Thursday, December 31, 2009

Watch the New Year Ekiden Live Online - Preview

by Brett Larner

The first race of the year kicks off just hours into the first day: the Japanese corporate men's national championship New Year Ekiden. 100 km split into seven stages, the New Year Ekiden is broadcast live nationwide. Now in its 54th year, it has become the main focus of the year for professional Japanese men, with October and November's regional qualifying ekidens taking the place of a fall marathon and, this year, the drive to promote team sponsors pushing the New Year Ekiden ahead of the great Fukuoka International Marathon.

Questionable as this may be, the New Year Ekiden is where you see the peak performances happening. On the ekiden's longest leg, the 22.3 km Fourth Stage on the current course, top men such as Keita Akiba (Team Komori Corp.), Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) have run times equivalent to a sub-hour half marathon, well ahead of the official national record. You rarely see the big Japanese names turn in such performances elsewhere, but this race shows their true quality.

Many teams feature Kenyan or Ethiopian ringers brought in specifically to give the team an advantage in the New Year Ekiden. Last year the powers that be made the decision to minimize this advantage by shortenening the Second Stage to 8.3 km, by far the shortest, and restricting non-Japanese runners to this single stage. As a result this year you will be able see sub-27 minute men Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.) and Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki), sub-hour half marathoner Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and more going head-to-head and all-out. Whether they will be around much longer is another question, so enjoy the battle while you can.

Last year's race came down to a tight three-way sprint finish between the venerable Team Asahi Kasei, the powerful Team Nissin Shokuhin, and the unexpected contender Team Fujitsu. All three teams finished within one second of each other, with Fujitsu's Ryuji Matsushita gaining a stride on Nissin's Yuzo Onishi and Asahi Kasei's Tomoya Adachi for the win. This year don't look for that to happen: after carefully building a team of fresh young talent over the last few years Nissin added the final ingredient this spring: 27:38 man Yuki Sato.

Sato was the most dominant runner in the country throughout high school and university, challenged at the end of his student career only by Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B). Injury wiped out most of his senior year and his chance for Beijing, but Sato returned in April with a 27:38.25 PB in the 10000 m just weeks after joining Nissin. He's been up and down since then, but his stunning run at November's East Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden regional qualifier made one thing clear: if he is on, nobody will touch Nissin on New Year's day. Between him, Ngatuny, second-year team members Satoru Kitamura and Bene Zama, East Japan anchor Kosaka Hoshina and whichever of Nissin's older members fill in the gaps, Nissin is far and away the class of the nation. If Sato is off, well then, things will get interesting.

Team Fujitsu was a weak 9th in the East Japan qualifier, so it's unlikely they will be in a position for a repeat win. Team Honda and Team Konica Minolta were close together in 2nd and 3rd, strong but a minute and a half behind Team Nissin Shokuhin. Konica Minolta's Takayuki Matsumiya, the 5000 m and 30 km national record holder, has been out of form since Beijing, but if Sato falters either team could be there to pick up the lead.

Looking elsewhere in the country, Team Asahi Kasei is again the strongest on paper, but all three of its strongest runners, 10000 m national champion Yuki Iwai, Olympian Ryuji Ono and World Championships marathoner Tomoyuki Sato had injury problems this year. If they are not back to full strength Asahi Kasei will not be up front. Samuel Wanjiru's former team Toyota Kyushu, led by 27:41 man Yu Mitsuya, Hakone Ekiden uphill star Masato Imai and half marathon specialist Yukinobu Nakasaki, make a return after failing to qualify last year, but with only six strong men on the team they need one of their junior members to step up with a big run to be in contention. Team Toyota, Team Komori Corp. and Team Toyota Boshoku are all strong possibilities for the top five.

TBS' six hour New Year Ekiden broadcast begins at 8:30 a.m. Japan time on New Year's Day. Overseas viewers should be able to watch live online using Keyhole TV. JRN will provide live English commentary via Twitter on JRNLive.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The 2010 Hakone Ekiden - Preview - Watch Live With English Commentary

by Brett Larner

It's the best time of year for distance running fans in Japan: time for the Hakone Ekiden. Hakone is the championship event for Kanto region-based university men's teams, essentially those in the Tokyo area. The race covers 217.9 km in ten stages spread over two days on Jan. 2 and 3 every year. But it is much more than a regional university race. The race is broadcast live nationwide, fifteen hours of coverage between the two days, with nationwide viewership ratings of 30%. Hakone runners are respected more than any others but Japan's Olympic marathon medalists and have a degree of fame pros in other countries can only imagine. Now in its 86th year, more than any other race the Hakone Ekiden is engrossing, dramatic, and symbolizes what is good about distance running. So much so that it has become a problem for Japanese men's marathoning, where performances have waned over the last few years just as performances at Hakone and related races have waxed to the world-class level.

Thanks to the miracle of Keyhole TV, last year overseas viewers were for the first time able to watch live. Those who invested the time were rewarded with one of the greatest in the event's history. The first day saw new records on four of the five stages, capped by Toyo University first-year Ryuji Kashiwabara's incredible run up the mountain on the final stage of the day. Aces Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda Univ.) and Yuki Sato (Tokai Univ.) dueled in their final Hakone runs before graduation. Kenyan Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) set a new passing record, starting the second leg in 22nd and ending in 2nd. Toyo finished the first day in the lead for the first time in 67 appearances, then spent the second day holding off a desperate Waseda for its first-ever win.

This year Kashiwabara and Toyo return as one of the favorites. Overseas viewers can again watch Nihon TV's superb live television coverage on Keyhole TV, available here. The broadcast begins at 7:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, Japan time, with a one-hour preview show. The race begins at 8:00 a.m. and continues until 2:00 p.m. The broadcast picks up again at 7:00 a.m. on the 3rd, once more with a one-hour preview, and once more running from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Afterwards is a one-hour summary and interview program continuing until 3:00 p.m. Nihon TV also has a first-rate Hakone Ekiden website separate from the official site linked above.

To help make sense of who is who and what is happening, JRN will over live English-language commentary via Twitter feed on JRNLive for the entire fifteen hour broadcast. Also included below is a look at some of the main contenders to watch, both team and individual. Watching for fifteen hours over two days may be a large commitment, but if there is one reliable prediction you can make about the Hakone Ekiden it is that it never disappoints.

2010 Hakone Ekiden Preview

When Ryuji Kashiwabara started the Fifth Stage at the 2009 Hakone Ekiden, Toyo University was in 9th place, 4:58 behind leader Masayuki Miwa of Waseda University. The Fifth Stage, a run up from sea level to the mountainous resort town of Hakone, had long been the realm of specialists, runners who may not have been especially fast but were tough enough to handle 874 m of uninterrupted climb followed by over 200 m of downhill in just over a kilometer and a half. In 2006 the race's organizers adjusted the Fourth and Fifth Stages to make the Fifth 23.4 km, the longest in the ekiden in addition to the substantial climb. Until 2009, the 23.2 km Second Stage had always been where the best runners went, a showcase for future Olympic marathoners, but 1:17:18 after beginning his first Hakone Ekiden, Kashiwabara changed the race's history with a 22 second lead, a 47 second stage record, and Toyo in position for the overall win.

Like the best Kenyan marathoners over the last two years, Kashiwabara redefined how other athletes had to think of the intimidating Fifth Stage: it was no longer a run of caution, saving your energy for later, but one where the winner would be the one who went out hard and survived. Making up 5 minutes on any other stage is impossible even for the very best, but Kashiwabara showed that a good runner who attacked the Fifth Stage could let even a so-so team beat the favorites. Other teams can no longer afford to let this happen, and the talk this year is that most teams' stars, including Nihon University's Kenyan Daniel Gitau and Tokai University's ace first-year Akinobu Murasawa who won October's Yosenkai 20 km qualifying race in a superb 59:08, will be challenging Kashiwabara on the Fifth Stage instead of the Second. If this comes about it will dramatically change the dynamic of the ekiden as a whole. You can never really tell how someone will do on the Fifth Stage until it's done, but with Kashiwabara talking a world-class 76 minutes the others will have their work cut out for them.

Looking now at some of the favorites:

Toyo University
Toyo stands an excellent chance of defending its Hakone win. The 2009 squad was almost entirely made up of first and second-years, and they are all back. With a year of maturity behind them they should be able to make up the deficit caused by the loss of star senior Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei) to graduation. Kashiwabara is of course a huge advantage, but unlike some other teams Toyo is not a one-man show. The team's average level is consistent, the only team in the field with every member holding a 10000 m PB under 30:00 including the six alternates. Apart from Kashiwabara and second-year Hiroyuki Uno they may not have impressive speed, but Toyo was good enough to finish 3rd overall at October's Izumo Ekiden and 2nd at November's longer National University Ekiden Championships. Put them on Hakone's even longer stages and they look very good indeed.

Waseda University
Back in the day Waseda was THE distance running school, one of four to have run the first Hakone Ekiden, scoring twelve wins in 85 years, and counting many of the country's greatest among its alumni. One of those great alumni, Yasuyuki Watanabe, is now Waseda's head coach, but he has not been able to put together the right ingredients for the win. Waseda has finished 2nd the last two years despite the presence of the phenomenal Kensuke Takezawa and the recruitment last year of the top four graduating high school boys nationwide, and now with Takezawa's graduation Watanabe may have missed his window of opportunity. Two members of last year's high school national champions Saku Chosei H.S. have joined Waseda this year, Hiroyuki Sasaki and 2009 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Shota Hiraga, but even with these two Waseda would need every member running at 100% to have a chance. That has never happened under Watanabe's leadership. Two of last year's golden four did not even make the team this year, one of them Yusuke Mita who set a new stage record last year on the Fourth Stage. With only 4th place finishes at Izumo and Nationals Waseda will be hard-pressed even for 2nd.

Nihon University
Nihon University won both the Izumo and National University ekidens this season, but both victories came thanks to the presence of two Kenyans on the team, fourth-year Daniel Gitau and first-year Benjamin Gando. Nihon's margin of victory over Toyo at Nationals was 3:36 over 106.8 km, roughly half the distance at Hakone. Hakone allows schools to run only one foreign team member, so Nihon must not only replace Gando with a runner of comparable quality, of which it has none, but also add two more good members to make up Hakone's ten stages rather than the eight at Nationals. In a similar situation after winning Izumo last year Nihon finished only 7th at Hakone. Can they overcome the numbers and pull off a rare triple crown this season? It's possible, but likely? No.

Komazawa University
Last year Komazawa came to Hakone an unstoppable force: five Hakone wins between 2002 and 2009, six national titles over the same years, and the best overall track credentials in the field. As the defending champions they were the heavy favorites for another win, but instead they utterly self-destructed. Almost every member of the team ran very, very badly, and Komazawa had the dubious distinction of becoming the first defending champions in Hakone history not to make the seeded bracket for the following year. Having to run October's Yosenkai 20 km qualifier as a result, Komazawa basically threw the Izumo Ekiden, running a squad of its first-years and co-captains Tsuyoshi Ugachi and Yusuke Takabayashi and finishing 10th. Five days later they won the Yosenkai team division with a new meet record, Ugachi, Takabayashi and fellow fourth-year Takuya Fukatsu breaking one hour and first-year Wataru Ueno just seconds off the hour mark. The team looked to be back and ready for a fourth-straight Nationals win, but despite an overall strong showing senior Sota Hoshi suffered a complete meltdown and Komazawa fell to 7th. On paper the team should crush the others, but head coach Hiroaki Oyagi says his only goal this time is, "To finish without any major breakdowns or problems."

Nittai University
Nittai University has something to prove. Finishing a strong 3rd at last year's Hakone Ekiden, the team was banned from the spring track season and stripped of its Hakone seeded position after a pole vaulter at the school was suspected but never charged or convicted of marijuana possession. The ban meant the school could not run the qualifying race for the National University Ekiden, and the invitational Izumo Ekiden quietly refrained from calling. October's Yosenkai 20 km Hakone qualifier was thus the team's only significant race of the season. Nittai finished only 4th, but they come to Hakone with two advantages: the best average 10000 m time in the field including three men under 28:35, and the desire to make up for the humiliation of having their entire year taken away over nothing. Watch out.

Jobu University
Jobu University aren't in contention for the win but deserve attention right along with Toyo, Komazawa and the other top schools. Last year the team made Hakone for the first time ever, ever being only the five years since a group of students at the school dreaming of Hakone glory talked Olympian and star Waseda alum Katsuhiko Hanada into becoming their coach and the school into paying for it. A fictionalized movie depicting their story, "The Wind is Blowing Strong," came out this fall and the team has continued to ride its own momentum. Two years ago second-year Mao Fukuyama made the Kanto Regional Select Team and finished 3rd on the Fifth Stage. Last year all ten scorers at the Yosenkai 20 km qualifier finished within seconds of each other in the mid-1:01 range, making Jobu the first school in the field to bring in all scorers, coming in 3rd after the point tally, and qualifying for Hakone as a team. This year they were again 3rd, but with Komazawa in the field it was a far tougher race. Significantly, third-year Yusuke Hasegawa was 5th in a very strong 59:30 and fourth-year Yasuo Ishida was 15th in 1:00:07. Kenyans aside, Hasegawa actually holds the fastest 10000 m PB in the entire Hakone field, 28:13.92. Considering that when he, Ishida, Fukuyama and the other Jobu runners decided to go to the school nobody had yet made Hakone wearing the black and white Jobu uniform it's all a testament to Hanada's recruiting and coaching. If they make the top ten seeded positions this year, a very realistic possibility, it will be some of the biggest news to hit Hakone in many years.

Beyond these favorites, watch for Yamanashi Gakuin University, Chuo University, Tokyo Nogyo University, Meiji University, Daito Bunka University and the Kanto Regional Select Team to be in contention for the seeded bracket. Aoyama Gakuin University also deserves a mention for making the top eight at the Yosenkai qualifier to get into Hakone without the point scoring system used for the bottom three Yosenkai teams to be picked. Last year Aoyama Gakuin made Hakone for the first time in over 30 years thanks to extra spots being created in honor of the event's 85th anniversary. This year they did it fair and square.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2009 Japanese Women's Review - Holding Pattern

by Brett Larner

2009 had its ups and downs for Japanese women, but in sum it was a positive year. As Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) fades into memory no one has really stepped up to take her place at the top, but the trend was not limited to Japan alone. Worldwide it was a down year. The average of the top ten fastest times of the year, 2:24:09, was the slowest since 1997 and German Irina Mikitenko's 2:22:11 in London was the slowest world-leader since 1996. The average of the top ten Japanese performances, 2:26:02 this year, has not changed much in the last four years, meaning that relative to world standards 2009 was Japan's best since 1996. Top woman Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) ran 2:23:42 to win January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and was ranked 3rd worldwide. Last year the top Japanese woman, Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) ran 2:23:30 and was only ranked 9th.

Ozaki gets the best-of-the-year honors for her silver medal in the marathon at the Berlin World Championships. After her impressive 2:23:30 Tokyo International Women's Marathon win Ozaki got injured in the spring and was completely out of the public eye. Berlin was her first race of the year and she came through, using the same buildup strategy she used to win Tokyo and only outdone by Chinese gold medalist Xue Bai's stunning finishing speed. Since Berlin Ozaki has been having injury trouble again but is targeting April's London Marathon and has mentioned the number 2:18.

Shibui's Osaka win was a return to form for the former national record holder and raised hopes of a World Championships win, but her spring season was wiped out by injury. She returned in time to win July's San Francisco Marathon as a training run but then suffered a stress fracture which kept her out of Berlin. Osaka runner-up Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) had a good marathon debut there, running 2:25:40 after a great 2008 on the track, but despite winning the 10000 m national title in June she was ineffectual in both the World Championships marathon and the World Half Marathon. Akaba will run Osaka again in January, then plans to join Ozaki in London.

10000 m junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) tried to make another comeback from another round of injuries but was a DNF at Nationals. 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) hasn't been herself since her failed marathon debut in 2008 and could not even qualify for the World Championships 5000 m squad. After losing her road 15 km world record in the fall, she finally got back into gear with stage record runs at November's Fukui Super Ladies' Ekiden and December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden. A fully operational Fukushi will be worth a watch in 2010.

One of the few women to be solid virtually all year was Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya). Nakamura won the 5000 m at Nationals in June, the Sapporo International Half Marathon in July, then ran three PBs in three starts at the World Championships. In all three Berlin races, the 5000 m heats and final and the 10000 m, Nakamura was up front from the start, refusing to sit back in the pack and insistently running her own race. She may not have enough ability to win but unlike the Japanese men and most of the other women on the Japanese team in Berlin she showed up in shape, mentally ready to race, and gave it what she had. After a year away from the marathon focusing on the track Nakamura may tackle the marathon again this spring.

Expectations for Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) were high this year, but her three marathons, all overseas, were disappointments. Not so for her teammate Kiyoko Shimahara. A formerly reliable 2:26 marathoner, after not breaking 2:30 since 2006 Shimahara's career had seemed to be on the wane. A near-PB performance at the Sapporo half in July signalled Shimahara was back in better shape, then in the heat and humidity of August she ran a course record and PB of 2:25:10 at the Hokkaido Marathon, the 2nd-fastest of the year for a Japanese woman and 11th-fastest worldwide. Not content to sit back, Shimahara then ran under 2:30 twice more in the same season, 2nd at November's inaugural Yokohama International Women's Marathon in 2:28:51 and 2nd again at December's Honolulu Marathon in 2:29:53.

Looking beyond the pros, university women's running was also strong. For the second straight year Kazue Kojima (Ritsumeikan Univ.) and Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.) pushed each other to their limits all year long. Nishihara arguably had the better year, breaking Kojima's PBs on the track, winning the final Kyoto City Half Marathon and the World University Games 10000 m, and beating Kojima for the 5000 m national university title. Kojima did take the national university 10000 m, but she remained unbeaten by Nishihara or anyone else in the ekiden, her main specialty. Kojima graduates in March and will head to 2008 national champions Team Toyota Jidoshoki, where she will be a teammate of 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi. Nishihara still has one year left, and into the void created by Kojima's graduation steps Nishihara's 1st-year teammate Hikari Yoshimoto. Yoshimoto has been edging up toward the top throughout her first year at Bukkyo and broke through at November's International Chiba Ekiden where, running for the University Select Team, she beat Japanese national team anchor Yurika Nakamura and every other woman on the road to take the stage best title. At this month's National University Women's Invitational Ekiden she won the most competitive stage, finishing just 3 seconds off Kojima's stage record. Yoshimoto is still young but looks very strong and smooth and is someone to watch over the next few years.

Finally, on the same topic of young runners whose names you may be hearing again and again in years to come, January's National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden introduced identical twin junior high school runners Haruka and Moe Kyuma. Haruka had the better PBs at the time and turned in a strong performance to bring the sisters' home team of Hyogo Prefecture within a second of the lead, but when Moe took off on the uphill 3 km 8th Stage her fame was born. Despite struggling to put the tasuki on, Moe went all out, going through the first km in 2:58. Naoko Takahashi and other race commentators laughed, but when Moe finished in 9:41, breaking the stage record by 12 seconds, they were stunned. "She's going to be big!" was all Takahashi could say. Now in high school, Moe has surpassed Haruka's times. It's way too early to tell if they will continue to develop, but in 5 or 10 years the Kyuma sisters may indeed be big.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009 Japanese Men's Review - Days Have Gone By

by Brett Larner

There’s no getting around the hard facts: 2009 was one of the worst years in the modern history of Japanese men’s marathoning. In a time when the world standard has undergone remarkable improvement with the ten fastest times of the year under 2:06 for the first time, Japanese men took a large step backwards. Only one Japanese man, Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), broke 2:10 this year, the first time this has happened since 1996. The average of the top ten Japanese times of the year, 2:11:21, was also the slowest since 1996. Relative to the world top ten average, 2:05:13, the year was Japan’s worst-ever.

To be fair, Japan did manage to take the team bronze medal at the Berlin World Championships, and all three of this year’s major Japanese spring marathons suffered windy conditions, in the case of March’s Tokyo Marathon verging on the extreme. There have also been troughs in the record before when the aging stars of one generation pass their prime before the next has stepped up. 1996 may have been the bottom of the dark years but by 1999 Japan had a 2:06 which ushered in six years of relative competitive prosperity. There is reason to believe that within three years we may again be seeing Japanese men clocking 2:06 or even 2:05, but it’s hard not to feel that this year’s Fukuoka International Marathon, which had the first-ever 2:05 on Japanese soil thanks to Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede but also saw only one elite Japanese man even bother to start the race, was symbolic of larger trends. One of the few positives of the year was the Japanese federation Rikuren’s decision to consider results from overseas marathons in selecting the World Championships team, a move which resulted in Sato making the team with a 2:09:16 in London.

It may seem paradoxical that at such a low point university men’s distance running would be at a peak. The 2009 Hakone Ekiden was arguably the best in its history, while October’s qualifying race for the 2010 Hakone, the Yosenkai 20 km road race, was the deepest and toughest ever run. 18 year-old Tokai University first-year Akinobu Murasawa won in 59:08, a time equivalent to 13:30 for 5 km, and 163 men breaking 1:02:30. Hakone has never been more popular and performances have never been better, but some in the Japanese running world have begun to speak out that it is becoming too big and too fast, that it has become more important to Japan’s young men than the marathon, the World Championships or the Olympics, that the intense training and monomaniacal focus necessary to be a contender in today’s Hakone Ekiden is sucking Japan’s men dry before they reach their prime years.

There is some truth in these claims, which will be examined in more detail in the next in JRN’s series of articles comparing young Japanese and American distance runners, but it’s equally true that the Japanese men’s performance of the year goes to the man who defined the 2009 Hakone Ekiden: Toyo University first-year Ryuji Kashiwabara. During the summer of 2008 the plain-spoken Kashiwabara said in a television interview that his goal for his first Hakone was to break the stage record on Hakone’s legendary 874 m elevation gain Fifth Stage, give Toyo the lead at the end of the first day, and thereby help lead the team to its first-ever Hakone win. He was matter-of-fact and come race day he delivered on each promise. Starting in 9th place 4:58 behind leader Masayuki Miwa of Waseda University, Kashiwabara won by 22 seconds and broke Masato Imai’s revered stage record by 47 seconds. It was the kind of run you never forget, one of resonance and inspiration, and it energized his teammates on to the first Toyo win in Hakone’s 85 year history. Miwa deserves a large amount of credit for coming back on the extremely steep downhill from 20 to 21.5 km to give Kashiwabara a race to the end. Kashiwabara went on to win his debut half marathon in Kyoto and set a 10000 m PB of 28:20.99 showing that unlike Imai he is more than simply an uphill specialist. Komazawa University ekiden captain Tsuyoshi Ugachi also gets a mention for ekiden sensationalism, running down and then breaking apart Yosenkai winner Murasawa at November’s National University Ekiden in a fantastic battle of surges that was the year’s grittiest.

As in the marathon, on the track it was a discouraging year. Most of the most promising men could not put together World Championships-standard performances, and those who did didn’t bring their best to Berlin. Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) provided the highlight of June’s National Track and Field Championships by stealing the 1500 m from a field of lazy middle distance runners after already having won the 5000 m, but in Berlin he was forgettable at best. A close runner-up to Kashiwabara’s Hakone run for Japanese men’s performance of the year was the 27:38.25 PB run by Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) in April in California, the third-fastest ever by a Japanese man and just weeks after the retirement of national record holder Toshinari Takaoka. Sato is a runner of great potential and in the first month of his pro career this was a solid comeback from a year of injury, just 3 seconds off Takaoka's national record. Still unsteady as he made his way back, Sato was only so-so at the National Championships, but in overseas meets following Nationals his performances showed him on the way back to peak condition in time for Berlin.

Incredibly, although he held the A-standard and there were spots available on the Japanese team Rikuren left him off and send only B-standard man Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei), who finished at the bottom of the field with post-Nationals Achilles tendon problems. If Nationals were a hard and fast trials race like in the U.S. the decision would be fair enough, but the previous year Rikuren sent Sato’s rival Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B), likewise recovering from injury, to Beijing in the 10000 m without him even running in Nationals. Takezawa may well have benefitted from his Waseda University – Team S&B old boys’ network connections, but the omission of the 22 year old Sato, Japan’s current and potentially all-time best 10000 m man, was a foolhardy squandering of the opportunity to develop a young man who is one of its best prospects.

Speaking of old boys, the other great Japanese performance of the year came in February at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Just a month after turning 60, Yoshihisa Hosaka set a world record for the marathon in the 60+ age bracket. Impressive enough in itself, but his time of 2:36:30 was one most amateur marathoners even in their 20’s would be ecstatic to run and age grades out to the very elite. Hosaka himself was glad to have gotten the record but disappointed with his time; two months earlier, just a few weeks before his 60th birthday, he set the 59 year old world record of 2:34:23 at the 2008 Fukuoka International Marathon in a practice run for Beppu-Oita. Falling two minutes short of his Fukuoka time in Beppu-Oita may have put a little tarnish on his record’s shine, but who’s counting? A world record is a world record.

Alongside Hosaka, another amateur deserves mention here for a remarkable 2009. Something clicked this year for 34 year old Toyokazu Yoshimura, an off-and-on sub-2:20 man with a wife, two children, a house and full-time job who drinks beer every night including before races and whose training consists primarily of running to and from work wearing a backpack. In March Yoshimura ran a PB of 2:16:58 at the Biwako Mainichi Marathon, finishing 12th behind the likes of former world record holder Paul Tergat of Kenya and beating 2:08 man Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin). In May he won the Copenhagen Marathon in a course record time of 2:18:04. In late December just after turning 35 he again ran a PB, this time finishing 3rd at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon in 2:15:05. With no coach, no training logs, and almost nothing you would normally think of as 2:15 marathon training, Yoshimura gave hope for all of us.

As next year approaches, what is there to look forward to? Well, the Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2-3 for one. Always unpredictable and never disappointing. Look for JRN’s preview tomorrow. Samuel Wanjiru’s former Japanese training partner Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), alongside Takezawa, Sato and Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) one of the best young track runners the country has ever produced, is debuting in the marathon at Beppu-Oita in February. Don’t expect fireworks yet, but he stands a good chance of being one of the men to turn things around on the Japanese men’s marathon front. Ono is also planning a marathon debut this spring, but while he is also someone to watch his injured status throughout much of 2009 leaves him as a question mark at this stage. Takezawa is in graduate school for another year and may not be hitting his running with full intensity for a while, but also watch for him and Sato on the track. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta), who lost his 30 km world record this fall to marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, is running London along with his twin brother Yuko and the ambitious Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and, despite being out of form since Beijing, has shown he has the ability to be a contender over the longer distances. Don’t count Atsushi Sato out, and don’t forget this name: Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo).

© 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2009 As Seen By JRN Readers

JRN's most-read articles of 2009 by month:

January
Japanese runners to watch in 2009.Jan. 8
Bringing back the classic: Fukushi in Osaka. - Jan. 23

February
Masters runner Yoshihisa Hosaka sets 60+ world record at Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. - Feb. 2

March
Reiko Tosa's "homemade" training for Tokyo finale. - Mar. 18
The man in the wig speaks. - Mar. 25

April
Mimura leaves Asics to start own company. - Apr. 5
A report from Rikuren's New Zealand training camp. - Apr. 11

May
Weekend Japanese track action roundup. - May 18

June
Phuket Marathon helping to rebuild local economy. - June 16

July
From the editor: women's marathoning and the autumn sky. - July 2
Big Mouth scores the big ticket - Ueno in Berlin. - July 28
Life after 2:08 - an interview with Takayuki Nishida. - July 29

August
Osaka Mayor Hashimoto announces Osaka Marathon for 2011. - Aug. 6
Showing women a new way: Yukiko Akaba's challenge. - Aug. 12
Yukiko Akaba talks about her final training for World Championships marathon. - Aug. 14

September
30 runners stung by killer hornets during mountain race near Kyoto. - Sept. 21

October
The Hakone Ekiden Trials from the inside. - Oct. 18
University men's weekend in review: NCAA Pre-Nats vs. Hakone Ekiden Qualifier. - Oct. 19
Training for the Hakone Ekiden with Josai University.Oct. 21
Morinomiyako Ekiden preview - Kojima and Nishihara. - Oct. 22
"No Bridges, No Fun" - Speed, Beauty and Mystery at the Venice Marathon. - Oct. 28

November
Credit where credit is due: American and Japanese men aged 18-22 pt. I.  - Nov. 26

December
Fukuoka time. - Dec. 4
The 2010 Hakone Ekiden preview. - Dec. 30

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, December 28, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due Pt. 2 - American and Japanese Men Aged 18-22

by Brett Larner

Last month JRN published a comparison of the achievements of American and Japanese men aged 18-22 over the 5000 m, 10000 m, half marathon and marathon distances, part two in a periodic series occasioned by October’s simultaneous NCAA XC Pre-Nationals 8 km and Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km road race. The comparison generated a fair number of comments and emails; my thanks to all those who offered insight and additional data, suggested further ideas and lines of inquiry, or gave constructive criticism. Among the findings in the previous article:

 Using a common calculator of equivalent performances to set thresholds of 13:30, 28:03, 1:02:24 and 2:11:36 for the four distances, prior to the outstanding performances last spring by American 18 year olds German Fernandez and Chris Derrick Japanese runners led their American counterparts in speed, range, and to a lesser degree depth at ages 18 and 19. Fernandez and Derrick are exceptional young athletes who may rewrite the American record books over the next few years.

 At ages 20 and 21 the very top Americans in the 10000 m, Galen Rupp and Dathan Ritzenhein, were far ahead of the best Japanese runners at this distance, but Japan otherwise produced 20 year old runners with superior speed, range and depth. At this age a trend begins to become evident: the U.S. produced more athletes of this caliber in the 5000 m while a larger number of equivalent Japanese runners were seen in the 10000 m and half marathon.

 At age 21 American runners had a moderate overall lead in speed over 5000 m as well as far greater depth at this distance. After Ritzenhein’s remarkable 10000 m mark, performances at this distance by runners from both countries were almost equal in quality and depth. The number of Japanese men performing at this level in the half marathon exactly equaled the number of American men in the 5000 m, while the marathon became a significant component of the Japanese range.

 At age 22 American performances in the 5000 m were far superior to Japanese performances in speed and depth. Performances at 10000 m were almost equal in quality but Americans led by a considerable margin in depth. The number of Japanese men performing at this level in the half marathon and marathon slightly led the number of American men in the 5000 m.

 American performances thus show a clear focus on development of speed over 5000 m during these important years, with a gradual introduction of longer distances as athletes mature.

 Japanese training produces young distance runners with comparable-to-greater basic speed than Americans. The Japanese athletes have a roughly equal focus on speed and distance at ages 18 and 19, with the beginning of a shift to longer distances and less emphasis on pure speed beginning at age 20. At ages 21 and 22 the main emphasis for Japanese runners is on endurance over the half marathon and even the marathon. At all ages from 19-22 a larger total number of Japanese runners produced results equivalent to a sub-13:30 5000 m, and at each of these ages the best sub-13:30-equivalent Japanese result was faster or within one second of the best American sub-13:30-equivalent result. Only Fernandez and Derrick at age 18 break this pattern.

With the possible exception of the larger overall number of quality Japanese athletes, the reasons for these differences stem of course from the different focuses of racing at this age and year-to-year training patterns. American men of this age, almost entirely university runners, focus on 8 km – 10 km XC in the fall, indoor track with a maximum of 5000 m in the winter, and outdoor track with a maximum of 10000 m in the spring. Most, although not all, of the Japanese men in this age range are also university runners, and most of them go to school in the Tokyo-centric Kanto region. Their entire year revolves around one race, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, which has stage lengths of 18.5 – 23.4 km. Let’s look a little at the typical year for runners in both countries.

For Americans students the year begins in late August. Coming out of a similarly-configured high school career, and a summer of base-building most men enter the fall XC season. The focus is on racing 8 km – 10 km, in many cases frequently, for the next three months. Being XC the emphasis is not just on speed but on strength, runners needing to be capable of handling the shifting terrain and surfaces of the sport as well as the demands of racing often. The buildup for the XC season typically sees the highest mileage of the year; anyone with better knowledge of NCAA DI training is free to correct me with a better estimate, but in many cases American runners max in the 160 km / week range.

Following XC the indoor track season gets underway. The emphasis here is on speed, pure and simple, as the same athletes who were running 8 km – 10 km races throughout the fall now run 800 m, 1500 m, 3000 m, 5000 m and the like. If one looks at the fall XC season as a large-scale base-building and strengthening period, indoor track serves as a sharpening period leading to the spring outdoor track season. This is arguably the main focus of the year, the time when runners are expected to perform their best. The very talented may race in Europe over the summer and produce great peak performances, but for most the big meets of April and May are the goal. After the end of the school year in May it’s off to higher mileage and summer base-building again.

In Japan the school year begins in April with the outdoor track season. Coming straight out of the post-ekiden doldrums of January – March discussed below, there is no indoor track season and no equivalent to the intense focus on sharpening speed which Americans go through during these months. The regional university track championships, which, needless to say, include a half marathon, happen in May and the open Nationals in June, but for the most part outdoor track itself serves as a sharpening period in preparation for the main meat of the year, the summer gasshuku training camp season.

In gasshuku season most school and pro teams relocate to isolated towns on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido to beat the heat and do nothing but live their training. As Kiwi runner Jason Lawrence related in his excellent account of training with Josai University at their 2006 summer gasshuku, for university runners weekly mileage of over 250 km is common. One thought keeps them motivated: the Hakone Ekiden.

Heading back south in September university men and the few pros in this age range move into ekiden season. The National University Track and Field Championships and National Jitsugyodan Track and Field Championships take place this month, but even more so than the spring regionals they serve little more purpose than to sharpen up legs and racing instincts dulled by months of high mileage prior to the first of the fall ekidens. Many athletes give them a bye in favor of maintaining focus on the longer distances. Although there are frequent track time trials and the relatively short Izumo Ekiden, the focus is on distance and the main races of the season such as the National University Ekiden Championships, Hakone Ekiden-qualifying Yosenkai 20 km and Ageo City Half Marathon build toward the half-marathon distance in preparation for Hakone.

The Hakone Ekiden has no equivalent in American running. Ten stages spread over two days during the New Year holidays attract television viewership ratings of around 30% and millions of courseside spectators. This is where the performances flower, where Kensuke Takezawa, who holds a half marathon PB of 1:02:26, and Yuki Sato, who has never raced a half marathon, ran times of 1:01:40 for 21.5 km and 1:01:06 for 21.4 km, half-marathon national record-level material. Pro men in this age bracket such as Yu Mitsuya also tend to run their peak performances of the year on Jan. 1 in the New Year Ekiden. After these major ekidens there is a relative period of calm through the end of March, a period which includes some other ekidens, the university and corporate half marathon national championships and, recently, a few cross-country races.

To sum up, the American year consists of a period of distance and strength-building followed by a sharpening period directed toward the late-spring outdoor track season. The Japanese year features markedly less large-scale periodization, with the track season mixed in and around the main base mileage period leading into a season of sparse but long races building toward a single intense two-day period.

Applying this to the results of last month’s article, it’s easy to see why the American approach has produced steadily-improving performances over 5000 m as athletes mature while the Japanese system has produced a higher prevalence of quality at the half-marathon and marathon distances. Incorporating results like 18 year old Akinobu Murasawa's 13:30-equivalent 59:08 at October's Yosenkai from other distances such as 3000 m, 5 miles/8km, 10 miles, 20 km and 30 km into those from the four under consideration reinforces this pattern.

Most of the Japanese athletes at this age producing quality marathon results were runners who joined corporate teams straight out of high school, meaning that they had an even stronger focus on distance over this age range. The others were for the most part seniors following the tradition of running a marathon for their last university race before graduation. If anything the faster Japanese performances at 5000 m at younger ages may be the most surprising feature, but this is likely a consequence of the focus race distances at the high school level being from 3000 m to 10000 m.

So what? In the next article in this series JRN will look at the accomplishments of both countries’ runners at the world level and the prospects for the future as each faces changes in the race to adjust to the era of African hegemony.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bukkyo Ends Ritsumeikan's National Reign

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
all rights reserved

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bukkyo vs. Ritsumeikan - Watch the National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Online

by Brett Larner

The last race of the year for university women is the National University Women’s Invitational Ekiden, a relatively young event in Tsukuba, Ibaraki prefecture with six stages covering 30.67 km. Titan Ritsumeikan University has won every year the National Ekiden has been held. This year is the final time the team’s star Kazue Kojima will wear the school’s uniform in an ekiden, one last race to complete an undefeated stage record for her university career.

Earlier in the season Ritsumeikan looked unbeatable, running better than ever at October’s Morinomiyako Ekiden, but they were easily beaten by rivals Bukkyo University, led by the talented Kasumi Nishihara. After placing 2nd by just 3 seconds at last year’s Nationals Bukkyo looks set to break Ritsumeikan’s stranglehold on the national title. Nishihara has been dealing with injuries throughout the fall and may not be in condition to challenge Kojima, but her team overall is strong, tough and ready.

There are of course more than these two schools in the National Ekiden, but realistically none stand a hope of challenging the two big ones up front. Last year’s 3rd placer Meijo University is again the best hope for the 3rd position.

The National University Women’s Invitational Ekiden will be broadcast on TV Tokyo at 4:00 p.m. on Dec. 27. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free using the Keyhole TV software available here.

© 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Osaka International Women's Marathon Announces 2010 Elite Field

by Brett Larner

The Osaka International Women's Marathon has announced the elite field for the 2010 edition of the race to be held on Jan. 31. The domestic field should prove to be quite interesting, headed by Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), including talented veterans Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) and Kayoko Obata (Team Acom) and featuring promising first-timers Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) and Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei).

An elite women's marathon in Japan wouldn't be complete without Sydney Olympics silver medalist Lidia Simon (Romania), and Simon is sure enough slated to be on the starting line again this time along with Olympian Olivera Jevtic (Serbia), 2009 Los Angeles Marathon runner-up Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) and others.

2009 Osaka International Women's Marathon - Elite Field
click here for more detailed profiles and athlete photos
Lidia Simon (Romania) - 2:22:54 (Osaka 2000)
Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 2:23:30 (Osaka 2003)
Kayoko Obata (Team Acom) - 2:25:14 (Osaka 2000)
Olivera Jevtic (Serbia) - 2:25:23 (Rotterdam 2003)
Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:25:40 (Osaka 2009)
Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:26:03 (Seville 2009)
Chika Horie (Team Universal Ent.) - 2:26:11 (Hokkaido 2002)
Amane Gobena (Ethiopia) - 2:26:53 (Los Angeles 2009)
Ayumi Nakayama (Team Yamada Denki) - 2:28:50 (Osaka 2008)
Dulce Maria Rodriguez (Mexico) - 2:28:54 (Chicago 2006)
Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) - 2:29:23 (Nagoya 2008)
Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 1:10:16 (Jitsugyodan Half 2009)
Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 1:10:53 (Jitsugyodan Half 2009)
Volha Krautsova (Belarus) - 1:11:33 (Philadelphia Half 2007)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yumi Hirata Takes Sanyo Women's Half Marathon

http://sankei.jp.msn.com/sports/other/091223/oth0912231444004-n1.htm
http://www.jiji.com/jc/c?g=spo_30&k=2009122300218

translated and edited by Brett Larner

complete results will be added when available

Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) took the win in the Sanyo Women's Road Race Half Marathon on Dec. 23 in Okayama. Hirata, who finished 6th in last spring's Nagoya International Women's Marathon and will run January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, clocked 1:11:13. In 2nd place in 1:12:02 was Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya), who took the stage best on the 6th leg of the National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships on Dec. 13. Kaori Akagawa (Team Suzuki) was 3rd.

In the 10 km race, Nanae Kuwashiro (Team Sysmex) won in 32:27 over November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon 9th placer Hiromi Ominami, who was 7 seconds back in 32:34. World Championships marathoners Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) were 7th and 11th.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yuri Kano, Yurika Nakamura Lead Sanyo Women's Road Race Field

http://svr.sanyo.oni.co.jp/feature/sports/other/2009/12/01/20091201101648.html

translated by Brett Larner

The 28th Sanyo Women's Road Race is scheduled to take place Dec. 23. 65 women are entered in the elite half marathon, while the 10 km division has a field of 199. A number of athletes who competed in August's World Championships in Berlin will take their next step on the roads of Okayama.

At the top of the field in the half marathon is Berlin WC 10000 m 7th place finisher and Beijing Olympics marathoner Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya). Her toughest challenge will come from Kenyan Danielle Filomena Cheyech (Team Uniqlo), who defeated Nakamura in March's National Jitsugyodan Women's Half Marathon, and last year's runner-up Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex). Marathoner Yumi Hirata (Team Shiseido) and Nakamura's teammate Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya) are also expected to challenge for the lead.

In the 10 km, Berlin World Championships marathoners Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Yoshiko Fujinaga (Team Shiseido) lead the way. Veterans Hiromi and Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) are also on the entry list, along with last year's runner-up Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya), Miho Notagashira (Team Wacoal), Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) and others.

The two races begin at Momotaro Stadium and run through Okayama city's streets. The half marathon begins at 10:00 a.m., with the 10 km following shortly afterward at 10:15 a.m.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Toyokawa Defends, Sera Steps Up in National High School Ekiden Championships - Video Highlights (updated)

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
all rights reserved

Shibutani Wins 40th Hofu Yomiuri Marathon

by Brett Larner

Veteran Akinori Shibutani (Team Yanagawa Seiki) came within steps of breaking his nearly 10 year-old PB on Dec. 20 as he scored his first-ever win at the Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, taking the 40th anniversary edition of the race in 2:13:58. Following the departure of pacemaker Samuel Ganga (Team Mazda) at 25 km after a 1:06:38 first half Shibutani emerged from the pack to first edge and then cruise away to victory. It was a major triumph for Shibutani, a former teammate of national record holder Toshinari Takaoka at Team Kanebo, who found a position with the minor-league Team Yanagawa Seiki after losing his place on the Kanebo lineup several years ago. For his win Shibutani picks up an invitation to the 2010 Berlin Marathon.

2003 Fukuoka International Marathon winner and Athens Olympian Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) initially remained behind in the pack when Shibutani broke away and was followed by Fumiyuki Watanabe (Team Asahi Kasei) and 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.). Timing his move carefully, by 35 km Kunichika had drawn even with Yoshimura again and by 40 km was in 2nd and gaining on Shibutani. He was ultimately unable to close the gap and had to settle for 2nd in 2:14:38 in what may be the last marathon of his career.

Yoshimura, the #1-ranked amateur in Japan, hoped to improve on his 5th place finish last year and 3rd place finish in 2007 but was only able to overtake the fading Watanabe for another 3rd. His time of 2:15:05 was, however, a nearly two-minute PB over his 2:16:58 best from March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon, meaning his three marathons this year have been a win and two large PBs. Yoshimura will be racing again in February and then hopes to run for the win overseas this summer in either Grandma's Marathon in the U.S. or the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia, where he was the 2007 winner.

Defending champion Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio) ran only 47 seconds off his winning time from last year but finished 6th in 2:16:48. Serod Bat-Ochir of Mongolia was the top overseas athlete, 7th in 2:17:19.

In the talented amateur-level women's race, Noriko Hirao (F-Dream AC) led start to finish for a comfortable win over 2006 winner Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall), 2:45:08 to 2:48:10. Hirao's teammate Akiko Aoki (F-Dream AC) overtook several competitors for 3rd in 2:54:32. 2007-2008 winner Miyuki Yamaguchi (Kobe T&F Assoc.) was 4th in 2:55:38.

2009 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon - Top Finishers
click here for detailed results
Men
1. Akinori Shibutani (Team Yanagawa Seiki) - 2:13:58
2. Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) - 2:14:38
3. Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.) - 2:15:05 - PB
4. Fumiyuki Watanabe (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:15:18
5. Koji Harada (Kure T&F Assoc.) - 2:15:45
6. Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio) - 2:16:48
7. Serod Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:17:19
8. Hiroyuki Kamiguchi (Team Suzuki) - 2:17:21
9. Kiyotaka Shimamura (Team S&B) - 2:18:01
10. Yuji Iwakuma (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:20:54

Women
1. Noriko Hirao (F-Dream AC) - 2:45:08
2. Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall) - 2:48:10
3. Akiko Aoki (F-Dream AC) - 2:54:32
4. Miyuki Yamaguchi (Kobe T&F Assoc.) - 2:55:38
5. Hiromi Yamazaki (Yokochi Pediatrics) - 2:57:24

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, December 19, 2009

National High School Ekiden Championships Preview - Watch Online

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
all rights reserved

Thursday, December 17, 2009

2:07 Man Kunichika Headlines 40th Hofu Yomiuri Marathon

by Brett Larner

The last competitive marathon of the year takes place this Sunday, Dec. 20 in Hofu, Yamaguchi at the 40th anniversary Hofu Yomiuri Marathon. Long one of Japan's second-tier elite marathons, Hofu is a place where younger pros come to debut and older veterans go for one more win. The occasional first-rate race results, as in Ethiopian Hailu Negussie's course record 2:08:16 battle against future Olympic team member Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) in 2002.

Like other elite marathons on the Japanese circuit Hofu has struggled to adapt to changes in the marathoning environment, particularly those brought on by the rise of the Tokyo Marathon. Where venerable races like the Biwako Mainichi Marathon and Beppu-Oita Marathon have redesigned their courses in the last year to improve their appeal as fast races and taken other steps to improve their image, Hofu has embraced the amateur. Beginning with this year's 40th anniversary race Hofu has relaxed its qualification standard and cutoff times to accept runners taking up to four hours. While the move takes Hofu out of strictly elite circles the higher numbers which should result will help it to continue to pull in the 2:10 to 2:20 men who make up its main core.

Headlining this year's race is Athens Olympian Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B). Kunichika, coached by the great Toshihiko Seko, won the 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon in 2:07:52. He is far beyond the rest of this year's elite field in quality, but at age 36 he is in the final moments of his career and has not raced well in years. Hofu may well be the end of the road, and if so he is hopefully going in with the intent to leave with the win.

Beyond Kunichika is a solid pack of eleven men in the 2:12-2:17 range, almost any of whom could step up if he falters. Among these contenders, defending champion Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio) is the most dangerous despite a weak run in September's Berlin Marathon. Overseas invitees Kachi-Tsu Chao (Taiwan), Yongjian Ou (China) and Serod Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) went 3-4-6 at last year's race and return this year, Bat-Ochir with 2009 World Championships marathon experience under his belt. The most intriguing contender is amateur Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.), last year's 5th placer. Since last year's race Yoshimura clocked a PB of 2:16:58 at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon and then won May's Copenhagen Marathon in a course record of 2:18:04. Yoshimura told JRN he hopes to break 2:15 in Hofu, a time which would have won the last two years' races. Whether it's one of the six men above or another from the elite field, the winner will pick up an invitation to the 2010 Berlin Marathon as part of his prize.

2009 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Elite Field
click here for complete elite field listing with photos

Tomoaki Kunichika (Team S&B) - 2:07:52 (Fukuoka '03)
Takehisa Okino (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:12:24 (Beijing '06)
Kentaro Ito (Team Kyowa Hakko Bio) - 2:13:44 (Hofu '01)
Akinori Shibutani (Team Yanagawa Seiki) - 2:13:51 (Beppu-Oita '00)
Serod Bat-Ochir (Mongolia) - 2:14:15 (Beijing Pre-Olympic '08)
Manabu Nishida (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:15:22 (Biwako '06)
Kiyotaka Shimamura (Team S&B) - 2:15:34 (Tokyo '08)
Yuji Iwakuma (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 2:15:46 (Beppu-Oita '05)
Tomohiro Minami (Team Aisan Kogyo) - 2:15:55 (Nobeoka '07)
Yongjian Ou (China) - 2:16:47 (Beijing '07)
Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.) - 2:16:58 (Biwako '09)
Kachi-Tsu Chao (Taiwan) - 2:17:12 (Hofu '08)
Nao Kazami (Team Aisan Kogyo) - 2:18:58 (Hokkaido '08)
Yoshihiro Yamamoto (Team Tokuyama) - 2:19:29 (Beppu-Oita '07)

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Zakharova Wins 3rd Women's Title at Age 39' - Honolulu Marathon (updated)

http://www.honolulumarathon.org/?s=raceweeknews#st_7






Kiyoko Shimahara approaching the finish in Honolulu. Photos by Dr. Helmut Winter.







After not breaking 2:30 since 2006 Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) has now done it three times in the last three and a half months, running a PB and CR of 2:25:10 to win the Hokkaido Marathon on Aug. 30, finishing 2nd in 2:28:51 on Nov. 15 in the inaugural Yokohama International Women's Marathon, and now four weeks later a 2:29:53 runner-up spot in the Dec. 13 Honolulu Marathon.






Third sub-2:30 of the season.











2009 Honolulu Marathon - Top Women's Finishers
click here for complete results with splits

1. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:28:34
2. Kiyoko Shimahara (Second Wind AC) - 2:29:53
3. Pamela Chepchumba (Kenya) - 2:32:41
4. Kaori Yoshida (Amino Vital AC) - 2:35:46
5. Eri Hayakawa (Amino Vital AC) - 2:44:33
6. Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ.) - 2:45:19
7. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 2:50:20
8. Mina Ogawa (Japan) - 2:50:20
9. Kozue Saito (Japan) - 2:51:59
10. Amy Wilson (U.S.A.) - 2:57:59

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Onishi, Takezawa and Sugihara Win in East Asian Games, Kano and Miyauchi 2-3 in Women's Half (updated)

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Update: The IAAF has a series of articles summarizing each day of the East Asian Games including the medalists in each event. Click for Day One (800 m, 20 km RW), Day Two (M 5000 m, W 10000 m, W 3000 mSC), Day Three (1500 m, M 10000 m) and Day Four (Half marathon, M 3000 mSC, W 5000 m).

Tomoya Onishi on the way to the win in Hong Kong. Click picture for sanspo.com's East Asian Games photo gallery.

The East Asian Games Half Marathon took place Dec. 13 in Hong Kong. 22 year-old Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei) won the gold medal in the sprint-finish men's race in a time of 1:06:05. World Championships women's marathon 7th place finisher Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) was 2nd in the women's half marathon in 1:12:03 with teammate Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) close behind in 3rd.

Kano lacked her usual frontrunning race pattern, losing out to a North Korean athlete on the last lap of the track. "That wasn't how I wanted to race," she said unhappily afterwards. "Somebody behind me kept kicking my legs." Kano planned to take off in the later stages of the race but, the unlucky 31 year old veteran said, "It was a lot hotter and hillier than I expected and it was just too tough. I guess I was just a pacemaker today."

On the track on Japan scored a double win in the men's and women's 10000 m. Kensuke Takahashi (23, Team S&B) won the Dec. 12 men's race in 30:18.91 with a blazing last 100 m kick to put away a Chinese athlete. "I decided just to wait until the end to settle things," said Takezawa. "The goal here was only to win, so that's the way I ran." At 5000 m the Chinese runner briefly pulled away from him, but Takezawa said, "I was just making controlled pace changes to play with his psychology."

In the women's 10000 m on Dec. 11 Kayo Sugihara (26, Team Denso), the bronze medalist from the 2006 Asian Games 5000 m, won gold in a time of 33:55.43. Sugihara dropped her nearest competitor, a Chinese runner, at 6000 m and ran on alone to the finish to take her first victory in an international competition. "It's a great way to end the year, and a good step towards my first marathon" she said with a bright smile after the race. Sugahara will debut at March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon.

http://www.hokkaido-np.co.jp/news/sports/205239.html
http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/091213/spg0912131610003-n1.htm
http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/091212/spg0912122156002-n1.htm
http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/091211/spg0912111634004-n1.htm

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

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Yu Mitsuya to Debut at Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon

http://www.nishinippon.co.jp/nsp/item/139184

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu), a two-time World Championships track runner and former training partner of Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya), will run his debut marathon at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon. Mitsuya acted as pacemaker for the first half of last Sunday's Fukuoka International Marathon as part of the serious marathon training he began in November. "I could run a half [marathon] a dozen times, but this gave me a better feeling for it," he said after Fukuoka. After eventual winner Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) started pressing the pace Mitsuya held on to precisely 3 min / km pace to bring the second pack through halfway. The experience gave him a taste of what to expect in Beppu-Oita. "Seeing this today really ups my motivation," he nodded. The expectations are high for this track star as he turns to the 42.195 km distance.

Translator's note: Yu Mitsuya is one of the best hopes for the next generation of Japanese marathoners, a potential 2:06 man at least. He was one of the athletes detailed in part one of JRN's comparison of young American and Japanese runners, running 28:00.23 for 10000 m at age 19, 27:41.10 at age 20, and 13:18.32 for 5000 m at age 22. Still only 24 years old, he holds PBs of 13:18.32 (5000 m), 27:41.10 (10000 m), 1:02:26 (half) and 1:29:55 (30 km) and is coached by 1992 Barcelona Olympic marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita.