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Nissin Shokuhin Wins Second New Year Ekiden Title in Three Years, World Champ Jeilan Out With Injury

by Brett Larner

The year kicked off with perfect, windless conditions at the seven stage, 100.0 km New Year Ekiden, the corporate men's national championships Jan. 1 in Maebashi, Gunma.  Three stage records fell along the way as pre-race favorite Team Nissin Shokuhin won by over a minute in 4:49:32, returning to the top after a 3rd-place finish last year to take its second national title in three years.

Despite the ideal weather the race started very slow, the pack of 37 teams splitting 3:07 for the first km of the 12.3 km First Stage.  Last year's First Stage runner-up Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin), a transplant from the suspended Team TEPCO, emerged from a sprint finish against Yuya Konishi (Team Toyota Kyushu) to hand off to past Kenyan national XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) in the lead.  Ngatuny appeared stale but maintained the lead against the mostly-African field, which included 2011 World XC silver medalist Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) but was sadly lacking 2011 World 10000 m Champion Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia/Team Honda), a late scratch with a reported Achilles tendon injury.  Ngatuny clocked the third-best time on the 8.3 km Second Stage, the day's shortest, with little-known Edward Waweru (Kenya/Team NTN) winning on time in 22:29 with a brilliant run that saw him pass 18 competitors.

The most exciting action of the day came on the 13.6 km Third Stage, where the top two Japanese 10000 m runners of 2011, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), ran down leader Kosaku Hoshina (Team Nissin Shokuhin), then battled head to head over the second half of the stage.  Both cracked the stage record, with Miyawaki running the faster time by 6 seconds but Ugachi pulling away in the final kick to put Konica Minolta into the lead.  On the 22.0 km Fourth Stage, the longest on the New Year Ekiden course, World Championships marathoner Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) quickly caught up to 5000 m and 30 km national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) and the pair stuck together until they were run down by Nissin's Yuki Sato.  After making contact, Sato, who has never lost an ekiden stage as a pro, surged away.  Oda fell off but Matsumiya caught back up, and for the rest of the stage the pair traded surges until Matsumiya got away to keep Konica in the lead.  As on the Third Stage, Sato took the stage record, with his time of 1:02:51 for 22.0 km equivalent to a 1:00:16 half marathon, 9 seconds faster than the national record.  Further back, after an outstanding Third Stage run by teammate Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei), Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei), Japan's top finisher at the World Championships, ran down his Daegu teammate Oda to put Asahi Kasei into 3rd.

From there to the finish nothing changed in the running order up front, with Nissin Shokuhin taking the win in 4:49:32 over Konica Minolta, whose anchor Masaki Shimoju managed to push through obvious difficulties to hold off a charging Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) to keep 2nd.  All four of the top four teams broke the existing course record.  Of the other pre-race favorites, Team Honda, lacking Jeilan, was 8th in 4:54:13, while Team Fujitsu was 10th in 4:55:19.  Team Kanebo, one of the top finishers in the East Japan Regional Qualifier in November, was only 24th.  A surprise was Team Kyudenko in 5th after a stage-2nd run from Tanui and a surprise stage record from Sixth Stage runner Kazuharu Takai.  Kyudenko's ace Kazuhiro Maeda, crushed during a water station surge by Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) late in last month's Fukuoka International Marathon, announced that he plans to run February's Tokyo Marathon alongside Kawauchi in order to make the Olympics by "taking Kawauchi down."  Along with Oda and Horibata, World Championships marathoner Kentaro Nakamoto had a good run on the Fourth Stage to help Team Yasukawa Denki finish 6th.  Team Toyota Kyushu rounded out the top eight in 7th after good runs from First Stage runner Konishi, Third and Fourth Stage runners Ryuji Watanabe and Yuki Oshikawa, and a tie for stage best by Fifth Stage man Masato Imai, who had a memorable battle against Kawauchi in Fukuoka but looked to have recovered well.

Among Japan's other possible contenders for the London Olympic team, half-marathon national record holder Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) had a good run on the Second Stage as the top Japanese finisher, announcing that he will run the Biwako Mainichi Marathon in March against Horibata for an Olympic spot.  Matsumiya, with an excellent 2nd place on the Fourth Stage, also said he plans to run Biwako, and Fifth Stage winner Takase, a sub-62 minute half-marathoner in university, also indicated he intends to do his marathon debut at Biwako.  2010 Tokyo Marathon winner and debut marathon record holder Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) was 5th on the Fourth Stage, passing over a dozen others.

In Nissin Shokuhin's post-race victory interview, anchor and Komazawa University grad Hideyuki Anzai tried to pass some of the team's momentum on as he looked at the camera and said, "Tomorrow it's Komazawa's turn."

2012 New Year Ekiden
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/12
seven stages, 100.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Individual Results
First Stage (12.3 km) 
1. Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 35:55
2. Yuya Konishi (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 35:57
3. Kenta Matsumoto (Team Toyota) - 36:00

Second Stage (8.3 km) 
1. Edward Waweru (Kenya/Team NTN) - 22:29
2. Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - 22:31
3. Gideon Ngatuny (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 22:34

Third Stage (13.6 km)
1. Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) - 37:52 - CR 
2. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 37:58 (CR)
3. Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) - 38:18

Fourth Stage (22.0 km) 
1. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:02:51 - CR
2. Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 1:03:25
3. Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 1:03:40

Fifth Stage (15.8 km)
1. Muryo Takase (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 46:16
1. Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) - 46:16
3. Minoru Ikebe (Team Honda) - 46:29

Sixth Stage (12.5 km)
1. Kazuharu Takai (Team Kyudenko) - 36:35 - CR
2. Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) - 36:53
3. Yuko Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 36:57

Seventh Stage (15.5 km)
1. Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota) - 45:16
2. Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 45:47
3. Masayuki Obata (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 45:51

Top Team Results
1. Nissin Shokuhin - 4:49:32 - CR
2. Konica Minolta - 4:50:52 (CR)
3. Asahi Kasei - 4:51:16 (CR)
4. Toyota - 4:51:33 (CR)
5. Kyudenko - 4:52:49
6. Yasukawa Denki - 4:53:26
7. Toyota Kyushu - 4:53:54
8. Honda - 4:54:13
9. Chugoku Denryoku - 4:54:56
10. Fujitsu - 4:55:19

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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