Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Serod Batochir, Youngjun Ji, Yuki Kawauchi Headline Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Field (updated)

by Brett Larner

On Nov. 28 the organziers of the 2011 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, the last elite marathon of the year, announced the lineup of this year's invited athlete field.  One of the most competitive editions in Hofu history, the field includes 2010 Asian Games marathon gold medalist Youngjun Ji (South Korea), Tokyo Marathon hero Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.), defending champion Serod Batochir (Mongolia) and Fukuoka University ace Takuro Nakanishi among others.

Ji leads a contingent of three strong Korean athletes and is the likely favorite, but Batochir returns to Hofu with a solid 2:11:35 PB from April's London Marathon and should present a serious challenge to Ji's chances.  On paper Kawauchi is the leading man among the Japanese runners, but Hofu will be his fourth marathon in the last three months and, coming just two weeks after his bid for an Olympic team spot at the Fukuoka International Marathon seems unlikely to be more than a recovery run effort.  Nakanishi was the top Japanese man and 3rd overall in the 10000 m at September's National University T&F Championships and challenged for the win on the first stage of this month's National University Ekiden Championships.  In interviews he said that Hofu will be an experiential race, with a serious shot at an Olympic team spot coming in the spring, most likely at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon.

Other noteworthy names in the Japanese field include three-time winner and course record holder of Hofu's 10 km Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo), past Hofu champion Kentaro Ito (Kyowa Hakko Bio), former Asia University ace Takuro Yamashita (Team Fujitsu) and 2009 Copenhagen Marathon winner Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.).  Also in the field, having announced Hofu as his retirement race, is one of Japan's all-time greats, Olympian and 2:07 runner Shigeru Aburuya (Team Chugoku Denryoku).  In the general division, Kenyan Dishon Maina Karukuwa (Team Aisan Kogyo) is on the list after nearly breaking the course record in his marathon debut at last week's Ohtawara Marathon.  Former Koku Gakuin University ace Norimasa Nishina (Team Fujitsu) will also be making his debut in the general division in his first year as a pro.

In the women's division, defending champ and course record holder Hiroko Yoshitomi (Shunan City Hall) will face a strong challenge from 2009 Hofu winner Noriko Hirao (First Dream AC).  The Hofu Yomiuri Marathon will be held on Dec. 18.

2011 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon Elite Field
click here for elite field listing
click here for complete field listing
Men
Shigeru Aburuya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:52 (Biwako '01)
Youngjun Ji (Korea) - 2:08:30 (Daegu '09)
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo '11)
Junhyun Hwan (Korea) - 2:10:43 (Seoul Int'l '19)
Serod Batochir (Mongolia) - 2:11:35 (London '11)
Unsan Chon (Korea) - 2:13:39 (Seoul Int'l '04)
Tomohiro Seto (Team Kanebo) - 2:12:21 (Berlin '07)
Takuro Yamashita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:13:33 (Nobeoka '11)
Kentaro Ito (Kyowa Hakko Bio) - 2:13:44 (Hofu '01)
Kota Noguchi (Team Toyota) - 2:14:31 (Nobeoka '11)
Toyokazu Yoshimura (Osaka T&F Assoc.) - 2:15:05 (Hofu '09)
Dishon Karukuwa Maina (Kenya/Team Aisan Kogyo) - 2:15:09 (Ohtawara '11)
Takuro Nakanishi (Fukuoka Univ.) - debut
Norimasa Nishina (Team Fujitsu) - debut

Women
Hiroko Yoshitomi (Shunan City Hall)
Noriko Hirao (First Dream AC)
Atsuko Maeda (Kumamoto AC)
Chika Kawano (E-Runners AC)
Nana Higashi (Yamato AC)

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ugachi Breaks Domestic 10000 m Record, Miyawaki 27:41 at Hachioji Distance Trials

by Brett Larner

Video courtesy of Julie Setagaya. The A-heat begins at 1:23:25 with the bell lap at 1:50:10.

The latest in a series of track time trials this fall to help Japanese men reach the Olympic 10000 m A-standard of 27:45.00 before the spring season, the Nov. 26 Hachioji Long Distance time trials meet in Tokyo's western suburbs saw a small piece of history as Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) ran 27:40.69 to break Yu Mitsuya's record for the fastest 10000 m ever run by a Japanese man on Japanese soil.  Like Mitsuya, who was paced through his record run by teammate and Sendai Ikuei H.S. grad Samuel Wanjiru (Team Toyota Kyushu), Ugachi was paced by Kenyan teammate Paul Kuira, also a Sendai Ikuei alumnus, who finished together with Ugachi in a new PB of 27:40.60.  The surprise came a few steps behind them, where 20-year-old Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), on a sharp improvement curve throughout the year, took 20 seconds off his own PB to finish under the Olympic A-standard in 27:41.57, just missing Mitsuya's old record of 27:41.10.  In post-run comments Ugachi said, "I wasn't really planning to run this that fast, just around 27:45, but the conditions were really good.  We just cruised through the first half and then held steady in the second half.  If I'd been pushing this it would have been a lot faster."  Only 5 seconds to go to the national record.  For Miyawaki's part, several hours after the race he tweeted, "Thanks for all the congratulations, but I think some people misunderstand what this means.  It doesn't mean I'm going to the Olympics yet."

The B-heat was also noteworthy, as one of Kokushikan University's two aces, Masaki Ito, ran a PB of 28:28.64 to win over the mostly-pro field in the build-up to January's Hakone Ekiden.  Daegu World Championships marathoner Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) was 11th in the B-heat in a decent 28:51.11 in his first race back from an Achilles injury he suffered during the World Championships.

Both Ugachi and Miyawaki earned places on the all-time Japanese 10000 m top ten list, Ugachi now the 4th-fastest and Miyawaki the 6th-fastest.  Already the year-leading Japanese man for 10000 m and half-marathon, the record cements Ugachi's standing as the #1 man in the country, while Miyawaki, who went pro straight from high school, now stands as the best of the under-22 set.  Miyawaki's addition to the ranks means that along with Meiji University senior Tetsuya Yoroizaka Japan now has a full contingent of three men with the A-standard.  Others will have one more chance to join that list this season.  Next weekend's Nittai University Time Trials features a 10000 m including all four Team S&B runners on the year's-best list for 5000 m, Yusuke Hasegawa, Yuta Takahashi, Kensuke Takezawa and Yuichiro Ueno, with pacing from teammate Bitan Karoki, winner of the Cardinal Invitational 10000 m.

2011 Hachioji Long Distance Meet
Hachioji, Tokyo, 11/26/11
click here for complete results

Men's 10000 m Heat 1
1. Paul Kuira (Kenya/Team Konica Minolta) - 27:40.60 - PB
2. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 27:40.69 - PB
3. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 27:41.57 - PB
4. Alex Mwangi (Kenya/Team YKK) - 27:51.98
5. Kenta Matsumoto (Team Toyota) - 29:36.70

Men's 10000 m Heat 2
1. Masaki Ito (Kokushikan Univ.) - 28:28.64 - PB
2. Tatsunori Hamasaki (Team Komori Corp.) - 28:29.16
3. Charles Kibet (Kenya/Team Toyota Boshoku) - 28:31.19
4. Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) - 28:34.66
5. Atsushi Yamazaki (Team Subaru) - 28:36.82
-----
11. Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 28:51.11

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fujita Withdraws From Fukuoka International Marathon

http://www.jiji.com/jc/c?g=spo_30&k=2011112500810

translated by Brett Larner

The organizers of the Dec. 4 Fukuoka International Marathon announced on Nov. 25 that former national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), with a PB of 2:06:51, has withdrawn from its invited athlete field due to pain in his right Achilles tendon.  This year's Fukuoka is the first domestic selection race for next year's London Olympics.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Asahi Kasei Sets Course Record at Last New Year Ekiden Qualifier

by Brett Larner

Team Asahi Kasei dominated the final regional qualifier for the New Year Ekiden men's national corporate ekiden championships, leading wire-to-wire to set a course record of 3:50:53 at the seven-stage, 78.8 km Nov. 23 Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Championships.  Asahi Kasei runners won the first four stages, with Daegu World Championships marathon 7th-place finisher Hiroyuki Horibata outrunning Team Toyota Kyushu ace Masato Imai to take the 12.2 km Fourth Stage in 34:38.  Fifth Stage Asahi Kasei runner Takehiro Arakawa was beaten on time by Africans Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) and Alemu Desta (Team Yasukawa Denki) but had a big enough lead that he was in no danger of being run down.  Asahi Kasei's sixth runner Kenichi Shirashi ran a stage best to further widen the team's lead, with anchor Yuki Iwai bringing the team in for the course record win and a place at the New Year Ekiden.  With several of its best members sitting the regional race out Asahi Kasei will once again head to the New Year Ekiden as one of the favorites if its star runners are back near 100%.

The real races came for 2nd and 7th place.  Toyota Kyushu, Kyudenko and Yasukawa Denki led a tight three-way race for 2nd, the lead turning over repeatedly.  Yasukawa Denki slipped behind late in the race but the final finishing order wasn't determined until the anchor stage where despite going 1-2 on time anchors Ryuji Watanabe (Team Toyota Kyushu) and Daegu World Championships marathoner Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) couldn't manage to run down Kyudenko anchor Masanori Sakai.  Toyota Kyushu finished 14 seconds behind Kyudenko, with Yasukawa Denki another 31 seconds back in 4th.  Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki and Team Kurosaki Harima took 5th and 6th to pick up New Year Ekiden positions.  With seven places available, Team Nishitetsu and Team Sumco started the anchor stage simultaneously, turning the 14.2 km leg into a man-on-man battle between Nishitetsu's Kazuya Ishida and Sumco's Kodai Haraguchi.  Running side-by-side throughout the stage, Ishida emerged the stronger in the final straight as he kicked away to finish 5 seconds up on Haraguchi, sending his team to Nationals and consigning Sumco to the leftovers.

Toyota Kyushu's Imai finished 2nd on the Fourth Stage behind Horibata.  Kyudenko's Kazuhiro Maeda likewise had a good run, 3rd on the First Stage just two seconds behind the stage winner.  Both Imai and Maeda are scheduled to run next week's Fukuoka International Marathon where they, along with amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) are the favorites forearning a spot on Japan's 2012 Olympic marathon team.

2011 Kyushu Jitsugyodan Ekiden Championships
Fukuoka-Kitakyushu, 11/23/11
seven stages, 78.8 km, 18 teams
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (13.4 km) - Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 40:32
Second Stage (10.2 km) - Satoru Sasaki (Team Asahi Kasei) - 31:31
Third Stage (10.5 km) - Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) - 28:54
Fourth Stage (12.2 km) - Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) - 34:38
Fifth Stage (9.2 km) - Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - 25:19
Sixth Stage (9.1 km) - Kenichi Shiraishi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 26:30
Seventh Stage (14.2 km) - Ryuji Watanabe (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 41:56

Top Team Performances - top seven teams qualify for New Year Ekiden
1. Asahi Kasei - 3:50:53 - CR
2. Kyudenko - 3:52:28
3. Toyota Kyushu - 3:52:42
4. Yasukawa Denki - 3:53:13
5. Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki - 3:57:37
6. Kurosaki Harima - 3:59:04
7. Nishitetsu - 4:00:32
-----
8. Sumco - 4:00:37
9. Kokubu SDF Base - 4:06:00
10. Togami Denki - 4:12:00

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, November 24, 2011

World Champs 7th Placer Horibata, Nihon Univ. Star Sophomore Tamura Declare for Lake Biwa Olympic Marathon Qualifier

http://mainichi.jp/enta/sports/general/track/news/20111124k0000m050053000c.html
http://hochi.yomiuri.co.jp/event/sports/news/20111123-OHT1T00269.htm

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Following a stage win to lead Team Asahi Kasei to a course record win at the Nov. 23 Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Championships, Daegu World Championships marathoner Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) announced that he has committed to run March's Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, the final domestic selection race for the Japanese men's marathon team for next year's London Olympic Games.  Horibata was the top Japanese finisher in Daegu, a strong 7th place overall, but, he said, "Right now my chances [of making the Olympic team off that performance] are pretty slim.  I've got to be active in getting my spot."

Also on Nov. 23, Nihon University ace sophomore Hirotaka Tamura, 19, revealed that he will be shooting for a place on the Olympic marathon team at Lake Biwa.  Tamura, winner of this year's Kanto Regional University T&F Championships half-marathon, made the announcement after winning the 10000 m selection race for the Hakone Ekiden Kanto Regional University Select Team on the 23rd at Tokyo's National Stadium, clocking 28:51.33.  At last month's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier Nihon University failed to make the Hakone cut for only the fourth time in 86 runnings, leaving Tamura to shoot for an individual spot on the Select Team.

This month Nihon returned to place well at the National University Ekiden Championships, with Tamura winning the competitive First Stage.  He told reporters that he hopes to run and win the First Stage at Hakone as well, then announced that to help alleviate the shame of Nihon's Hakone failure he will be trying for a place on the London Olympic team by making his marathon debut at March's Lake Biwa Mainichi  Marathon.  "Coach Tsugumichi Suzuki said we university runners should be aiming for the Olympics too," said Tamura.  "I want to answer that challenge."

Translator's note: Suzuki ran the 10000 m at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics at age 22 just after graduating from Nihon Univ.  He coached 1992 Barcelona Olympic marathoner Yumi Kokamo and 1993 Stuttgart World Championships marathon gold medalist Junko Asari.

Rikuren Plans Men's Training Camp in Kenya (updated)

http://www.nikkei.com/sports/news/article/g=96958A9C81818A9996E2E0EBE18DE0E1E3E3E0E2E3E3E2E2E2E2E2E2;da=96958A88889DE2E0E3EAEAE5E6E2E0E3E3E0E0E2E2EBE2E2E2E2E2E2

translated by Brett Larner

Federation officials announced on Nov. 23 that they will be organizing a three-week altitude training camp in Kenya from January to February next year.  The camp is targeted toward five or six of the country's best track athletes, with corporate runners Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) on the list along with university men Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) and Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.).  The Japanese runners will train alongside Kenyan athletes at 3000 m elevation.  A federation spokesperson commented, "This is the way for us to regain our international competitiveness.  By travelling there we hope our athletes will observe and learn about the Kenyan style, including their day to day lives."

Translator's note: Shortly after this story appeared Miyawaki tweeted, "I'm going to Kenya?  I haven't heard anything about it....."  Today he tweeted, "Nobody interviewed me yesterday [at the International Chiba Ekiden] but somehow there's a quote going around now saying that I said I want to go on the Kenya training camp."

Update: A new article out today lists the athletes taking part in the camp as Takezawa, Murasawa, Yoroizaka, Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), Kazuya Watanabe (Team Shikoku Denryoku) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), Japan's top six men on the track.  No mention of Miyawaki, although he has performed at about the same level as the other six this year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kenya Over Japan As Both Break International Chiba Ekiden Course Record

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
Chiba, 11/23/11
six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Team 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
all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Watch the International Chiba Ekiden Live Online (updated)

The 2011 International Chiba Ekiden, featuring twelve teams from ten countries, takes place tomorrow, Nov. 23, and will be broadcast live on Fuji TV from 1:00 p.m. to 3:25 p.m. Japan time.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV, available here.  JRN plans to be on-site and to offer live English commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.  Follow to keep track of all the action.

Update: Start lists available here.

2011 International Chiba Ekiden Field
12 teams, six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete entry lists

Teams and Member Highlights
Australia - Georgie Clarke, Lisa Corrigan
Canada - Taylor Milne, Dayna Pidhoresky
Chiba Pref. - Yusuke Sato
Czech Republic - Jan Kreisinger
Japan - Kensuke Takezawa, Yuichiro Ueno, Tetsuya Yoroizaka, Yuriko Kobayashi, Hitomi Niiya, Kasumi Nishihara
Japanese Univ. Select Team - Takehiro Deki, Suguru Osako, Risa Takenaka, Hikari Yoshimoto
Kenya - Thomas Longosiwa, Patrick Mwikya, Janeth Kisa
New Zealand - Matthew Smith, Lisa Robertson
Poland - Michal Kazamarek, Lidia Chojecka
Romania - Marius Ionescu
Russia - Anatoly and Evgeny Rybakov, Elena Korobkina, Natalia Popkova, Elizaveta Grechishnikova, Elena Zahorozhnaya
U.S.A. - Robert Chesert, Christo Landry, Bobby Mack, Josh Moen, Emily Brown, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom

Monday, November 21, 2011

Weekend Track and Ekiden Roundup - Karoki, Waithira, Kinukawa, Yamamoto Take Wins

by Brett Larner

Along with marathons and other road races, this busy weekend included two significant ekidens and three large track time trial meets.

At the Nov. 19 Biwako University Ekiden, Western Japan's answer to January's Hakone Ekiden, defending champion Kyoto Sangyo University braved heavy rain and wind to take its second-straight Biwako title.  After a slow 8th-place start Kyoto Sangyo worked its way up through the field and covered the eight-stage, 83.6 km course in 4:16:17.  Daiichi Kogyo University was 2nd in 4:18:09 thanks in large part to an impressive 31:57 record for the 11.0 km Third Stage by its Kenyan ace Kiragu Njuguna, a full 43 seconds under the old record.  Njuguna put Daiichi Kogyo in the lead by more than a minute over early leader Ritsumeikan University, and the team maintained the lead all the way until the 7th stage when Daiichi Kogyo was overtaken by Kyoto Sangyo's stage-winning Kazuki Noda.  Ritsumeikan anchor Yusuke Kubo did what he could to close the gap to Daiichi Kogyo, winning the stage but ending up close behind Daiichi Kogyo in 4:18:45, just managing to overtake Kansai Gakuin University by six seconds for 3rd.  Click here for complete results.

While one of its star runners, Shoko Mori, was pacing and appeared to suffer an injury at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon, the Otsuka Seiyaku women's team had no trouble winning at the five-stage, 21.0975 km Shikoku Ekiden.  Four of Otsuka Seiyaku's runners took stage bests, with Daegu World Championships marathoner Mai Ito running the 5.0 km anchor stage in 16:25 to bring the team in in 1:11:09.  Two of Otsuka Seiyaku's men, Yusuke Kataoka and Kenta Hirose, also ran on the Tokushima Prefecture team, which finished the 42.195 km men's race 2nd overall in 2:10:50.

The biggest of the three track time trial meets was the latest edition of the monthly Nittai Univ. Time Trials series in Yokohama.  The Saturday women's 3000 m heats were unremarkable due to the weather, the fastest time being a 9:40.21 in the A-heat by Saori Imamura (Kibogaoka H.S.). The men's 10000 m A-heat, also in the rain on Saturday, was full of surprises.  Marathoner Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express) ran a good 28:22.84 for the win, but what made the result noteworthy was that he outkicked past Kenyan XC champ Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) to do it.  Josai University added two more sub-29 men to its lineup as both Kosei Yamaguchi and Kota Murayama, identical twin brother of Komazawa University's super recruit and 2011 National University 5000 m champion Kenta Murayama, ran in the 28:50's.

In warmer weather on Sunday, Sendai Ikuei H.S. Kenyan first-year Mary Waithira made waves as she won the women's 5000 m A-heat in 15:36.86 over Ethiopian pro Betelhem Moges (Team Denso) and World Championships track runner Kayo Sugihara.  Surprisingly, 5000 m national champion Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) ran in the B-heat where she won in 15:48.32, a time that would have put her in the lead pack in the A-heat.  Outstanding Kenyan talent Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi) also opted out of the A-heat, running 15:53.99 as the lone woman in one of the men's heats.

The men's A-heat saw the aggressive Bitan Karoki (Team S&B) take down all comers once again as he won easily in 13:19.55 over a half-dozen other Kenyans and a few of the better Japanese.  His teammate Yuta Takahashi (Team S&B) had an excellent race, 4th in a PB of 13:31.48.  Four of the ten fastest 5000 m times of the year by Japanese men have now been run by S&B athletes.  Further down the list, marathoner Arata Fujiwara (Tokyo T&F Assoc.) continued his long comeback from injury with a 14:04.38 for 13th, 11 seconds faster than at last month's Nittai meet.  Click here for complete Nittai results.

The Shizuoka Time Trials meet, site of a highly competitive men's 10000 m last month, focused mainly on high school-level 3000 m and 5000 m races this month.  The fastest woman, senior Mai Shoji (Okazaki Gakuen H.S.) ran 9:36.07 in the 3000 m A-heat, 4 seconds better than the top time at Nittai.  Click here for complete results.

The last of the time trial meets, the Chugoku Jitsugyodan Time Trials, concentrated on the 10000 m.  Matsuyama University's Marie Yamagami won the women's A-heat in 34:00.7, while steeplechase specialist Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) took the men's A-heat in 29:22.6.  The official results appended an unusually critical header to the men's A-heat results, reading:
Joseph Gitau (JFE Steel) did his best to pace the third heat through 8000 m at 28:40-50 pace, but nobody tried to follow this target pace and we ended up with a low-level time trial meet.
Click here for complete Chugoku results.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kizaki, Ondiba, Son of Nakayama Win Big on the Roads, Noguchi Comes Up Short

by Brett Larner

Near typhoon conditions throughout Japan on Friday and Saturday brought a nationwide heat wave and strong winds on Sunday, less than ideal for a handful of major races across the country.

The biggest of them, the Olympic selection-edition Yokohama International Women's Marathon, turned into a race of attrition decided by a final kick to the new waterfront finish, Yokohama's third course in three runnings.  With all three female pacemakers running into trouble and dropping out suddenly at 8, 12 and 19 km rather than the planned 25 km, the race proceeded slower than the planned 2:22 pace, but favorites nevertheless dropped behind one by one.  After a conservative first half far behind the lead pack, 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Mara Yamauchi (Great Britain) took the lead just before 25 km.  After a big move from Kaoru Nagao (Team Univ. Ent.) at 31 km the race came down to three, defending champion Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) and the young Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) tailing behind leader Yamauchi.  Kizaki and Ozaki began trading surges with 3 km to go in a dramatic turn.  3 seconds behind Ozaki with one km to go, the final decision coming to a blazing move by Kizaki with 600 m meters to go that left the strong-kicking Ozaki 17 seconds behind.  Kizaki won in 2:26:32 with Ozaki, whose coach said she was dealing with anemia issues, 2nd in 2:26:49 and Yamauchi 3rd in a strong 2:27:24 after a long period of injury.  Nagao faded to a distant 4th in 2:29:43, with South African Rene Kalmer an unexpected 5th in 2:29:59.  Click here for complete Yokohama results.

Of the top three, Brit Yamauchi is the only one with better than even odds of making the Olympics.  The Japanese federation did not declare explicit criteria pre-race for securing a place on the Olympic team.  Ozaki has no chance of making the team on a 2nd-place finish, and with Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) placing 5th at the Daegu World Championships and marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) and half-marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) both with their hats in the ring for the remaining two selection races Kizaki looks a little unlikely to be chosen off a 2:26 unless January's Osaka International Women's Marathon or March's Nagoya Women's Marathon play out to be unduly slow.

At the Ageo City Half Marathon, one of the world's deepest races, last year's runner-up Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), winner of last month's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km, became the first Kenyan to win an Ageo title, running a PB 1:02:27 to beat Toyo University sophomore Yuta Shitara and senior Kento Otsu、2nd and 3rd in 1:02:35 and 1:02:43.  Ondiba also broke Waseda University's streak of Ageo wins, with the top-ranked Waseda University runner, Yuki Maeda, only 4th in 1:03:16.  Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) ran 1:04:13 for 18th.  Defending women's winner Miya Nishio ran 1:13:32 to win again, improving her time from last year by 35 seconds despite more difficult conditions.  All told, 294 runners broke 70 minutes.  Click here for complete results.

Another Waseda runner, however, did score a newsworthy and unexpected win.  At the first running of the 23,000-strong Kobe Marathon, Waseda senior Takuya Nakayama, son of former national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama and largely absent from Waseda's ekiden squad throughout his university career despite running sub-29 in high school, front-ran the entire race in his marathon debut despite strong headwinds throughout the race.  Nakayama ran only 2:24:13 for the win, but his performance nevertheless resonated with Japanese fans as it evoked a strong memory of his front-running father.  Satoko Uetani (Kobe Gakuin Univ. AC) became the first women's champion in 2:40:45, outkicking veteran Chihiro Tanaka (AthleC AC) to take the win.  59+ world record holder Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) had a good tune-up run for next month's Fukuoka International Marathon, running 2:49:22.  Click here for top results.

At the Nishi-Kanasa 14 km mountain road race, women's course record holder Minami Yamanouchi, 18, ran just two seconds off last year's record time, clocking 54:39 despite the conditions.  Now graduated from high school, Yamanouchi is continuing to run with a local club in her hometown of Koriyama, Fukushima, an agricultural area hard-hit by March's nuclear disaster.

Overseas, Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) came up short in her first solo race since May, 2008.  After co-leading the Netherlands' 7 Hills Loop 15 km with eventual winner Waganesh Mekasha (Ethiopia) through 5 km in 16:25 Noguchi began to feel discomfort in her left knee, reportedly stopping briefly at 11 km and splitting 17:13 for the final 5 km.  Mekasha clocked 48:32, with Meijo University ace Aki Odagiri 2nd in 49:42 by one second over teammate Ayame Takagi.  Noguchi fell to 5th in 50:23, clouding the optimism around her comeback to the marathon distance at January's upcoming Osaka International Women's Marathon.  Click here for complete 7 Hills results.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Noguchi Running Dutch 15 km to "Visualize the Marathon"

http://sankei.jp.msn.com/sports/news/111118/oth11111821450012-n1.htm

translated by Brett Larner


Mizuki Noguchi at the Zevenheuvelenloop 2011 press conference, courtesy of Losse Veter.

At a Nov. 18 press conference in Nijmegen, the Netherlands ahead of Sunday's 7 Hills Loop 15 km road race, Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist and marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) told reporters, "This race is a step up toward January's Osaka International Women's Marathon.  I hope to run like the good old me is back."

The race is the second of her comeback.  Recapturing the feeling of competition is one of her central themes.  At last month's West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden her 5 km split was faster than her 5000 m PB.  After showing that her speed is still as good as back in her glory days, she slowed in the second half of the stage.  At 7 Hills, she said, "I want to hold back in the first half and then see how hard I can push the second half.  I hope that this will be a good race plan for visualizing the marathon."

Noguchi has been training at altitude in Boulder, Colorado since early November.  The camp has gone smoothly, with two 30 km runs on the books.  7 Hills will be her first solo race since the May, 2008 Sendai International Half Marathon.  Doing her homework one task at a time, Noguchi is drawing closer and closer to Osaka.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Yokohama Starts Olympic Selection Cycle, Ageo, Noguchi and More Up This Weekend

by Brett Larner

Just a week after the busiest ekiden weekend of the year comes another big weekend of racing in Japan.  The Yokohama International Women's Marathon is the most important of them, the first of the three domestic selection races for the Japanese women's Olympic marathon team.  Despite a bad race at August's Daegu World Championships, defending champ, course record holder and 2009 World Championships silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) is the domestic favorite.  It's not a one-woman race, though, as Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) comes in fresh from a solid 15:22.87 5000 m PB at the end of September and may be ready for something big.  Kaoru Nagao and her teammate Chika Horie (Team Univ. Ent.) should also be in contention for the top Japanese woman position.  If she's fast enough the top Japanese woman will secure an Olympic spot.  The Japanese women face competition from the likes of Robe Guta (Ethiopia), Alevtina Ivanova (Russia), Salina Kosgei (Kenya) and Mara Yamaguchi (Great Britain).  The race will be broadcast live on TV Asahi beginning at noon Japan time on Nov. 20.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV.

With multiple national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) having completed her move up to the marathon this fall Yokohama may end being the weakest of the three selection races thanks to the almost-there return of marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex).  Absent for years with injury after injury, Noguchi rocked a stage win at her regional corporate ekiden championships earlier this fall and promptly announced that she plans to run January's Osaka International Women's Marathon.  She takes the next step toward that goal in Sunday's Zevenheuvelenloop 15 km road race in the Netherlands.  If she starts and runs well it will be another step toward completing one of the most welcome and inspiring comebacks in recent memory.

Another of Japan's marathon favorites, 2:08:37 man Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) is the invited star for Sunday's Ageo City Half Marathon, the world's deepest half.  Most of the Kanto region men's university teams use Ageo as an intramural trial to determine contenders for their Hakone Ekiden entry lists, and the result is hundreds of young guys going all-out.  2011 Hakone winner Waseda University has had Ageo winners the last two years, with first-year Suguru Osako setting the Asian junior record of 1:01:47 last year.  This year Waseda fields two of its best men, seniors Yusuke Mita and, newly announced as a recruit to the Nissin Shokuhin team next spring, Yo Yazawa, along with nearly a dozen other team members.  Look for them to be among the top contenders for the win.  Kawauchi will run Ageo as his final tuneup for December's Olympic selection Fukuoka International Marathon.

The universities from western Japan, which do not compete in Hakone, have a big ekiden of their own on Saturday, the Biwako University Ekiden.  Kyoto Sangyo University is the favorite, but expect challenges from Ritsumeikan University and Daiichi Kogyo University.

The Nittai University Time Trials leads track action for the weekend, but look also for large time trial meets in Shizuoka and the Chugoku region.  Nittai features top-ranked Kenyans Bitan Karoki (Team S&B), Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta), Clement Langat (Team Subaru) and Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin), Japanese track stars Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno), Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Yuta Takahashi (Team S&B) along with marathoners Arata Fujiwara (Tokyo T&F Assoc.), Atsushi Ikawa (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Ryo Yamamoto (Team Sagawa Express), while Shizuoka has dominant Kenyan high schoolers Jeremiah Karemi (Toyokawa H.S.) and Beatrice Wainaina Murugi (Toyokawa H.S.) along with most of 2011 national women's champion Ritsumeikan University's squad.

There is a minor ekiden in Shikoku in which Daegu World Championships marathoner Mai Ito will run with Team Otsuka Seiyaku, but the last noteworthy events of the weekend are the first runnings of the 20,000-strong Kobe Marathon and the new Nagasaki International Marathon.  The elite field in Kobe is somewhat second-tier, featuring mostly retired athletes and talented amateurs, but among them are marathon greats Stefano Baldini (Italy) and Douglas Wakiihuri (Kenya) along with Japanese notables Tadayuki Ojima, Mari Ozaki and Chihiro Tanaka.  JRN will be on-site at Kobe for the debut of one of Japan's biggest marathons.

Look for coverage of all these events as they unfold over the weekend.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserveds

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Neko Runs PB for 5th at SE Asian Games; Olympic Status Unclear

http://www.nikkansports.com/entertainment/news/f-et-tp0-20111116-864133.html
http://www.nikkansports.com/entertainment/news/p-et-tp0-20111112-862322.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Newly minted Cambodian citizen, professional comedian and former Japanese national Hiroshi Neko ran the Nov. 16 Southeast Asian Games marathon in Indonesia in a bid to make Cambodia's Olympic team for next summer's London Olympics.  Neko ran a ten-second PB of 2:37:39 for 5th place.  Five days before the race his top rival for the Cambodian Olympic team, national record holder Hem Bunting (25), withdrew from competition and Cambodia's other two marathon entrants switched events to the 800 m.  As the only Cambodian entrant in the marathon Neko cleared the Cambodian Olympic Committee's criterion of being the top Cambodian finisher, but he was informed before the race that the Committe would be looking for a time close to Bunting's SB of 2:31, set in Australia in August, to consider him.  Whether he is now offered an Olympic ticket remains the Committee's decision.

With high temperatures and humidity despite the early morning start, Neko lost touch with the lead pack.  Throughout the second half of the race he slapped and swatted both of his legs.  "I couldn't reach my target of a 2:32 because of the limits of my ability," he told reporters.  "I'm in shape and felt good.  It's disappointing."  But although his fate with regard to the Olympics remains unclear, Neko has not given up hope.  "I'm still aiming for it," he said.

The 147 cm Neko finished 3rd at an international half marathon in Cambodia last December and was contacted by the Cambodian Olympic Committee with an offer of becoming a Cambodian citizen to try to make the country's London Olympic Team.  Although Neko's PB is far slower than the men's Olympic B-standard of 2:18:00, countries without any qualifiers in track and field are considered a special case and are eligible to send one male and one female athlete to compete in a single event.  If another athlete from the country qualifies in another track and field event the special exemption is rescinded.

If the Cambodian Olympic Committee decides Neko's performance at the Southeast Asian Games was insufficient, he will still have another chance to run a faster time at another race to meet the committee's criteria.  With this in mind Neko is planning to run February's Tokyo Marathon where he hopes to break 2:31.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Kawauchi, Baranovskyy, Cragg, Fujita, Ndambiri Headline Olympic Selection-Year Fukuoka International Marathon

by Brett Larner

Race broadcaster KBC has published the sixteen-man elite field for the 65th anniversary of the Fukuoka International Marathon, scheduled for Dec. 4.  The first of the three domestic selection races for the Japanese men's marathon team for the London Olympics, Fukuoka's organizers have gone an unusual route in setting up the overseas field with not a single invited Kenyan or Ethiopian athlete.  2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) has run the fastest three times of his career in Fukuoka and returns to lead the foreign contingent along with Russian national record holder Aleksei Sokolov and last year's runner-up Dmitriy Safronov, also Russian. Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi is the lone African among the invited athletes.  Perhaps of greatest interest, Ireland's Alistair Cragg will be looking to finish his first marathon with a mark that does justice to his excellent 1:00:49 half marathon from this past spring.  Franck de Almeida (Brazil), Martin Dent (Australia) and Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) fill in the second tier of 2:12-2:13 athletes.

Amid the surprising lack of invited Africans, hidden in the depths of the general division A-group is 26:57.36 Japanese 10000 m all-comers' record holder Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) lining up for his marathon debut.  Having beaten 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia/Team Honda) to win the Nov. 3 East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage Ndambiri is clearly fit, and with even a credible effort he should be considered a favorite for the win.  The other Japan-based Kenyan in the general division, James Mwangi (Team NTN), has a 2:10:27 PB to his name but with a 1:00:34 half best since then could also factor into the faster end of the race.  On his team profile Mwangi says his goal is "Fukuoka to London Olympics."  As unlikely as that may be given what Kenya has done to the marathoning world this year, it may be an indication that he plans to take things out fast.

With an Olympic ticket available to the top-finishing Japanese man, looking at the domestic field there is a clear split between veterans trying for one last chance for Olympic glory and young athletes still on the upswing.  2000 Fukuoka winner and former national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) is at the forefront of the veteran category with a PB of 2:06:51 and has spent the entire year focusing on his preparations for Fukuoka after finishing 5th at Beppu-Oita in February.  2:09 men Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) and Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) have had stabler careers than Fujita but both have declined in recent years, particularly Irifune.  Sato comes to Fukuoka after a string of good performances early this month at the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2011 ekiden and may have the best chances among the veterans despite his coach saying his training is only at 80%.  Past sub-2:09 men Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) are other big-name veterans in the general division.  Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) is also a name worth flagging, in the general division as he comes off an injury.

There is no question that the favorite in the public eye is one of the youngest in the field, amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.).  Kawauchi has become a celebrity since his resonant 2:08:37 earlier this year, with TV commercials for the Fukuoka broadcast focusing exclusively on him.  He ran 2:16:11 at the Daegu World Championships, then the third-fastest time of his career, and returned Oct. 30 with a training run-effort 2:14:31 at the inaugural Osaka Marathon.  He is talking about running 2:07, a time not even the foreign field is guaranteed of meeting.  There's certainly precedent as the top Japanese man at the last two Olympic selection editions of Fukuoka has run 2:07, three of them doing it before Athens.  If Kawauchi follows through and proves that his 2:08 in Tokyo was not just a miraculously perfect day, it will be up to the rest of the young field to step up their game to match him.  Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) and Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) are the most likely to do it.

Maeda had a good marathon debut in tough conditions at the 2009 Tokyo Marathon, picking up a place on the Berlin World Championships team.  Berlin was a failure, and for much of the next year he was out injury.  Returning to the marathon in February, he outran Fujita to finish 3rd in a PB of 2:10:29.  With excellent track credentials he has the potential to run the marathon much faster.  Imai is one of the most popular runners of his generation thanks to his inspiring, record-setting runs on the Hakone Ekiden's uphill Fifth Stage while in university.  After a mediocre marathon debut he ran tough at last year's Fukuoka Marathon only to fade in the final kilometers.  Turning around and running Lake Biwa three months later he set his current PB of 2:10:41.  Five days later he was watching his mother on TV being rescued by helicopter from the tsunami that destroyed his hometown in Fukushima.  With steady improvement in his three marathons and motivation to inspire his friends and family back home Imai may also be ready for a big breakthrough.  Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei), Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) and, in the general division, Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) round out the Japanese contenders with good second-tier performances in the last year.

The Fukuoka International Marathon will be broadcast live and should be available online for overseas viewers.  Check back closer to race date for a further preview and online viewing information.

2011 Fukuoka International Marathon Elite Field
and top general division entrants
click here for official elite field listing

Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) - 2:06:51 (Fukuoka 2000)
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (Fukuoka 2006)
Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:07:55 (Fukuoka 2003)
Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) - 2:08:37 (Tokyo 2011)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37 (Fukuoka 2003)
Yuzo Onishi (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:08:54 (Biwako 2008)
Aleksei Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (Dublin 2007)
Takeshi Hamano (Team Toyota) - 2:09:18 (Biwako 2002)
Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:23 (Fukuoka 2008)
Dmitriy Safronov (Russia) - 2:09:35 (London 2011)
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
Kurao Umeki (Hiroshima T&F Assoc.) - 2:09:52 (Berlin 2003)
Ridouane Harroufi (Morocco) - 2:10:14 (Seoul 2008)
James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) - 2:10:27 (Vienna 2007)
Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 2:10:29 (Beppu-Oita 2011)
Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 2:10:41 (Biwako 2011)
Kensuke Takahashi (Team Toyota) - 2:11:25 (Tokyo 2009)
Kenichiro Setoguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:44 (Biwako 2010)
Franck de Almeida (Brazil) - 2:12:32 (Paris 2008)
Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:12:44 (Fukuoka 2010)
Kenta Oshima (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:12:54 (Tokyo 2009)
Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:13:16 (Gold Coast 2011)
Martin Dent (Australia) - 2:13:27 (Beppu-Oita 2010)
Andrew Lemoncello (Great Britain) - 2:13:40 (London 2010)
Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:13:54 (Tokyo 2011)
Alistair Cragg (Ireland) - 1:00:49 (NYC Half 2011)
Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.) - debut - 26:57.36 (Fukuroi 2009)
Yuya Fukaura (Harriers AC) - national duathlon champion
Yoshihisa Hosaka (Natural Foods) - 59+ world record holder
Shinji Nakadai (Harriers AC) - 2010 world champion, 100 km

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ekiden Weekend Review

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
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kanagawa and Nagano Battle to Course Records in Fukushima

by Brett Larner

Nagano anchor Aki Odagiri tries to hold off Kanagawa's Mika Yoshikawa with 450 m to go. Click photo for video highlights courtesy of Fukushima TV.

On Japan's busiest weekend of ekiden action, some of the best of it came at the first major event held in Fukushima since March's disasters, the East Japan Women's Ekiden, a regional version of January's National Women's Ekiden with 18 prefectural teams made up of runners ranging from junior high to pro.

2009 winner Nagano Pref.'s Yuko Shimizu took the race out hard, winning the 6.0 km First Stage by 18 seconds over Miyagi Pref.'s Hiroko Shoi as pre-race favorites Kanagawa Pref. and Chiba Pref. sat back in 7th and 14th.  Kanagawa's second runner Hitomi Nakamura ran a stage best to bring her team with 13 seconds of the lead, but over the next two stages the gap grew again to 22 seconds.  The remaining five stages were tense and dramatic as each of Kanagawa's runners in turn closed the gap only to have Nagano's runners outkick them in the final stretch of their stages.  Seventh Stage runner Hitomi Sato managed to open a 2-second lead over Nagano's Hikari Yasuhara, but the lead returned to Nagano on the Eighth Stage.

Five-time 1500 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa started the 10 km anchor stage for Kanagawa one second behind Nagano's anchor, Meijo University junior Aki Odagiri.  Within the first km she took the lead and opened a small lead over Odagiri, but the university runner soon matched pace and the gap remained steady until Odagiri hit a bad patch before halfway and fell back.  Surprisingly, she rallied and gutted out a surge, passing Yoshikawa near 7 km and open a lead of nearly 30 m by the time the two entered the track for the final 500 m.  Her face clenched as she tried to hang on to the lead, despite still running strong Odagiri fell victim to track specialist Yoshikawa's closing speed.  Yoshikawa closed the gap and took the lead with 200 m to go, flying past to open 6 seconds on Odagiri.

The pair's exciting battle spurred both to break the course record, Yoshikawa bringing Kanagawa in for its first win in 7 years in 2:16:57 almost one minute faster than the old record.  Odagiri also took Nagano under the record by more than 45 seconds, 2nd in 2:17:03.  Chiba Pref. clawed its way up through the field after a slow start for 3rd in 2:18:55 thanks to a stage best from Fifth Stage runner Yurie Doi and a new course record of 12:44 for the 4.1075 km Sixth Stage by high schooler Sakiko Naito.  Hosts Fukushima Pref. were an impressive 4th only 24 seconds behind Chiba.  The Fukushima prefectural government was one of the principal sponsors of the East Japan Women's Ekiden.  The TV broadcast was heavy on promotion of the area's natural sights, hot springs, and local delicacies with only passing mention of March's nuclear disaster in the east part of the prefecture.  Each of the stage winners said in post-race interviews that they hoped their running would help inspire Fukushima residents.  Coming eight months after the disasters, the prefectural team's excellent performance no doubt did much for local spirits.

2011 East Japan Women's Ekiden
Fukushima, 11/13/11
nine stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.0 km) - Yuko Shimizu (Nagano Pref.) - 19:04
Second Stage (4.0 km) - Hitomi Nakamura (Kanagawa Pref.) - 12:58
Third Stage (3.0 km) - Haruka Wada (Saitama Pref.) - 9:58
Fourth Stage (3.0 km) - Yuka Kobayashi (Tochigi Pref.) - 9:18
Fifth Stage (5.0875 km) - Yurie Doi (Chiba Pref.) - 16:21
Sixth Stage (4.1075 km) - Sakiko Naito (Chiba Pref.) - 12:44 - CR
Seventh Stage (4.0 km) - Saki Nakayama (Saitama Pref.) - 13:01
Eighth Stage (3.0 km) - Yukine Oguchi (Nagano Pref.) - 9:15
Ninth Stage (10.0 km) - Mika Yoshikawa (Kanagawa Pref.) - 32:25

Top Team Results
1. Kanagawa Pref. - 2:16:57 - CR
2. Nagano Pref. - 2:17:03 (CR)
3. Chiba Pref. - 2:18:55
4. Fukushima Pref. - 2:19:19
5. Saitama Pref. - 2:19:22
6. Tokyo - 2:19:28

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sendai Ikuei Course Record at Tohoku Region High School Ekiden

by Brett Larner

Earlier this season Samuel Wanjiru's disaster-hit alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S. had a big run to win the Miyagi Prefecture High School Ekiden.  Sendai Ikuei followed up Nov. 10 with another big one, setting a 2:04:43 course record to win the seven-stage, 42.195 km Tohoku Region High School Ekiden over rival Aomori Yamada H.S.  Sendai Ikuei started slow, running 3rd behind early leader Tamura H.S. and Aomori Yamada after the first two stages before current Kenyan ace Hiram Ngatia got things into gear.  Ngatia outran Aomori Yamada's John Maina to set a 22:53 record on the 8.1075 km Third Stage, handing off to Fourth Stage runner Tadashi Isshiki in 2nd.  Isshiki, one of the best Japanese high schoolers this year, had little trouble making up the 5-second deficit to leader Aomori Yamada over the 8.0875 km stage, setting a 23:51 course record of his own to put Sendai Ikuei 18 seconds up.  Sendai Ikuei's next two runners kept up the lead before anchor Yuki Ajima put it away with a 14:26 stage record for 5 km.  Aomori Yamada finished 35 seconds back in 2:05:18 to likewise clear the old stage record.

Sendai Ikuei's performance is most noteworthy for what it suggests for December's National High School Ekiden Championships.  In 2004 Sendai Ikuei set the course record of 2:01:32 at the National race thanks in part to a brilliant stage record by senior Samuel Wanjiru, the race that first made Wanjiru's name in Japan.  The current team is close to the best it has had since then.  Its time at the Tohoku ekiden was more than 3 minutes off the Wanjiru-era Nationals mark, but with continued progress in the remaining weeks and a faster course awaiting them Sendai Ikuei may be in position to have a go at the record come December.

The day was almost a double for Sendai Ikuei's girls' team.  On a five-stage, 21.0975 km course, the Sendai girls went out hard, leading with three successive stage bests including a new record of 9:54 on the 3.0 km Third Stage by senior Natsumi Yoshida.  Up 45 seconds, Sendai Ikuei maintained the lead over the 3.0 km Fourth Stage despite first-year Mizuki Abukawa running only the 7th-fastest time on the stage.  It all fell apart on the 5.0 km anchor leg, however, as senior Eri Kitayama could only muster up a 17:12.  Starting in 3rd, Aomori Yamada H.S. Kenyan first-year Rosemary Wanjiru had the individual performance of the day as she blasted a 15:29 to knock 22 seconds off the stage record and bring Aomori Yamada home in 1st in 1:09:29, more than a minute ahead of the hapless Sendai Ikuei.  Morioka Joshi H.S. anchor Mizuki Hirano also put in a quality run of 16:28 to overtake Kitayama for 2nd in 1:10:18.

The top teams will meet again next month at the National High School Ekiden Championships.  Both the boys' and girls' Nationals are scheduled for Dec. 25 in Kyoto and will be broadcast live and commercial-free on NHK.  Check back closer to race date for previews and information on watching online.

2011 Tohoku Region High School Ekiden
Nagai, Yamagata, 11/10/11
click here for complete results

Boys - Stage Best Performances
First Stage (10.0 km) - Kenya Sonota (Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 30:06
Second Stage (3.0 km) - Shinji Sakai (Tamura H.S.) - 8:43
Third Stage (8.1075 km) - Hiram Ngatia (Kenya/Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 22:53 - CR
Fourth Stage (8.0875 km) - Tadashi Isshiki (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 23:51 - CR
Fifth Stage (3.0 km) - Akihito Kobari (Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.) - 9:15
Sixth Stage (5.0 km) - Arata Yamamoto (Aomori Yamada H.S.) and Shohei Yoshida (Iwaki Sogo H.S.) - 14:44
Seventh Stage (5.0 km) - Yuki Ajima (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 14:26 - CR

Top Teams - seven stages, 42.195 km
1. Sendai Ikuei H.S. - 2:04:43 - CR
2. Aomori Yamada H.S. - 2:05:18 - CR
3. Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. - 2:07:31
4. Ichinoseki Gakuin H.S. - 2:07:36
5. Hanawa H.S. - 2:08:49

Girls - Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.0 km) - Michi Horikawa (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 19:29
Second Stage (4.0975 km) - Hanami Sekine (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 13:41
Third Stage (3.0 km) - Natsumi Yoshida (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 9:54 - CR
Fourth Stage (3.0 km) - Kaede Ogasawara (Morioka Joshi H.S.) and Rika Sawata (Hanawa H.S.) - 10:01
Fifth Stage (5.0 km) - Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya/Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 15:29 - CR

Top Teams - five stages, 21.0975 km
1. Aomori Yamada H.S. - 1:09:29
2. Morioka Joshi H.S. - 1:10:18
3. Sendai Ikuei H.S. - 1:10:41
4. Yamagata Johoku H.S. - 1:10:53
5. Hanawa H.S. - 1:10:54

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Comedian Neko Gets Cambodian Citizenship, Aiming for London Olympics

http://mainichi.jp/enta/geinou/news/20111110k0000m040001000c.html

translated by Brett Larner

On Nov. 9, management for Japanese comedian Hiroshi Neko, 34, announced that he became a Cambodian citizen at the beginning of this month and is targeting running the London Olympics marathon for Cambodia.  Neko will run Cambodia's Olympic selection race, the Southeast Asia Games marathon Nov. 16 in Indonesia.

According to Neko's management, the amateur runner was approached by Cambodia's Olympic committee after he finished 3rd in an international half marathon in Cambodia in December last year and aksed if he would be interested in changing his citizenship to run for Cambodia in the Olympics.  IAAF regulations with regard to citizenship changes bar athletes from competing internationally within three years of taking new citizenship.  However, according to a JAAF official the rule does not apply in Neko's case because he is not registered with the JAAF.

Neko recorded his PB of 2:37:49 at this year's Tokyo Marathon.  In August the IAAF announced that the Cambodian men's marathon national record is 2:25:20.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

2011 International Chiba Ekiden Field Released (updated)

http://sankei.jp.msn.com/sports/news/111108/oth11110819020007-n1.htm
http://www.daily.co.jp/newsflash/2011/11/08/0004605410.shtml
http://www.jiji.com/jc/c?g=spo_30&k=2011110800657

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Nov. 8 the organizers of the 2011 International Chiba Ekiden held a press conference to announced the teams for the Nov. 23 event.  Teams from ten countries including Japan, Kenya and the United States will face off against the defending champion Japanese University Select Team and a team made up of top runners from hosts Chiba Prefecture over the six-stage, 42.195 km race.  Each team includes three men and three women who will alternate stages in handing off the tasuki.

Finishing 3rd last year, the Japanese team features men Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), Kensuke Takezawa (Team S&B), Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) and Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) and women Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), Hitomi Niiya (Sakura AC), Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) and Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku).  Aiming to defend last year's title, the University team includes Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.), Risa Takenaka (Ritsumeikan Univ.) and Hikari Yoshimoto (Bukkyo Univ.).

Kobayashi, the 1500 m national record holder, told reporters, "I couldn't run as well as I wanted during track season, so I want to do something big here and ride that momentum into next year.  I don't want to lose again this time."   Yoroizaka agreed, saying, "I'll be running against a lot of university guys I know well, so we can't lose."  His rival University Select Team rival Osako firmly countered, "We're going for the win."

Translator's note: The 2011 International Chiba Ekiden will be broadcast live beginning at 1:00 p.m. Japan time on Nov. 23.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV, available here.

2011 International Chiba Ekiden Field
12 teams, six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete entry lists

Teams and Member Highlights
Australia - Georgie Clarke, Lisa Corrigan
Canada - Taylor Milne, Dayna Pidhoresky
Chiba Pref. - Yusuke Sato
Czech Republic - Jan Kreisinger
Japan - Kensuke Takezawa, Yuichiro Ueno, Tetsuya Yoroizaka, Yuriko Kobayashi, Hitomi Niiya, Kasumi Nishihara
Japanese Univ. Select Team - Takehiro Deki, Suguru Osako, Risa Takenaka, Hikari Yoshimoto
Kenya - Thomas Longosiwa, Patrick Mwikya, Janeth Kisa
New Zealand - Matthew Smith, Lisa Robertson
Poland - Michal Kazamarek, Lidia Chojecka
Romania - Marius Ionescu
Russia - Anatoly and Evgeny Rybakov, Elena Korobkina, Natalia Popkova, Elizaveta Grechishnikova, Elena Zahorozhnaya
U.S.A. - Robert Chesert, Christo Landry, Bobby Mack, Josh Moen, Emily Brown, Janet Cherobon-Bawcom

Shirotake Wins Second-Straight Tokushima Marathon

http://www.topics.or.jp/special/12254542636/2011/11/2011_132062725767.html
http://sankei.jp.msn.com/region/news/111107/tks11110702200000-n1.htm

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Running along the banks of the late-fall Yoshino River and carried on by a wind of applause, 32-year-old Masahi Shirotake was the first of the 5799 finishers to break the goal tape at the Nov. 6 Tokushima Marathon, winning for the second-straight year and achieving a new course record of 2:24:49.  Headed back toward the finish in the later stages of the race he looked forward to being greeted by the traditional awaodori dancers at the finish line.  "The cheers from all the spectators were neverending and with a warmth that you can only find here," said Shirotake after the race.  "It really feels great to run the Tokushima Marathon."

Shirotake was born in Konan, Kochi prefecture.  In junior high school and high school he was a 1500 m runner, but he could never advance beyond the city-level qualifiers.  After entering the elite Tokyo University's engineering department he began playing tennis, but, he laughed, "No matter how hard I tried I couldn't get any better."  After finishing graduate school at Tokyo University he took a job with the Shikoku Denryoku power company, "so that I could work in an area with abundant nature like Kori, Shikoku."  Initially having difficulty meeting people after moving to the area, Shirotake spend most of his days off from work out running alone to explore the area.  At the Aichi Marathon he ran much faster than he expected and, deciding to focus on the full marathon, joined a local running club.

Once his goal was fixed he set out with characteristic determination and concentration to make it happen.  "I wanted to improve time even just a little bit," he said of the increase in his training volume to 700 km a month.  This year he has run four marathons.  He set a PB in February and just two months later he was on the victory stand of an overseas marathon in New Zealand, showing the toughness lurking within him.

This year's Tokushima Marathon asked runners to write their hopes and prayers for the victims of March's disasters on their bib numbers.  Shirotake wrote, "Let's keep looking upward as we walk on."  "My message wasn't just to my friends in the disaster-hit areas, but to everyone in Japan," he said.  "If we all stick together then we can reach our goal of reconstruction and recovery," he explained.  Drawing strength from this message written across his chest, Shirotake succeeded in winning Tokushima for the second time.

Already busy with balancing the demands of both work and training for the marathon, Shirotake celebrated the birth of his second child in July.  "I'm not usually able to help much with raising the children, so from the bottom of my heart I want to thank my family for their support in letting me run here.  I can't wait to tell them that I won," he said, the gold medal held tight in his hand full of special meaning.

Mogusu Leaves Aidem and Returns to Kenya

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2011/11/07/kiji/K20111107001983310.html

translated by Brett Larner

Mogusu at October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km. Photo (c) 2011 Daniel Seite

On Nov. 7 it was announced that Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu (24), who produced sensational running at the Hakone Ekiden and elsewhere during his time at Yamanashi Gakuin University, left his corporate sponsor Aidem at the end of October.  According to a source involved in the situation Mogusu has already moved back to Kenya but will continue running and is targeting next year's Tokyo Marathon.  An Aidem spokesperson said that due to Mogusu's recent focus on the marathon, "Mogusu told us that he wanted a change in his training environment and chose this course of action."

Translator's note: Mogusu came to Japan one day after Samuel Wanjiru, and the two were rivals throughout their high school years.  When Wanjiru went pro Mogusu went to Yamanashi Gakuin where he became a nationally-known figure after spectacular course record runs at the Hakone Ekiden and three sub-hour half marathons.  Since going pro he has struggled, unsuccessful thus far in his move up to the marathon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Miyazaki Holds Off Fukuoka for Grand Tour Kyushu Win

by Brett Larner

click here for video of the Grand Tour Kyushu 2011's finish

Defending champion Miyazaki Prefecture came to the final day of the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2011 with a lead of 4:31 over rival Fukuoka Prefecture, comfortable but not safe.  Over the first of the stage's three legs Miyazaki's runners progressively widened the lead, but on the fourth and fifth of the stage's six legs Fukuoka fought back.  Its Leg Five runner Shuji Yoshikawa came within 10 seconds of catching the Miyazaki, still down on total time but almost enough for the lead heading into the final leg.  Miyazaki's anchor, Daegu World Championships marathon 7th-placer Hiroyuki Horibata, fought back and reopened the lead to bring Miyazaki in to a successful title defense, winning in a total time of 38:04:48 to Fukuoka's runner-up 38:10:11.  3rd-place Nagasaki Prefecture was the only other team to break 39 hours for the new 739.9 km course, clocking 38:55:12.

Four men in the field held the distinction of winning all three of their runs over the course of the Tour's eight days, three of them from Miyazaki.  Fukuoka's Kenji Takeuchi was the lone runner from elsewhere, winning three runs in six days.  Miyazaki rookie and former Nittai Univ. ace Kazuya Deguchi also managed three wins in six days, while Miyazaki's Yoshikazu Kawazoe did it in seven days and Takehiro Arakawa over the full eight days of competition.  Next up for the majority of the pros in the field will be the Nov. 23 regional qualifier for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national championships.

Grand Tour Kyushu 2011
Nagasaki-Fukuoka, 10/30-11/6/11
click here for complete results

Stage Eight - six legs, 83.8 km - Miyazaki Pref. - 4:13:42
Leg One (17.3 km) - Fumihiro Maruyama (Miyazaki Pref.) - 51:57
Leg Two (15.8 km) - Takehiro Arakawa (Miyazaki Pref.) - 47:05
Leg Three (14.6 km) - Yoshikazu Kawazoe (Miyazaki Pref.) - 44:11
Leg Four (10.8 km) - Hiroki Kubota (Fukuoka Pref.) - 34:27
Leg Five (10.8 km) - Shuji Yoshikawa (Fukuoka Pref.) - 30:32
Leg Six (14.5 km) - Hiroyuki Horibata (Miyazaki Pref.) - 42:37

Final Standings - 51 legs, 739.9 km
1. Miyazaki Pref. - 38:04:48
2. Fukuoka Pref. - 38:10:11
3. Nagasaki Pref. - 38:55:12
4. Kagoshima Pref. - 39:45.44
5. Oita Pref. - 40:04:10
6. Kumamoto Pref. - 40:17:19
7. Yamaguchi Pref. - 40:21:35
8. Saga Pref. - 40:41:17
9. Okinawa Pref. - 41:26:14

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Komazawa Back on Top With Ninth National University Ekiden Championships Title

by Brett Larner

It's you, baby. Shinobu Kubota brings Komazawa University home to its 9th national title in 17 years. Click photo for video highlights of the race.

After a few shaky seasons Komazawa University head coach Hiroaki Oyagi reconfirmed his position as Japan's most successful university coach with his ninth National University Men's Ekiden Championships title on Nov. 6, the 17th major ekiden win in his 17 years at Komazawa.  Responding to Izumo Ekiden winner Toyo University and defending champion Waseda University's unprecedented 10 sub-29 men lineups last season, Oyagi has built a squad this year which features 11 men with sub-14 5000 m PBs, sub-29 10000 m PBs, or both, five of them with 10000 m times under 28:33.  Toyo did its best to match Komazawa's challenge and almost pulled it off but could not quite cope with Komazawa's superior speed on the shorter of the ekiden's stages.  Despite Oyagi throwing a curveball by only running six of his big guns and putting relative unknowns on the sixth and seventh stages Komazawa won the 8-stage, 106.8 km championships in 5:15:46 with Toyo within sight in 5:16:19.  A snaggletoothed Waseda was a distant 3rd in 5:21:06.

Unseasonably high temperatures in the mid-20's and high humidity made for tough conditions, especially in the second half of the race when the sun broke through the clouds.  There were no new records, although a few men came close.  Komazawa was at the forefront throughout the race, winning four of the stages and finishing third on the other four stages.  After 28:03 junior Hiromitsu Kakuage finished 3rd in a sprint finish at the end of the First Stage, Second Stage Komazawa runner Kenta Murayama, the first 1st-year to win the National University Track & Field Championships 5000 m since Toshihiko Seko, took the lead with a strong surge late in the stage.  Murayama finished only 3rd on time behind enigmatic ekiden ace Takehiro Deki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) who came closer than anyone else in the Championships to setting a new stage record, falling just 5 seconds short after passing 10 people, and National University 1500 m champ Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.), but putting Komazawa physically out front provided the momentum for Komazawa's next three runners to win their stages.  By the end of the Fifth Stage Komazawa had  a commanding lead of 2:08.

Toyo's first two runners, identical twins Keita and Yuta Shitara, were solid if below regular form, putting Toyo in 6th by the end of the Second Stage.  Senior Hiroyuki Uno brought them into position on the Third Stage, advancing to 2nd overall as he ran the second-fastest time on the stage behind Komazawa's 28:02 sophomore Ikuto Yufu.  Toyo's next two runners finished 3rd and 2nd on their stages on time, keeping Toyo in 2nd but losing ground to Komazawa.  Behind them, Waseda struggled after a 12th-place breakdown by star 1st-year Shuhei Yamamoto on the First Stage.  By the end of the Fourth Stage they had advanced as high as 3rd where they would remain for the rest of the race.

With three stages to go and a deficit of 2:08 Toyo's sixth and seventh men had to make up around 40 seconds each on Komazawa in order for anchor Ryuji Kashiwabara, one of the most famous runners in Japan thanks to his three years of heroics on the Hakone Ekiden's brutal uphill Fifth Stage, to have a realistic chance of catching Komazawa anchor Shinobu Kubota, the winner of the anchor stage at last month's Izumo Ekiden.  Toyo senior Kenji Yamamoto did his part, picking up 37 seconds on unknown Komazawa 1st-year Shugo Nakamura.  It was up to Seventh Stage Toyo man Takanori Ichikawa, brilliant at Izumo, to do the same against the unaccomplished Taichi Takase.  The only senior on Komazawa's Nationals squad, Takase was running his first ekiden after having lost years to a fractured femur.  With no credentials to his name Takase looked as though he would be devored by the smooth and efficient Ichikawa, but, running on his 22nd birthday, he pulled it off.  Rolling and twisting as he gutted it out, Takase opened 9 seconds on Ichikawa to win the stage, a critical move that left Toyo anchor Kashiwabara with a nearly hopeless 1:40 to make up over 19.7 km.

Which is not to say he didn't try.  Kashiwabara's anchor run was one of the best three performances of his career to date, behind only his two Hakone Fifth Stage records.  As leader Kubota cruised along efficiently in safety mode Kashiwabara hammered it out, picking up 6 seconds in the first km and growing closer and closer.  With 3 km to go he was within 29 seconds of Kubota; when Kubota responded and opened the gap back to 31 seconds Kashiwabara surged again and came within 27 seconds.  Kubota had a kick in reserve and took the margin back up to 33 seconds in the last km to give Komazawa the win in 5:15:46, but despite the tough conditions and hopeless situation Kashiwabara never gave up and brought Toyo home in 5:16:19, the only school to run faster than at last year's record-breaking race in perfect conditions.  Kashiwabara also pulled off the stage best, beating last year's stage winner Benjamin Gandu (Nihon Univ./Kenya) by a solid 46 seconds.

Waseda was almost an afterthought as it finished 3rd in 5:21:06, 9 minutes slower than last year and almost caught by Nihon.  After a perfect season last year in which Waseda set course records at all three major university ekidens, head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe seems to have returned to his familiar cycle of squandering the talent on his squad with overtraining injuries.  At this stage Waseda looks like a write-off for January's main event, the Hakone Ekiden.  Komazawa vs. Toyo, on the other hand, looks very compelling after today.  The longer stages at Hakone, averaging nearly 21 km for each of the 10 stages, favor the stable Toyo squad, but with Oyagi still holding five of his aces in reserve he has plenty of room left to counter and maneuver.

Chuo University took 5th behind Nihon.  The top six teams qualify for the following year's Nationals.  The other big story of this year's Nationals was the team that took 6th place.  Jobu University.  Running at Nationals for the first time and coached by Waseda coach Watanabe's former college teammate Katsuhiko Hanada, Jobu was running back in the grey zone between 8th and 10th through the race when its Sixth Stage runner, no-name junior Rikinobu Watanabe, blasted the second-fastest time on the stage to move Jobu up to 4th, one of the best performances of the Championships.  Jobu dropped to 5th on the Seventh Stage and 6th on the anchor stage, but weaving unsteadily with 28:00 Tokai University star Akinobu Murasawa bearing down on him in the last km anchor Hayato Sonoda held on to cross the line in 6th, guaranteeing Jobu a place at next year's Nationals and securing Hanada's position as one of the most promising under-40 coaches in Japan.  Both Murasawa and Meiji University's 27:44 man Tetsuya Yoroizaka, the two top-ranked Japanese university men, underperformed, each finishing 4th on his stage.  Partly as a consequence Tokai and Meiji both missed out on the seeded bracket, finishing 7th and 8th after having had good runs at October's Izumo Ekiden.  Both have their work cut out for them for Hakone.

2011 National University Men's Ekiden Championships
22 teams, 8 stages, 106.8 km, Nagoya-Ise, 11/6/11
click here for complete results

Individual Stage Winners
First Stage (14.6 km) - Hirotaka Tamura (Nihon Univ.) - 43:38
Second Stage (13.2 km) - Takehiro Deki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 37:43
Third Stage (9.5 km) - Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 27:13
Fourth Stage (14.0 km) - Wataru Ueno (Komazawa Univ.) - 40:56
Fifth Stage (11.6 km) - Kazuhiro Kuga (Komazawa Univ.) - 34:15
Sixth Stage (12.3 km) - Kenji Yamamoto (Toyo Univ.) - 36:22
Seventh Stage (11.9 km) - Taichi Takase (Komazawa Univ.) - 35:23
Eighth Stage (19.7 km) - Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) - 57:48

Top Team Results - top six seeded for 2012
1. Komazawa Univ. - 5:15:46
2. Toyo Univ. - 5:16:19
3. Waseda Univ. - 5:21:06
4. Nihon Univ. - 5:21:54
5. Chuo Univ. - 5:22:21
6. Jobu Univ. - 5:23:44
-----
7. Tokai Univ. - 5:24:26
8. Meiji Univ. - 5:26:22
9. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 5:27:55
10. Josai Univ. - 5:30:55
11. Teikyo Univ. - 5:31:32
12. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 5:32:36

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fukuoka in Range of Miyazaki With One Day to Go at Grand Tour Kyushu 2011

by Brett Larner

Starting the second half of the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2011 with a 5:45 lead over rival Fukuoka Prefecture, defending champion Miyazaki Prefecture retains a lead of 4:31 with one day of racing to go. Fukuoka came out swinging on the first leg of Stage Five, with Ryohei Nakano setting the only new stage record of the Tour so far.  Nakano covered the 17.4 km leg in 52:28, the next runner more than two minutes back and Miyazaki's Tomoaki Bungo 3:05 behind in 5th.  Miyazaki worked its way back toward the front but Fukuoka held on to the lead thanks in part to leg bests from legs three and four runners Makoto Tobimatsu and Shuji Yoshikawa, winning Stage Five in 3:46:15 to pick up 1:58 on Miyazaki's overall lead.

Miyazaki came back hard on Stage Six, winning five of the six individual legs and adding 8:54 to its lead over Fukuoka.  Miyazaki rookie Kazuya Deguchi picked up his third stage win of the Tour, putting him in contention for MVP, while Daegu World Championships marathon 7th-placer Hiroyuki Horibata was particularly impressive, winning the 20.2 km anchor stage in 1:00:50 by a  margin of nearly three minutes.

Down almost 13 minutes at the start of the Tour's longest stage, the eight-leg, 127.3 km Seventh Stage, Fukuoka fought back bit by bit, winning five of the legs and cutting down Miyazaki's lead piece by piece.  Miyazaki's fortunes were hurt when leg three runner Koichi Kamo finished only 8th on time and lost almost four minutes to Fukuoka's Kota Ogata, and by the end of the day Fukuoka had won the stage and picked up 8:10, putting it within five minutes of the leaders in the overall standings.  One more day like that and Fukuoka will be looking at dethroning Miyazaki as the dominant center of running in Kyushu.

Grand Tour Kyushu 2011
Nagasaki-Fukuoka, 10/30-11/6/11
click here for complete results

Stage Five - five legs, 71.3 km - Fukuoka Pref. - 3:46:15
Leg One (17.4 km) - Ryohei Nakano (Fukuoka Pref.) - 52:28 - CR
Leg Two (17.6 km) - Satoru Sasaki (Miyazaki Pref.) - 53:55
Leg Three (12.0 km) - Makoto Tobimatsu (Fukuoka Pref.) - 41:35
Leg Four (11.2 km) - Shuji Yoshikawa (Fukuoka Pref.) - 34:27
Leg Five (13.1 km) - Masaya Shimizu (Miyazaki Pref.) - 39:46


Stage Six - six legs, 86.7 km - Miyazaki Pref. - 4:22:38
Leg One (13.7 km) - Kazuya Deguchi (Miyazaki Pref.) - 41:08
Leg Two (14.7 km) - Takuya Fukatsu (Miyazaki Pref.) - 44:26
Leg Three (16.5 km) - Yuki Iwai (Miyazaki Pref.) - 51:08
Leg Four (11.1 km) - Yuki Mori (Nagasaki Pref.) - 33:32
Leg Five (10.5 km) - Kenichi Shiraishi (Miyazaki Pref.) - 31:24
Leg Six (20.2 km) - Hiroyuki Horibata (Miyazaki Pref.) - 1:00:50


Stage Seven - eight legs, 127.3 km - Fukuoka Pref. - 6:30:03
Leg One (17.6 km) - Takahiro Mori (Miyazaki Pref.) - 53:22
Leg Two (12.7 km) - Mamoru Hirano (Fukuoka Pref.) - 38:58
Leg Three (13.0 km) - Kota Ogata (Fukuoka Pref.) - 40:23
Leg Four (18.0 km) - Kenji Takeuchi (Fukuoka Pref.) - 53:36
Leg Five (15.5 km) - Seiji Kobayashi (Nagasaki Pref.) - 47:03
Leg Six (14.9 km) -  Noriaki Fukushima (Fukuoka Pref.) - 45:57
Leg Seven (17.7 km) - Kenichiro Setoguchi (Miyazaki Pref.) - 53:45
Leg Eight (17.9 km) - Masayuki Obata (Fukuoka Pref.) - 54:06


(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved