by Brett Larner
Sunday's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships kick off a busy string of championship road relays across Japan, with no less than eight major events in five weeks. The Dec. 16 race in Sendai is the peak of the year for corporate-league women, with the country's top marathoners and track runners from twenty-nine teams squaring off over a six-stage, 42.195 km course. TBS will broadcast the ekiden live nationwide beginning at 11:50 a.m. local time. It should be possible for overseas viewers to use Keyhole TV to catch the race, but JRN will also offer live coverage via Twitter @JRNLive.
The favorites look to be evenly divided between the three national divisions. Team Universal Entertainment won the East Japan regional qualifier last month by 3 1/2 minutes over defending national champion Team Daiichi Seimei and comes to Nationals seeded #1. A major factor in Universal's performance was a win on East Japan's longest stage by Mizuho Nasukawa, who subsequently finished 2nd at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon. Much of Universal's chances will depend on how well Nasukawa has recoved in the four weeks since Yokohama. Daiichi Seimei was missing ace Yoshimi Ozaki at East Japan and, should she be back and at her best, will be far more dangerous.
Central Japan's Team Denso was 5th last year and won its regional qualifier in 2:16:57, giving it the #2 position in the field. Featuring 2011 national 10000 m champion Kayo Sugihara and former Sera H.S. standout Susan Wairimu Denso should be in a position to give Universal a race. Not far behind from Central Japan and ranked 4th overall is Team Toyota Jidoshokki, led by 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi.
West Japan dominates the field, with six of the ten teams to have broken 2:20 at the qualifiers hailing from that region. Team Wacoal leads the way with a 2:17:38 course record win courtesy two new stage records by Olympian Kayoko Fukushi and younger star Chihiro Takato and is the probable favorite for the national title. Team Daihatsu, featuring London Olympics marathoner Ryoko Kizaki, and Team Sysmex, with marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi on its list, should also be factors. West Japan teams Tenmaya, Otsuka Seiyaku and Juhachi Ginko round out the sub-2:20 teams on the list.
Update: Start lists have now been released. Absent from defending champion Daiichi Seimei's lineup is 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki. The longest leg, the 10.9 km Third Stage, looks great, with 10000 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic), 5000 m national champion Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.), half marathon and 5000 m national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), 10000 m national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), 2011 World Championships marathoners Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and more.
The 3.6 km Fourth Stage, the day's shortest, features Kenyans Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko), Susan Wairimu (Team Denso), Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts), Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.), Beatrice Wainaina Murugi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) and Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi).
The 10. 0 km Fifth Stage includes marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), London Olympics marathoners Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) and Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) and Ome 30 km winner Asami Kato (Team Panasonic).
2012 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships
Top Team Entries With Time at Regional Qualifier
click here for start list
Universal Entertainment (East Japan) - 2:15:58
Denso (Cental Japan) - 2:16:57
Wacoal (West Japan) - 2:17:38 - CR
Toyota Jidoshokki (Central Japan) - 2:17:49
Daihatsu (West Japan) - 2:18:43
Sysmex (West Japan) - 2:19:23
Daiichi Seimei (East Japan) - 2:19:25
Tenmaya (West Japan) - 2:19:38
Otsuka Seiyaku (West Japan) - 2:19:39
Juhachi Ginko (West Japan) - 2:19:58
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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