by Brett Larner
The East Japan regional qualifiers for December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships and the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden men's national corporate championships took place Nov. 3 in Saitama, northwest of Tokyo. Run in perfect conditions, there were new records on five of the seven men's stages and four of the six women's stages with the winning men's team just three seconds off the overall course record.
27:38 man Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) set the tone for the day, taking 52 seconds off the record for the 11.6 km first stage and winning by a margin of 36 seconds after leading wire to wire. The entire field was aggressive, with the top nine all clearing the old stage record of 33:52. 27:41 man Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) nearly closed the gap on the 15.3 km second stage, coming within 10 seconds of leader Hiroyuki Ono (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and breaking his own stage record by 21 seconds.
Much of the anticipation for the men's race was reserved for the 9.2 km third stage, where 10000 m world champion and stage record holder Ibrahim Jeilan of defending champion Team Honda made a return to the roads to face many of the best Japan-based Africans. Past Kenyan national XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) started with a 10-second lead over Sendai Ikuei H.S. grad Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta) but lost ground and was overtaken by 5 km. Kuira went on to open a margin of 12 seconds over Ngatuny, but both lost out on stage time to sub-27 man Josephat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.) who took 32 seconds off Jeilan's record after opening with an incredible 2:30 first km. Jeilan himself beat his own course record by 3 seconds but finished only 4th on the stage on time behind a Kenyan sweep of Ndambiri, Kuira and Ngatuny. Altogether six runners broke or tied Jeilan's old mark.
The 9.9 km fourth stage was arguably the race's most aggressive, as the top ten men all broke the old stage record. Kosaku Hoshina (Team Nissin Shokuhin) re-closed the gap to leader Yuko Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and the pair finished the stage almost together, but both were outrun on time by ace Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo), who established a new record of 28:43. Team Tepco refugee Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin), who joined Nissin late in the spring after Tepco's athletes were ordered to report to Fukushima to help with cleanup efforts related to March's disasters, broke the race back open by gapping Konica Minolta's Takuya Noguchi by 45 seconds over only 7.4 km, taking 6 seconds off the record in the process.
Nissin's remaining two runners Manabu Itayama and Kenichi Jiromaru held on in journeymanlike fashion to give the team the win in 3:44:56, just 3 seconds off the overall course record but 57 seconds up on rival Konica Minolta. Kanebo was 3rd another 50 seconds back on the strength of Kihara's stage record and a stage best by Yuki Nakamura on the sixth stage. Defending champion Honda started off poorly but advanced throughout the race and ended up a decent 4th thanks to a stage best by anchor Masakazu Fujiwara, the 2010 Tokyo Marathon winner.
The women's race was expected to be a blowout by defending champion Daiichi Seimei, but strong showings but a number of relatively unknown rookies kept the race dynamic and unpredictable. First-year pro Yurie Doi (Team Starts), who took a minute off her 5000 m PB earlier this season, took down all comers on the 6.795 km first stage, setting up Kenyan teammate Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) for a 9:28 stage record on the 3.4 km second stage. Two other runners also went under the old record for the stage.
Starts' third runner Yuka Tokuda went 2 seconds under the record on the 12.2 km third stage, the women's ekiden's longest, but finished only 4th on time as she was run down by Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) and Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) and fell to 3rd place. Further back, corporate track champ Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) was 3rd on time behind Katsumata and Shimizu in her pro ekiden debut. 2010 Nagoya International Women's Marathon winner Yuri Kano (Team Shiseido) had a failed debut in her return to Shiseido after leaving longtime coach Manabu Kawagoe at the end of the summer, finishing 10th of 12 on the stage.
The short 3.8 km fourth stage saw the biggest surprise of the day, as unknown Miku Yamamoto (Team Sekisui Kagaku) broke Kenyan Doricah Obare's stage record by 1 second to put Sekisui 16 seconds ahead of Daiichi Seimei. Fifth stage Sekisui runner Korei Omata widened the lead to 33 seconds, leaving it up to anchor Sayuri Baba to hold off Daiichi Seimei's star, 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki for 6.3 km in order to score Sekisui's first win since 1998 when it counted the great Naoko Takahashi among its members. Baba ran credibly well, finishing 4th on time, but Ozaki was relentless in her pursuit and ran down Baba with only 100 m to go, taking the win by 3 seconds and cracking the stage record by 12 seconds. Her performance spoke well of her condition ahead of this month's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, where she will attempt to secure a place on the Japanese team for the London Olympics. Another leading contender for the London women's team, Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) finished 2nd on time on the anchor stage to move Hokuren up from 9th to 6th.
2011 East Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden Championships
Saitama, Nov. 3, 2011
Men - seven stages, 77.5 km
click here for complete men's results
Stage Best Results
First Stage (11.6 km) - Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 33:00 - CR
Second Stage (15.3 km) - Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 44:28 - CR
Third Stage (9.2 km) - Josephat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - 25:20 - CR
Fourth Stage (9.9 km) - Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo) - 28:43 - CR
Fifth Stage (7.4 km) - Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 21:19 - CR
Sixth Stage (10.6 km) - Yuki Nakamura (Team Kanebo) - 30:41
Seventh Stage (13.5 km) - Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 39:31
Top Team Performances - top 13 qualify for New Year Ekiden national championships
1. Nissin Shokuhin - 3:44:56
2. Konica Minolta - 3:45:53
3. Kanebo - 3:46:43
4. Honda - 3:47:19
5. Fujitsu - 3:47:53
6. Yakult - 3:48:25
7. JR Higashi Nihon - 3:48:49
8. Komori Corp. - 3:49:10
9. Subaru - 3:49:26
10. Hitachi Cable - 3:51:23
11. SDF Academy - 3:54:34
12. Tokyo Police - 3:54:52
13. Press Kogyo - 3:56:36
Women - six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete women's results
Stage Best Results
First Stage (6.795 km) - Yurie Doi (Team Starts) - 21:44
Second Stage (3.1 km) - Grace Kimanzi (Kenya/Team Starts) - 9:28 - CR
Third Stage (12.2 km) - Misaki Katsumata (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 39:07 - CR
Fourth Stage (3.8 km) - Miku Yamamoto (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 11:58 - CR
Fifth Stage (10.0 km) - Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) - 32:49
Sixth Stage (6.3 km) - Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:41 - CR
Top Team Performances - all teams under 2:30:00 qualify for national championships
1. Daiichi Seimei - 2:17:21
2. Sekisui Kagaku - 2:17:24
3. Universal Entertainment - 2:17:56
4. Panasonic - 2:18:07
5. Starts - 2:19:00
6. Hokuren - 2:19:51
7. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo - 2:20:12
8. Shiseido - 2:20:17
9. Nihon ChemiCon - 2:20:25
10. Yamada Denki - 2:21:21
11. Shimamura - 2:21:32
12. Hitachi - 2:23:49
(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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