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Fujimoto Gets Another Shot at the Top - National University Ekiden Qualifier

by Brett Larner

Little-known Kokushikan University junior Taku Fujimoto's win at last month's Kanto Regional University T&F Championships 5000 m was one of the meet's highlights. Sitting patiently behind the leaders throughout the race, Fujimoto rocketed away from favorite Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) with one lap to go to win in a sizeable PB of 13:38.68, exactly tying Murasawa's PB. After the race Murasawa challenged Fujimoto to repeat the feat this season over 10000 m. His chance comes this Saturday at the 2010 National University Ekiden Kanto Regional Qualifiers at Tokyo's National Stadium.

November's National University Ekiden is one of the peaks of the fall season. For schools which miss the top-scoring seeded bracket, late June means once more through the regional qualifiers. What makes the Kanto qualifiers one of the most entertaining events on the Japanese calendar is the format: four heats of 10000 m in one evening, each heat containing two runners from each of the twenty Kanto-region schools competing for a Nationals spot. Each team's score is the sum of all eight runners' times, meaning every single man in the field is racing the clock rather than for place. Most schools stack the fourth heat with their two best runners, making that heat one of the most competitive Japanese 10000 m of the year. With cheering squads in the stands and supporters lining the track the atmosphere is raucous and noisy, diminished only slightly by last year's move from the tight-packed Oda Field to the more spacious National Stadium.

Out of forty runners in the fourth heat, ten feature PBs under 29 minutes and another eleven hold marks under 29:30. Jobu University ace Yusuke Hasegawa has the best mark by a considerable margin, but a subpar performance at May's Kanto Regional Championships puts him at risk of falling to Kanto B-heat 5000 and 10000 m double winner Duncan Mozay of Takushoku University. Mozay beat Nittai University's Kazuya Deguchi for that 10000 m title, leaving Kokushikan's Masaki Ito, Mozay's teammate John Maina, Murasawa and Fujimoto, and Murasawa's teammate Tsubasa Hayakawa as the next group of contenders. As with their identical 5000 m PBs, Murasawa and Fujimoto have nearly the same bests for 10000 m. Considering, though, that neither has raced a serious 10000 m this season and that their 5000 m marks were both sizable bests set this spring it is reasonable to think both Murasawa and Fujimoto will be in contention for the top position.

Curiously, Tokai's current best 10000 m runner Asuka Tanaka, who holds a PB of 28:40.96, is listed as an alternate, a likely indication of injury troubles. Nittai's best runner Takuya Noguchi, with a PB of 28:30.06, is slated for the third heat after a weak showing at May's Kanto meet. Several other schools including Josai University, Chuo Gakuin University and Juntendo University have put their best people into the third heat, meaning that that round should also be fast. JRN will be on-site to provide video coverage of the races. Check back Sunday for complete results.

2010 National University Ekiden Kanto Regional Qualifer - Heat Four Top Entrants
Yusuke Hasegawa (4th yr., Jobu Univ.) - 28:13.92
Duncan Mozay (1st yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 28:20.76
Kazuya Deguchi (4th yr., Nittai Univ.) - 28:34.02
Masaki Ito (3rd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 28:38.69
John Maina (1st yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 28:42.02
Akinobu Murasawa (2nd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 28:44.23
Taku Fujimoto (3rd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 28:44.88
Tsubasa Hayakawa (2nd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 28:47.37
Ryota Nakamura (4th yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 28:49.20
Junya Kinoshita (3rd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 28:50.53
Kenta Matsubara (2nd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 29:00.36
Shinji Ando (4th yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 29:08.41
Koji Kobayashi (4th yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 29:14.98
Naoto Miyagawa (3rd yr., Asia Univ.) - 29:18.30
Shota Hattori (1st yr., Nittai Univ.) - 29:19.99
Ryusei Sakaguchi (3rd yr., Jobu Univ.) - 29:22.09
Dai Nakahara (2nd yr., Josai Univ.) - 29:23.76
Kota Nibe (4th yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 29:24.02
Yuta Igarashi (4th yr., Senshu Univ.) - 29:24.56
Hideyuki Tanaka (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 29:25.01
Ikki Takeuchi (1st yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:26.17

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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