Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Iizuka, Fujimoto, Yoshimoto and More - National University Championships Preview

by Brett Larner

It's one of the peculiarities of the Japanese scene that the national university and corporate championship track and field meets come in September, sandwiched between the end of the summer gasshuku training camps and the start of the fall ekiden season three months after the regional meets and open Nationals. For once, the focus of the National University Track and Field Championships, to be held this weekend at Tokyo's National Stadium, will be on the sprints rather than the distance races. That's because scheduled to run both the 200 m and the 4 x 100 m is Chuo University frosh Shota Iizuka. Iizuka's surreal anchor leg for Chuo's relay squad at May's Kanto Regionals got attention around the world as he singlehandedly gave Chuo a one-second margin of victory and the national collegiate record of 38.54. With expectations high he followed up in the 200 m with Japan's first-ever world-level track gold medal at July's IAAF Junior World Championships. It's safe to say that he will be the main draw of the meet when he runs on Saturday.

Turning back to the distance events, it's another peculiarity that at least for men this weekend's Nationals are relatively less important than May's Kanto Regionals, Kanto being the home of the Hakone Ekiden and all the best men's running universities in the country. While the Kanto Regionals are a genuine championship coming at the end spring track season, Nationals add little because all the best men are already running in Kanto. Witness the men's 5000 m and 10000 m, where only one runner in the top 15 in either entry list is from outside Kanto. The converse is true for women. Whether it is because the Kanto schools spend all their athletic budgets recruiting the best high school boys to round out their Hakone squads, almost without exception the best women run for schools outside Kanto. In the women's 5000 m and 10000 m only one woman in the top 10 of either race is from a Kanto school.

Nevertheless, the meets are high-level and serve as the best early-season indicator of who is on top as the ekiden scene gets rolling. 28 of the 42 men on the 5000 m entry list have PBs under 14:00, including 2010 Kanto Regionals top 5 Taku Fujimoto (Kokushikan Univ.), Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.), Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.), Yusuke Hasegawa (Jobu Univ.) and Yo Yazawa (Waseda Univ.). Thrown into the mix to stop things from being a simple retread of May's race, Kyushu-based Kenyan Kiragu Njuguna (Daiichi Kogyo) comes in with the fastest PB in the field by a slight margin, 13:38.17 versus 13:38.68 held jointly by Fujimoto and Murasawa.

Kanto Regionals 10000 m champ Kenyan Benjamin Gando (Nihon Univ.) is a sure bet for the national title, his strongest competition from May being 5th placer Masaki Ito (Kokushikan Univ.). Murasawa is listed for the double but is more likely to focus on Sunday's 5000 m. Surprising absences include Hakone star Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.), Takushoku University's new Kenyan aces Duncan Mozay and John Maina, and all but one of Komazawa University's squad. 13 men in the field hold PBs under 29 minutes.

The women's races are thinner but promise some great matchups. The 5000 m duel between teammates Hikari Yoshimoto and Kasumi Nishihara of 2009 National Champions Bukkyo University should be one of the highlights of the meet. Nishihara spent all of last year steadily surpassing her great rival Kazue Kojima, then of Ritsumeikan University, only to in turn be suddenly overtaken by her younger teammate Yoshimoto. Yoshimoto, who grabbed attention with a stage-best anchor run at last November's International Chiba Ekiden, set the 10000 m national collegiate record this spring and smashed both Kojima and Nishihara's 5000 m PBs with a 15:26.72 clocking. 10 women in the field have PBs under 16 minutes but if both are fit it should be all Yoshimoto and Nishihara to the end.

Yoshimoto is sitting out the 10000 m, where she would be easily assured of a win. In her absence 2008 National University Champion Michi Numata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) will try to hold off the younger Aki Odagiri (Meijo Univ.) to claim a second title. Numata is scheduled to double in the 5000 m, where she has the fastest PB after Yoshimoto and Nishihara.

In all cases, but especially the men's and women's 5000 m which are scheduled for mid-afternoon Sunday, heat will be a major worry. So far this has been the hottest September on record all across Japan, with temperatures steadily over 35 degrees in Tokyo. A typhoon passing through Tokyo on Wednesday and Thursday has temporarily cooled things off but a wave of tropical heat is expected to follow the typhoon's path over the weekend. Should this result in slower times the races will be wide open for many of the second-packers to take a chance up front. JRN will be at all three days of the meet to bring you video coverage. Check back for updates.

2010 National University T&F Championships Partial Entry Lists
click here for complete entry lists
Men's 10000 m - Sept. 10
Benjamin Gando (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) - 28:21.31
Takuya Noguchi (Nittai Univ.) - 28:30.06
Fuminori Shikata (Waseda Univ.) - 28:38.46
Masaki Ito (Kokushikan Univ.) - 28:38.69
Asuka Tanaka (Tokai Univ.) - 28:40.96
Shota Hiraga (Waseda Univ.) - 28:41.42
Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) - 28:44.23
Cosmas Ondiba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 28:44.62
Tsubasa Hayakawa (Tokai Univ.) - 28:47.37
Hiroki Mitsuoka (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 28:48.23
Kazuhiro Kuga (Komazawa Univ.) - 28:55.80
Hirotaka Tamura (Nihon Univ.) - 28:55.90
Hiroyuki Sasaki (Waseda Univ.) - 28:58.47

Men's 5000 m - Sept. 12
Kiragu Njuguna (Kenya/Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 13:38.17
Taku Fujimoto (Kokushikan Univ.) - 13:38.68
Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) - 13:38.68
Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) - 13:39.31
Yusuke Hasegawa (Jobu Univ.) - 13:40.83
Yuki Yagi (Waseda Univ.) - 13:43.49
Yo Yazawa (Waseda Univ.) - 13:43.84
Hideyuki Tanaka (Juntendo Univ.) - 13:47.12
Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 13:47.29
Kazuya Deguchi (Nittai Univ.) - 13:47.57
Cosmas Ondiba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:47.80
Dai Nakahara (Josai Univ.) - 13:47.89
Tsubasa Hayakawa (Tokai Univ.) - 13:48.87

Women's 10000 m - Sept. 10
Aki Odagiri (Meijo Univ.) - 32:43.45
Michi Numata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 32:47.41
Machiko Iwakawa (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 33:07.32
Maria Yano (Matsuyama Univ.) - 33:17.60
Kikuyo Tsuzaki (Meijo Univ.) - 33:25.59
Emi Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 33:29.76
Rika Kawashima (Bukkyo Univ.) - 33:57.02
Chisato Saito (Josai Univ.) - 33:57.12
Chiaki Fukumori (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 33:58.76

Women's 5000 m - Sept. 12
Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:26.72
Kasumi Nishihara (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:32.89
Michi Numata (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 15:41.00
Risa Takenaka (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 15:41.60
Toshika Tamura (Matsuyama Univ.) - 15:45.46
Ayuko Suzuki (Meijo Univ.) - 15:47.36
Nanaka Izawa (Juntendo Univ.) - 15:50.06
Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:52.75
Maria Yano (Matsuyama Univ.) - 15:55.98
Ayaka Sutani (Meijo Univ.) - 15:59.69

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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