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Karoki, Niiya, Suga Win Again at Fukuoka Int'l XC

by Brett Larner

The winners of three of the four main races at the Feb. 13 Chiba International Cross Country Meet repeated two weeks later at the 25th Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet of Feb. 27 with dominant performances under sunny skies. The final of the domestic selection races for next month's World Cross Country Championships in Spain, Fukuoka settled the list of contenders for the Japanese Worlds team.

In the senior men's 10 km, Bitan Karoki (Kenya/Team S&B) was in another league from the rest of the field, running a sensational course record 27:52 to win by 58 seconds over countryman Nicholas Makau (Kenya/Team Yachiyo Kogyo). Karoki became the first runner to clear 28 minutes on the Fukuoka course, clearing the old record by 26 seconds. Makau finished in the lead spot among a tight-knit pack of four followers, outkicking Jakob Wanjuki (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko) for 2nd in 28:50. Tokai University sophomore Akinobu Murasawa, the top non-African at last year's World XC junior race at one of the two most dominant men on this winter's ekiden circuit, did most of the job leading the pack throughout the race but was ultimately 4th in 28:58, beating out the top-ranked pro ekiden runner Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota), a late entry after the cancellation of last week's scheduled Asian XC Championships, by 2 seconds in something of a dream matchup. Karoki now owns the course records in both Chiba and Fukuoka thanks to his pair of performances this month; it's a pity he did not run last week's Kenyan XC Championships to challenge for a spot at next month's Worlds.

In the senior women's 6 km, Chiba course record-setter Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) took the race out hard and had little challenge in taking the field down, winning in 19:09 on her 23rd birthday. Niiya was on course record pace through much of the race but faded on the final lap. Her margin of victory was 19 seconds over runner-up Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku), less convincing than her Chiba blowout but enough to solidify her position as the top current woman in Japan.

Stealing significant thunder from Niiya's win was junior women's 6 km winner Katsuki Suga (Kojokan H.S.). On a streak with a stage record at last month's National Women's Ekiden and a win in the junior Chiba race, Suga started conservatively and gradually built up to take over from Kenyan Susan Wylim (Sera H.S.) on the last lap. Suga finished in 19:10, only one second slower than Niiya's winning time in the senior race and smashish the course record by 27 seconds. With Suga until the final lap of the course, runner-up Tomoka Kimura (Chikuyo Joshi H.S.) was 16 seconds under the old record, finishing in a 19:21 clocking that would have put her 7 seconds ahead of senior race runner-up Shimizu.

The only race to see a change in winner from Chiba was the junior men's 8km, where Kenyan Bernard Waweru (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) frontran his way to the win in 23:11 despite a wrong turn just before the finish. Chiba winner Genki Yagisawa (Nasu Takuyo H.S.) was the only runner to try to go with Waweru but dropped back and was overtaken by a chase pack late in the race. Kenyan Jeremiah Karemi (Toyokawa H.S.) emerged from the pack in the final stretch to take 2nd in 23:31, with Yuki Arimura of 2010 national high school champion Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S., sub-29 high schooler Yuma Hattori (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) and Yagisawa clocking identical times of 23:33 to take the next five spots.

2011 Fukuoka International Cross Country Meet
click here for complete results - scroll to bottom
Senior Men's 10 km
1. Bitan Karoki (Kenya/Team S&B) - 27:52 - CR
2. Nicholas Makau (Kenya/Team Yachiyo Kogyo) - 28:50
3. Jakob Wanjuki (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko) - 28:53
4. Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) - 28:58
5. Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) - 29:00
6. Minoru Ikebe (Team Honda) - 29:07
7. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 29:07
8. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 29:09
9. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Tokai Univ.) - 29:12
10. Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 29:20

Senior Women's 6 km
1. Hitomi Niiya (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 19:09
2. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 19:28
3. Ai Igarashi (Team Sysmex) - 19:36
4. Yuka Kakimi (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 19:40
5. Hiromi Koga (Team Denso) - 19:42
6. Machi Tanaka (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 19:45
7. Korei Omata (Team Sekisui Kagau) - 19:46
8. Kazue Kojima (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 19:47
9. Mariko Nakao (Team Shiseido) - 19:52
10. Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 19:56

Junior Men's 8 km
1. Bernard Waweru (Kenya/Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 23:11
2. Jeremiah Karemi (Kenya/Toyokawa H.S.) - 23:31
3. Yuki Arimura (Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S.) - 23:33
4. Yuma Hattori (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 23:33
5. Genki Yagisawa (Nasu Takuyo H.S.) - 23:33

Junior Women's 6 km
1. Katsuki Suga (Kojokan H.S.) - 19:10 - CR
2. Tomoka Kimura (Chikuyo Joshi H.S.) - 19:21 (CR)
3. Yuriko Kosaki (Narita H.S.) - 19:38
4. Susan Wylim (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 19:38
5. Natsumi Yoshida (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 19:47

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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