With most of the country's top distance runners taking on 5000 m at Saturday's Golden Games in Nobeoka and a typhoon hitting the second day, the weekend's Nittai Univ. Time Trials meet was relatively low-key. The top result of the meet came in the men's 10000 m, where Nihon University's Yusuke Sato ran a strong solo 28:58.75 to win by nearly 30 seconds. Tomoya Yamaguchi (Team Kanebo) won the men's 5000 m A-heat in 14:04.83 with a well-executed race plan, overtaking Daegu World Championships marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) who surged into a wide lead midway through the race. The men's 5000 m also saw the return to competition of injury-plagued marathoner Arata Fujiwara (Remo System RC), who ran conservatively and advanced through the field from the rear of the pack to finish 13th in 14:17.44. The women's 5000 m A-heat was a match race between Azusa Saito (Niigata Albirex AC) and marathoner Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.). Saito came out ahead in 16:10.45.
Look for my interview with 2:08:37 amateur marathoner and full-time worker Yuki Kawauchi in the September issue of Running Times magazine, available Aug. 9 in time for the Daegu World Championships where Kawauchi will run the marathon.
Pre-typhoon rain couldn't hold back the times at the 2011 Golden Games in Nobeoka meet, May 28 in Noboeka. With a focus on the 5000 m, the meet's top men's heat saw two Japanese men, former middle-distance specialist Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) and Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) break the World Championships B-standard. Watanabe ran a PB of 13:23.15 to win outright over a largely African field and become the all-time 8th-best Japanese man over the distance, while Sato was just off his PB with a 13:25.53 clocking, his best in five years. The Japanese man with the best 10,000 and half-marathon times of 2011, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) also ran a PB of 13:30.30. Just behind him Waseda University sophomore Suguru Osako, the Asian half-marathon jr. area record holder, likewise ran a large PB of 13:31.52 for 8th after a gutsy push to the front at 4000 m. Although none of the Africans in the top ten ran PBs, times were overall fast despite the conditions with Kenyan Edward Waweru (Team NTN) 2nd in 13:24.09 and Ethiopian Alemu Desta (Team Yasukawa Denki) 3rd in 13:24.23.
Five of the eight men's 5000 m heats had winning times under 14 minutes. Outside the top heat, the fastest time came in the first heat, where Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) ran a shocking 32-second PB to win in 13:35.74 over defending 5000 m national champion Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku). Daegu World Championships marathoner Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) took the fourth heat in a PB of 13:53.07, continuing his steady progression of PBs since running 2:09:21 at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon.
The women's 5000 m A-heat was a showdown between the top two Kenyan women currently based in Japan, Ann Karindi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko). Karindi emerged victorious, breaking Chepyego's winning streak by running 15:15.89 to Chepyego's 15:17.75. Karindi's teammate Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), the 1500 m national record holder and fastest Japanese woman over 5000 m in 2010, ran 15:43.61 for 3rd in her first race of the season.
Singaporean medical student and half-marathon national record holder Mok Ying Ren travelled to Japan this weekend to run in the May 28 Tokai University Time Trials meet in Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, with the aim of breaking the old Singaporean men's 5000 m national record of 14:57.61. In rainy conditions Ren succeeded in his goal, patiently following the advice of his training partner Jason Lawrence to start at the back of the field and progressively move up. Ren executed the plan perfectly and easily achieved his mark with a new national record of 14:51.09. "I'm so happy today," Ren said afterwards. "This year we did three 5000 m races. The first one was 15:17, then 15:06, and today 14:51. Jason organized this race in Japan because Japanese [meets] are known to have many heats and many people in one heat and they all run about the same time. So today I hoped to follow when the race started and hoped to catch them one by one, and then hopefully a new Singapore national record. I think it went as planned."
Top-ranked university man Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) led the heat with a solo 14:05.12 before returning shortly afterwards with a 3:53.57 for 1500 m against teammate and 2011 Kanto region 10000 m champion Tsubasa Hayakawa (Tokai Univ.) who won in 3:53.11.
Entries statistics were released May 24 for the first edition of the Kobe Marathon, scheduled for Nov. 20. 77,421 people applied. In terms of the ratio of applicants to available places, in the marathon division 3.7 times the number of people applied, while in the 10.6 km quarter marathon division the number was 5.7 times.
Entries were open from Apr. 15 through May 20. 65,934 people applied for the 18,000 available spots in the marathon, with 52,337 applying as individuals and 13,597 as group entries. 11,487 people applied for the 2000 quarter marathon places. Results of the lottery for places are expected to be announced in late June.
To help support relief efforts in the disaster-hit northeast, organizers created a special "Charity Bib" entry which applicants could select for an extra 500 yen. 51% of those who entered chose the charity bib option. "That's a bigger response than we expected," commented a race official. "I think there are a lot of people who want to do something to help in one way or another."
Emerging from nowhere to win last year's Kanto Regional University T&F Championships men's 5000 m with the memorable words, "I feel like I woke up in someone else's life," Taku Fujimoto (Kokushikan Univ.) did it again, winning a three-way sprint finish against #1-ranked university man Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) and Asian half-marathon jr. area record holder Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) to take his second-straight Kanto 5000 m title on May 22 at Tokyo's National Stadium. Expected competition from rivals Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) and Benjamin Gandu (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) never materialized as Murasawa, who missed a World Championships 10000 m qualifying mark by less than a second at last month's Hyogo Relays, was relentless in pushing the pace through humidity and wind. Osako and Fujimoto, both of whom broke 3:48 for the first time last weekend in the Kanto Regionals 1500 m, sat on his shoulders, steadily applying the pressure. Murasawa tried to get away with a long surge over the final km but, although he managed to hold off Osako, Fujimoto's last kick proved too strong. Fujimoto took the win in 13:49.69 with Murasawa just behind in 13:49.91 and Osako another step back in 13:50.32, reiterating that his surprise win last year was far from a fluke.
The Div. 2 men's 5000 m was also interesting as newcomer Joseph Onsarigo (Kenya/Sozo Gakuen Univ.), coached by Samuel Wanjiru's mentor Stephen Mayaka, outran Takushoku's pair of Kenyan aces John Maina and Duncan Muthee for the win in 13:53.28. First-year Mitsunori Asaoka (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) was the first Japanese finisher, 3rd overall in 14:05.93. Further back, Muthee, the winner of last weekend's Kanto Div. 2 10000 m, battled Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.), who outkicked Maina last weekend for the Kanto Div. 2 1500 m title. The 1500 m champ vs. the 10000 m. champ over 5000 m, and although both relatively underperformed Yufu came out ahead, 6th in 14:13.99.
The half-marathon is one of the events that sets the Kanto Regionals meet apart, ten laps of a difficult, twisting, hilly course through and around the National Stadium run in two sections with starts timed three minutes apart. Conditions this year were flatulently awful, with nearly 30 degree temperatures, high humidity, strong winds and unrelenting sunshine. Times were accordingly among the slowest on record. The lead pack in the Div. 1 group, including two-time defending champion Cosmas Ondiba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and 2009 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Shota Hiraga (Waseda Univ.), set off on course record pace in complete disregard of the conditions, and without exception all of them paid for it.
Eventual winner Hirotaka Tamura (Nihon Univ.) never made an attempt to run among the leaders in the early stages, only advancing to take control in the last quarter of the race. 4th-placer Soichiro Ichikawa (Waseda Univ.), a virtual no-name among the three-deep Waseda squad, likewise held back and advanced late in the race in a brilliant performance that fell just 3 seconds short of earning him the runner-up spot. Ondiba and Hiraga paid for their early speed, finishing only 6th and 7th, while Tamura's brother Yusuke Tamura (Josai Univ.) rounded out the top 8. The Div. 2 heat was more conservative, as a large pack led by last year's winner and Hakone Ekiden Sixth Stage record holder Kenta Chiba (Komazawa Univ.) held together throughout the race, winner Daiki Nomoto (Takushoku Univ.) pulling away from Chiba only in the final km.
In the weekend's other distance events, women's 10000 m champion and first-year student Mai Shinozuka (Chuo Univ.) came back to double with another win in the 5000 m. Kanto university women's distance running is relatively weak compared with the men's competition as most of the top women go to the Kansai region, but with a double title to name less than two months into her university career Shinozuka is someone whose name may be worth filing away.
Jobu University first-year Shun Sato also got attention with a strong breakaway win in the men's Div. 2 3000 m steeplechase, winning in 8:52.95 against more experienced competition. Sato's time would have been good enough to win the far deeped Div. 1 heat, where Kosei Yamaguchi (Josai Univ.) won in 8:53.74.
The corporate regional spring track championships wrapped up this weekend with the East Japan Jitsugyodan T&F Championships in hot, humid and windy Kumagaya, Saitama. The big news at the meet came in the women's 5000 m, where 10000 m junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) emerged from nearly four years of illness and injury to take her first competitive win in memory, running 15:37.50 to beat Kenyan Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.) and World Championships marathon team leader Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). Although still short of a World Championships B-standard, Kinukawa's run was her first time under 15:40 in almost four years and a large step in the right direction ahead of next month's National T&F Championships. After the race Kinukawa, who was a star at Sendai Ikuei H.S. at the same time as the late Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya), told journalist Tatsuo Terada, "I didn't think I was ready to run like this. It's been three or four years of darkness, but I think Samuel was there to give me some of his strength. I'd say the doorway to a comeback opened up about 1 cm. I don't want it to swing back shut, so I'll just keep pushing it open."
Hiroko Shoi (Team Nihon ChemiCon) was strong in the women's 10000 m with a PB of 32:34.00 for the win over the pro debut of university star Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) who was 2nd in 32:50.55. National record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) was 8th in 33:46.70, while marathoner Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) was 11th in 34:00.41.
Apart from Kinukawa and Shoi, Japan-based Africans swept the distance events at the championships. The most interesting race came in the men's 5000 m, where 2008 world jr. XC champion and 2006 world jr. 10000 m champion Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia/Team Honda) had a narrow win over 2010 and 2008 double world jr. 3000 mSC champion Jonathan Ndiku (Kenya/Team Hitachi Cable), 13:25.71 to 13:27.76. Ndiku did chalk up one win, taking the 1500 m in 3:42.28. Long-distance man Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) took 3rd in the 1500 m in a new PB of 3:44.80, afterwards expressing satisfaction as he looks toward the 5000 m for his first World Championships team.
Japanese 10000 m all-comers record holder Josephat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) had a win in the men's 10000 m, 27:39.21 over past Kenyan XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin). Grace Kimanzi (Kenya/Team Starts) rounded out the weekend's results with a successful double in the women's 1500 m and 3000 m.
Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist and national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) talked to reporters at the 55th Kansai Jitsugyodan T&F Championships, held May 13-15 at Tokushima's Pocari Sweat Stadium. Making a comeback from long-term injury at last December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships. she suffered a stress fracture in her left ankle which left her sidelined again. We talked to her about her injury and her timeline for recovery.
How is your leg?
The bone is totally healed and it doesn't hurt at all. Recovery went smoothly, and from the beginning of March I've been back to training seriously. Right now I'm building a base of 20 km runs and am back up to the 1000 km a month level. I'm still feeling on-track for a full comeback.
When do you think you'll be back to racing?
I don't have any solid plans yet but I'd like to try a half-marathon sometime this summer. I don't want to be impatient, so when it's time to work I want to do it seriously and when it's time to back off I want to do that just as seriously. Also in terms of balancing my training and my daily life, I want to keep that on-off pattern. I want to get to the point where after the race I can feel like I ran it well.
You're here in Tokushima Prefecture this time to help raise funds for disaster relief efforts in the northeast.
After the earthquake I wondered what I could do myself to help the victims. I'm grateful that the organizers of the meet helped make it possible for me to be here today to do work toward that end. It's important that all of us, the athletes who are here in the stadium today, participate from the heart. The sooner I make a comeback the sooner I can run from the heart too, and I hope that that will help give inspiration to the people who need it.
In 2004 you ran in the Tokushima Ekiden as an invited athlete. Could you give us a message for all your fans here in Tokushima?
The first time I came to Tokushima was for a training camp in 2001. I've been here at least ten times since then, so for me it's a place full of memories. I'm very disappointed that I wasn't able to run here today but I want to come back and run here again once I'm fully ready.
Mizuki Noguchi - Born in Mie Prefecture, age 32
At the 2005 Berlin Marathon Noguchi set the Japanese and Asian marathon record of 2:19:12, a mark which still makes her the all-time third-fastest woman. Including her gold medal at the Athens Olympics she has won five of her six marathons, her sole loss a silver medal at the 2003 World Championships. She has largely stayed out of the public eye since her injury at December's National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships.
The town of Karolinenhof, Germany will hold a charity run this Sat., May 21 to raise money for two-time Olympic marathon medalist Yuko Arimori's charity Hearts of Gold. Since the Mar. 11 disasters in the northeastern area of Japan, Arimori's group have established the Animo Project to raise funds to help rebuild schools in disaster-hit areas.
I've put together this collection of quotes charting the life, career and environment of the late Samuel Wanjiru over the years by those who knew him and helped make him what he was, including Tsutomu Akiyama, Stephen Mayaka, Koichi Morishita, Takao Watanabe and Wanjiru himself. Wanjiru's achievements made him a great source of pride in Japan, as close as one can come to being considered one of their own.
"Wanjiru arrived in Japan on May 4, 2002. I was the one who went to pick him up. When he came he was only so-so, but even in high school he became strong at 10000 m, and at the half-marathon too. Wanjiru succeeded at the marathon because he was trained in Japan. He would never have been able to do this kind of running if he had stayed in Kenya. Athletes raised in Kenya don’t have the same kind of mental toughness. They come here and they learn discipline, focus, they begin to understand gaman: absolutely do not make a move before 30 km, and the like. From 30 to 35 km everything is going to change, that’s something Wanjiru learned in Japan. He grew up Japanese. In my opinion he has the strength to be running 2:04 for the marathon."
"Some Kenyans who are coming to high school, they are not very competitive. They are not very fast, so they come and they start the system and train very hard and become someone later. Like Wanjiru, when he came he was not strong. He was doing it three years, four years, and then he came to be strong."
"Sammy rocked the running world by running faster than anyone else at the half-marathon distance, faster than any of the stars of our sport, including the veterans in this year’s field. His true test will be the marathon distance. As the youngest in the field, Sammy comes to New York to prove himself against some of the world’s best at the toughest distance.”
Kenyan half-marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru has been forced to withdraw from his planned full marathon debut at next month`s ING New York City Marathon. As a member of Toyota Kyushu`s jitsugyodan running team, Wanjiru is required to be physically present in Japan for at least 180 days per year. Wanjiru has only 10 days` leave time left and will expend this allowance at the World Road Running Championships in Udine, Italy next week. Toyota Kyushu coach Koichi Morishita stated that Wanjiru has not trained specifically for a marathon at this time and that Toyota Kyushu requires him instead to focus on preparations for the national corporate ekiden championships on Jan. 1, 2008.
"This will be the foundation. I want to run the marathon in the Olympics and so I want to take a good first step toward making that a reality. This time I only plan to win in a 2:06. With the experience I gain in Fukuoka I will go much harder next time. I want to race with the patience of a Japanese runner."
Wanjiru at the Fukuoka '07 pre-race press conference. Photo courtesy of Dr. Helmut Winter.
On the 12.5 km fourth stage Samuel Wanjiru put on a stunning display of front running at the Kyushu Jitsugyodan Ekiden. Taking the lead after 4 km, Wanjiru became the first person to break 35 minutes on the stage. Wanjiru ran 34:40 to set the new stage record. Wanjiru will make his full marathon debut at the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 2. "My body felt great and I had a lot of fun. This was good speed practice," he smiled.
"I`m much more tired than yesterday. Ekidens and half-marathons leave me saying, `I`m beat,` but my whole body is sore now. I want to take a break for a while, you know? It`s been a great year. Next year I will top it with an Olympic medal."
"Sam is a real professional runner. He is a good role model for the other team members. He can set a world record in the marathon, but I would like to emphasize winning over fast times. I like to coach a winner. Sam never gives up during the race. Such a characteristic is important for the marathon. If Sam is going to run a spring marathon, he has to start the marathon training before he fully recovers from his last marathon and he could be exhausted by the spring. Instead, I am thinking of him running his next marathon in the fall. He ought to run two more marathons as an experience, and then go for the fast time in his fourth or fifth marathon."
"Morishita had a brilliant marathon career, having won his first two marathons before finishing second in the Olympics, but his career was cut short and he never ran another marathon after the Olympics because of a series of injuries. Perhaps, learning from his experience, Morishita is planning a long and fruitful marathon career for his star pupil." Nakamura, for the IAAF, Dec. 16, 2007
"I have no regret in running for a corporate track team. I enjoy passing runners in ekidens."
"In the case of Philes Ongori there's an agent involved, so it's complicated. I think Philes would have made more money and had a better, more stable career if she hadstayed here, but this agent probably told her, “You're good enough to win Boston. Think of how much money you could make if you win there.” Once an athlete hears that, it's all that's going to be on their minds. I think the agent was fleecing her, but she's old enough to make her own decisions and nobody can say whether it was the right move or not. In five years she’ll know if she made the right decision, but until then there's no way to know. The agent problem is a difficult one. A lot of them are Italians. You wouldn’t believe what the Italian agents are like. When it comes to the World Championships and Olympics, when the Kenyan federation is selecting the team, if an athlete isn't dealing with a federation-approved agent who is there to push the athlete's name to the federation…People like [David] Okeyo, the #2 man in the Kenyan federation, are the ones who make the decisions. The agents who have direct access to him will get their athletes on the national teams. I think this is one area where you can easily see the potential for some abuses. In this area I think foreign agents are intrusive and deceptive. I believe the athletes would be better off remaining with a stable Japanese team."
On July 28, Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu of Fukuoka Prefecture received a letter of resignation from its star runner, Kenyan Olympic marathon team member and half-marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru, 21. The letter was sent by a Tokyo law office and stated that Wanjiru would be resigning "for personal reasons." Wanjiru has been training in Kenya separately from the team since mid-July. Representatives from Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu commented, "We have to confirm that this letter was actually sent by Wanjiru and that this is really his intention."
"We don't think he has moved to another company, but since this happened shortly before the Olympics we don't want to disturb Wanjiru and haven't made any attempt to contact him. When he comes back to Japan we expect to settle the matter."
"Up until the day before the Olympic marathon I hadn't decided whether to go fast or hold back a bit and run a little conservatively. However the first half went, I wasn't sure what would happen in the second half and I was afraid of it. I couldn't sleep well at all the night before the race, and I discovered that I had forgotten my race shoes in Kenya. I had to run the race in my warmup shoes, but it was OK because they were marathon shoes too. Looking back now, I think I had a lot on my mind and was pretty nervous, but as soon as I started I forgot about it all. The only thing I thought was, 'Who cares, let's go!' I'm not the type of guy who runs behind someone else. I was going to run up front no matter what the pace was."
"Samuel Wanjiru. He's a boxer. He runs like a boxer. I feel the way he approaches a race is like a prizefighter. When he races, he's in control. He makes a move -- he's the one making the move. Everybody else is responding to that. When he attacks it's like he's going for the knockout punch. As an athlete, I really appreciate watching that. I understand what it means."
Fukuoka-based Toyota Jidosha Kyushu has formally accepted the resignation from its professional running team of Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya. Head coach Koichi Morishita spoke to Wanjiru by telephone to confirm the gold medalist's intention to leave the company and accepted his decision on behalf of Toyota Jidosha Kyushu.
Meiji Seika Chief of Operations Ryoji Kono with Samuel Wanjiru in Tokyo Nov. 28, 2008.
On Nov. 28, Savas sports supplement maker Meiji Seika and Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya held a promotional event to formally kick off the company's sponsorship agreement. Wanjiru debuted the new Savas uniform he will wear in competition and announced plans to appear in TV commercials. The company would also pay Wanjiru $3 million over the lifetime of the deal.
"People can say, 'He's going to break the world record,' and people can say he's not. I think time is needed. He should take time and consider if he wants it. But it becomes difficult. You might feel, 'I'm going to break the world record,' but you can't. The weather might be bad, you might have troubles in your stomach, but one day it will be. But that's not something that you have to promise."
On Dec. 1 the Meiji Seika corporation announced that on Nov. 30 it had terminated its sponsorship of Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (23). In November last year Wanjiru signed a lucrative one-year contract with Meiji Seika to endorse the Savas sports supplement, but this year the company declined to renew the contract. A spokesperson for Meiji Seika cited "a change in our marketing plans" in explaining the move. The company is also cancelling the official team registration of its Team Sam.
"He was not paid. That man was not honest, going around saying he could get Wanjiru for races, and that caused many problems. He told the Sapporo Half that Wanjiru would run, but he never asked Wanjiru."
"Wanjiru has long since gone back to Kenya, now. He’s strong enough that he knows he can run and win and that the money is going to come in. How much does he get for winning, $100,000 something? More if there’s a course record. Looking at him, you know he is getting even more for just showing up. He ran for Toyota Kyushu for a long time and then just left suddenly and said he wasn’t going to do it anymore. He won the Olympics, so wherever he goes he's going to get first-class treatment. Whatever he wants. For Wanjiru, he won Fukuoka, he won Beijing, whatever marathon he runs he's not going to lose. That's going to mean a lot of money. I saw him in Nairobi recently and he said, 'Oh, Mr. Akiyama, dinner’s my treat tonight.' That's the kind of rich man he is now. When he was here he had a good salary, but not that much if you compare to what he gets now. In one marathon now he can make a year’s salary if he wins and you add up his prize money and his appearance fee.
But not all Kenyans can do that. When Kennedy Manyisa went back to visit in Kenya people were approaching him about running Boston, telling him he could get $150,000 and a Mercedes if he won. But he never got it. The very top people in Kenya had deceived him by talking about the money he could make. It’s still the same way now. 'Hey, leave Japan, you should come back home and work from here.' But when they do they find that their wife has left and taken everything with her while they were in Japan. There’s nothing left. That's pretty much the way it goes, you know?"
"After the Beijing Olympics I got phone calls from Wanjiru several times. He said, 'I want to come to Japan again,' and he sounded good. Just this past December he called me and said, 'I want to come back.' I think he wanted to get away to somewhere he could settle down and concentrate on his training. He was the moodmaker of the Toyota Kyushu corporate team, and by doing it himself he showed us how to train to win an Olympic gold medal. He learned gaman in Japan, and we all expected him to do well at the London Olympics. It is truly a great loss. Even though faster runners have come up recently, even now I think he was the best there is. He had both power and a sense of tactics. He still had so much more to do. It is a great waste."
"When he was a senior he was part of our 2004 team that set the National High School Ekiden record of 2:01:32. I always thought, 'Samuel is going to break that time some day.' He was a friendly young man, with a personality like a Japanese person. The Wanjiru I knew was very honest, hard-working and loyal, the one who won an Olympic medal. My strongest memory of Wanjiru is that on the very first day he came to training at Sendai Ikuei he said he was going to become an Olympic medalist. Among all the students I have coached he was the most shocking, the one who made the biggest impact on me. It is devastating, I am utterly empty, angry and grieving. I don't know why he had to die. I am suffering because I don't know how to understand this."
The bulk of the regional university championship track meets took place the weekend of May 14-15, including Tokyo's highly competitive Kanto Regional University T&F Championships. The most noteworthy result of the weekend, however, came at the small Chugoku-Shikoku Regionals, where first-year Aya Takayanagi (Matsuyama Univ.) set a new national junior and national collegiate record in the women's 3000 mSC. Takayanagi, coached by Keiichi Murai, the husband of two-time World Championships marathon medalist Reiko Tosa, ran 10:21.41 to set the pair of new marks, and excellent start to her university career.
The Kanto region is the site of the toughest men's racing in Japan, and the 10000 m is always the highlight of the meet. This year did not disappoint as junior Tsubasa Hayakawa (Tokai Univ.) overcame strong winds to beat defending champion Benjamin Gandu (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) for the win in a PB of 28:41.26 in the Div. 1 race. Hayakawa ran a patient race, ignoring a mid-race surge by Gandu and gradually pulling him back before running away with a long push over the last km. Senior Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) was 3rd, with six of the top ten setting PB marks despite the conditions.
The Div. 2 race came down to a three-way battle between Takushoku Univ. second-years Duncan Muthee and John Maina and newcomer Joseph Onsarigo (Sozo Gakuen Univ.), a first-year coached by Stephen Mayaka. Although both Muthee and Maina have broken 28 minutes, Onsarigo was aggressive in attacking the pair and ultimately lost out by only 0.03 seconds as Muthee took the win in 28:52.42. Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa Univ.) was the top Japanese runner, 4th in 29:04.62.
In the women's 10000 m, first-year Mai Shinozuka (Chuo Univ.) had an outstanding debut as she took the win in 33:57.83, the only woman under 34 minutes. Shinozuka outkicked pre-race favorite Miki Yamada (Josai Univ.) by 11 seconds after the pair ran much of the race together.
The 1500 m at Kanto has seen a trend in recent years of more and more long-distance men moving down for the spring season. Stars of the Hakone Ekiden, where university run roughly a half-marathon distance, won both the Div. 1 and Div. 2 races over the true middle-distance runners. Hakone champion Waseda University's Yuki Yagi and Tatsuro Okazaki went 1-2 in the very slow Div. 1 final, Kokushikan University ekiden ace Taku Fujimoto 3rd. While the final was slow, the Div. 1 Heat 3 saw the top five, including Fujimoto and Asian half-marathon jr. area record holder Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) set PBs under 3:48. This means that all five qualified for the 1500 m at next month's National Track & Field Championships and may choose to line up in the 1500 m there.
The Div. 2 1500 m final was one of the best races of the meet, a duel between two more Hakone big names. Second-year John Maina (Takushoku Univ.) led throughout, tailed by fellow second-year Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa). Maina eventually opened a large gap and Yufu was overtaken by little-known Yusuke Umeki (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) with 200 m to go, but entering the home straight Yufu summoned up a superb kick to pass both competitors and claim the win. Chikako Mori (Daito Bunka) took the win in the women's 1500 m.
The Kanto Regionals continue next weekend with the men and women's 5000 m, the men's half-marathon, and the men's 4 x 100 m relay featuring 2010 World Jr. 200 m champion Shota Iizuka (Chuo Univ.).
While Kanto is the center of university men's running, the Kansai region is similarly a hub for collegiate women's distance running. While most of #1-ranked Bukkyo University's best sat the meet out, Ritsumeikan University leader Hanae Tanaka dominated, taking both the 5000 m and 10000 m in strong times of 15:57.43 and 33:06.75. Sayuri Oka (Osaka Taiku Univ.) took the runner-up spot in both races, while Ritsumeikan's outstanding Risa Takenaka could do no better than 3rd in the 5000 m in her first main race back from injury.
Chugoku-Shikoku Regional University T&F Championships
On the second of three consecutive weekends of regional corporate track championships, 2011 World XC Championships runner-up Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) had the biggest run in the country. He and Ethiopian Alemu Desta (Team Yasukawa Denki) set out in the Kyushu Jitsugyodan Championships 10000 m at a blazing 2:36 for the first km, well under world record pace. The pair held to sub-27 minute pace through 6000 m, Desta burning up but Tanui pushing on to a 27:18.58 meet record, just a second off his PB and the 2nd-fastest time in the world so far this year. With Tanui's mark the top four men worldwide for 10000 m are currently all Japan-based Kenyans. His teammate Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) had the fastest 5000 m of the weekend in Japan, taking the Kyushu Jitsugyodan women's 5000 m in 15:46.69.
The Hokuriku Jitsugyodan Championships, traditionally the weakest of the major corporate league regions, had the next-strongest performances, with meet records in the men's 10000 m and women's 5000 m thanks to a 28:09.99 by Alex Mwangi (Kenya/Team YKK) and a 16:25.71 by Manami Murayama (Niigata Albirex RC).
Among the members of the Japanese marathon teams for this summer's Daegu World Championships, Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) were both off their recent 10000 m PBs, Horibata just breaking 29 minutes. Women's team member Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was only 5th in the 5000 m but finished 2nd in the 10000 m behind the leading Japanese women's half-marathoner of 2010, Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera). Miyauchi's 32:40.14 was the fastest women's 10000 m of the weekend.
Also noteworthy was the return to competition of half-marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku), who clocked 29:34.76 for 10000 m at the Chugoku regional meet in his first race since finishing 3rd at the 2010 Tokyo Marathon. The regional corporate meets wrap up next weekend with the Kanto Jitsugyodan Championships.