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Niiya 15:17.84 PB After Being Fired From Toyota Jidoshokki Corporate Team

by Brett Larner

As track season rolled on with the Oda Memorial Meet in Hiroshima and the Nobeoka Spring Time Trials Meet in Nobeoka on April 29, the biggest news came in the Oda women's 5000 m. Kenyan ace Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko), the 2001 World Junior Championships gold medalist over 3000 m, set her third PB of the month with a new clocking of 15:13.09, a meet record. Just behind her and also under the hold meet record, Hitomi Niiya, the 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner at age 18, came in with a 6-second PB of 15:17.84, 0.02 seconds faster than national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's best time of 2010 and the leading time by a Japanese woman thus far in the build-up to August's World Championships. What made Niiya's run big news was that she appeared running for Chiba Prefecture rather than for her sponsor since graduating from high school, 2008 national champion Team Toyota Jidoshokki.

Late last month Toyota Jidoshokki announced that it was leaving its base in Chiba and head coach Yoshio Koide, who coached Naoko Takahashi to an Olympic marathon gold medal and the first-ever sub-2:20 marathon by a woman, to relocate westward to Aichi Prefecture. Although the team website still lists Niiya on its roster as of this writing, she raised eyebrows by appearing at the meet registered with the Chiba Prefectural T&F Assoc. and running wearing a Chiba singlet. Following her outstanding run Niiya, who earlier this season won both the Chiba and Fukuoka XC meets and was the top Japanese woman at the World XC Championships a week after living firsthand through the Tohoku earthquake, confirmed that she is no longer running for the team. She told the Asahi newspaper, "I wanted to follow my own direction, so they fired me." Whether she moves over to the Chiba-based and Koide-coached Team Universal Entertainment remains to be seen, but for the time being at least Niiya joins the likes of Yuki Kawauchi and Arata Fujiwara as top-ranked runners going their own way outside the corporate team system.

In high school Niiya was the star runner for Kojokan H.S. Since then Kojokan produced Mahiro Akamatsu, who looks poised to become one of the big names on the university scene. Kojokan's latest prodigy, Katsuki Suga, dominated yet another race with a 9:16.54 meet record in the junior women's 3000 m. In the men's 5000 m at the Oda Memorial Meet, Kenyan high schooler Charles Ndirangu (Sera H.S.) dispatched all comers to win in 13:31.21. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) beat Nicholas Makau (Kenya/Team Yachiyo Kogyo) by a step for 2nd in 13:40.24, while sophomore Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) ran his second 5000 m PB of the month with a 13:42.09 clocking to take 4th and a likely spot on the Japanese team for this summer's World University Games. Teammate Wataru Ueno (Komazawa Univ.) was not far behind in a PB of 13:47.04. Shiho Takechi (Meijo Univ.) ran 15:56.16 to win the women's World University Games 5000 m selection race over Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ.).

Further south in Nobeoka, the A-heat of the Nobeoka Spring Time Trials meet men's 5000 m was unexpectedly fast as Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei), sophomore Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and little-known Ryo Kiname (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) battled it out for the top spot with all three rewarded with PBs. Deguchi came out ahead in 13:42.23 with Shitara running 13:44.31, 3 seconds faster than the 2nd university finisher at the Oda Memorial Meet. Kiname was 3rd in 13:44.70, a 10-second PB.

2011 Oda Memorial Meet
Women's Grand Prix 5000 m
1. Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - 15:13.09 - PB, MR
2. Hitomi Niiya (Chiba Pref.) - 15:17.84 - PB (MR)
3. Susan Wylim (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 15:40.30 - PB
4. Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) - 15:41.44 - PB
5. Ai Igarashi (Team Sysmex) - 15:47.62
6. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 15:55.64
7. Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.) - 16:00.79
8. Yuko Watanabe (Team Edion) - 16:07.12
9. Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 16:10.43
10. Yoko Aizu (Team Shikoku Denryoku) - 16:16.67

Men's World University Games Selection 5000 m
1. Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 13:31.21 - PB
2. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 13:40.24 - PB
3. Nicholas Makau (Kenya/Team Yachiyo Kogyo) - 13:40.32
4. Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:42.09 - PB
5. Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 13:43.87 - PB
6. Wataru Ueno (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:47.04 - PB
7. Masato Kikuchi (Meiji Univ.) - 13:50.57
8. Yasuhito Ikeda (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) - 13:52.56 - PB
9. Yo Yazawa (Waseda Univ.) - 13:54.42
10. Hironori Arai (Team Chudenko) - 13:56.70

Women's World University Games Selection 5000 m
1. Shiho Takechi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:56.16 - PB
2. Mai Ishibashi (Bukkyo Univ.) - 15:58.11
3. Sayo Nomura (Meijo Univ.) - 16:05.68
4. Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.) - 16:09.77
5. Hanae Tanaka (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 16:16.02

Junior Women's 3000 m
1. Katsuki Suga (Kojokan H.S.) - 9:16.54 - MR
2. Nanako Kanno (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 9:19.96 - PB
3. Miyuki Oka (Kojokan H.S.) - 9:20.28
4. Yuki Maekawa (Tottori Chuo H.S.) - 9:29.04
5. Ayana Takeuchi (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 9:30.47

Nobeoka Spring Time Trials
Men's 5000 m - Heat 4
1. Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 13:42.23 - PB
2. Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 13:44.31 - PB
3. Ryo Kiname (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 13:44.70 - PB
4. Tomoaki Bungo (Team Asahi Kasei) - 13:56.00
5. Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 13:57.24

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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