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Olympian Yoshikawa Anchors Kanagawa to CR Win in First National Women's Ekiden Title in 26 Years

by Brett Larner

Yoshikawa anchors Kanagawa in for the record and the win.  Click photo for video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK.

2012 national 10000 m champion and London Olympian Mika Yoshikawa anchored the Kanagawa team home to a 2:14:55 course record at the Jan. 13 National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto, Kanagawa's first win in the last 26 years of the event's 31-year history in a solid team performance that saw six of its women make the top three on their stage.  A 9-stage, 42.195 km event with 47 prefectural teams made up of runners ranging from junior high school students to corporate league pros, perfect conditions meant the fastest overall National Women's Ekiden to date.  Alongside Kanagawa's course record, runner-up Hyogo ran the all-time third-best time in event history, 3rd-place defending champion Osaka set the all-time fifth-best mark with one new stage record to its credit, pre-race favorite Chiba made all-time #7, and the top eight teams all ran their fastest-ever times on the Kyoto course.

In many ways this year's National Women's Ekiden showed exactly what is great about the interprefectural format, one of the only places where the top runners from different levels of the Japanese system face off.  On the 6.0 km First Stage Kagoshima Joshi H.S. junior Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima), with a 9:06.91 best for 3000 m and a long, loping stride atypical among Japanese distance runners, took the race out fast, quickly shaking it down to a lead trio of herself, pro Rei Ohara (Okayama/Team Tenmaya) and collegiate Ayuko Suzuki (Aichi/Nagoya Univ.).  A top high schooler, a top collegiate and a top pro.  Exactly what makes the men's and women's interprefectural ekidens such an entertaining watch. Especially when the high schooler turns it on and opens 11 seconds over the last 500 m and just misses the course record.  And beats an Olympic marathoner by 27 seconds, as she did to Ryoko Kizaki (Osaka/Team Daihatsu).  "I thought I'd run about 19:20," said Uehara, "so I'm happy with 19:00."

Kagoshima disappeared on the 4.0 km Second Stage as Akari Ota (Okayama/Team Tenmaya) took over the lead and contenders Kanagawa, Kyoto, Aichi, Hyogo and Nagano picked up ground.  Defending champion Osaka and pre-race favorite Chiba struggled and lost ground before the 3.0 km Third Stage where the first round of junior high school runners was waiting to take over.  Among them was Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi J.H.S.), 2nd on the same stage last year as an 8th-grader and ready for something bigger this year.

The daughter of 2001 Nagano Marathon winner Maxwell Musembi, the half-Japanese Takamatsu, a native-born Japanese citizen who sounds, acts, and is 100% a teenage Japanese girl from Osaka but who happens to look 100% Kenyan, blasted a 9:10 stage record, 12 seconds better than last year, to move Osaka up to 2nd behind Okayama.  "I didn't hit my time goal, but at least I got the record," she said in post-race interviews.  With the interprefectural ekidens restricted to Japanese citizens only, Takamatsu presents a serious challenge to Japanese sensibilities.  The announcers did not slip up badly enough to call her an exchange student, but although lead announcer Koji Sanbe was diligent in calling her Takamatsu others including Korean-born Tetsuhiko Kin repeatedly called her Musembi, an implicit exclusion through emphasis on her otherness.  There's no telling how somebody so good so young will turn out later, but as the first of the inevitable offspring of a Japan-based Kenyan pro and a Japanese national to rise to the national level if Takamatsu goes on to bigger things she will force a lot of soul-searching.  Particularly with the demographic challenges facing Japan over the next 20 years.  File that name away. Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu.

Okayama's Nana Aoki (Ryuso J.H.S.) did a credible job of hanging on to the lead ahead of Takamatsu, and the team's next two runners did the same.  Both Rie Kawauchi (Kojokan H.S.) and Tomoyo Adachi (Kojokan H.S.) sat back on the first halves of their stages, allowing chasers Osaka, Hyogo and Kanagawa to draw close before turning it on in the second half and pulling back away.  It's a good strategy for beating stronger teams, but unfortunately it fell flat on the 4.0875 km Sixth Stage, where the otherwise talented Sakurako Yamoto (Kojokan H.S.) was in trouble from the beginning, 46th out of 47 on stage time and plummeting Okayama from the lead to 8th.  In her stead Yui Fukuda (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) took over in front followed within seconds by Ayaka Matsumoto (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) and Kaori Morita (Kanagawa/Eda H.S.). Favorites Chiba, down 50 seconds in 5th after the Fifth Stage, closed slightly and moved to 4th thanks to a strong run from Monami Ichimura (Narita H.S.).

Osaka, Kanagawa and Hyogo remained close through the 4.0 km Seventh Stage, but Osaka's Mizuki Matsuda (Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) proved the strongest as she opened 10 seconds on Kanagawa's Shiori Morita (Eda H.S.) and Hyogo's Misaki Hayashida (Himeji Shogyo H.S.) in the last few hundred meters, missing the course record by only 2 seconds.  Kanagawa's Yurina Kinoshita (Nagata J.H.S.) reclosed the gap to Osaka over the 3.0 km Eighth Stage, Hyogo 10 seconds back and Chiba another 1:03 behind in 4th.

All of which set up for a pretty gripping anchor stage.  In the lead with 10.0 km to go, relative unknown Yuka Tokuda (Osaka/Team Starts).  Right behind her, 10000 m national champion and Olympian Yoshikawa for Kanagawa and 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo/Team Jidoshokki).  Just over a minute behind them, 5000 m national champion and Olympian Niiya of Chiba, who had promised that she could deliver the win if she was within a minute of the leader.  Tough call.  After getting the tasuki from Kinoshita, the junior high kid-to-national champion/Olympian handoff another of the best things about the interprefectural ekiden format, Yoshikawa immediately took over the lead, but Tokuda did a credible job of staying with her through halfway as they built their lead over Kobayashi, Niiya all the while growing larger behind them.  Yoshikawa, almost constantly wincing with undisclosed pain, gradually edged away from Tokuda in the second half, and at the 8 km point it was evident that she had the win in her hand and that the 2:14:58 course record was in sight.  Kobayashi overtook Tokuda around the same point for 2nd, but it was clear that although Niiya was going to win the stage on time she was nowhere near being able to run down the women ahead of her.

Yoshikawa, eyes closed in pain much of the way, pushed on to crack the record by 3 seconds in 2:14:55.  Kobayashi was next across the line in 2:15:18 and Tokuda another 6 seconds back.  Niiya closed to within 22 seconds of Tokuda but had to settle for 4th. Shizuoka was an unexpected 5th in 2:16:36 thanks to a sub-32 run from anchor Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo), meaning that the top five teams all broke Osaka's winning time last year of 2:16:37.  Hagiwara, Kobayashi, Yoshikawa and Niiya herself also broke Niiya's 2012 anchor stage-winning time of 32:06.  6th place Aichi was only 1 second off Kyoto's 2011 winning time of 2:17:17.  Gunma and Tokyo rounded out the 8-deep podium, 2011 champion Kyoto 9th and 2010 winner Okayama 10th.  With all the podium finishers and other teams further down the field marking their best-ever times the 2013 National Women's Ekiden got the Japanese women's year off to a great start after another dim year in 2012.  One more major women's ekiden, next weekend's Kita-Kyushu Women's Invitational Ekiden, remains before the brunt of the winter season hits with the Jan. 27 Osaka International Women's Marathon.  And, next Sunday, the final major men's ekiden of the season, the National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.  Yoshikawa will next race in her marathon debut at February's Tokyo Marathon.

2013 National Women's Ekiden
Kyoto, 1/13/13
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Kanagawa Pref. - 2:14:55 - CR
2. Hyogo - 2:15:18 - all-time #3
3. Osaka - 2:15:24 - all-time #5
4. Chiba - 2:15:46 - all-time #7
5. Shizuoka - 2:16:36
6. Aichi - 2:17:17
7. Gunma - 2:18:05
8. Tokyo - 2:18:19
9. Kyoto - 2:18:29
10. Okayama - 2:18:35

Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage - 6.0 km
1. Miyuki Uehara (Kagoshima/Kagoshima Joshi H.S.) - 19:00
2. Rei Ohara (Okayama/Team Tenmaya) - 19:11
3. Eina Yokosawa (Gunma/Team Daiichi Seimei) - 19:23

Second Stage - 4.0 km
1. Akari Ota (Okayama/Team Tenmaya) - 12:31
2. Momoko Akiyama (Kanagawa/Hakuo Joshi H.S.) - 12:35
2. Mai Ishibashi (Mie/Team Denso) - 12:35

Third Stage - 3.0 km
1. Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuin J.H.S.) - 9:10 - CR
2. Fukiko Ando (Hyogo/Okubo J.H.S.) - 9:19
3. Wakana Kabasawa (Gunma/Fujimi J.H.S.) - 9:22

Fourth Stage - 4.0 km
1. Akiko Matsuyama (Kanagawa/Team Panasonic) - 12:55
2. Mao Kiyota (Shizuoka/Suzuki Hamamatsu A.C.) - 12:58
3. Rie Kawauchi (Okayama/Kojokan H.S.) - 13:03

Fifth Stage - 4.1075 km
1. Natsuki Omori (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 13:02
2. Tomoyo Adachi (Okayama/Kojokan H.S.) - 13:07
3. Yurie Doi (Chiba/Team Starts) - 13:09

Sixth Stage - 4.0875 km
1. Yui Fukuda (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 12:54
2. Kaori Morita (Kanagawa/Eda H.S.) - 12:56
3. Hanami Sekine (Aichi/Toyokawa H.S.) - 13:03

Seventh Stage - 4.0 km
1. Mizuki Matsuda (Osaka/Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 12:23
2. Shiori Morita (Kanagawa/Eda H.S.) - 12:32
3. Yuka Hori (Aichi/Toyokawa H.S.) - 12:35

Eighth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Yuki Ishino (Shizuoka/Kagoue J.H.S.) - 9:54
2. Reina Shinozaki (Gunma/Orui J.H.S.) - 9:55
3. Yurina Kinoshita (Kanagawa/Nagata J.H.S.) - 9:57

Ninth Stage - 10.0 km
1. Hitomi Niiya (Chiba/Team Univ. Ent.) - 31:17
2. Mika Yoshikawa (Kanagawa/Team Panasonic) - 31:39
3. Yuriko Kobayashi (Hyogo/Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 31:53
4. Ayumi Hagiwara (Shizuoka/Team Uniqlo) - 31:58
5. Yuka Kakimi (Tokyo/Team Daiichi Seimei) - 32:07
6. Yuka Tokuda (Osaka/Team Starts) - 32:09
6. Sayo Nomura (Gifu/Team Daiichi Seimei) - 32:09
8. Yuko Watanabe (Hiroshima/Team Edion) - 32:12
9. Yuko Mizuguchi (Mie/Team Denso) - 32:25
9. Ai Furukubo (Wakayama/Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 32:25

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Joe, Shanghai said…
Definitely interesting how the Japanese will treat Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu. Also cool event to mix up different ages. What are the rules about including JHS and HS kids? Do they need to include a certain # on certain stages or?
yuza said…
Uehara and Niiya were the standout runs for me in this race. I was really impressed by Uehara, 19 minutes for 6kms with the last km uphill is pretty solid running. If she keeps that kind of form going into summer she might give WC's qualification a shake.

Niiya running 31:17 with nothing to run for shows how classy she is.

Takamatsu also looked good, but it is a bit too early to say what she will become. But she did have a very relaxed running action, which I always like.
Brett Larner said…
I don't think there are hard and fast rules about who goes on which stage, more like guidelines. The two 3.0k stages are both mostly JHS, but one of them had at least one high schooler this year. A few of the stages are mostly HS runners but not 100%. A couple of teams also ran people who were not on the entry list. I think they give them a little latitude because of the difficulty in getting everybody together.

I was impressed too with Uehara, both her complete lack of intimidation in running against older, more experienced athletes and her stride. Mizuki Matsuda on the 7th Stage was also impressive.

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