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Ekiden Weekend Roundup - Olympic Marathoner Ryo Yamamoto Returns to Action

by Brett Larner

Along with weekend's major domestic races, the Ageo City Half Marathon and Yokohama International Women's Marathon, no less than five major ekidens took place across the country. At Saturday's cold and rainy 74th Biwako University Ekiden, the eight stage, 83.6 km year-end championship for men's university teams from western Japan, Kyoto Sangyo University pulled off a third-straight win after a disappointing 2012 season. Never far from the front, Kyoto Sangyo took the lead on the 7.3 km Second Stage, losing it momentarily on the 11.0 km Third Stage to rival Daiichi Kogyo University's Kenyan ringer John Kariuki but returning on the next leg thanks to a stage win by Naoto Nakai. Kyoto Sangyo's next two runners built the team's lead up to 2:18, but a weak run by seventh man Makoto Kan cut the margin by a minute and left anchor Naoya Yoshioka with 1:16 to try to hold off Ritsumeikan University's 1500 m specialist Toshiki Imazeki over 7.7 km. Imazeki did what he could, running the fastest anchor leg by 21 seconds, but could not close the final 10 seconds. Kyoto Sangyo claimed the win in 4:15:45, Ritsumeikan 2nd in 4:15:55. Kansai Gakuin University was 3rd in a photo-finish with Osaka Keizai University, both teams clocking 4:18:12. Click here for complete results.

The other four ekidens of the weekend were all corporate men's regional qualifiers for the New Year Ekiden national championships. Olympic marathoner Ryo Yamamoto delivered his first solid post-London performance, winning the 16.0 km Third Stage to give Team Sagawa Express the win at the 55th Kansai Region Corporate Men's Ekiden. Before Yamamoto took the tasuki Sagawa fluctuated between 3rd and 5th, but after Yamamoto managed to run down the lead and put the team 5 seconds ahead they held on to win by a margin of well over a minute, covering the seven stage, 80.45 km course in 3:59:31. Team Shikoku Denryoku took 2nd in 4:00:56, Team Otsuka Seiyaku claiming 3rd in 4:01:46.  Team NTT Nishi Nihon's Masashi Kada set a new record of 23:00 for the 7.68 km Second Stage but his team could no better than 5th overall.

Team Toyota Boshoku was the surprise winner at the 52nd Chubu Region Corporate Men's Ekiden, covering the seven stage, 85.7 km course in 4:18:22 ahead of powerhouse Team Toyota on the strength of mid-race stage wins by Tomohiro Shiiya and Yoshihiro Yamamoto. The Toyota team spent, lacking ace Chihiro Miyawaki, most of the race in 3rd and 4th place, but stage wins on the final three legs were enough for it to advance to 2nd in 4:18:51. Noteworthy was the 36:25 win on the 11.9 km Fifth Stage by Toyota's Daegu World Championships marathoner Yoshinori Oda, who will race the Fukuoka International Marathon in two weeks in a bid for next summer's Moscow World Championships. Run down by Toyota anchor Shota Inoue and finishing 3rd just 8 seconds back was Team Aichi Seiko.

With only four teams the Hokuriku region holds its regional qualifier together with the Chubu region, both sets of teams running simultaneously but scored separately.  Perpetual winner Team YKK took every stage in the 42nd Hokuriku Corporate Men's Ekiden division to win in 4:19:55, a time that would have been good enough for 4th in the Chubu division. The tiny Team Omokawa Lumber was nearly 10 minutes back from YKK but still managed to qualify for the New Year Ekiden for the fourth time in its history.

Perpetual Chugoku Region Corporate Men's Ekiden champion Team Chugoku Denryoku did it again at that event's 51st running, recovering from a slow start to win the seven stage, 83.1 km event in 4:09:16 thanks to stage wins on the final four legs. Team Mazda led for the first five stages but could not hold off Chugoku Denryoku's back-heavy team stacking and had to settle for 2nd in 4:11:58. Former Sera H.S. sensation Charles Ndirangu the individual star of the show again, covering the 7.2 km Second Stage in 20:25 to help Team JFE Steel take 3rd in 4:12:39.

One more regional qualifier awaits, the Nov. 23 Kyushu Region Corporate Men's Ekiden, before the final roster for the Jan. 1 national championships lineup is settled. Favorites Team Asahi Kasei will face tough competition from the Koichi Morishita-coached Team Toyota Kyushu, whose members were key players in the Fukuoka team's defeat of the Asahi Kasei-powered Miyazaki team at the Grand Tour Kyushu ekiden earlier this month. Also look for Olympic marathon 6th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto to lead Team Yasukawa Denki after three straight wins at the Grand Tour Kyushu and the  Fukuoka Prefecture 10 Mile Road Race Championships.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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