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National Women's Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner

Championship ekiden season is drawing to a close, but it is set to finish with two of the races with the most interesting formats, Sunday's National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto and next weekend's National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.  Both of these events feature 47 teams made up of top junior high school, high school, university and corporate league runners running for their home prefectures, and although there is some separation by age level they are one of the few chances to see the best people from different strata going against each other on the road and the only place you will see aspiring junior high school kids interacting with their Olympian teammates.  The Women's Ekiden is popular enough that it has not one, not two but three full websites plus Twitter and Facebook presences.  Both the Women's and Men's ekidens are broadcast live and commercial-free in their entirety by NHK, and should be viewable online via Keyhole TV.  The National Women's Ekiden broadcast and JRN's live coverage on @JRNLive begin at 12:15 on Sunday, Jan. 13, with the starting gun set to go off at 12:30.

Host Kyoto has won the 9-stage, 42.195 km National Women's Ekiden 14 times in the 30-year history of the event, typically finishing in the top 3 in its off years.  This year's team is again one of the best in the field, with marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), 2012 National University 10000 m champion Haruka Kyuma (Tsukuba Univ.), 6 members of 2012 National High School Ekiden champion Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. and others on its entry roster.  Defending champion Osaka also fields a strong lineup with an almost even split between 2012 National High School 5th-place Osaka Kunei Joshi H.S. and, led by London Olympic marathoner Ryoko Kizaki, the corporate-league Team Daihatsu.  Both Kyoto and Osaka should be challenged by last year's 3rd-placer Chiba, which features 5000 m national champion and London Olympian Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.), 2012 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), pro ekiden ace Yurie Doi (Team Starts), 2012 National University Women's Ekiden champion Ritsumeikan University's Mai Tsuda, and more.  2010 winner Okayama looks to have a good shot at top 3 with an entry list including 5 runners each from local powerhouses Kojokan H.S. and Team Tenmaya including Kizaki's Olympic marathon teammate Risa Shigetomo. Other top-ranked teams include Aichi, Hyogo, Kanagawa and Nagano.

The 3.0 km Third and Eighth Stages are restricted to junior high students, but in recent years the other stages have moved toward mixed entry rather than having exclusively high school or collegiate sections.  The most exciting action tends to come on the 6.0 km First Stage, the only one to feature head-to-head racing in the normal sense, and the 10.0 km anchor stage where most of the best athletes will line up.  Last year Chiba's Niiya won the anchor stage, and with an outstanding year behind her since then she is no doubt the favorite for the repeat win.  If Chiba is anywhere near the front at the start of the Ninth Stage look for Niiya to make a dramatic run to overtake the leader and deliver Chiba back to the victor's stand.

2013 National Women's Ekiden Start List Highlights
Kyoto, 1/13/13
click here for complete start list

First Stage  - 6.0 km
Tomomi Tanaka (Chiba)
Rui Aoyama (Kanagawa)
Ayuko Suzuki (Aichi)
Risa Takenaka (Shiga)
Nanako Kanno (Kyoto)
Ryoko Kizaki (Osaka)
Kayo Sugihara (Shimane)
Rei Ohara (Okayama)

Ninth Stage - 10.0 km
Mizuho Nasukawa (Iwate)
Kasumi Nishihara (Gunma)
Hitomi Niiya (Chiba)
Mika Yoshikawa (Kanagawa)
Mizuki Noguchi (Kyoto)
Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo)
Risa Shigetomo (Okayama)
Mai Ito (Tokushima)
Hanae Tanaka (Fukuoka)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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