by Brett Larner
Thanks in part to outstanding runs from rising stars Risa Shigetomo and Kaori Urata and a return to form by ailing ace Yurika Nakamura, Team Tenmaya took its first-ever win at the National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships on Dec. 19. Tenmaya runners cruising mid-pack on the first two stages, Nakamura moved the team into a three-way tie for 3rd on the 10,0 km ace Third Stage. Little changed for the team on the Fourth Stage, but Shigetomo had a superb performance, moving up from 4th to overtake leader Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) and claim the stage best title by the largest margin of any runner in the entire ekiden. Kicking off with a 2:57 first km, anchor Urata likewise took the stage best title and was never threatened as she brought the team home in 2:14:35 for the 42.195 km course.
Looking at the overall race, it was a relatively even field as many teams came to the championships with at least one key member having had a problem-plagued season. 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa put the Yoshio Koide-coaced Team Universal Entertainment into the lead on the First Stage, with defending champions Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo and East Japan qualifier winners Team Daiichi Seimei just behind. Kenyan Felista Wanjugu kept Universal Entertainment on the ridiculously short 3.3 km Second Stage, while countrywoman Ann Karindi ran a stage best 9:56 to put the likewise Koide-coached 2008 national champions Team Toyota Jidoshokki into 2nd. Ethiopian Betelhem Moges moved Team Denso into 3rd.
The 10.0 km Third Stage was the focus of the race, featuring the return of Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) to national competition against 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), 2010 top Japanese marathoner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and a raft of other stars with the notable omission of 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), who recently sustained injuries in a fall. Fukushi was dominating, moving up from 8th to pass Shibui and take the lead by 3 km, split 15:27 for 5 km, and take the stage best in 31:26. Far back in the pack, Akaba, in full training for January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, was the only other woman to break 32 minutes.
Shibui, largely absent for the last two years, was not far off her game as she finished 5th on the stage in 32:06, putting Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo into a tie for 3rd with Tenmaya's Nakamura and Daiichi Seimei's Ozaki substitute Misaki Katsumata with Team Denso's Kayo Sugihara just ahead in 2nd. Noguchi did not have the much hoped-for successful return, slipping from 13th to 18th place and finishing only 20th of 24 on the stage in 34:00. Falling to the ground after finishing, she was unable to get back to her feet unaided and later told media that the run was far harder than she anticipated.
Team Daiichi Seimei's Yuka Kakimi was outstanding on the 4.1 km Fourth Stage, tearing up the distance to leader Kozue Matsumoto (Team Wacoal) and taking over 1st with 800 m to go in a stage-best 12:43. Team Denso's Hiromi Koga also overtook Matsumoto at the last moment to put Denso into 2nd.
Former pro XC skiier Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) ran her best on the ekiden's longest stage, the 11.6 km Fifth Stage, where she was the second-fastest but no match for Tenmaya's Shigetomo. Urata had little trouble anchoring Tenmaya to the win. Daiichi Seimei anchor Miyuki Ando, in her final pro ekiden, barely held off 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya who, in a return to form after months off with injury, moved 2008 national champions Toyota Jidoshokki into 3rd. Universal Entertainment finished 4th to make it a Koide 3-4 finish, while defending champs Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo were a better-than-expected 5th. Disappointing finishes included Wacoal in 8th, Panasonic in 12th and Sysmex in 14th.
Noguchi's chances for a spring marathon rebirth ahead of the World Championships appear diminshed after her performance in the national championships. Shibui, on the other hand, looks on the way to another comeback. Akaba may well be the in the best position for the spring, showing some of her best ekiden speed in the midst of marathon-prep mileage. Should Fukushi choose to join her it could be a bright year for Japanese women.
In the most promising new devleopment Shigetomo was beautifully smooth and powerful, easily the biggest breakthrough of the ekiden. She looks poised to become the latest Tenmaya marathon star in the lineage of Eri Yamaguchi, Naoko Sakamoto, Tomo Morimoto and Nakamura. If she follows past history expect an outstanding spring debut in the 2:22-2:23 range followed by a steady decline in performance for the rest of her career. Urata may well follow suit in 2012.
2010 National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships
click here for complete results
Top Team Results - 42.195 km
1. Tenmaya - 2:14:35
2. Daiichi Seimei - 2:15:36
3. Toyota Jidoshoki - 2:15:46
4. Universal Entertainment - 2:16:17
5. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo - 2:16:23
6. Shiseido - 2:16:48
7. Daihatsu - 2:16:49
8. Wacoal - 2:16:54
9. Denso - 2:17:04
10. Sekisui Kagaku - 2:17:17
Individual Stage Results
First Stage (6.6 km)
1. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 20:46
2. Sachiyo Yamashita (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 20:48
3. Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:50
Second Stage (3.3 km)
1. Ann Karindi (Kenya/Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 9:56
2. Felista Wanjugu (Kenya/Team Univ. Ent.) - 10:03
3. Betelhem Moges (Ethiopia/Team Denso) - 10:04
Third Stage (10.0 km)
1. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 31:26
2. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 31:55
3. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 32:00
4. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 32:02
5. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 32:06
6. Yurika Nakamura (Team Tenmaya) - 32:08
7. Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic) - 32:09
7. Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 32:09
9. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) - 32:10
10. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 32:12
20. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 34:00
Fourth Stage (4.1 km)
1. Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 12:43
2. Hiromi Koga (Team Denso) - 12:50
3. Yukie Nagata (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 12:56
Fifth Stage (11.6 km)
1. Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 37:36
2. Azusa Nojiri (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 38:14
2. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 38:14
4. Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) - 38:19
5. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - 38:25
Sixth Stage (6.595 km)
1. Kaori Urata (Team Tenmaya) - 20:39
2. Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 20:45
3. Nami Tani (Team Univ. Ent.) - 21:02
4. Saki Nakamichi (Team Shiseido) - 21:17
5. Miyuki Ando (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 21:18
5. Rie Takayoshi (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 21:18
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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