by Brett Larner
In its fifth year with a mixed men and women team format, the 2011 International Chiba Ekiden was one of the better editions in recent memory. All three Kenyan men won their stages, with Patrick Mutunga Mwikya and Edwin Nyandusi Mokua setting stage records, while all three Japanese women won theirs including a stage record from anchor Hitomi Niiya, making for a tense race with lead changes on almost every stage. Kenya came out 19 seconds ahead of the Japanese team for the win in 2:04:40 as both broke the old course record. The defending champion, the Japanese University Select Team, was far back in 3rd in 2:07:26 after spending most the race battling 4th placer Russia. The United States and Australia also had a good duel throughout the ekiden, American men Robert Cheseret and Bobby Mack making the top three on their stages and Australian women Lisa Corrigan and Emily Brichacek doing likewise. Mack drew camera time when he passed Australia's Stephen Dinneen halfway through the 10 km Fifth Stage to put the U.S. into 5th ahead of Australia, where they stayed until the end.
After Japan's Yuichiro Ueno and the Japanese University team's Suguru Osako took the race out on the 5.0 km First Stage, Kenyan Thomas Pkemei Longosiwa came on strong to take the lead after 2 km. Both Osako and Ueno faded, overtaken by Russian Egor Nikolaev and American Robert Cheseret to set up the initial running order heading into the 5.0 km Second Stage, the first of the three women's stages. 2011 corporate women's 10000 m national champ Kasumi Nishihara took things in stride to put Japan into the lead by a comfortable margin, just missing the course record as she clocked a strong 15:17. Her university-era rival Risa Takenaka was next, running the second-best time on the stage to move the University team up to 2nd. Russia's Elizaveta Grechishinikova came through in 3rd as Kenya fell to 4th and the U.S.A. to 5th.
Summers in Vibrams. Click photo to enlarge.
2011 World Youth 3000 m silver medalist and World XC Jr. bronze medalist Mwika turned things around for Kenya with a 28:08 record for the 10.0 km Third Stage, taking the lead from 2010 national 10000 m champion Kensuke Takezawa with less than 2 km to go. Russia's Evgeny Rybakov held on to 3rd, outkicking the University team's Shinobu Kubota in the final km. Australian Harry Summers had a good run to pass American Christo Landry and put the Aussies into 5th with a solid 28:59, apparently while wearing trendy minimalist Vibram Five Fingers shoes. Things see-sawed again on the 5.0 km Fourth Stage as 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi ran down Kenyan Pauline Njeri Kahenya and retook the lead. 10000 m collegiate national record holder Hikari Yoshimoto nearly did the same, running the second-best time on the stage to overtake Russia for 3rd and falling 3 seconds short of catching Kenya. Russia slipped back to 4th, while the U.S. made up a small bit of ground on 5th-place Australia.
Most of the day's best action came on the 10.0 km Fifth Stage. Meiji University senior Tetsuya Yoroizaka, who ran 27:44.30 to break Takezawa's collegiate 10000 m record this summer in the U.K. and followed up with a 13:29.11 PB for 5000 m, ran a strong 28:47 to take another of Takezawa's records, the fastest mark by a Japanese man on Chiba's Fifth Stage. Unfortunately for him Kenya's Mokua was in another league, destroying the stage record with a 27:43, very impressive considering the two major hills in the second half of the stage. Mokua put Kenya 35 seconds ahead by stage's end, a comfortable lead but not enough for a guaranteed win. Ekiden specialist Takehiro Deki of the University team had something of an off day, only fifth-best on the stage but outrunning Russian Anatoly Rybakov in a sprint finish to hang on to 3rd. Further back, American Mack ran an outstanding 28:55 to retake 5th from the Australians and open a margin of 57 seconds over them.
Kenya's anchor Pamela Chesopich Lisoreng started the 7.195 km Sixth Stage with a margin of 35 seconds over Japan's Hitomi Niiya, winner of the 2007 Tokyo Marathon at age 18 and holder of a 5000 m PB 43 seconds faster than Lisoreng's. Lisoreng ran steadily without straining as Niiya drew closer and closer, but looking back at a sharp turn with 800 m to go and seeing Niiya just 10 seconds back Lisoreng turned it on to bring Kenya in to the win in 2:04:40. Niiya's best effort came up short but she was rewarded with a new stage record of 22:36 and likewise brought Japan in to a course record-breaking time of 2:04:59. The Kenyan team was animated and enthusiastic post-victory, with Lisoreng graciously thanking the Japanese team for a good race. Niiya surprised many by saying that contrary to expectations she is not currently targeting the marathon for the London Olympics.
Further back, University anchor Sayo Nomura had little trouble dropping Russian Natalia Popkova to secure 3rd. Australia's Brichacek ran the third-best time on the anchor stage but could only pick up 7 seconds on American Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, leaving the Americans to take 5th by a margin of 50 seconds. Hosts Chiba were 7th nearly two minutes behind Australia.
2011 International Chiba Ekiden
six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results
1. Kenya - 2:04:40 - CR
2. Japan - 2:04:59 (CR)
3. Japanese University Select Team - 2:07:26
4. Russia - 2:07:56
5. U.S.A. - 2:09:06
6. Australia - 2:09:56
7. Chiba Prefecture - 2:11:55
8. Poland - 2:12:53
9. Romania - 2:13:39
10. Canada - 2:13:52
11. New Zealand - 2:14:37
12. Czech Republic - 2:16:33
Top Individual Performances
1st Stage (5.0 km, men)
1. Thomas Pkemei Longosiwa (KEN) - 13:36
2. Egor Nikolaev (RUS) - 13:38
3. Robert Cheseret (U.S.A.) - 13:38
2nd Stage (5.0 km, women)
1. Kasumi Nishihara (JPN) - 15:17
2. Risa Takenaka (UNIV) - 15:36
3. Lisa Corrigan (AUS) - 15:48
3rd Stage (10.0 km, men)
1. Patrick Mutunga Mwikya (KEN) - 28:08 - CR
2. Evgeny Rybakov (RUS) - 28:42
3. Kensuke Takezawa (JPN) - 28:53
4th Stage (5.0 km, women)
1. Yuriko Kobayashi (JPN) - 15:46
2. Hikari Yoshimoto (UNIV) - 15:49
3. Elena Korobkina (RUS) - 16:21
5th Stage (10.0 km, men)
1. Edwin Nyandusi Mokua (KEN) - 27:43 - CR
2. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (JPN) - 28:47
3. Bobby Mack (U.S.A.) - 28:55
6th Stage (7.195 km, women)
1. Hitomi Niiya (JPN) - 22:36 - CR
2. Pamela Chesopich Lisoreng (KEN) - 22:52
3. Emily Brichacek (AUS) - 23:46
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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