by Brett Larner
Kenyan first-year Charles Ndungu (Sapporo Yamanote H.S.), the first-ever Kenyan at a high school on Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, continued his rapid improvement since arriving in Japan this spring, running 13:35.54 in the June 27 Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 5000 m A-heat, a PB by over 20 seconds, to finish just behind past Kenyan national XC champion Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin). A month ago Ndungu's coach Kazuki Kajiyama promised him an MP3 player for breaking 14 for the first time. What will he get now? Ndungu's remarkable run catapults him to the top level of the Japan-based Kenyan high school contingent and makes him a solid contender for the win at next month's National High School Track and Field Championships.
University-level competition was thick, with Hakone Ekiden powerhouses Toyo University, Komazawa University and Waseda University all recording multiple sub-29 performances in the men's 10000 m A and B-heats. Komazawa's Shinobu Kubota was the fastest collegiate of the day with a 28:10.02 for 8th in the national record-bid A-heat, while his teammate Shogo Nakamura won the B-heat in 28:22.59. Komazawa's Kensuke Gotoda was also under 29 in the B-heat, running 28:56.59 for 10th. Waseda likewise had three men sub-29, second-year Shuhei Yamamoto moving up aggressively in the second half of the A-heat after starting in the second pack to finish 28:14.49, teammate Shota Hiraga running 28:50.49 for 25th. Waseda's Hiroyuki Sasaki, like Hiraga a graduate of Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S., was slightly faster in the B-heat with a 28:49.61 for 5th.
Hakone Ekiden course record holder and 2012 champion Toyo only had two men sub-29, but the pair, identical twin brothers Yuta Shitara and Keita Shitara, both went out in the A-heat front pack on national record pace and held on for sub-28:20 clockings. Yuta was the faster of the two, 9th in a roughly twenty-second PB of 28:12.82, while Keita was 13th in 28:19.78, less than five seconds off his best. With Keita traditionally the stronger of the two, this race is believed to have marked the first time that Yuta has broken one of Keita's PBs and the first time he has beaten him in a major race. Tokai University's Tsubasa Hayakawa also contributed to the collegiate sub-29 haul. The buildup to the 2013 Hakone Ekiden is underway.
The top pro in the 10000 m, 2011's top-ranked Japanese man Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), was the only Japanese man of the day to break 28, 5th in 27:56.77 behind Japan-resident Kenyans Edward Waweru (Team NTN), Patrick Mwikya (Team Toyota Boshoku), John Thuo (Team Toyota) and Daniel Gitau (Team Fujitsu). Waweru took the win in 27:29.10. Ugachi's perpetual rival Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) was somewhat off his game, 7th in 28:07.30 after having beaten Ugachi two and a half weeks ago at the Olympic Trials.
The women's 10000 m was lacking in big names but saw strong performances from the top three. Little-known Yoko Aizu (Team Shikoku Denryoku) won in 32:18.40, faster than the 3rd-placer at the Olympic Trials and just ahead of past marathon great Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) who continued her long comeback from childbirth with a 32:20.98. Aizu's teammate Miho Ihara (Team Shikoku Denryoku) was another couple of steps back in 32:21.80, while her identical twin sister Kyoko Aizu (Team Shikoku Denryoku) was much further back in 11th with a time of 33:36.34.
The women's 3000 m A-heat had a great run from national champion Team Daiichi Seimei's Eina Yokosawa, who won easily in 9:05.97 over Sayuri Sendo (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and Yokosawa's teammate Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), who clocked 9:11.38 and 9:12.61 respectively.
The Hokuren Distance Challenge continues July 4 with the third of the series' four meets, this time in Kitami, Hokkaido.
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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