by Brett Larner
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The 2012 edition of the early-summer staple of the Japanese track circuit, the Hokuren Distance Challenge, wrapped up July 7 with a big night in Abashiri, Hokkaido. Having missed out on the London Olympics team, women's 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) made her formal 10000 m debut in 32:21.03, finishing 2nd in the A-heat behind one of the year's leading Japanese women, Ai Igarashi (Team Sysmex), who took the win in 32:17.58. Eight women altogether broke 32:30, most for the first time. 6th place finisher Akiko Matsuyama (Team Panasonic) recorded an enormous PB of 32:27.23 ahead of her international road debut at the Great North 10 km. Marathoners Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) were far down the field, 20th and 24th in 33:08.59 and 33:27.03 respectively.
The men's 10000 m A-heat was a showdown between newly Japan-based African talent, with first-year corporate and university ringers taking four of the top five spots. Spectacularly-named Ethiopian Miliyon Zewdie (Team Yachiyo Kogyo) was the fastest of them, landing the top spot in 27:54.52. A healthy distance back, 2010's top Japanese 10000 m and half-marathon man Tomoya Onishi (Team Asahi Kasei) taking the coveted top Japanese position for 6th in 28:10.81 just ahead of past 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B), continuing his comeback from a year and a half of injury troubles.
Ueno's fellow Saku Chosei H.S. graduate Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.), like Kobayashi having missed out on making the London team after a paper-thin 10000 m loss to another Saku Chosei grad, Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), took the men's 5000 m A-heat in a solid 13:33.84, leading a collegiate charge that saw no less than eight university men break 14 in the heat, most in PB marks. Komazawa University led the way with three A-heat finishers under 14. Waseda's Yuki Maeda went sub-14 in the B-heat, giving it a total of three between the two heats.
The other fast race of the evening came in the women's 3000 m A-heat, where former high school Kenyan standout Beatrice Wainaina Murgi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) continued a solid debut pro season with a win in 9:03.76, more than four seconds clear of top Japanese woman Risa Kikuchi (Team Hitachi) and Kenyan rival Rose Maranga (Team Toto).
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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