Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Olympic Marathoner Nakamoto Returns to Roads as Grand Tour Kyushu Reaches Halfway

by Brett Larner

Japan's #1 marathoner, London Olympics 6th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto, returned to the roads Oct. 30 with the Fukuoka Prefecture team on the third day of the Grand Tour Kyushu 2012, an eight-day, 50-stage, 732.2 km ekiden around Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu.

After dominating on the traditional 72-stage, 1056.6 km course in 2010 and at last year's scaled-back 60th running, Miyazaki Prefecture got off to a strong start on Day One, finishing the day with an 84-second lead over Fukuoka and a lead of more than 2 1/2 minutes over Nagasaki Prefecture thanks to large part to Third and Fourth Stage wins by rookie pro Tetsuya Yoroizaka and Kazuya Deguchi.

2009 winner Fukuoka fought back on Day Two, winning four of the six stages and opening a nearly 2 minute lead on Miyazaki with Nagasaki another 5+ minutes back.  Miyazaki's lone stage win of the day came thanks to 2011 World Championships marathon 7th-place finisher Hiroyuki Horibata, who won the Fourth Stage by nearly two minutes in a solid performance that bodes well for the upcoming winter marathon season.

With Nakamoto winning the 15.3 km Second Stage in 45:26 in his first serious post-Olympics race and a stage record from anchor Koji Kaneko Fukuoka continued its roll, all but sweeping Day Three and extending its lead to 6 1/2 minutes.  Miyazaki's Takahiro Mori was the only rival to break through, setting a new course record of 42:14 for the tough 13.6 km Fifth Stage.

Day Four saw more strong performances from Fukuoka as athletes began to run their second stages of the Tour, Ryuji Watanabe winning his stage for the second time and Hiroki Kubota setting a new Fourth Stage record.  The day belonged to the Nagasaki team, however, as anchor Taku Miyahara set a stage record and both Sho Matsueda and Yuki Mori won their second stage titles to give Nagasaki the day win and close its gap to 2nd-place Miyazaki from a 7:40 deficit to a margin of 46 seconds.

With four days of running to go Fukuoka seems to have an untouchable lead of nearly 13 minutes, but Nagasaki and Miyazaki look set for a tough battle for the runner-up spot.

Grand Tour Kyushu 2012
Kyushu, Oct. 28-Nov. 4
50 stages, 732.3 km, 9 teams
click here for complete results

Day One
5 stages, 75.2 km

Team Standings
1. Miyazaki Pref. - 3:49:15
2. Fukuoka Pref. - 3:50:39
3. Nagasaki Pref. - 3:51:46

Stage Bests
First Stage (15.1 km): Sho Matsueda (Nagasaki Pref.) - 44:17
Second Stage (17.7 km): Masato Imai (Fukuoka Pref.) - 53:11
Third Stage (14.0 km): Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Miyazaki Pref.) - 42:46
Fourth Stage (12.8 km): Kazuya Deguchi (Miyazaki Pref.) - 38:50
Fifth Stage (15.6 km): Ryuji Watanabe (Fukuoka Pref.) - 48:07

Day Two
6 stages, 74.0 km

Team Standings
1. Fukuoka Pref. - 7:34:36 (3:43:57, 1st)
2. Miyazaki Pref. - 7:36:30 (3:47:15, 2nd)
3. Nagasaki Pref. - 7:41:49 (3:50:03, 3rd)

Stage Bests
First Stage: (9.4 km) Kaoru Hirosue (Fukuoka Pref.) - 28:51
Second Stage (12.2 km): Yuki Mori (Nagasaki Pref.) - 36:34
Third Stage (15.3 km): Takeshi Makabe (Fukuoka Pref.) - 44:57
Fourth Stage (14.2 km): Hiroyuki Horibata (Miyazaki Pref.) - 42:10
Fifth Stage (11.3 km): Masayuki Obata (Fukuoka Pref.) - 33:57
Sixth Stage (11.6 km): Makoto Tobimatsu (Fukuoka Pref.) - 35:18

Day Three
6 stages, 91.9 km

Team Standings
1. Fukuoka Pref. - 12:12:42 (4:38:06, 1st)
2. Miyazaki Pref. - 12:19:16 (4:42:46, 2nd)
3. Nagasaki Pref. - 12:26:56 (4:45:07, 3rd)

Stage Bests
First Stage (10.4 km): Kei Goto (Fukuoka Pref.) - 30:40
Second Stage (15.3 km): Kentaro Nakamoto (Fukuoka Pref.) - 45:26
Third Stage (20.0 km): Kenichi Kawano (Fukuoka Pref.) - 1:01:28
Fourth Stage (20.2 km): Yuki Oshikawa (Fukuoka Pref.) - 1:00:39
Fifth Stage (13.6 km): Takahiro Mori (Miyazaki Pref.) - 42:14 - CR
Sixth Stage (12.4 km): Koji Kaneko (Fukuoka Pref.) - 37:33 - CR

Day Four
8 stages, 122.1 km

Team Standings
1. Fukuoka Pref. - 18:25:59 (6:13:17, 2nd)
2. Nagasaki Pref. - 18:38:46 (6:11:50, 1st)
3. Miyazaki Pref. - 18:39:32 (6:20:16, 3rd)

Stage Bests
First Stage (9.8 km): Tomoaki Bungo (Miyazaki Pref.) - 30:01
Second Stage (13.8 km): Yuki Mori (Nagasaki Pref.) - 41:41
Third Stage (14.4 km): Ryuji Watanabe (Fukuoka Pref.) - 42:55
Fourth Stage (17.0 km): Hiroki Kubota (Fukuoka Pref.) - 51:32 - CR
Fifth Stage (17.6 km): Ayumu Hisaibara (Fukuoka Pref.) - 53:34
Sixth Stage (19.6 km): Sho Matsueda (Nagasaki Pref.) - 59:44
Seventh Stage (12.8 km): Mao Fukuyama (Fukuoka Pref.) - 38:36
Eighth Stage (17.1 km): Taku Miyahara (Nagasaki Pref.) - 50:53 - CR

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

'Coolsaet to Lead a Talented National Team at Japan's Chiba Ekiden'

http://runningmagazine.ca/2012/10/sections/news/coolsaet-to-lead-a-talented-national-team-at-japans-chiba-ekiden/

Two Overseas Elites Withdraw From Yokohama

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/20121030/ath12103015430001-n1.html

translated by Brett Larner

The organizers of the Nov. 18 Yokohama International Women's Marathon announced Oct. 30 that two of its overseas invited elites have withdrawn.  Philes Ongori (Kenya) has pulled out with a leg injury, while Yolanda Caballero (Colombia) has withdrawn due to poor fitness.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fujiwara "Aiming for National Record" at Tokyo Marathon

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/p-sp-tp0-20121026-1037852.html

translated by Brett Larner

Having finished 45th in the London Olympics men's marathon, Arata Fujiwara (30, Miki House) has confirmed that he is planning to go after the Japanese national record at next February's Tokyo Marathon.  Fujiwara left his training camp in Fujimi Kogen, Nagano to attend an event honoring his alma mater Takushoku University's Olympians at a Tokyo-area hotel.  Asked at the event about his future goals Fujiwara announced, "I'm strongly motivated to go after a time goal.  I want to run at least 2:06, and that means I'll be aiming for the national record.  If I'm going to go after a time, it'll be at that race."

"That race" is of course Tokyo, where he has finished 2nd three times.  This year he ran 2:07:48 in Tokyo, making him Japan's all-time 7th-fastest man.  "The way they put the race together makes Tokyo more and more suitable for going after a time goal," he said with obvious confidence.  In making the announcement, Fujiwara is putting himself forward as the one who will erase the now 10-year-old national record of 2:06:16 set in 2002 by Toshinari Takaoka.

On the other hand, Fujiwara's rival, civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi, is on a roll and feeling good with three straight marathon wins in the last two months.  With regard to Kawauchi's upcoming bid to make the Moscow World Championships team at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, Fujiwara said, "I want him to give me a sharp jab."  After the heartbreak of his Olympic failure, the lone wolf of Japanese marathoning is once again on his feet and aiming upwards.

Translator's note: In addition to his three 2nd-place finishes, Fujiwara was also 57th in 2:29:21 at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Fukushi Leads Team Wacoal to West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Course Record

http://www.shikoku-np.co.jp/sports/local/20121029000154

translated and edited by Brett Larner

At the Oct. 28 West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden, a six-stage, 42.195 km race beginning in front of City Hall in Munakata, Fukuoka, Team Wacoal set a new course record of 2:17:38 to take its first West Japan win.  One week ahead of her planned appearance at the New York City Marathon, Kayoko Fukushi set a new course record on the 10.2 km Third Stage, passing eleven opponents to give Wacoal a lead that was never cracked.  Team Daihatsu was 2nd in 2:18:43, with Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi-led Team Sysmex 3rd in 2:19:23.

The West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden served as the regional qualifier for December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships in Miyagi.  The top five teams in West Japan were guaranteed to qualify, with any teams clearing 2:23 also picking up places on the start line at the National Championships.  Twelve of the sixteen teams running West Japan achieved sub-2:23 marks.

2012 West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden
Munakata, Fukuoka, 10/28/12

1. Team Wacoal - 2:17:38 - CR
2. Team Daihatsu - 2:18:43
3. Team Sysmex - 2:19:23
4. Team Tenmaya - 2:19:38
5. Team Otsuka Seiyaku - 2:19:39
6. Team Juhachi Ginko - 2:19:58
7. Team Kyocera - 2:20:12
8. Team Kyudenko - 2:21:19
9. Team Noritz - 2:21:23
10. Team Shikoku Denryoku - 2:21:44
11. Canon AC Kyushu - 2:22:23
12. Team Edion - 2:22:58
----- bottom four teams did not qualify for National Championships
13. Team Uniqlo - 2:23:46
14. Team Toto - 2:24:02
15. Team Higo Ginko - 2:25:47
16. Team Kagoshima Ginko - 2:31:09

Ritsumeikan University Wins Record-Setting Seventh National Title

http://mainichi.jp/sports/news/20121029k0000m050036000c.html

translated by Brett Larner

With 28 teams on the starting line for the six-stage, 38.6 km National University Women's Ekiden Championships on Oct. 28 in Sendai, defending national champion Ritsumeikan University celebrated the championships' 30th anniversary by running 2:06:05 to take a record-setting seventh national title.  Rival Bukkyo University was relegated to the runner-up position for the second-straight year, 1:05 behind Ritsumeikan, while Tsubuka University was 3rd in its first Nationals appearance in nine years, making the seeded top six for the first time in ten years.

Ritsumeikan sat in 4th at the end of the First Stage, 13 seconds behind the lead before junior Akane Yabushita took over with a stage-best run to put Ritsumeikan into the lead.  The team sustained the lead through the Third Stage and was unchallenged all the way to the finish.  After starting the Second Stage in the lead. Bukkyo senior Shiho Takechi fell behind late in the stage.  Her teammates were unable to make up the deficit on the remaining stages.  Osaka Gakuin University and, returning from a DNF last year, Daito Bunka University, made it into the seeded bracket for the first time, while five-year-straight 3rd-placer Meijo University was only 7th, its first time ever not earning a seeded spot.

Pre-race, Ritsumeikan coach Miyuki Tokura had predicted, "The Second Stage, with the highest concentration of fast runners, will be the key."  After having been mostly out of competition since January with knee problems, captain Yabushita's performance on the Second Stage was crucial to the team's win.  Yabushita, whose credentials include a 2nd-place finish in the 1500 m at last year's National Track and Field Championships, was nervous about racing, saying, "I didn't really know how far I had recovered my strength yet."  With a 13-second gap to Bukkyo rival Takechi, Yabushita took the lead with 700 m to go before the handoff and opened an 8-second lead, winning the stage for the third year in a row.  Yabushita passed on her momentum to Third Stage runner Mai Tsuda who likewise won her stage to all but seal the overall win for Ritsumeikan.

With four-time Nationals team members Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) and others having graduated last spring, Ritsumeikan's strength this year was to be found among its sophomores and juniors.  A month ago at the Kansai Regional University Ekiden Championships with Yabushita still injured and Tsuda suffering from fatigue Ritsumeikan was crushed by Bukkyo, finishing an all-but unthinkable 4th.  "Everybody was nervous going into that race," said Yabushita, "but what happened there got us all focused and ready to come here and win."  Having worked together to overcome their problems, all members of this year's winning team will return next year.  Another era of the Ritsumeikan dynasty may be just getting underway.

Matsuoka 10th in Debut With Second Wind

http://www.iaaf.org/Mini/LRR12/News/NewsDetail.aspx?id=68052

2:26 marathoner and former Suzuki Hamamatsu AC member Noriko Matsuoka made her international debut as a member of the Second Wind club at the Great South Run, finishing 10th in 56:08 ahead of next month's Yokohama International Women's Marathon.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nakao 4th at Great Birmingham Run

IAAF Great Birmingham Run report. 2008 World Half Marathon Championships 5th-placer Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) took 4th in 1:03:16 in his first half marathon since 2009.

IAAF Amsterdam Marathon report. 2:08:38 man Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) was 15th in 2:14:37.

Kawauchi Completes Hat Trick With Win at Inaugural Chiba Aqualine Marathon

by Brett Larner

Continuing his solid buildup to a shot at 2:07 at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) ran 2:17:48 to win the first running of the Chiba Aqualine Marathon on Oct. 21, his third-straight marathon win following a victory at August's Hokkaido Marathon and a course record at September's Sydney Marathon.  With second place over ten minutes back Kawauchi ran most of the race, a new mass-participation event with 13946 finishers running partially across the Aqualine bridge over Tokyo Bay, solo, splitting 1:08:37 at halfway.  "This time I focused on kicking hard after 40 km," Kawauchi told JRN after the race.  "It was good preparation for my next big race."  Chiba represented his final marathon-length tuneup for Fukuoka, with three half marathons and a 30 km race still on the menu before his attempt at a 2:07.

2012 Gold Coast Marathon winner Kaori Yoshida (Puma AC) took the women's race in 2:32:11 just four weeks before her planned World Championships bid at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon.  Yoshida's margin of victory was even greater than Kawauchi's, with her nearest competition 26 minutes behind.

2012 Chiba Aqualine Marathon
Chiba, 10/21/12

Men -  11519 finishers
1. Yuki Kawauchi - 2:17:48 - CR
2. Tomoyuki Kawakami - 2:28:01
3. Koji Takahashi - 2:29:22

Women - 2427 finishers
1. Kaori Yoshida - 2:32:11 - CR
2. Yoshimi Kasezawa - 2:58:20
3. Mai Hanazawa - 2:58:58

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

First-Years Kubota and Ogura 59:28 and 59:59 to Lead Aoyama Gakuin Sweep at Takashimadaira 20 km

by Brett Larner

Less than two weeks after their unexpected course record win at the Izumo Ekiden, Aoyama Gakuin University fired a serious warning shot across the bows of impending Hakone Ekiden rivals Toyo University, Komazawa University, Waseda University and Meiji University. Despite the absence of captain and course record holder Takehiro Deki, Aoyama Gakuin runners swept the top ten at the Takashimadaira 20 km in Tokyo on Oct. 21. First-years Kazuma Kubota and Yusuke Ogura, key elements in their team's Izumo win, led the way with solid 59:28 and 59:59 clockings for 1-2, but the team as a whole was impressive as its tenth finisher was under 1:00:30. Even without 58:51 man Deki. Any questions about Aoyama Gakuin's ability to translate its improvement over the relatively short distances at Izumo to the longer half-marathon stages of Hakone appear to be answered two and a half months out from the main event.

2012 Takashimadaira Road Race 20 km
Takashimadaira, Tokyo, 10/21/12
click here for complete results

1. Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 59:28
2. Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 59:59
3. Takuya Fujikawa (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:16
4. Ryotaro Otani (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:17
5. Shunsuke Ishida (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:20
6. Isshin Nakai (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:21
7. Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:23
8. Yukiho Aihara (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:24
9. Masato Endo (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:26
10. Soshi Takahashi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:29

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Benjamin Gandu 57:47 Overall Win, Nittai University Takes Top Team Spot at Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

by Brett Larner

At the second big race of the university ekiden season Nihon University senior Benjamin Gandu continued to develop into one of the hottest properties on Japanese soil, following his 1:01:06 best at February's Marugame Half Marathon with a 57:47 win at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km road race, the qualifying race for January's Hakone Ekiden for schools that fell outside the top ten at this year's Hakone.  With a nearly one and a half minute lead over the closest competition Gandu became the second-fastest man ever at the Yosenkai, leading Nihon University back to Hakone after the team's decades-long streak was broken last year.

With 2009 Yosenkai winner Akinobu Murasawa out with an Achilles injury Gandu easily broke his closest Kenyan competition, Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.), with a surge at 10 km after the pair dueled their way through 14:22 and 28:40 opening 5 km splits.  Muthee in turn barely held off Keisuke Fujii (Chuo Gakuin Univ.), the only Japanese runner to go with the early all-African break, who overtook the Kenyan with 1 km to go but could not match his last kick.  Muthee took 2nd in 59:07 with Fujii 3rd in 59:09, the all-time third-best time by a Japanese man at the Yosenkai.  Seven runners altogether cracked the hour mark.  Nittai University put two men under an hour, junior Takumi Honda and senior Keigo Yano, with a solid team performance to take the top team placing in a total time of 10:04:47.

The cumulative times of each school's top ten finishers determine the team standings, with the top six teams earning spots at Hakone in January and 7th through 9th going on through a combination of their times and points earned at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships.  Joining Nihon in returning to Hakone after a three-year absence was Hosei University, 9th on time but taking 8th thanks to a generous point handicap.

Despite Muthee's efforts Takushoku could not put together the team performance it needed, falling outside the qualifying bracket by a margin of nearly two minutes in 10th.  The absence of Tokai captain Murasawa, one of Japan's most talented collegiates with a 27:50.59 best at this year's Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, was fatal to Tokai's hopes of making it back to Hakone.  Tokai's Tsubasa Hayakawa made the top ten, but the team as a whole could do no better than 12th.  Hayakawa and other top-placing individuals from teams that failed to qualify will be consigned to run on Hakone's 20th team, the Kanto Regional University Select Team, come Jan. 2-3.  Murasawa, who beat Gandu by 17 seconds over 23.2 km to win the 2011 Hakone Ekiden's most competitive stage, will be sorely missed in what would have been his final Hakone appearance.

Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Qualifying Road Race
Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 10/20/12

Top Individual Results
click here for complete individual results
1. Benjamin Gandu (4th yr., Nihon Univ.) - 57:47
2. Duncan Muthee (3rd yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 59:07
3. Keisuke Fujii (4th yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 59:09
4. Toshikatsu Ebina (3rd yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 59:40
5. Takumi Honda (3rd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 59:43
6. Keigo Yano (4th yr., Nittai Univ.) - 59:55
7. Yudai Yamakawa (4th yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 59:59
8. Yuji Murota (4th yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:00
9. Ryoma Takeuchi (2nd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:00:02
10. Tsubasa Hayakawa (4th yr., Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:02

Top Team Results
cumulative time of top ten finishers
top nine teams qualify for 2013 Hakone Ekiden
click here for complete team results
1. Nittai University - 10:04:47
2. Teikyo University - 10:08:05
3. Chuo Gakuin University - 10:09:54
4. Daito Bunka University - 10:10:13
5. Jobu University - 10:10:42
6. Kanagawa University - 10:11:27
-----7th - 9th include points from May's Kanto Regionals
7. Nihon University - 10:12:50 (-3:55)
8. Hosei University - 10:13:37 (-3:00)
9. Tokyo Nogyo University - 10:12:46 (-2:05)
----did not qualify
10. Takushoku University - 10:15:28 (-1:05)
11. Senshu University - 10:16:54 (-0:20)
12. Tokai University - 1020:13 (-3:35)

2013 Hakone Ekiden Field
1. Toyo University
2. Komazawa University
3. Meiji University
4. Waseda University
5. Aoyama Gakuin University
6. Josai University
7. Juntendo University
8. Chuo University
9. Yamanashi Gakuin University
10. Koku Gakuin University
11. Nittai University
12. Teikyo University
13. Chuo Gakuin University
14. Daito Bunka University
15. Jobu University
16. Kanagawa University
17. Nihon University
18. Hosei University
19. Tokyo Nogyo University
20. Kanto Regional University Select Team

Kanto Regional University Select Team
10. Tsubasa Hayakawa (4th yr., Tokai Univ.)- 1:00:02
12. Yasunori Onuma (4th yr., Asia Univ.) - 1:00:04
20. Shusei Ohashi (4th yr., Senshu Univ.) - 1:00:29
29. Shuhei Yamaguchi (1st yr., Soka Univ.) - 1:00:35
31. Takafumi Kikuchi (3rd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:36
40. Shota Saito (2nd yr., Senshu Univ.) - 1:00:41
43. Taiki Yoshimura (2nd yr., Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) - 1:00:48
51. Daiki Nomoto (4th yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 1:00:55
59. Daichi Motomura (3rd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 1:01:00
65. Keisuke Sago (2nd yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 1:01:11
68. Tetsuhiro Yamamoto (3rd yr, Kanto Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:15
74. Masayuki Kawata (3rd yr., Asia Univ.) - 1:01:23
76. Tomoya Okazaki (3rd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:24
79. Yusuke Umeki (3rd yr., Ryutsu Keizai Univ.) - 1:01:27
80. Sora Tsukada (4th yr., Heisei Kokusai Univ.)- 1:01:28
83. Daichi Ando (1st yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:01:32

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'World Champion Tadese Faces Tough Challenge in Birmingham'

http://www.iaaf.org/Mini/LRR12/News/NewsDetail.aspx?id=67999

2008 World Half Marathon Championships 5th-placer Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is appearing in the Great Birmingham Run with assistanace from JRN.  Nakao will be running December's Fukuoka International Marathon in pursuit of the sub-2:08 time requirement for the 2013 Moscow World Championships Japanese marathon team.

Friday, October 19, 2012

'Amsterdam Marathon Hoping for New Course Records'

http://www.iaaf.org/Mini/LRR12/News/NewsDetail.aspx?id=67996

Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), ran 2:08:38 in this year's Tokyo Marathon and was the fastest of the four contenders for the third spot on the Japanese Olympic team but was left off.  Amsterdam will be his first overseas marathon since the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yokohama International Women's Marathon Announces 2012 Elite Field

by Brett Larner

The organizers of the Yokohama International Women's Marathon have announced the elite field for this year's 4th running on Nov. 18.  With the Japanese federation dictating a sub-2:24 requirement for Japanese women to be considered for next year's Moscow World Championships marathon squad they have assembled a field with at least three runners potentially in range of that goal.

Kenyan Lydia Cheromei serves as the one to follow for those chasing the Moscow time, her 2:21:30 coming as part of the miracle in Dubai last January.  The main contenders to achieve the federation's target time behind her are three of this year's top ten Japanese women, 2011 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), spring 2011 Yokohama runner-up and 2012 Nagoya International Women's Marathon 3rd-placer Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) and Nagoya 5th-placer Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku).  2009 Tokyo Marathon winner Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) is also in the field, along with three women making their debuts in new colors after having switched clubs, Noriko Matsuoka (Second Wind AC), Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto) and Kaori Yoshida (Puma AC).

In Yokohama Akaba will be reunited with her former Hokuren teammate Philes Ongori (Kenya), while Nakazato will have a rematch against Portugal's Marisa Barros, part of a memorable three-way battle for the win against Nakazato and Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) in Yokohama's second edition.  Raising an eyebrow or two given her suspension last year for a positive drug test at the 2010 European Championships is Lithuanian Zivile Balciunaite.  Yolanda Caballero (Colombia), Kateryne Stetsenko (Ukraine) and Joanne Pavey (U.K.) round out the invited international field, with Ethiopians Tilahun Alemaz and Alemayhu Selamawit making appearances through the support of a Japanese non-profit organzation.

The Yokohama International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live Nov. 18.  Check back closer to race date for more information on live coverage.

2012 Yokohama International Women's Marathon Elite Field
Yokohama, 11/18/2012
click here for complete field listing

1. Lydia Cheromei (Kenya) - 2:21:30
11. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 2:24:09
2. Philes Ongori (Kenya) - 2:24:20
12. Remi Nakazato (Team Daihatsu) - 2:24:28
3. Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:25:04
4. Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:25:15
13. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 2:25:26
16. Mizuho Nasukawa (Team Univ. Ent.) - 2:25:38
5. Yolanda Caballero (Colombia) - 2:26:17
14. Noriko Matsuoka (Second Wind AC) - 2:26:54
6. Kateryne Stetsenko (Ukraine) - 2:27:51
15. Eri Hayakawa (Team Toto) - 2:28:19
7. Joanne Pavey (U.K.) - 2:28:24
32. Yumi Hirata (Second Wind AC) - 2:29:23
17. Sumiko Suzuki (Team Hokuren) - 2:29:25
19. Mayumi Fujita (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:36
18. Kaori Yoshida (Puma RC) - 2:29:45
34. Hiroko Miyauchi (Team Kyocera) - 2:32:20
31. Hiroko Yoshitomi (First Dream AC) - 2:32:27
33. Ayumi Sakaida (Team Daihatsu) - 2:36:04
104. Tilahun Alemaz (Ethiopia)
105. Alemayhu Selamawit (Ethiopia)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weekend Track Roundup - Kyuma Twins, Morita Twins, Murayama Twins Take Top Positions

by Brett Larner

On the quietest weekend of the fall at the cusp of ekiden season, the main action came at track time trials across the country as Japan's coaches sort out their lineups for the upcoming round of regional and national championship ekidens at the end of this month and the beginning of next.

The biggest meet of the weekend took place at Shizuoka's fast Ecopa Stadium.  Fresh from an anchor stage record at the Kanto Regional University Women's Ekiden national championships qualifier, Tsukuba University ace first-year Haruka Kyuma won the women's 5000 m A-heat by four seconds, running a solid best of 15:39.87 to just miss the Japanese top ten for the year.  Her twin sister Moe Kyuma, also of Tsukuba, was 14th, the last woman in the A-heat to break 16 minutes as she crossed the line in 15:58.07 in an off day. Another set of twins, Kaori and Shiori Morita of Eda H.S., also dominated the women's 3000 m A-heat, going 1-2 a step apart in 9:10.97 and 9:11.15.

Twins also made headlines in the men's races.  In the men's 5000 m in Shizuoka, less than a week after running the Izumo Ekiden, Josai University's Kota Murayama ran a large PB of 13:41.60 to finish 3rd behind pro national champion Team Nissin Shokuhin's Kenyans Gideon Ngatuny and Leonard Barston, both of whom clocked 13:33.18.  Murayama's time was the second-best of the year by a Japanese collegiate and just outside the year's top ten.  It also broke the PB of his twin brother, 2011 national university 5000 m champion Kenta Murayama of Komazawa University.  Kenta, who was the first frosh since Toshihiko Seko to win the national collegiate 5000 m title and who also ran Izumo, opted for the 10000 m at the Chukyo University Saturday Time Trials meet, shaving three seconds off his best as he finished 4th in 28:14.27, the fastest Japanese man of the race.  Like Kota he was just outside the top ten of the year to date.

Winning the Chukyo 10000 m was newcomer Hassan Agat Yassin of Team Chuo Spring, who outran perpetual domestic circuit contender John Thuo of Team Toyota by seven seconds, 27:51.71 to Thuo's 27:58.31.  Pacing his Team Kyudenko teammates, World Cross Country silver medalist Paul Tanui won the Saga Nighter Time Trials 10000 m in 28:52.25, a step ahead of independent Shinji Ando of Togami Electric Manufacturing who was 2nd in 28:52.64.  A half-dozen other meets also produced at least a few quality results, promising an exciting ekiden season in the weeks and months to come.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ten Years of Cakes and Pies

Ten years ago today I wrote this song while sitting in Narita Airport.  It remains one of the things I'm proudest of.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The U.S. Team Talks After Second-Straight Izumo Ekiden Top Eight Finish


photos by Kazuyuki Sugimatsu

On Oct. 8 the U.S. team at the 24th Izumo Ekiden had its best-ever showing, tying last year's best-ever placing at 8th but running over a minute faster for the six-stage, 44.5 km course.  Fifth Stage runner Brendan Gregg was one of five men on his leg to break the standing course record, second on his stage on time and missing the win by only two seconds behind Ryu Takaku of defending champion Toyo University.  Historically an Ivy League alumni team, its makeup has shifted over the last two years to become more of an overall U.S. post-collegiate team lineup.  Taking in Tokyo for a few days post-race, the team's members gave JRN their impressions of the Izumo Ekiden, Japanese collegiate runners, the system under which they train and compete and how it compares to the NCAA, and more.


Elliott Heath (Stanford Univ., First Stage, 8.0 km – 4th, 23:33)
Running in a Japanese ekiden opened my eyes to the Japanese running culture in a way that I didn't really know existed. I had no idea how much excitement and interest there is in running in Japan and the extent that people support it.

The experience of running in the ekiden was very different from the collegiate experience in the United States. The discipline of the Japanese runners to have to run on your own basically the entire time is very different from the NCAA, the U.S.A. college events, because there you're always racing someone. In Japan you can find yourself out there by yourself for a large period of time, and that takes much more discipline.

My ekiden experience made me wish that the American experience was more like this, where people are far more interested in running. There's definitely much more excitement about running culture here than there is the United States, and the whole ekiden experience was very rewarding for sure. I can't wait to come back to Japan again and race in another ekiden or in some other race. It was a lot of fun.

Julian de Rubira (UC Santa Barbara, Second Stage, 5.8 km – 9th, 17:27)
Running the Izumo Ekiden relay was the best way I could imagine of experiencing Japan for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, the generosity, the hospitality. The competition was very, very good, more than I had expected. Japanese runners are very, very strong and tough, and it’s inspiring to see the effort that they put into it, and their talent.

I was extremely impressed with Izumo in general. It was really cool to be able to interact with the people of the town, and it was so beautiful running in that valley with mountain ranges on both sides and the ocean, crossing over the river and looking around and seeing just how beautiful everything was here in Japan.

I'm really, really thankful for this opportunity and I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible. It's an amazing event and I really wish that the ekiden would be taken more seriously. Then in the future Americans could send a really, really strong team, maybe a few teams, and make it something that college teams would be more excited about and come over here and want to do well. I definitely hope to come back, whether for any ekidens or other road races, and just be a lot more prepared.


Landon Peacock (Univ. of Wisconsin, Third Stage, 7.9 km - 8th, 24:26)
Running an ekiden requires a lot more mental strain and you have to be prepared to race right from the start. It requires constant calculating and strategizing throughout the entire duration of the run. In the United States there is much more of a sit-and-kick sort of attitude that requires no thinking until the last 200m of a race. Even in races that get broken up early there is generally a mutual understanding amongst competitors that it is beneficial to work together for as long as possible.

Racing the ekiden has a way of denying me of all the racing styles I have grown comfortable with. In an ekiden you are not just racing to get to the finish before your competitors, but instead to give the next man on your team as big of an advantage as possible. You are constantly figuring out how you can catch the next group and not just sit on them and beat them in the last 100 m but also to gap them and give your team a greater advantage. Racing the ekiden is for a true racer, a man with grit. At no point are your competitors companions on the run or pacers to help you run a faster time. They are always your competitors. Their success is not only your failure, but also your next man's disadvantage.


J.T. Sullivan (Stanford Univ., Fourth Stage, 6.2 km – 11th, 18:39)
I was amazed at how accepting and polite all the Japanese athletes were and how excited everyone in Izumo was for us to be there, and at the incredible determination and tradition of Japanese distance running.

Something I found very difficult and was impressed by about the other Japanese runners was their ability to run on their own for such a long period. The ekiden leg, especially deep into the race, is pretty much just an individual time trial once it separates out, and the tenacity and the single-minded focus of the Japanese athletes was really incredible and something I'd love to see more of in the NCAA. I think the ekiden-style race is really fun, an awesome idea, and something I'd like to see in the U.S. The relay-type atmosphere really brought everyone together, not only on each individual team but also the athletes on all the teams.

I want to thank all the people of Izumo, all the people of Japan, all of the Japanese runners in the Izumo Ekiden. It was an incredible time, something that I'm never going to forget, and hopefully I'll come back next year and the Ivy League team, the American team, will finish even higher. Thank you very much.

Brendan Gregg (Stanford Univ., Fifth Stage, 6.4 km – 2nd, 18:13)
The Izumo Ekiden was a really wonderful experience unlike any other racing experience that I've ever had. It was a true team race where you're not racing your teammates but just the other teams. 8th place is a good finish for us, but I certainly think that we could have finished much higher had we all been on our A-game and I would love to come back next year and take a shot at the top three. But as it was this year, I think it was a very positive race for the American Select Team. We had some great performances and it was really exciting to get out and experience a completely different type of competition and see how we stack up against some really great Japanese competitors.

I was disappointed to get the sash a little further back than we had hoped to be, but at the same time it was very, very exciting to get to chase people down, and that really motivated me to see how many guys I could catch. That was my goal, to run down as many people as I could and get us as high as we could be leading into that last leg. I was trying to drop people the whole time, and they gave no quarter. They pushed me to a higher level than I had been pushed in a long time, throwing in surges and trying to get some distance on the other teams. I got the sash right next to the Komazawa runner Kazuhiro Kuga and he took off like a rocket. I didn't think I could go with that, but I followed him out for the first couple of km and he pulled me to a better performance than I thought I could muster. The competition level was very fierce, and I think it drew the best out of us.

The hosts were so friendly, and the level of community involvement, community support and excitement that goes into these races was really amazing, unlike anything in America. Watching the races on TV in the holding area before our own legs got started, seeing how involved everything was, the opening ceremonies and the closing ceremonies and the after-party were unlike anything in the U.S. I'm very honored to have been a part of it and very grateful to have had the opportunity.


Matt Llano (Univ. of Richmond, Sixth Stage, 10.2 km – 10th, 31:08)
I really had no idea what to expect coming into it, which was a first for me for a race. I've never raced internationally before, so this was a first there as well. I couldn't find a whole lot online in English about what the race is like, but I didn't mind having that unknown. The whole atmosphere of the race was just electric. I’m really, really impressed by the ekiden system over here and I wish that the United States had something similar. It helps build incredibly strong runners that have really quite amazing range. I've been really impressed by the range that a lot of the Japanese athletes seem to have, from what it seems, 5 km through the half marathon.

This year I think we could have been a little bit more competitive. We should have been farther up front, but it's difficult with the travel that we have to do before the race, and the different system, and being peaked at different times in our training, us all being on different schedules. But I still think that all things considered we ran pretty well. The hard thing for my stage in particular was that by the time I received the sash there was a big gap to the people in front of me, so I think that kind of hurt me in that I didn't have the other runners around me to help push me to a faster time or a higher finish. It forced me to really be in the race a little bit more, whereas I think a lot of the Japanese athletes were more experienced with this kind of racing. They have really incredible mental strength to push through that kind of situation on their own and still produce quite stellar times and performances.

I think coming back next year the goal will be to have people around you to really race against and to be a little bit more mentally prepared for it if that's not the case. I'm really looking forward to it. I hope that I have the opportunity again to come back next year and run stronger, run closer to my potential. I think our team as a whole has a lot of room for improvement and I hope that we can capitalize on that and really make a statement here in Japan. Ideally, maybe sometime in the future we'll take some of the concepts of the Japanese ekiden and bring them back over to the States with us and get something similar started, because I think that it's an amazing system for building huge numbers of incredibly strong athletes.


Brendan Martin (Columbia Univ., Alternate, 2nd in 5000 m, 14:06.03 - PB)
I thought the Izumo Ekiden was awesome. It was unlike any race I've ever been a part of thanks to all of the excitement surrounding it as well as the relay-style nature of the event. Not many races are shown on live TV in the USA. Even the Olympics were tape-delayed. For a university race to be on TV with everyone in the community watching was incredible. The great opening and closing ceremonies, attention to detail and community-level importance made this event feel very special.

The different race tactics necessary for a long relay and the planning that goes into arranging which leg each runner completes were things I had never considered before and adds great character and excitement to the event. I ran the 5000 m track race after the ekiden and it was a very cool experience to race in an all-Japanese field. I could not understand any of the splits that coaches were calling out, though. I was extremely impressed by the depth of Japanese distance running. The Japanese runners are fierce competitors and I respect them greatly. There are so many talented athletes on every team. I noticed many runners wearing magnet belts while they raced/trained. Wondering if I need to get myself one of those...

Everyone I met was extremely welcoming. I have not experienced that level of hospitality in the USA. Last but not least, I learned that Japanese girls are very beautiful. I can't wait to come back to Japan.

Ethan Shaw (Dartmouth College, Alternate, 8th in 5000 m, 14:12.86)
I ran the track race. Izumo was an inspired race. Japanese runners tend to run extremely strong through the entire leg, and I think there are a lot of things that we could learn from them. Being able to experience Japanese culture, Japanese racing, Japanese life is extremely important for American runners and American culture. It's something that you can't recreate in any other way. Coming to another culture is something that you can't expect people to understand without the experience, so this is a program that just could not exist in a classroom environment. I’m really excited for this to happen again next year and for decades beyond this.

Matt Duffy (Brown Univ., alternate, DNF in 5000 m)
This is my first trip to the Izumo Ekiden and my first trip to Japan. It was great to experience the entire culture of what the ekiden means in the university system there. They focus very much on the team, where I think the NCAA focuses more on the individual. Individual glory is the king, where in Japan the individual is praised for his performance but only as it adds to the team's performance. I think this is a style of racing that really tests the true distance runner, and I think that the American university system could benefit a lot from looking at the lessons of the Japanese distance runners, their discipline and their commitment to the team.

I had known about this race for four or five years ever since my preview trip to Brown University, and it was great to be a part of it, great to see it. Unfortunately I wasn't able to run, but I was very happy to see the United States team finish 8th again and be disappointed about that finish because I know that in the past we have looked just to go there and run. But every now and then you need to step up and make the team better, so I was very glad when people like Elliott Heath, Matt Llano, Brendan Gregg and others came and performed as well as they did. I look forward to coming back next year, hopefully, and contributing to the team, and hope that the team finishes higher. Thank you.



(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photos (c) 2012 Kazuyuki Sugimatsu
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Waithera Breaks 3000 m Meet Record at National Sports Festival

by Brett Larner

Despite a year that has seen her coach and most of her teammates depart Sendai Ikuei H.S., Kenyan Mary Waithera brought the highlight of the meet to the final day of the National Sports Festival in Gifu.  The favorite in the junior women's 3000 m, Waithera obliterated rival Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya/Aomori Yamada H.S.) and all Japanese competitors with a meet record 8:48.16, a four-second PB and one of the upper-echelon times of the year worldwide.  Wanjiru was nearly twenty seconds back in 9:06.99, with Shiori Yano (Kitakyushu Municipal H.S.) the top Japanese finisher at 3rd overall in 9:12.91, outkicking a tight pack of four other Japanese athletes.  As she steadily improves Waithera looks set to become another in the lineage of Kenyan greats to have passed through Sendai Ikuei, most notably including the late Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru.

2012 National Sports Festival Day Four
Nagaragawa Field, Gifu Memorial Center, Gifu, 10/9/12
click here for complete results

Junior Women's 3000 m Final
1. Mary Waithera (Kenya/Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 8:48.16 - PB, MR
2. Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya/Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 9:06.99
3. Shiori Yano (Kitakyushu Municipal H.S.) - 9:12.91
4. Maki Izumida (Hakuoh Joshi H.S.) - 9:13.30
5. Sakurako Yamoto (Kojokan H.S.) - 9:13.34
6. Yuki Maekawa (Tottori Chuo Ikuei H.S.) - 9:13.38
7. Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) - 9:13.47
8. Nanako Kanno (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 9:15.12
9. Chihiro Kato (Tokiwa H.S.) - 9:18.34
10. Honoka Yuzawa (Nagano Higashi H.S.) - 9:19.43

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Izumo Ekiden Winner Aoyama Gakuin University Head Coach Susumu Hara: "We're Not Quite There Yet But We Can See It Glittering Up Ahead Now"

interview and photo by Brett Larner

Aoyama Gakuin University has had a spectacular underdog-makes-good trajectory in recent years, qualifying for the storied Hakone Ekiden four years ago for the first time in thirty-three years thanks to three extra places being available in commemoration of the event's 85th running, then rocketing all the way to its best-ever 5th place at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden.  With aces Takehiro Deki and Ryotaro Otani now seniors and an impressive class of first-year recruits led by #1-ranked Kazuma Kubota the team's goal for the 2012-2013 season is simple: the Hakone win. 

On Oct. 8 the team took an enormous step toward that goal, crushing all four teams that beat them in Hakone and breaking the six-stage, 44.5 km course record with a new record of 2:09:41.  JRN talked to head coach Susumu Hara and Deki, the team's captain this year, about their goals, the team atmosphere, Hara's coaching philosophy, and more.


In 2004 you became head coach at Aoyama Gakuin University. How did you arrive here from your corporate running career?
Hara: I was a failure as a corporate runner. I got fired within five years. I didn't race well. Someone who had been two years younger than me at Sera H.S. was here with Aoyama Gakuin's running program and introduced me.

As a Chukyo University graduate you never ran Hakone?
Hara: That's right.

In 2008 Aoyama Gakuin qualified for Hakone for the first time in decades.
Hara: Yes, 33 years.

What kind of approach did you take in your coaching in those first four or five years?
Hara: Running isn't something you need a lot of equipment for. Just your body, a pair of shorts, a shirt, that's all you need to do it. Once you start nobody can help you, it's just what you have inside, the energy in your body. It's important to have a disciplined lifestyle to achieve your potential. When I became head coach in April, 2004 that kind of lifestyle did not exist in this club.  It wasn't about running or competing, more about having fun with the other guys.

The organization and administration of the team were not being handled in a serious way either. The head coach was just a volunteer. The team had what they called a captain and assistant captain but there was no hierarchy and structure among the class years the way there usually is. Changing that was the first step in making the club strong and in getting them to focus on the competitive side of running, to start living a proper, disciplined lifestyle. Establishing that kind of culture here took up that period of four or five years. As far as training, there's no magic. To be a distance athlete you get up at 5:00, go to bed at 10:00, you establish that regular discipline in your life. That takes time.

When Aoyama Gakuin University qualified for the 85th Hakone Ekiden in the 2008-2009 season it was an anniversary year and there were three extra spots beyond the regular twenty. Aoyama Gakuin finished 22nd, and it seemed as though it had just been a nice anniversary-year story and that it would be another few decades before you returned. The next year you qualified again and finished 8th, within the seeded top ten bracket for the following year. Could you talk about what happened between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons?
Hara: The organization of the team had become strong, and we were able to deal effectively with goal-setting and goal management. When we qualified after 33 years that was the extent of our goal, to qualify. Once we achieved that goal and ran Hakone the next goal became to make the seeded bracket. At the start of the school year in April after that first Hakone we set that as our goal. The Yosenkai qualifying race was in October and Hakone on January 2nd and 3rd, and the outcome of it all depended on how and when we set our goals as a team. The first time we were just trying to make it, the next it was let's go for the seed.  Focusing on that as a team was part of the team structure.

I don't like things happening or not happening by chance, so if there are variables that we can control I like to systematize them and do them in a controlled way. We do things in the correct order and that's why we were able to take a seeded spot. After that setting the next goal becomes step-by-step, top five, top three, the win. That kind of programmatic approach is my style.

You scouted Deki in high school. What made you pick him?
Hara: More than saying I picked Deki, my scouting philosophy is to look at whether someone is a good student, someone from a good high school, then whether they are fast, a fast runner, and serious. That's the basis of my approach. I look for people who fit that concept from among a large number of high school students across the country, and that's the philosophy I used when I scouted him.

Deki, when you were a senior in high school Aoyama Gakuin qualified for Hakone for the first time in decades. What attracted you to the school? What did you choose to come here?
Deki: Coach Hara scouted me and I came to Aoyama Gakuin University because running the Hakone Ekiden was my main goal.  I had been looking at the results from the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race for two or three years and could see that it was steadily improving. I thought it was on its way to becoming a competitive team and I wanted to be part of that, so I chose Aoyama Gakuin.  I was targeting Hakone right from my first year and thought that it would be enough if I got to run it once in my four years, but things improved and I've been able to run it every year. I ran the First Stage my first year, and that gave me the confidence to feel like I could progress from there.

The team has continued to improve a lot since then.
Deki: Yes, that's right. [smiles]

Different coaches have different ideas about the balance between mileage and faster workouts. What has your experience been with Coach Hara? What is the balance like in Aoyama Gakuin's ekiden training?
Deki: Talking about the training itself, Coach decides everything. My sense of it is that in ekiden season we're more or less not doing speedwork. We only really do speedwork in April, May and June during track season. From there during summer training we're building up mileage until September. In the rest of the year in ekiden season, October, November and December, we cut back on the mileage a bit, but we don't really do speed training at that point.

What kind of changes have you had in your training from your first year at Aoyama Gakuin?
Deki: Since I was a first-year nothing has changed in the contents of the training menu, but going through the same kind of cycle two or three times the margin grows. I'm told to do the workouts at 80%, and both physically and mentally it gets easier, with a bigger margin. Also being able to think about and understand the purpose of the workouts as I'm doing them. That has helped me grow stronger bit by bit.  I think good, uninterrupted training is what makes you the strongest.

Aoyama Gakuin University's result as a team this year was excellent. What's the team atmosphere like now?
Deki: This time we had our best results ever, but our goal is something even better. We're not celebrating that much, not letting ourselves get too satisfied. That's the kind of atmosphere we're trying to maintain, one where we are still looking upward to something better. I think that's why things are going so well.

You've got some strong first-years, such as Kazuma Kubota.
Deki: Also Kamino and Ogura, some very strong athletes, so adding the strength of these first-years to our lineup I think the team is going to improve a lot.

What are your goals for the year as a team, and for the future beyond that?
Hara: I have two different ways of thinking, one for Deki and one for the team. With regard to Deki, the Hakone Ekiden is not the final stage of his career. He has a future as a marathoner. While building toward that I'd like to see him give us his best at Hakone, but not to the extent that it breaks his spirit. You see guys whose main goal is Hakone, and then once they go on to a corporate team they go downhill. I don't want that to happen, so I want to make sure that he is running 23 km hard as part of his development toward running a hard marathon, toward where he can have the confidence to feel he will be running for a gold medal.

With regard to the team, of course we're thinking about the win, but more from the point of view that if we can produce the results we want then the win will follow. I want to build a foundation strong enough that we can be a legitimate contender for the win. Of all the teams running we have the incoming first-years with the best 5000 m credentials, so combined with the people we already have I think that with them we have a team that can win the Hakone Ekiden. Our organizational structure is sound, and I think that we will continue to develop over the year.

That's the stage we're at now, everyone on the team improving their results together, and from there looking toward the win. Whether we can get through that stage or not is our challenge for the year. If we are in range of the win then next year after Deki graduates we will still be in a position of strength with other guys coming up through the team. We're not quite there yet but we can see it glittering up ahead now. [laughs]

Deki: This year I'm the captain of the team, and having come from where we did as a first-year I want us to reach our goal of winning Hakone my fourth year. That's my only goal for the year: to win the Hakone Ekiden.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 8, 2012

Aoyama Gakuin University Breaks Izumo Ekiden CR in First-Ever Big Three University Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner

Far outrunning pre-race expectations, their own included, Aoyama Gakuin University pulled off an inspired win at the 2012 Izumo Ekiden as it broke powerhouse Waseda University's two-year-old course record by nearly thirty seconds to set a new mark of 2:09:41 for the six-stage, 44.5 km course in Aoyama's first-ever Big Three University Ekiden win.  Defending champion Toyo University was 2nd a minute and a half behind, Chuo University rounding out the top three just back from Toyo.  The strongest teams on paper, Waseda, Komazawa University and the nominally Ivy League U.S. Select Team, had their share of problems and went 5th, 6th and 8th.

In a solid team effort, Aoyama's first year Yusuke Ogura opened 7th on the First Stage ahead of favorites Toyo, Komazawa and Waseda.  Second Stage runner Takuya Fujikawa surprised himself and everyone else by advancing to 2nd behind leader Juntendo University, putting Aoyama's first-year star recruit, Kazuma Kubota, in position to take the lead on the Third Stage.  From there Aoyama never looked back.  Senior Ryotaro Otani has struggled with injury since the spring, a 5000 m last month the sole blip of light in his season, but he had no issues frontrunning his way to a new record of 17:50 for the 6.2 km Fourth Stage.  Fifth Stage runner Yudai Fukuda lost half of his 40-second lead to Toyo's stage record-setting Ryu Takaku, ahead of team captain Takehiro Deki's 10.2 km anchor stage run.

Deki, a surprising star on the university ekiden scene for the last two years, ran his marathon debut at Lake Biwa in March at the end of his junior year, running 2:10:02 without specific marathon training.  Since then he has struggled with injury, he and Otani costing Aoyama a place at next month's National University Ekiden Championships when they were not in racing condition for June's qualifying race.  Having since moved back toward peak shape, he came down with an illness last week and was in questionable condition for his anchor run.  Nevertheless, he pushed on at a steady and strong pace, widening his lead over Toyo anchor Kento Otsu by over a minute by race's end where he crossed the line 24 seconds up on Waseda's old mark.

When Waseda set that course record they were on the verge of an unprecedented achievement, course records at all three of the Big Three University Ekidens, Izumo, Nationals and Hakone, in one season.  It's a peculiar fluke that Aoyama will not be able to race Nationals, but come Hakone they should be very close to fulfilling their goal of a win at Japan's most prestigious race if they can translate their success at the relatively short Izumo to Hakone's longer distances.  Look for an original JRN interview tomorrow with Deki and Aoyama head coach Susumu Hara on their goals for this ekiden season.

Defending champion Toyo's chances were hurt after a somewhat flat opening run from one of its twin aces, Keita Shitara, and its final position was indicative of the challenges it faces in following up on its 2012 Hakone Ekiden win following the graduation of star Ryuji Kashiwabara.  3rd-placer Chuo performed above expectation with an impressive stage win by opening man, national collegiate 3000 m steeple champ Shuhei Shirota, senior Junichi Shioya one of five men to break the Fifth Stage record, and five of its six men making the top four on their stages.  5000 m and 10000 m national collegiate champion Enock Omwamba powered Yamanashi Gakuin University to a 4th-place overall finish by winning the anchor stage, and the two strongest teams on paper, Komazawa and Waseda, recovered somewhat from surprisingly poor performances on the first few stages to pull into the top six in the second half of the race.

The "Ivy League" team post-race at Aoyama Anzutei in Tokyo.

Juntendo faded from its early lead to 7th, while despite having the fastest average 5000 m time among its starters and running more than a minute faster than last year's best-ever 8th-place finish, the U.S. team was 8th again in 2:13:26, nearly four minutes behind Aoyama. Brendan Gregg of Stanford University origin was one of the five record breakers on the Fifth Stage, 2nd in 18:13 just behind winner Takaku of Toyo in what may be the U.S.' best-ever individual performance at Izumo.  Gregg advanced the team as high as 6th place, its best position following opening runner Elliott Heath's 4th-place run, before anchor Matt Liano fell victim to Omwamba and last year's anchor stage winner Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa Univ.).

The alternates' 5000 m track race post-ekiden was tough and competitive, with eight of the top ten setting new PBs.  Yuji Osuda (Chuo Univ.) held off Brendan Martin (U.S.) for the win in 14:05.22 with three other runners right behind.  Ethan Shaw (U.S.) was just two seconds off his best, 8th in 14:12.86.

The university men's ekiden season continues Oct. 20 with the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km, the qualifying race for Kanto-region schools outside Hakone's top ten seeded bracket.  Some members of the ten seeded schools, many of them among those who ran Izumo, will instead run the Takashimadaira 20 km the next day.  The Big Three series then continues Nov. 4 National University Men's Ekiden Championships, followed shortly on Nov. 18 by the Ageo City Half Marathon and, come Jan. 2 and 3, the main event on the year's calendar, the Hakone Ekiden.  While Komazawa and Waseda look very shaky at this stage, Toyo's result suggests that it is in a good position for Hakone given its proven credentials over longer distances.  The challenge for the season will be for Aoyama Gakuin to follow suit.

2012 Izumo Ekiden
Izumo, Shimane, 10/8/12
six stages, 44.5 km, 21 teams
click here for complete results

Top Team Performances
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 2:09:41 - CR
2. Toyo University - 2:11:10
3. Chuo University - 2:11:35
4. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 2:11:46
5. Komazawa University - 2:11:50
6. Waseda University - 2:12:06
7. Juntendo University - 2:12:13
8. U.S. "Ivy League" Select Team - 2:13:26
9. Josai University - 2:13:35
10. Koku Gakuin University - 2:13:53

Top Individual Performances
First Stage (8.0 km)
1. Shuhei Shirota (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 23:29
2. John Kariuki (1st yr., Kenya/Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 23:32
3. Tatsuya Oike (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 23:33
4. Elliott Heath (U.S.) - 23:33
5. Hiroto Inoue (2nd yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 23:34

Second Stage (5.8 km)
1. Hideyuki Tanaka (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 16:50
2. Takuya Fujikawa (2nd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:00
3. Dai Nakahara (4th yr., Josai Univ.) - 17:06
4. Koki Takada (1st yr., Waseda Univ.) - 17:09
4. Hiroyuki Fujii (1st yr., Chuo Univ.) - 17:09
-----
9. Julian de Rubira (U.S.) - 17:27

Third Stage (7.9 km)
1. Kazuma Kubota (1st yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 23:13
2. Yuma Hattori (1st yr., Toyo Univ.) - 23:36
3. Shuhei Yamamoto (2nd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 23:46
4. Kaname Tada (2nd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 23:50
5. Kei Fumimoto (2nd yr., Meiji Univ.) - 24:08
-----
8. Landon Peacock (U.S.) - 24:26

Fourth Stage (6.2 km)
1. Ryotaro Otani (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:50 - CR
2. Yuta Shitara (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 17:54 (CR)
3. Ikuto Yufu (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 17:55
4. Sho Tokunaga (1st yr., Chuo Univ.) - 17:56
5. Yuki Maeda (4th yr., Waseda Univ.) - 18:01
-----
11. John Thomas Sullivan (U.S.) - 18:39

Fifth Stage (6.4 km)
1. Ryu Takaku (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 18:11 - CR
2. Brendan Gregg (U.S.) - 18:13 (CR)
3. Kazuhiro Kuga (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 18:19 (CR)
4. Junichi Shioya (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 18:23 (CR)
5. Shin Kimura (1st yr., Meiji Univ.) - 18:30 (CR)

Sixth Stage (10.2 km)
1. Enock Omwamba (1st yr., Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:23
2. Shinobu Kubota (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 29:26
3. Takehiro Deki (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:30
4. Takayuki Saigo (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 30:21
5. Shota Hiraga (4th yr., Waseda Univ.) - 30:32
-----
10. Matt Liano (U.S.) - 31:08

Alternates' 5000 m
Gifu, 10/8/12
click here for complete results

1. Yuji Osuda (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 14:05.22 - PB
2. Brendan Martin (Columbia/U.S.) - 14:06.03 - PB
3. Toshiki Sadakata (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:06.36 - PB
4. Hiroaki Koike (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:06.76
5. Masaya Taguchi (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:07.93 - PB
6. Yoshihiro Nishizawa (2nd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 14:10.25 - PB
7. Toshiyuki Yanagi (1st yr., Waseda Univ.) - 14:12.67 - PB
8. Ethan Shaw (Dartmouth/U.S.) - 14:12.86
9. Kazuki Uemura (1st yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:12.97 - PB
10. Shota Shinjo (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 14:13.14 - PB

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Chicago and Twin Cities Marathon Results

by Brett Larner
photo by Dr. Helmut Winter

In a superb race led by Fukuoka Marathon course record-holder Tsegaye Kebede's world record-pace second half 2:04:38 course record win, relatively unknown 23-year-old Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) was the top Japanese man, 14th in a PB of 2:10:40 in his second marathon. While national record-holder Toshinari Takaoka-coached 2:12 runner Hiroki Kadota (Team Kanebo) started the race off in the first pack and 2:11 man Yuki Moriwaki (Team JFE Steel) struggled from the start, Kobayashi, 2:10 runner Takeshi Kumamoto (Team Toyota) and 2:09:16 veteran Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) stuck with top American hopeful Dathan Ritzenhein on low-2:07 pace. Kadota soon dropped back to join the pack, but when Ritzenhein accelerated into high-2:06 territory near halfway the pack splintered. Kobayashi, coached by 2:08 man Wataru Okutani at Subaru, was the last to hang on, losing touch just before 30 km but holding on to 2:08 pace through 40 km. Kobayashi faded badly over the last two kilometers but still managed a good 2:12 PB, his 2:10:40 the fastest time by a Japanese man in Chicago in recent memory and marking him as a name to watch. Kumamoto was next across the line in 2:11:47, with Kadota a ways back in 2:13:39, both men missing their bests by a minute. Horiguchi and Moriwaki struggled, neither breaking 2:20.

2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon winner Samuel Ndungu (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko) and 2012 Tokyo Marathon winner Michael Kipyego (Kenya) were part of the lead pack until late in the race, Ndungu taking 7th in 2:07:26 and Kipyego 13th in 2:10:02.  In the women's race, Aomori Yamada H.S. graduate and former Suzuki runner Lucy Wangui Kabuu was 3rd in 2:22:41 behind a close duel between winner Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia) and Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) in 2:22:03 and 2:22:04.

Starting 30 minutes later and quite a few degrees colder, the Twin Cities Marathon was a pack race until late in the game, seven of the top ten negative splitting after a slow 1:08:43 opening half.  Making his U.S. marathon debut with assistance from JRN, 2011 Lake Saroma 100 km winner Kiyokatsu Hasegawa fell behind in the late-race surge by eventual winner Christopher Kipyego (Kenya) but pushed on to overtake several runners who went after Kipyego.  7th with just a few km to go, Hasegawa advanced to 4th by the line to finish in 2:15:32, 39 seconds behind Kipyego.  American Jeanette Faber won the women's race in 2:32:37.

2012 Chicago Marathon
Chicago, U.S.A., 10/7/12
click here for complete results

Men
1. Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:04:38 - PB, CR
2. Feyisa Lilesa (Ethiopia) - 2:04:52 - PB
3. Tilahun Regassa (Ethiopia) - 2:05:27 - debut
4. Sammy Kitwara (Kenya) - 2:05:54 - PB
5. Wesley Korir (Kenya) - 2:06:13 - PB
-----
7. Samuel Ndungu (Kenya/Team Aichi Seiko) - 2:07:26
14. Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) - 2:10:40 - PB
15. Takeshi Kumamoto (Team Toyota) - 2:11:47
17. Hiroki Kadota (Team Kanebo) - 2:13:39
30. Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) - 2:20:32
31. Yuki Moriwaki (Team JFE Steel) - 2:20:49

Women
1. Atsede Baysa (Ethiopia) - 2:22:03
2. Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) - 2:22:04
3. Lucy Wangui Kabuu (Kenya) - 2:22:41
4. Liliya Shobukhova (Russia) - 2:22:59
5. Caroline Rotich (Kenya) - 2:23:22

2012 Twin Cities Marathon
Minneapolis-St. Paul, U.S.A., 10/7/12
click here for complete results

Men
1. Christopher Kipyego (Kenya) - 2:14:53
2. Berhanu Girma (Ethiopia) - 2:15:04
3. Sean Quigley (U.S.A.) - 2:15:06
4. Kiyokatsu Hasegawa (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:15:32
5. Francis Muendo (Kenya) - 2:15:36

Women
1. Jeannette Faber (U.S.A.) - 2:32:37
2. Hirut Guangul (Ethiopia) - 2:34:02
3. Melissa Johnson-White (U.S.A.) - 2:34:02
4. Weldegebrael Tinbit Gidey (Ethiopia) - 2:34:43
5. Yiihunlish Delelecha (Ethiopia) - 2:35:05

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

photo (c) 2012 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Japanese Women Bronze, Kawauchi Shames the System Again at World Half Marathon Championships

by Brett Larner

The Japanese women took the team bronze medal at the Oct. 6 World Half Marathon Championships, year-leading national corporate champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) finishing 8th after running 7th throughout the race with teammate Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) only to lose out in the final sprint to a fast-closing Gemma Steel (GBR). Both Steel  and Tanaka clocked 1:11:09, Ito just back in 1:11:25 after fading in the final kilometer. 21-year-old Asami Kato (Team Panasonic) came through in the second half of the race to move up from 17th to 12th, her 1:12:11 less than a minute off her best and enough to give Japan the bronze over Great Britain. All five Japanese women cracked the top 20.  Ethiopians Meseret Hailu and Feyse Tadese went 1-2 and sub-1:09, ensuring that Ethiopia scored the team gold over Kenya, whose top finisher Paskalia Chepkorir Kipkoech took the individual bronze 9 seconds back from winner Hailu.

As for the men, what is there to say? In an outstanding year with a 2:07 marathon, three 2:08's and four 2:09's so far, with twenty-three men sub-62, with three of Japan's all-time top eight half-marathoners on the team, Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota, 1:00:53), Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta, 1:00:58) and Masato Kihara (Team Kanebo, 1:01:15), corporate team aces one and all with everything they could want at their disposal, it was a self-training independent who in the last six weeks has won two marathons, one a nearly three-minute CR, and set 1500 m and 5000 m lifetime bests, who took the top Japanese spot. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.).



All-time Japanese #3 Miyawaki frontran the early stages of the race only to finish with a time that barely beat Hailu and Tadese in the women's race. All-time Japanese #8 Kihara lost to women's team members Tanaka and Ito. Honestly, what were they doing there? It's not a criticism, it's a genuine question. Sure, it was warm, and sure, Kawauchi fell far short of his time goal and was nearly four minutes adrift of the brilliant Zersenay Tadese's 1:00:19 win, but he was still head and shoulders above the cream of what the corporate system could produce, starting off at the back of the pack and moving up over the last five kilometers to shame them all, the coaches and federation maybe more than the athletes. And, did I mention, he has won two marathons in the last six weeks while the rest of them had everything they could have needed to focus on this pre-ekiden season World Championship race without distraction.

Naoko Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), only the fourth man on the team with a 1:02:16 PB but a proven racer, deserves some props for coming in as the third scoring member of the team. But overall? How to explain it? I don't know the answer.  As with the Daegu World Championships, where every single Japanese track distance athlete except Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) finished at the bottom of their event after having run great times in domestic Japanese races, you have to wonder what's up. If you're reading this far you're probably someone who could think of a few countries where virtually every athlete running superb times domestically only to show up at an international championships and blow would be viewed as a pretty sizable red flag that more than meets the eye is going on.  What makes Japan different?

Ultimately it doesn't really matter; there won't be much introspection, the women will get their due credit for a bronze medal, Tanaka will get praised for making the top eight that the Japanese care so much about, Kawauchi will earn new fans for rocking and rolling, and all else will be forgotten. Whatever blame flies will fall on the athletes for being weaker than the coaches who will escape criticism were back in their day.  No heads will roll over the rest of the men; after the debacle of the Beijing Olympics marathons the two coaches of the three athletes who actually managed to finish were made the directors of the federation's men's and women's marathoning programs. Despite the encouraging turnaround in Japanese men's times this year, the World Half results only go to show that even when there's a light at the end of the tunnel you're still in the darkness.

2012 World Half Marathon Championships
Kavarna, Bulgaria, 10/6/12
click here for complete results

Women
1. Meseret Hailu (Ethiopia) - 1:08:55 - PB
2. Feyse Tadese (Ethiopia) - 1:08:56
3. Paskalia Chepkorir Kipkoech (Kenya) - 1:09:04
4. Lydia Cheromei (Kenya) - 1:09:13
5. Emebt Etea (Ethiopia) - 1:10:01 - PB
6. Pauline Njeri Kahenya (Kenya) - 1:10:22
7. Gemma Steel (GBR) - 1:11:09 - PB
8. Tomomi Tanaka (Japan) - 1:11:09
9. Mai Ito (Japan) - 1:11:25
10. Caryl Jones (GBR) - 1:11:52 - PB
-----
12. Asami Kato (Japan) - 1:12:11
15. Yoko Miyauchi (Japan) - 1:13:00
19. Kayo Sugihara (Japan) - 1:13:36

Team Results
1. Ethiopia - 3:27:52
2. Kenya - 3:28:39
3. Japan - 3:34:45
4. Great Britain - 3:36:56
5. U.S.A. - 3:40:40

Men
1. Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) - 1:00:19
2. Deressa Chimsa (Ethiopia) - 1:00:51 - PB
3. John Nzau Mwangangi (Kenya) - 1:01:01
4. Pius Maiyo Kirop (Kenya) - 1:01:11
5. Stephen Kosgei Kibet (Kenya) - 1:01:40
6. Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya) - 1:01:52
7. Jackson Kirop (Uganda) - 1:02:05
8. Stephen Mokoka (South Africa) - 1:02:06
9. Tewelde Estifanos (Eritrea) - 1:02:10
10. Kiflom Sium (Eritrea) - 1:02:12
-----
21. Yuki Kawauchi (Japan) - 1:04:04
29. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Japan) - 1:04:49
35. Naoki Okamoto (Japan) - 1:05:40
58. Chihiro Miyawaki (Japan) - 1:08:33
67. Masato Kihara (Japan) - 1:11:31

Team Results
1. Kenya - 3:03:52
2. Eritrea - 3:04:41
3. Ethiopia - 3:05:43
4. U.S.A. - 3:09:56
5. Uganda - 3:10:20
-----
9. Japan - 3:14:33

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Niiya Tears Up National Sports Festival 5000 m, Kiryu Under 100 m Youth World Record

by Brett Larner

After impressive runs in the Olympic 5000 m and 10000 m where she frontran her way to all-time Japanese top-ten marks at both distances, independent-spirited Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) made a decisive return to competitive racing on Oct. 5, smashing the meet record in the senior women's 5000 m on the first day of the 67th National Sports Festival in Gifu.  The 2012 national champion for 5000 m, Niiya characteristically set out a pace that simply nobody else could follow, winning by a margin of 17 seconds as she set a new meet record on 15:17.79.

2011 national champion Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) was a casuality, dropping out partway, but in the chase pack ascendant collegiate star Ayuko Suzuki (Nagoya Univ.) outran all competition for 2nd in 15:34.15, edging into the year's ten best Japanese women's times.  Just five days after setting a stage record on the anchor leg of the Kanto Region University Women's Ekiden, first year Haruka Kyuma (Tsukuba Univ.) was 6th in 15:46.88.  Collegiate 10000 m record holder Hikari Yoshimoto (Team Yamada Denki) continued to struggle with the transition to pro running, finishing last in 16:47.20.

The day's other big news came in the youth boys' 100 m.  Running with a legal 0.1 wind, Yoshihide Kiryu (Rakunan H.S.) won the final in 10.21, 0.02 ahead of American Rynell Parson's youth world record of 10.23.  More than for being an apparent Japanese world record, Kiryu's performance caused excitement for his upcoming run in the 200 m, where the youth world record is held by none other than Usain Bolt.

67th National Sports Festival
Gifu, Oct. 5-9, 2012
click here for complete results

Senior Women's 5000 m
1. Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.) - 15:17.79 - MR
2. Ayuko Suzuki (Nagoya Univ.) - 15:34.15
3. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:37.78
4. Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:41.50
5. Yuki Mitsunobu (Team Kyocera) - 15:44.32
6. Haruka Kyuma (Tsukuba Univ.) - 15:46.88
7. Aya Nagata (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 15:50.64
8. Mutsumi Ikeda (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 15:54.88
9. Chihiro Takato (Team Wacoal) - 16:01.16
10. Chieko Kido (Canon AC Kyushu) - 16:02.52
DNF - Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno)

Youth Boys' 100 m Final (wind +0.1)
1. Yoshihide Kiryu (Rakunan H.S.) - 10.21 - Youth WR (pending)
2. Akiyuki Hashimoto (Sensatsu Seijukan H.S.) - 10.42
3. Yusuke Uozato (Takigawa H.S.) - 10.58

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, October 5, 2012

Horiguchi Leads Japanese Men in Chicago, Hasegawa in Twin Cities

by Brett Larner

Takashi Horiguchi in last year's Chicago Marathon. Follow Horiguchi on Twitter. Photo (c) 2011 Dr. Helmut Winter

Long one of the races of choice for Japanese athletes looking to run a fast time overseas and the home of Toshinari Takaoka's 2:06:16 Japanese national record, for the second year in a row the Chicago Marathon is playing host to a group of developmental-level Japanese men.  This year's group is a step above last year's, including one 2:09 man, one 2:10, one 2:11 and two 2:12 runners.

The Japanese federation has said that a sub-2:08 in any of the Majors will put the runner into the stable for next year's Moscow World Championships marathon squad, but of the men in Chicago only veteran Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda) looks to be in contention.  After taking eight years to break his 2:12:06 debut time Horiguchi has been on a roll for the last year and a half, PBing twice and becoming one of eight Japanese men so far this year to have broken 2:10 with a 2:09:16 in cold rain at Lake Biwa in March.  He trained all summer with teammates Masakazu Fujiwara and Suehiro Ishikawa, both of whom ran 2:11 in Berlin last week, but is reportedly in better shape.  Sub-2:08 is a stretch, but even a sub-2:10 should ultimately put him into contention for Moscow.  It should be interesting as well to see how he stacks up against 2:09:55 American favorite Dathan Ritzenhein.

Team Toyota captain Takeshi Kumamoto was one of the many to come close to adding to Japan's sub-2:10 tally this spring with a 2:10:13 in his debut at the Tokyo Marathon.  If he and Horiguchi or another of the Japanese men in Chicago manage to cross that barrier it will make 2012 the fourth year that Japan has seen ten or more sub-2:10 performances.  Apart from Japan only Kenya and Ethiopia have ever had ten sub-2:10s in a year, making it a worthy sub-goal behind the federation's somewhat optimistic sub-2:08 WC selection criterion.  Like Kumamoto having debuted in the spring, the Takaoka-coached Hiroki Kadota (Team Kanebo) and 23-year-old Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru) will most likely be looking to at least equal their 2:12 debuts, possibly providing a carrot for the 2:12-2:15 Americans in the field to chase.

Next to Horiguchi Yuki Moriwaki (Team JFE Steel) is the most experienced marathoner among the Japanese men, having progressed steadily since his 2:16:37 debut in Nobeoka in 2009 to a 2:11:52 best at this year's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon.  His dynamic style has always suggested the potential for something more, so a breakthrough would not be especially surprising.  One other 2:12 Japanese man, Team Chugoku Denryoku ace Naoki Okamoto, was originally on the Chicago entry list but is instead running the Oct. 6 World Half Marathon Championships in Kavarna, Bulgaria.

Also worth a mention in the context of their Japanese connection are Kenyan 2012 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon winner Samuel Ndungu and 2012 Dubai Marathon runner-up Lucy Wangui Kabuu, also of Kenya.  Ndungu has been a strong presence on the Japanese scene for several years with the Aichi Seiko corporate team, winning his debut at Lake Biwa in a solid 2:07:04 despite the rain.  Kabuu is a graduate of Aomori Yamada H.S., having spent time on the Suzuki team before heading out to make her fortune on the roads.

The same day as Chicago, the JR Higashi Nihon team's Kiyokatsu Hasegawa will make his U.S. debut in the Twin Cities Marathon through the assistance of JRN.  Hasegawa has taken the unusual approach among corporate runners of spending time developing his endurance in ultras before making a serious move to the marathon, winning the 2011 Lake Saroma 100 km in 6:31:06 to end the year as the third-fastest man over 100 km.  Despite this achievement and his 1:02:26 best for the half marathon Hasegawa's three marathons to date have all come in the 2:15-2:16 range, but in the Twin Cities he is hopeful of running 2:12-2:13, a time which could put him into contention for the win.  Follow Hasegawa on Twitter here.

Chicago Marathon Elite Japanese Athletes

click here for complete Chicago elite field listing

Takashi Horiguchi (Team Honda)
Born: Sept. 26, 1979 in Saitama

PBs
Marathon: 2:09:16 (2012 Lake Biwa)
Half marathon: 1:02:32 (2002 National Corporate Championships)
10000 m: 28:07.57
5000 m: 13:52.56

Takeshi Kumamoto (Team Toyota)
Born: January 6, 1984 in Hyogo

PBs
Marathon: 2:10:13 (2012 Tokyo Marathon)
Half marathon: 1:02:29 (2007 National Corporate Championships)
10000 m: 28:54.88
5000 m: 13:54.66

Yuki Moriwaki (Team JFE Steel)
Born: Aug. 25, 1984 in Shimane

PBs
Marathon: 2:11:52 (2012 Beppu-Oita)
Half marathon: 1:03:21
10000 m: 28:42.69
5000 m: 13:58.74

Hiroki Kadota (Team Kanebo)
Born: May 1, 1985 in Kochi

PBs
Marathon: 2:12:25 (2012 Beppu-Oita)
Half marathon: 1:02:35 (2011 Marugame)
10000 m: 28:34.94
5000 m: 13:52.68

Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru)
Born: Jan. 16, 1989 in Tochigi

PBs
Marathon: 2:12:52 (2012 Nobeoka)
Half marathon: 1:03:01
10000 m: 29:12
5000 m: 14:17


Twin Cities Marathon Elite Japanese Athlete

Kiyokatsu Hasegawa Team JR Higashi Nihon)
Born: Apr. 2, 1983 in Iwate

PBs
100 km: 6:31:06 (1st, 2011 Lake Saroma)
Marathon: 2:15:05 (2010 Tokyo)
Half marathon: 1:02:26 (2008 Sendai)
10000 m: 28:45.23
5000 m: 14:05.93

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Can the U.S. Crack the Top Three? 2012 Izumo Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner

The best season of Japanese distance running is about to kick off.  The men's university ekiden season officially gets underway Monday, Oct. 8 with the first of the Big Three University Ekidens, the short and sweet Izumo Ekiden.  Oct. 20 sees the world's deepest 20 km road race, the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park, where Kanto Region schools that didn't make the seeded cut at the last Hakone Ekiden try to pick up one of the nine remaining spots and individuals from smaller schools try to get in on the ten-man Select Team.  The seeded schools from Kanto and the best from the rest of the country square off at the National University Men's Ekiden Championships on Nov. 4.  Two weeks later the Ageo City Half Marathon, where teammates from the schools entered in Hakone square off against each other to try to make their coaches' A-roster for the main event.  Then, come Jan. 2-3, it is time for the big race, Japan's largest sporting event, with a two-day, 15-hour+ live broadcast and a TV audience in the tens of millions, the Hakone Ekiden.  It may be little-known at best outside Japan, but there is virtually nothing else in the sport to match the scale, popularity and sheer excitement of Hakone.

Top ten Izumo Ekiden teams by ave. 5000 m bests of their top six men.  Click to enlarge.

But it all gets going in Izumo.  At six stages and an average stage length of 7.4 km the Izumo Ekiden is an anomaly on the Japanese road scene, a short race with an emphasis on speed rather than stamina over the half marathon distance seen later in the season.  Ranking the entry lists by average 5000 m and 10000 m bests of each team's best six men, three Japanese schools emerge as favorites.  Last year's runner-up Komazawa University has the best credentials over both distances, with an average 5000 m best of 13:46.84 and a very impressive 10000 m average of 28:14.20.  Komazawa only lost last year due to a rocky collegiate debut from star first-year Kenta Murayama.  On paper they should be the hands-down favorite, but with the exception of last year's anchor stage winner Shinobu Kubota, who has taken his 10000 m best down from 28:23.61 to 28:07.01, few of Komazawa's best men have run well this year and the likelihood of another breakdown seems high.

2010 winner and course record holder Waseda University is next over both 5 and 10, with averages of 13:51.86 and 28:37.95 and leadership from junior Suguru Osako, the top Japanese man on the lead-off stage last year and holder of PBs of 13:31.27 and 27:56.94.  Second-year Shuhei Yamamoto has also improved dramatically this year to best marks of 13:42.17 and 28:14.49, but beyond this lead pair Waseda's numbers fall off rapidly with many of its good runners struggling with protracted setbacks.

Top ten Izumo Ekiden teams by ave. 10000 m bests of their top six men.  Click to enlarge.

Defending champion Toyo University, on the other hand, comes in hot.  After a scintillating course record win at this year's Hakone Ekiden Toyo lost star Ryuji Kashiwabara and several other key seniors to graduation, but in their place twins Keita and Yuta Shitara have dramatically stepped up to assume dual ace status, holding bests of 13:44:31/28:15.90 and 13:51.16/28:12.82.  Both Yuta and team captain Takanori Ichikawa won their stages last year, and at a time trial last weekend Ichikawa led half of Toyo's Izumo team to 5000 m bests, suggesting that they are ready for a repeat of last year's aggressive win.  The only cause for concern: both Shitara brothers were relatively flat in the time trial, with neither cracking fourteen minutes.

But, there is more.

The Izumo Ekiden has long hosted a team of American Ivy League alumni as part of its field.  The team has never really been part of the competitive end of the event, but last year when head coach Jack Fultz opened the team up to runners from other American schools the "Ivy League" team delivered its best-ever performance, making the eight-deep podium with a surprise 8th-place finish.  This year, with only two entry list members hailing from Ivy League schools but standouts including Stanford's Elliott Heath and Brendan Gregg and UCSB's Julian de Rubira, the "Ivy League" team looks to have a shot at a top three finish.  On average 5000 m PB the team is ranked #1 just a breath ahead of Komazawa, while it is #4 over 10000 m close behind defending champ Toyo.  If the Americans handle the travel well and run even passably they should be a lock for top five.  A good performance and they will be right there with Komazawa, Waseda and Toyo.  For a Japanese TV audience accustomed to seeing Kenyan ringers hammering their best it would be an unexpected thrill to have the "Ivies" right up in the game.  They'd never see it coming.

The Izumo Ekiden will be broadcast live on Fuji TV beginning at 1:00 p.m. Japan time.  Kashiwabara, now running for Izumo sponsor Fujitsu's ekiden team, will be a guest announcer on the TV broadcast.  Follow @JRNLive and @JRNHeadlines for detailed live coverage throughout the race.  Overseas viewers should also be able to watch live online via the sometimes-reliable Keyhole TV.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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