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Osaka Wins First National Women's Ekiden Championships Title in 19 Years

Yuka Tokuda gives Osaka the National Women's Ekiden win in 2:16:37. Click photo for video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK.

by Brett Larner

The Osaka women's team emerged from nowhere to take a surprise win at the 30th anniversary National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden Championships Jan. 15 in Kyoto, leading wire to wire to score its first national title in 19 years.  First Stage runner Ryoko Kizaki, winner of November's Yokohama International Women's Marathon Olympic selection race, got things off on the right by taking the 6.0 km opening leg by a margin of 2 seconds.  Chizuru Ideta followed up on the 4.0 km Second Stage, second-fastest on time but holding on to the narrow lead, but Third Stage junior high school runner Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu, half-Japanese daughter of Kenyan 2001 Nagano Marathon winner Maxwell Musembi, deserves much of the credit for opening up a permanent lead despite only running 3.0 km.  Takamatsu was second on her stage on time but managed to gap rival Azusa Sumi of Aichi prefecture.  Only one of Osaka's six remaining runners made the top three on stage time, but each made a small contribution to the final 56-second margin of victory with which anchor Yuka Tokuda brought the team home.

Defending champion Kyoto Prefecture was 2nd, moving up in the second half of the race after a slow start but falling short of catching Osaka with a somewhat flat performance by anchor Kasumi Nishihara, the 2011 national corporate 10000 m champion.  2010 champion Okayama Prefecture was a ramshackle version of its former self, with First Stage runner and Olympian Yurika Nakamura a dismal 42nd of 47 and three more of its runners missing out on making the top twenty on their stages.  Kojokan H.S. ace Katsuki Suga was virtually the team's sole bright spot, 2nd on the 4.1075 km Fifth Stage, but even so Okayama could do no better than outkicking Saitama Prefecture by 2 seconds for 8th.

Chiba Prefecture was a large presence as expected, taking 3rd on the strength of anchor Hitomi Niiya's stage win despite a weak leading run from Yurie Doi.  Had Doi been up to her usual level it may have been enough for Niiya to be in range of Kyoto on the final loop of the track, but Chiba's performance was nevertheless strong.  Expected challengers Aichi Prefecture and Gifu Prefecture featured in the early part of the day but each faded in the later stages, Aichi settling into 6th and Gifu 20th.

In other noteworthy individual action, 2011 national champion Toyokawa H.S.'s Yuka Ando of Aichi Prefecture took down a number of strong pro and university runners to win the 4.0 km Second Stage, not least among them stage record and 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi of Hyogo Prefecture.  Ando's rival Nanako Kanno of Ritsumeikan Uji H.S., running for the Kyoto team, nearly did the same on the 4.0 km Fourth Stage, but despite falling two seconds short of university star Risa Takenaka's 12:48 stage win for Shiga Prefecture, Kanno had the consolation of beating the likes of 10000 m Olympic A-standard holder Yuko Shimizu of Gifu Prefecture and 5000 m national champion Megumi Kinukawa, who placed 4th for Gunma Prefecture in her first race since Achilles tendon trouble last month.  10000 m national champion Kayo Sugihara of Shimane Prefecture was likewise 4th on the 10.0 km anchor stage behind Niiya and university runners Hikari Yoshimoto of Kumamoto Prefecture and Hanae Tanaka of Ritsumeikan University.

The National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden Championships takes place next Sunday, Jan. 22, in Hiroshima with the same team format mixing runners from junior high to pro.  Check back later in the week for JRN's detailed preview and information on watching the commercial-free national broadcast online.  Follow @JRNLive for real-time English-language race updates.

2012 National Interprefectural Women's Ekiden Championships
47 teams, 9 stages, 42.195 km
Kyoto, 1/15/12
click here for complete results

Stage Best Results
First Stage (6.0 km)
1. Ryoko Kizaki (Osaka/Team Daihatsu) - 19:21
2. Misaki Onishi (Mie/Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 19:23
3. Sayo Nomura (Gifu/Meijo Univ.) - 19:23

Second Stage (4.0 km)
1. Yuka Ando (Aichi/Toyokawa H.S.) - 12:26
2. Chizuru Ideta (Osaka/Team Daihatsu) - 12:28
3. Yuki Mitsunobu (Saga/Team Kyocera) - 12:32

Third Stage (3.0 km)
1. Ayaka Nakagawa (Saitama/Asaka Daisan J.H.S.) - 9:17
2. Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuen J.H.S.) - 9:22
3. Yuka Kobayashi (Tochigi/Nakamura J.H.S.) - 9:25

Fourth Stage (4.0 km)
1. Risa Takenaka (Shiga/Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 12:48
2. Nanako Kanno (Kyoto/Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 12:50
3. Yuko Shimizu (Gifu/Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 12:52

Fifth Stage (4.1075 km)
1. Nanami Aoki (Kyoto/Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 12:57
2. Katsugi Suga (Okayama/Kojokan H.S.) - 13:02
3. Rui Aoyama (Kanagawa/Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 13:11

Sixth Stage (4.0875 km)
1. Mika Kobayashi (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 12:58
2. Fumiko Hashimoto (Saitama/Team Shimamura) - 13:01
3. Miku Yamamoto (Aichi/Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 13:08

Seventh Stage (4.0 km)
1. Risa Yokoe (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 12:33
2. Mizuki Matsuda (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuen H.S.) - 12:46
3. Moe Kyuma (Kyoto/Ayabe H.S.) - 12:48

Eighth Stage (3.0 km)
1. Kokoro Sawairi (Shizuoka/Fujioka J.H.S.) - 9:53
2. Fukiko Ando (Hyogo/Okubo J.H.S.) - 9:55
3. Yurina Kinoshita (Kanagawa/Nagata J.H.S.) - 9:59

Ninth Stage (10.0 km)
1. Hitomi Niiya (Chiba/Sakura A.C.) - 32:06
2. Hikari Yoshimoto (Kumamoto/Bukkyo Univ.) - 32:17
3. Hanae Tanaka (Fukuoka/Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 32:18

Top Team Results
1. Osaka - 2:16:37
2. Kyoto - 2:17:33
3. Chiba - 2:17:49
4. Hyogo - 2:17:53
5. Fukuoka - 2:17:55
6. Aichi - 2:18:10
7. Shizuoka - 2:18:32
8. Okayama - 2:18:52
9. Saitama - 2:18:54
10. Kanagawa - 2:19:15

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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