Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner



The raison d'ĂȘtre for the Japanese men's corporate team comes bright and early every Jan. 1 with the New Year Ekiden national corporate men's championships.  37 teams from 6 regions square off over 100 km in a race that sees most of the athletes bringing their peak performance of the year; at the 2012 New Year Ekiden, winner Team Nissin Shokuhin ace Yuki Sato's record of 1:02:51 for the 22.0 km Fourth Stage was equivalent to a 1:00:16 half marathon, faster than the Japanese national record.  TBS will broadcast the race live starting at 8:30 a.m.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online with Keyhole TV, with coverage also available via Twitter @JRNLive.

Nissin Shokuhin comes to the 2013 New Year Ekiden in range of a title defense, but much of its chances depend on Sato.  At November's East Japan regional qualifier he was only 4th on his stage, contributing to the team's loss to the Tsuyoshi Ugachi-led Team Konica Minolta.  It will take a performance close to his stage record last year, along with a solid debut from Nissin's junior Kenyan Leonard Barston, for Nissin to make up the distance to Konica Minolta, the favorite for the overall win.

Running without either of its Ethiopians, Team Honda was only one second behind Nissin at the East Japan qualifier and should also be up front throughout the race.  Noteworthy on Honda's lineup is the entry of Asmerow Mengistu rather than 2011 10000 m world champion Ibrahim Jeilan.  Team JR Higashi Nihon and Team Fujitsu were also strong in East Japan and have to be counted among the favorites.  The most-anticipated moment of this New Year Ekiden will surely be the pro ekiden debut of Fujitsu's Ryuji Kashiwabara, a celebrity throughout Japan after his four-straight Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage wins while at Toyo University.

If any team can break East Japan's dominance it will be Kyushu's Team Asahi Kasei.  One of Japan's most legendary old-school teams, Asahi Kasei has recently been accumulating a tough lineup including Komazawa University and Meiji University aces Takuya Fukatsu and Tetsuya Yoroizaka along with Hiroyuki Horibata, who ran 2:08:24 in Fukuoka earlier this month.  If Horibata has recovered adequately then Asahi Kasei should be a player.  Kyushu runner-up Team Yasukawa Denki and Kansai region winner Team Sagawa Express, featuring Olympic marathoners Kentaro Nakamoto and Ryo Yamamoto, should be in contention for the top five, along with Chugoku champion Team Chugoku Denryoku.

Despite Jeilan's absence, the 8.3 km "International Stage" should provide some of the best race of the day.  The entry list includes the likes of Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko), Clement Langat (Kenya/Team Subaru), Charles Ndirangu (Kenya/Team JFE Steel), Josphat Ndambiri (Kenya/Team Komori Corp.), Jonathan Ndiku (Kenya/Team Hitachi Butsuryu) and Alemu Desta (Ethiopia/Team Yasukawa Denki).  Most of the top Japanese talent will be lined up on the 13.6 km Third Stage and 22.0 km Fourth Stage.

2013 New Year Ekiden
National Corporate Men's Ekiden Championships
Maebashi, 1/1/13
37 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km

Top Team Entries
Konica Minolta (East Japan)
Nissin Shokuhin (East Japan)
Honda (East Japan)
Asahi Kasei (Kyushu)
JR Higashi Nihon (East Japan)
Sagawa Express (Kansai) 
Yasukawa Denki (Kyushu)
Shikoku Denryoku (Kansai) 
Toyota Kyushu (Kyushu)
Fujitsu (East Japan) 
Otsuka Seiyaku (Kansai)
Chugoku Denryoku (Chugoku) 
Toyota Boshoku (Chubu) 
Toyota (Chubu) 
Aichi Seiko (Chubu)
YKK (Hokuriku)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved