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Sendai Ikuei H.S., Toyota Jidoshokki, Chugoku Denryoku Dominate Regional Ekidens

by Brett Larner

The local titans dominated three significant regional ekidens over the weekend.  In disaster-hit Miyagi, Sendai Ikuei H.S., alma mater of the late Samuel Wanjiru and 5000 m national champion Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno), had superb runs in both the boys' and girls' races to sweep the National High School Ekiden Championships Miyagi Prefecture Qualifier.  Running on a modified course due to lasting tsunami damage, Sendai Ikuei runners won every stage in both the six-stage, 42.1 km boys' race and five-stage, 21 km girls' race.  Particularly dominant boys included the Hattori twins, Yuma and Hazuma, who won the 8.1 km Third Stage and 8 km Fourth Stage by margins of 2:18 and 1:38, Kenyan first-year Hiram Ngatia, who won the 5 km Sixth Stage by 1:11 in his ekiden debut, and anchor Tadashi Isshiki who clocked 13:55 for the 5 km road course to win by over one minute.  The boys' team totalled 2:02:17 versus second-place Rifu H.S.' 2:10:36, putting them in range of a shot at Sendai Ikuei's Wanjiru-era course record at December's Nationals.

The Sendai Ikuei girls' team likewise mopped the roads with their competition, winning in 1:05:32 over runner-up Tokiwagi H.S.' 1:11:00.  The best performances came from 4 km Second Stage runner Michi Horikawa, who won by a margin of 1:10, and Kenyan anchor Mary Waithira who ran a sensational 15:00 for the 5 km Fifth Stage, 2:30 faster than the next-best on the stage.

Having relocated to Aichi prefecture from their longtime base in Chiba following March's disasters, Team Toyota Jidoshokki nearly rewrote the record books at the Central Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden in Gifu, the regional qualifier for December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden.  Five of the team's six women tied or set new course records, including the team debut of 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi who had been banned from competing in official corporate-league competition after she entered a university shortly following her signing to the team.  The lone team member not to hit a record, Kenyan Ann Karindi, nevertheless won the 4.2 km Second Stage, beating Ethiopian rival Betelhem Moges (Team Denso) in the process.  Toyota Jidoshokki ran 2:16:50 for the 42.195 km course, a new record, with Denso far behind in 2:21:11.  Rather than a fixed number of teams, any team that broke 2:30 would qualify for Nationals.  With last-place Team Kojima Press clocking 2:29:24 all six teams from the Central Japan race will face each other again at the National Championships.

Defending champion Team Chugoku Denryoku had a bit of a scare after its first two runners, Yasuhiro Tago and Tomonori Ikebuchi, were beaten at the Hiroshima Prefecture Jitsugyodan Ekiden, but with its next four runners winning their stages the team was successful in picking up another title.  Naoki Okamoto ran 19:01 to set a new record on the 6.6 km Fourth Stage, with anchor Hiroki Tanaka likewise marking a new record of 16:21 for the 5.69 km leg.  Chugoku Denryoku won the 45.62 km race in 2:14:58, 59 seconds up on early leader Team JFE Steel.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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