. Sera's Takeuchi widened the lead to 56 seconds, a safe enough margin for the team's remaining three runners, its weakest, to stay ahead. Nishiwaki Kogyo and Aomori Yamada remained tightly locked for the rest of the race, with Nishiwaki Kogyo's Kakeru Yokoyama deciding the runner-up only in the last 100 m. Saku Chosei settled for 4th, down from last year but commendable considering it lost five of the seven members of last year's squad, including star Akinobu Murasawa, to graduation. Samuel Wanjiru's alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S. was a lowly 10th.
2009 National High School Boys' Ekiden - Stage Best Results
1st Stage - 10 km: Sugeru Osako (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 29:06
2nd Stage - 3 km: Otake Ishiwaka (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 8:20
3rd Stage - 8.1075 km: Bitan Karoki (Sera H.S.) - 22:48
4th Stage - 8.0875 km: Ikki Takeuchi (Sera H.S.) - 23:27
5th Stage - 3 km: Junpei Miyazawa (Saitama Sakae H.S.) - 8:42
6th Stage - 5 km: Kentaro Yano (Saitama Sakae H.S.) - 14:56
7th Stage - 5 km: Kazuma Kubota (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 14:35
Top Team Results
1. Sera H.S. - 2:04:09
2. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. - 2:04:37
3. Aomori Yamada H.S. - 2:04:39
4. Saku Chosei H.S. - 2:05:00
5. Kyushu Gakuin H.S. - 2:05:07
6. Suma Gakuen H.S. - 2:05:40
7. Tamura H.S. - 2:05:51
8. Kagoshima H.S. - 2:06:06
9. Nasu H.S. - 2:06:09
10. Sendai Ikuei H.S. - 2:06:10
Murugi Wainaina of Toyokawa H.S. scores the win in the girls' race. Click photo for video highlights.
In the girls' race, Toyokawa didn't quite manage to lead start to finish but was never more than a few strides from the top. The race got off to a rocky start with three girls falling on the first curve of the track and another on the flagstone surface as the runners exited onto the roads. Star Mahiro Akamatsu of contenders Kojokan H.S. took the early lead and was shortly tripped from behind by Hiromi Katagai of Tokiwa H.S. She managed to stay on her feet, but incredibly Katagai tripped her again just before halfway and this time knocked Akamatsu down. Akamatsu jumped back in but struggled and fell apart in the final kilometer. Toyokawa's Nanaka Izawa took the lead and stage best.
Toyokawa's Yuka Ando kept the lead for a healthy part of the second stage but was run down by a stage best-setting Saori Noda of Chiharadai H.S. Chiharadai's lead was short-lived as Toyokawa's third runner, Minori Suzuki, had no trouble in making up the four second deficit. Suma Gakuen H.S.'s Minami Nakaarai had a brilliant run, delivering fourth stage runner Natsuki Hara into 2nd just four seconds behind Waka Shimomura of Toyokawa. Hara went out hard to catch Shimomura, but the Toyokawa runner used the classic ekiden strategy of letting a chasing runner spend all her energy catching up before picking up her own pace to break the challenger over the final stretch. From there the outcome was practically a given as Toyokawa's anchor was Kenyan Murugi Wainaina. Wainaina ran the first km of the 5 km fifth stage in 2:53, instantly opening an insurmountable lead over hapless Suma Gakuen anchor Akane Yabushita. Although she faded, Wainaina was never in any danger as she brought the team home to its second-straight and second-ever national title.
2009 National High School Girls' Ekiden - Stage Best Results
1st Stage - 6 km: Nanaka Izawa (Toyokawa H.S.) - 19:43
2nd Stage - 4.0975 km: Saori Noda (Chiharadai H.S.) - 12:51
3rd Stage - 3 km: Minami Nakaarai (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 9:40
4th Stage - 3 km: Rie Toda (Kojokan H.S.) - 9:33
5th Stage - 5 km: Murugi Wainaina (Toyokawa H.S.) - 16:04
Top Team Results
1. Toyokawa H.S. - 1:08:27
2. Suma Gakuen H.S. - 1:08:48
3. Kojokan H.S. - 1:09:10
4. Kamimura Gakuen H.S. - 1:09:31
5. Chiharadai H.S. - 1:09:50
6. Isahaya H.S. - 1:10:00
7. Saitama Sakae H.S. - 1:10:11
8. Tokiwa H.S. - 1:10:37
9. Narita H.S. - 1:10:38
10. Hadano H.S. - 1:10:38
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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