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Kanto Regionals Top Major Weekend of Track Meets

by Brett Larner

This weekend is one of the biggest of the year for Japanese distance runners, with no less than eight major track meets across the country. Six of the meets are regional championships for Japan's corporate teams and will feature many of the best Japanese and African athletes including Josephat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.), Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin), Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz), Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) and Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B). Check the sidebar to the right for more information on these meets.

The Kansai Regional University Track and Field Championships offer an early-season look at the schools in Western central Japan, the site of the best university women's teams. The women's 5000 m in particular has a great matchup between 10000 m university national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto and 2009 World University Games 10000 m gold medalist Kasumi Nishihara, teammates at Bukkyo University. Nishihara spent most of last year overtaking rival Kazue Kojima, then of Ritsumeikan, to become the number one university woman in Japan. A month ago at the Kyoto University Track and Field Championships Yoshimoto broke Nishihara's 5000 m meet record from last spring by more than 20 seconds. 2008 university women's 10000 m national champion Michi Numata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) should be unchallenged for the win in the longer event.

But there's no escaping that the biggest meet of the weekend is the Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. In the absence of an established university system in Ethiopia or Kenya, the Tokyo-area Kanto Region, home of the Hakone Ekiden, is the world's most competitive university men's distance running circuit. Last year's results, reproduced below with the top 25 finishers in the 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, compared very favorably with those of the American NCAA Division I National Championships held a few weeks later. The Kanto results over 5000 m and 10000 m are particularly impressive compared to the NCAA results in light of the fact that the Kanto Regionals meet dilutes its talent pool by including a half marathon while the NCAA National meet does not.

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Last year's runner-up in the 5000 m and 10000 m, Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) comes to this year's Kanto Regionals with the fastest PB in the 10000 m A-heat, 28:20.99. He suffered some injury problems following his record-setting run in January's Hakone Ekiden, but if he is healthy look for Kashiwabara to set a new PB. His toughest challengers will be Kenyans Benjamin Gando (Nihon Univ.) and Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), but also look out for exceptional Waseda University first-year Fuminori Shikata, who started university last month with a PB of 28:38.46. Other men in the field with PBs under 29 minutes include Asuka Tanaka (Tokai Univ.), Yo Yazawa (Waseda Univ.), Masato Kikuchi (Meiji Univ.), Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.), Masaki Ito (Kokushikan Univ.), Hirotaka Tamura (Nihon Univ.) and recent Saku Chosei H.S. graduate Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.). The B-heat, made up of schools equivalent to those in the NCAA Div. II, also features six men with PBs under 29 minutes, led by one of Takushoku University's two new Kenyan recruits, Duncan Moze.

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Kashiwabara is also lining up in the 5000 m A-heat, but his PB of 13:48.54 is only the sixth-fastest in the field. The favorite is easily Tokai University sophomore Akinobu Murasawa, who recently set a new PB of 13:38.68 just after his 19th birthday. Murasawa's main competition will come from Jobu University senior Yusuke Hasegawa, who returns from racing in California through April with a new PB of 13:40.83. Three men in the 5000 m B-heat also have PBs under Kashiwabara's best, with Takushoku University's other Kenyan first-year John Maina narrowly edging out Komazawa University first-year Ikuto Yufu for the fastest PB, 13:45.00 to 13:45.42.

Click for full-sized image.

The half marathon is held on a challenging, hilly 10-loop course on a winding through Tokyo's National Stadium and around the surrounding neighborhood. Times are usually two to three minutes slower than most runners' PBs, so expect a strategic race over a fast one. Last year's winner Cosmas Ondiba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) ran the second-fastest time ever on the course, 1:02:29. Look for him to win easily again. His biggest challenger is likely to be 2009 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Shota Hiraga (Waseda Univ.).

JRN will bring you video coverage of the Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships as welll as results from all five meets over the course of the weekend. Check back often for updates.

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

kevin said…
Any word on Yoko Shibui and Mizuki Noguchi? I've never hear them in action anymore.

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