by Brett Larner
Along with Kanagawa and Nagano's great course record battle at the East Japan Women's Ekiden in Fukushima, this weekend saw four other significant ekidens around the country. Like the East Japan race, the six-stage, 30 km Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden saw its 27th running. An interesting format with 48 universities, corporate teams and running clubs all competing together, Fukui this year was largely a rematch between this year's national university champion Ritsumeikan University and 2010 champion Bukkyo University. Bukkyo fielded all its key runners, including ace Hikari Yoshimoto, while Ritsumeikan was down its leading pair Risa Takenaka and Hanae Tanaka. After an early lead Bukkyo dropped to 3rd behind Ritsumeikan and Meijo University, but in the second half it worked its way back up to 2nd just 12 seconds behind Ritsumeikan. Anchor Yoshimoto, the 10000 m collegiate record holder, then ran 41 seconds faster than anyone else on the stage to take the lead and the win in 1:36:26, Ritsumeikan taking 2nd in 1:37:11 and Meijo 3rd in 1:38:58. The top corporate team, Sekisui Kagaku, was 4th in 1:39:13 with its best runner Yuko Shimizu running East Japan for her native Nagano instead.
The other ekidens of the weekend were all regional qualifiers for the men's national corporate championships, the New Year Ekiden. Even with top members Yoshinori Oda and Yusuke Takabayashi out with injury, Toyota had little trouble winning the seven-stage, 82.9 km Chubu/Hokuriku Corporate Ekiden Championships as its fourth through seventh runners took stage best honors. Young anchor Chihiro Miyawaki continued his impressive year, breaking the 9-year-old stage record with a new mark of 29:18 for 10.4 km. The top three on the 7.2 km Second Stage, Toyota's John Thuo among them, also went under the record set last year, NTN's Edward Waweru recording the new record time of 20:59. Toyota won in 4:04:28 by a margin of nearly 3 minutes over Toyota Boshoku. YKK was the top team from the Hokuriku region in the race, 5th overall in 4:10:42. All told, six teams from the Chubu region and three from Hokuriku earned places at the New Year Ekiden.
In the foreign runner-free Kansai region, four New Year Ekiden places were up for grabs. With no dominant team in the region the Kansai Corporate Ekiden Championships were hard-fought over the entire seven-stage, 80.45 km course, the lead changing on virutally every stage. Ryo Matsumoto (Team Shikoku Denryoku) had the biggest margin of victory on an individual stage, 24 seconds over the 10.87 km Third Stage and last year's 5000 m national champion Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) picked up a win on the 16.0 km Fifth Stage, day's longest, but no one runner singlehandedly gave his team the win. Sagawa Express took the win in 4:02:16, 61 seconds ahead of NTT Nishi Nihon. Otsuka Seiyaku and Shikoku Denryoku took the remaining two spots, with the Osaka Police Department a surprise 5th in 4:06:49, just over a minute out of a New Year Ekiden appearance.
Four spots were also on the line at the seven-stage, 82.8 km Chugoku Corporate Ekiden Championships, but there was little doubt that the top spot would go to the powerful Chugoku Denryoku team. Chugoku Denryoku's runners took six of the stage best titles, Sixth Stage runner Naoki Okamoto running 52:59, nearly two minutes faster over 17.9 km than his nearest competition in what may have been the most impressive run of the day. Kenyans Joseph Gitau (Team JFE Steel) and Peter Kariuki (Team Mazda) were the only men to beat a Chugoku Denryoku runner, Gitau winning the 8.2 km Second Stage in 23:51. Chugoku Denryoku's final time was 4:07:00, 4:59 up on runner-up JFE Steel.
The last of the regional qualifiers for the New Year Ekiden national championships, the Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Championships, takes place on the Nov. 23 national holiday. Look for Team Asahi Kasei to lead the way over all competition, its men having made up the majority of Miyazaki Prefecture's winning team earlier this month at the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2011 ekiden.
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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