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Kenya Over Japan for Second-Straight International Chiba Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner

For the second year in a row, Kenya and Japan battled back and forth for the lead of the International Chiba Ekiden all the way, with Kenya pulling ahead in the final two km to a narrow victory in 2:05:06 to Japan's 2:05:16.  All three Kenyan women on the team won their stages, Gladys Cherono and anchor Joyce Chepkirui setting new records on their legs.  Olympic 10000 m medalist Galen Rupp won his stage to bring the U.S.A close to the leaders but could not improve his team's position, the U.S.A. taking 3rd in 2:06:36.  Russia, the Japanese University Select Team, Canada, New Zealand and hosts Chiba Prefecture rounded out the top eight, with New Zealand's twins Jake and Zane Robertson winning their stages.  Although times were slower than last year in the cold rain the day brought, in all it felt like the highest-level, most truly international edition of Chiba since the switch to the joint men's and women's team format.

The Japanese University team's Ryotaro Otani of 2012 Izumo Ekiden course record-setting Aoyama Gakuin University took things out fast on the 5 km First Stage, with Zane Robertson on his shoulder and a tight pack of the best just behind.  Otani faded after 2.5 km, and Waseda University ace Suguru Osako moved up to join Robertson in the lead.  At 4 km the pair surged, dropping the competition including London Olympics 5000 m bronze medalist Thomas Longosiwa of Kenya and going head to head for the stage win.  Robertson, with a 5000 m best nearly 30 seconds slower than Osako's, was the one who broke free with 200 m to go to hand off 2 seconds ahead of the Japanese team and far ahead of his own best.  Russia's Egor Nikolaev, 2nd on the opening stage last year, was 3rd, with Canada's Geoff Martinson just behind in 4th.

10000 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa made short work of taking the lead away from New Zealand's Danielle Ingram-Trevis on the 5 km Second Stage but was run down by Cherono in the home straight.  Despite Cherono's left shoe coming undone she blasted a 14:54 course record to put Kenya 2 seconds ahead of Japan.  Sub-15 Russian Elena Zadorozhnaya maintained 3rd, Chelsea Reilly advancing the U.S. to 4th a step ahead of the Japanese University team's Ayuko Suzuki.

Kenyan titan Edwin Soi took things out fast on the first of the two men's 10 km stages, but, evidently to the surprise of at least one American commentator who dismissed him as some "random Japanese dude" with nothing but a "home field advantage," the Japanese team's 28:07/1:01:38 junior Shinobu Kubota, who earlier this month made up a margin of over a minute to anchor Komazawa University to its tenth national title under head coach Hiroaki Oyagi, was brilliant.  With sub-13 man Soi initially opening a lead of 15 seconds Kubota did what he does best and ran him down.  At 4.5 km he caught Soi and went ahead into the lead.  Soi responded but Kubota stayed locked to his side and surging on the corners for the remainder of the stage.  Soi naturally had the kick to keep Kenya in the lead at the handoff but Kubota marked himself as a name to watch, particularly with a planned marathon debut in Lake Biwa in March on tap.  Further back, the U.S.A.'s Jake Riley had a solid run, dropping the Japanese University team's Shota Hiraga and running down Russia's Evgeny Rybakov.  New Zealand's Jake Robertson was a surprise stage winner as he handed off in 6th ahead of Canadian Olympian Reid Coolsaet.

Kenyan Olympic marathon silver medalist Priscah Jeptoo and the Japan team's Misaki Onishi started simultaneously in the lead on the 5 km Fourth Stage, but after only 1.5 km Onishi began to slip back.  Jeptoo rolled away steadily, opening a gap of 30 seconds to win the stage on time and hand off in the lead.  The U.S.A.'s Emma Kertesz was phenomenal, dropping Russian Svetlana Kireyeva and opening a sizeable gap before handing off to highly-anticipated London Olympics 10000 m silver medalist Galen Rupp in 3rd.  Collegiate 10000 m national champion first-year Haruka Kyuma ran well for the Japanese University team, narrowing the deficit to Kireyeva for final collegiate man Takehiro Deki.

At the start of the hilly 10 km Fifth Stage sub-13 Kenyan Philip Mosima held a 30 second lead over past 1500 m and 5000 m Japanese national champion Yuichiro Ueno, the U.S.' Rupp another 42 seconds back, a perfect setup for a classic stage.  Ueno, with pacing duties at next week's Fukuoka International Marathon, handled the distance well and caught Mosima by halfway even as Rupp, wearing a support on his left thigh, made up ground.  After a 13:59 5 km split it looked as though Rupp might make contact with the top two, but going onto the hills in the second half Ueno attacked and after a protracted battle did away with Mosima to put Japan ahead by 11 seconds at the handoff.  Rupp was faster but too far away to catch the leaders, winning the stage in 28:20 but still 16 seconds from first overall.

With four major uphills making it the toughest of Chiba's legs, the 7.195 km anchor stage was thus set up as a match race between 5000 m national champion Hitomi Niiya, who led most of the Olympic 10000 m before finishing in an all-time Japanese #3 30:59.19, and African cross-country champion Joyce Chepkirui, a DNF in the Olympic 10000 m.  Niiya hit it hard, clocking 5:52 for the first 2 km as if the hills weren't there, but Chepkirui still ran her down.  Back and forth they ran, Chepkirui gapping Niiya on the flat stretches and Niiya coming back on the hills, but with a flat final 2 km the outcome seemed inevitable.  Chepkirui pulled away steadily with 2 km to go, bringing Kenya home to a successful title defense despite taking a wrong turn heading into the stadium and getting confused about her final lap on the track.  A disappointed Niiya came in 10 seconds behind, with the U.S.A.'s Neely Spence losing over a minute for 3rd.  Russia and the Japanese University team maintained 4th and 5th, while Canada's Lanni Marchant and New Zealand's Sarah Drought battled over the last lap for 6th, Marchant coming out ahead.  Hosts Chiba rounded out the podium with a top eight finish.

All told it was the most interesting and meaningful International Chiba Ekiden in memory, a race packed with Olympians and medalists from around the world.  Surely not a coincidence with another Olympic bid in progress.  If the bid committee has its way, should Tokyo win next fall we may be lucky enough to see an ekiden on the menu.  The Chiba course is sure to be the first choice.



2012 International Chiba Ekiden
Chiba, 11/23/12
six stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results
click stage header for individual stage results

Top Individual Performances
First Stage (5.0 km, men)
1. Zane Robertson (New Zealand) - 13:29
2. Suguru Osako (Japan) - 13:31
3. Egor Nikolaev (Russia) - 13:37
4. Geoff Martinson (Canada) - 13:50
5. Keisuke Tanaka (Chiba) - 13:57

Second Stage (5.0 km, women)
1. Gladys Cherono (Kenya) - 14:54 - CR
2. Mika Yoshikawa (Japan) - 15:22
3. Chelsea Reilly (U.S.A.) - 15:29
4. Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Univ.) - 15:32
5. Elena Zadorozhnaya (Russia) - 15:45

Third Stage (10.0 km, men)
1. Jake Robertson (New Zealand) - 28:40
2. Jacob Riley (U.S.A.) - 28:46
3. Reid Coolsaet (Canada) - 28:58
4. Evgeny Rybakov (Russia) - 28:58
5. Shinobu Kubota (Japan) - 29:01

Fourth Stage (5.0 km, women)
1. Priscah Jeptoo (Kenya) - 15:40
2. Misaki Onishi (Japan) - 16:10
3. Emma Kertesz (U.S.A.) - 16:25
4. Haruka Kyuma (Japan Univ.) - 16:26
5. Dominika Nowakowska (Poland) - 16:38

Fifth Stage (10.0 km, men)
1. Galen Rupp (U.S.A.) - 28:20
2. Yuichiro Ueno (Japan) - 28:46
3. Philip Mosima (Kenya) - 29:27
4. Tim Hodge (New Zealand) - 30:00
5. Alex Genest (Canada) - 30:07

Sixth Stage (7.195 km, women)
1. Joyce Chepkirui (Kenya) - 22:05 - CR
2. Hitomi Niiya (Japan) - 22:26
3. Neely Spence (U.S.A.) - 23:30
4. Mai Tsuda (Japan Univ.) - 24:02
5. Elizaveta Grechishinikova (Russia) - 24:05

Team Results
1. Kenya - 2:05:06
2. Japan - 2:05:16
3. U.S.A. - 2:06:36
4. Russia - 2:09:13
5. Japan Univ. Select Team - 2:09:31
6. Canada - 2:11:01
7. New Zealand - 2:11:04
8. Chiba Pref. - 2:12:12
9. Poland - 2:13:02
10. Romania - 2:13:41
11. Norway - 2:14:08
12. Australia - 2:15:19
13. Finland - 2:16:29
14. South Korea - 2:16:42
15. Czech Republic - 2:16:49

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Brett Larner said…
JRN's Chiba prediction in preview with actual placing in parentheses:

1. Kenya (1)
2. Russia (4)
3. Japan (2)
4. U.S.A. (3)
5. Univ. team (5)
6. Poland (9)
7. Canada (6)
8. Chiba (8)

Russia and Poland underperformed a bit and New Zealand in 7th was stronger than expected, but not too far off.
Anonymous said…
Where can I find full results in english?
Brendan Reilly said…
Good thorough article, Brett. As predicted, Keyhole didn't work for getting any broadcast, or at least it didn't work here in Colorado.

Would be nice to see an ekiden added at to the world championships, rather than the step being discussed of dropping the world half-marathon championships as a separate event and making them part of the bi-annual world championships. JAAF should be pushing for that as an intermediate step to possibly getting ekidens added to the Olympic schedule.
TokyoRacer said…
Comments after being out on the course (4th and 5th legs):
It was hardly raining at the 1:07 (why?) start, but by 1:45 it was raining pretty steadily. Still, not hard enough to affect the runners. The temperature throughout was about 9C/48F.
Jeptoo looked really good on the 4th leg, and Emma from the US looked great! She was really moving.
Ueno went past me about 1k after his start about 30 seconds behind Mosima and I never thought he would catch him. Great run. Galen looked strong from the start.
Comments after watching the broadcast later:
The commentators really played up Rupp - before and during his run. They were literally gushing about his form, speed, strength. And if anything, he got more air time than Ueno, which is definitely a first for a Japanese broadcast. And it WAS pretty damn exciting to see him catching them, after starting more than a minute behind.
One more thing: look at those results again. 1st stage, 5km men — no Kenyans in the top 5. 3rd stage, 10km men — no Kenyans in the top five. Amazing. You couldn't have gotten a bet on that before the race. Great that so many countries brought top runners, and that they came to run!
Brett Larner said…
Thanks, Brendan. And agreed, TR, they were very, very excited to have Rupp there and made that clear. Just to be accurate, however, although he gained on Ueno and Mosima he never actually came close to catching them.

Also agreed on Longosiwa and Soi. It's not as though they were the high schoolers on their first trip out of the country that we've seen the last few years. Longosiwa seemed to have had an off day, but Kubota got in some solid body blows on Soi fair and square. Can't wait to see him again in Hakone and Lake Biwa.

As I said in the article, I think the higher-quality field this year is probably connected to the Olympic bid, but hopefully the audience response was enough for them to see how much better the race is to watch when there is genuinely world-class competition in it. Along with the stronger U.S. team at the Izumo Ekiden the last two years it's a nice move back in the right direction, at any rate. Hopefully in 11 years we'll see a team of all the best NCAA runners at the 100th Hakone Ekiden.
Anonymous said…
Brett,

I would love to bring a team of Hansons-Brooks runner to a Japenese Ekiden. Born Neely and Jake are current members of our group.

Keith Hanson
Hansons-Brooks Distance Project
Brett Larner said…
I'd be happy to help out if you need assistance, Keith. Feel free to contact me via email.


Brett

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