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Konica Minolta and Universal Entertainment Win East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships Titles

by Brett Larner

Top young talents Tsuyoshi Ugachi and Hitomi Niiya led the Konica Minolta men and Universal Entertainment women to the win at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships, the regional qualifier for the New Year Ekiden men's national championships and the National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships, Nov. 3 in Saitama.

After a slow start by leadoff man Masaki Ito, Ugachi, one of Japan's best current track and road racers, ran just off his own Second Stage record to put Konica Minolta into the lead, a position it never left despite only one more stage win courtesy of Sendai Ikuei H.S. grad Paul Kuira.  5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya brought the team home to its first East Japan win in 7 years, 45 seconds ahead of defending national champion Team Nissin Shokuhin.

Nissin was far off its game, running its youngest Kenyan Leonard Barston and taking not a single stage win.  10000 m national champion Yuki Sato was only 4th on his stage, leaving anchor Hiroyuki Ono to deliver the team's best run, possibly the day's best run, a stage 2nd as he fought desperately to hold off Team Honda anchor Minoru Ikebe.  Ikebe started the 13.5 km only 6 seconds behind Ono and ran the best time on the stage but could not manage to close the gap, finishing 1 second back to give Honda 3rd place despite the absence of Ethiopian 2011 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan.

Honda and 4th place Team JR Higashi Nihon were the only teams in the top ten to place without African team members.  The likewise all-Japanese Press Kogyo and SDF Academy teams finished 11th and 12th to round out the qualifying bracket for the New Year Ekiden, shutting out Team Yakult and thirteen other teams.

With twelve National Championships spots up for grabs and only twelve teams entered the women's race suffered from some inherent redundancy, but the athletes nevertheless delivered their best.  Stage records fell on four of the six stages, with winner Universal Entertainment not seconds off the overall course record.  Missing ace Yoshimi Ozaki, defending national champion Team Daiichi Seimei got off to an early lead with a First Stage record by Hanae Tanaka but were run down on the short 3.1 km Second Stage by Kenyan Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts), who tied her own stage record of 9:28.

Universal sat in 2nd over the first two stages, but when 5000 m national champion Niiya stepped out on the 12.2 km Third Stage the race was virtually over for the competition.  Niiya knocked an incredible 46 seconds off the stage record, 4 seconds a km, running 38:21 to put Universal ahead of Daiichi Seimei by more than 2 minutes.  A Fourth Stage record by Kenyan Felista Wanjugu and a Fifth Stage best by 2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa meant that the team was utterly in the clear.  Despite anchor Chika Horie delivering the Universal's weakest individual run of the day they took the win in an outstanding 2:15:58, 3 1/2 minutes ahead of Daiichi Seimei.  With anything even close to the same level performance Universal would be one of the favorites at next month's National Championships, where they will face the best from the Central Japan and West Japan regions.

Along with Nasukawa, who will run the Yokohama International Women's Marathon in two weeks, marathoners Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) had strong turns, Akaba running the 2nd-best time on the Third Stage behind Niiya and Shibui 2nd on the Fifth Stage behind Nasukawa.  Akaba will face Nasukawa in Yokohama, where both will make bids for the sub-2:24 qualifying time for the 2013 World Championships team.

2012 East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships
Saitama, 11/3/12

Men
7 stages, 77.5 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (11.6 km) - Ryohei Kawakami (Team Kanebo) - 33:59
Second Stage (15.3 km) - Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 44:35
Third Stage (9.2 km) - Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta) - 26:23
Fourth Stage (9.9 km) - Ryosuke Fukuyama (Team Honda) - 29:48
Fifth Stage (7.4 km) - Daisuke Shimizu (Team Kanebo) / Atsushi Yamazaki (Team Subaru) - 21:48
Sixth Stage (10.6 km) - Yosuke Kanezuka (Team Honda) - 30:06
Seventh Stage (13.5 km)- Minoru Ikebe (Team Honda) - 39:53

Top Team Results - top 12 qualify for New Year Ekiden
1. Team Konica Minolta - 3:47:57
2. Team Nissin Shokuhin - 3:48:42
3. Team Honda - 3:48:43
4. Team JR Higashi Nihon - 3:49:21
5. Team Kanebo - 3:50:02
6. Team Fujitsu A - 3:50:15
7. Team Subaru - 3:50:26
8. Team Hitachi Logistics - 3:50:52
9. Team Komori Corp. - 3:51:50
10. Team Yachiyo Kogyo - 3:54:15
11. Team Press Kogyo - 3:55:07
12. SDF Academy - 3:55:34

Women
6 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.795 km) - Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 21:10 - CR
Second Stage (3.1 km) - Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) - 9:28 - CR
Third Stage (12.2 km) - Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) - 38:21 - CR
Fourth Stage (3.8 km) - Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.) - 11:48 - CR
Fifth Stage (10.0 km) - Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 33:30
Sixth Stage (6.3 km) - Sayo Nomura (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 20:58

Top Team Performances - top 12 qualify for National Championships
1. Team Univ. Ent. - 2:15:58
2. Team Daiichi Seimei - 2:19:25
3. Team Shimamura - 2:21:01
4. Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo - 2:21:55
5. Team Panasonic - 2:22:32
6. Team Hitachi - 2:22:52
7. Team Sekisui Kagaku - 2:23:35
8. Team Shiseido - 2:24:21
9. Team Starts - 2:24:32
10. Team Hokuren - 2:24:59
11. Team Yamada Denki - 2:25:18
12. Team Nihon ChemiCon - 2:28:20

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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