by Brett Larner
Five races fill a busy long weekend in Japan. First and foremost is the 51st running of the Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon in Kyushu. A developmental race at the 2:11-2:15 level, Nobeoka has in the past produced athletes such as Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru), who debuted there in 2:12:52 last year before going on to run the fastest time of 2012 by a Japanese man overseas, 2:10:40 at the Chicago Marathon. This year's field includes 2010 Asian Games silver medalist Yukihiro Kitaoka (Team NTN), 2011 Nobeoka winner Kenji Takeuchi (Team Toyota Kyushu) and the promising Etsu Miyata (Team Fujitsu). A large number of athletes will be making their marathon debuts, most noteworthy among them being defending 5000 m national champion Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) and sub-63 man Ayumu Sato (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki). 2009 Ome 30 km winner Hirokatsu Kurosaki (Team Konica Minolta) will also make a long-awaited move up in distance.
Two high-level 10-milers holding their 53rd editions are also on the schedule, in Karatsu on Sunday and in Himeji on Monday. Karatsu features former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu) and his teammate Makoto Fukui along with sub-60 half marathoner Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and former 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B). Defending champion Kazuyoshi Tokumoto (Team Monteroza) leads the Himeji field where he will face 2011 winner Takahiro Aso (Team Aisan Kogyo), past steeplechase national champion Jun Shinoto (Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko) and Chuo Gakuin University captain Keisuke Fujii.
There's always room for one more ekiden on the calendar, and in this case it is the 27th Chugoku Women's Ekiden in Hiroshima, the last significant women's ekiden of the season. Team Edion leads the way, its lineup including Yuko Watanabe who made a solid case for her place on the Moscow World Championships marathon team when she finished 3rd at last month's Osaka International Women's Marathon. Its strongest competition should come from Kyoto Sangyo University and Osaka Gakuin University.
Lastly, the first of the two selection races for Japan's World Cross-Country Championships team takes place in Chiba on Sunday with the 48th Chiba International Cross-Country Meet. The most exciting race of the meet looks to be the junior men's race, where Hazuma Hattori and Tadashi Isshiki of 2012 national champion Toyokawa H.S. will face off against top-ranked competition Yusuke Nishiyama (Iga Hakuo H.S.), Yusuke Uchikoshi (Kokugakuin Kugayama H.S.) and more. The senior women's race is also strong, with corporate runner Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) racing collegiates Ayuko Suzuki (Nagoya Univ.) and Chinami Mori (Bukkyo Univ.). The senior men's race suffers somewhat with several good runners including 27:44 man Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) opting for the 4 km course, but last week's Marugame International Half Marathon winner Collis Birmingham (Australia) is lining up in the longer distance and should make it a good race.
Look for coverage of all five races as the weekend goes on.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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