by Brett Larner
Heavy pre-race favorite Team Nissin Shokuhin came through Jan. 1 for its first-ever New Year Ekiden win, but not quite in the expected way. In what should have been a blowout win in the seven-stage 100 km national championship race in Gunma prefecture, Nissin's first four runners Bene Zama, Gideon Ngatuny, Yuki Sato and Satoru Kitamura, were only decent to poor, leaving it to the last three runners to pick up the pieces. Fifth Stage man Kosaka Hoshina came back from 3rd to give Sixth Stage veteran Kazuyoshi Tokumoto a two-second lead. Tokumoto roared away to widen the lead to over 20 seconds, leaving it up to local boy Hiroyuki Ono to hold off the strong Team Konica Minolta and defending champion Team Fujitsu over the anchor stage. In his pro debut Ono, who gained fame after collapsing just before the finish of the 2008 Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage, held it together as he brought Nissin home to victory in 4:50:07.
Konica Minolta ran to expectations, 2nd in 4:50:36, with Fujitsu 3rd another minute back in 4:51:37. Team Honda followed an opposite trajectory from Nissin, strong over the first four stages led by a great run from 2:08:12 university marathon record holder Masakazu Fujiwara, but fading over the final half to 6th. Last year's 3rd placer Asahi Kasei, with aces Ryuji Ono and Tomoyuki Sato less than healthy and 10000 m national champion Yuki Iwai out of commission, was never in the race and finished only 8th.
In terms of individual action the race marked a changing of the guard as first-year pros Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo), Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko), and Nissin's Yuki Sato and Hiroyuki Ono took four of the seven stage best titles. Nissin won without veterans Toshinari Suwa, Yuzo Onishi, Kenta Oshima and Julius Gitahi, six of its runners being aged 23-25 and only Tokumoto over 30. Mid-career national record holders Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) took two of the remaining stage best titles, Sato running under an hour for the half marathon on the 22.3 km Fourth Stage as his junior teammate Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) picked up the Fifth Stage best.
There was a share of disappointent, Team Asahi Kasei's Ryuji Ono and Team Toyota Kyushu's Yu Mitsuya fading on the first stage being among the biggest, some surprises like Team Kyudenko's new 19 year old Kenyan hire Paul Tanui beating sub-27 minute men Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.) and Martin Mathathi (Team Suzuki), sub-hour half marathoner Ngatuny and everyone else for the top honors on the Second Stage, and even a rare punch thrown by Third Stage runner Hiroyuki Ikegaya (Team NTN) after he collided with finishing Second Stage Ethiopian Nahom Mesfin (Team Kanebo) in the handoff zone and fell.
Looking at the numbers, the 8.3 km Second Stage and 22.3 km Fourth Stage were the most impressive. Despite cold temperatures and winds up to 35 km/hr four men broke 22:10 on the Second Stage, with familiar faces Ndambiri, Mathathi and former Ethiopian 3000 m SC national record holder Yakob Jarso (Team Honda) outrun by newcomer Tanui. Two more men, Kenyans Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Cable) and John Thuo (Team Toyota) were with seconds of 22:10.
On the Fourth Stage half marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato covered the leg, which has a net downhill of roughly 10 m, in 1:03:11. A flat conversion to 21.1 km for the half marathon distance yields a time of 59:47, almost 40 seconds better than his national record. Stage 2nd-best Koichi Sakai (Team Fujitsu) and Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), both former Hakone Ekiden stars now in their first few years of pro running, clocked 1:03:26, 1:00:01 for the half marathon with flat conversion, while fellow early-career pro/former Hakone star Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta) and World Championships marathoner Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) clocked 1:03:26, equivalent to well under Sato's national record. As per JRN's preview, for better or worse the New Year Ekiden is the peak of Japanese men's year and the only race where you really see their true quality.
For a more detailed report, click here to read comentary on JRNLive.
2010 New Year Ekiden - Results
click here for complete results
Stage Best Performances
1st Stage -12.3 km: Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - 35:28
2nd Stage - 8.3 km: Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) - 22:02
3rd Stage - 13.7 km: Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 38:29
4th Stage - 22.3 km: Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:03:11
5th Stage - 15.9 km: Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 46:48
6th Stage - 11.8 km: Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 34:23
7th Stage - 15.7 km: Hiroyuki Ono (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 47:32
Top Team Results
1. Nissin Shokuhin - 4:50:07
2. Konica Minolta - 4:50:36
3. Fujitsu - 4:51:37
4. Chugoku Denryoku - 4:52:26
5. Toyota - 4:52:55
6. Honda - 4:54:12
7. Otsuka Seiyaku - 4:56:29
8. Asahi Kasei - 4:56:29
9. Toyota Boshoku - 4:56:31
10. Kyudenko - 4:56:31
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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