by Brett Larner
Japan's outdoor track season gets underway Saturday with the 22nd edition of the Kanaguri Memorial Meet in Kumamoto. With light rain forecast throughout the day, after a morning of elementary and junior high sprint relays and middle-distance events the afternoon features nothing but distance with season-opening 1500 m, 3000 m and 5000 m heats.
On the men's side, the 1500 m includes 10000 m national champion Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), past steeplechase national champions Aoi Matsumoto (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Tsuyoshi Takeda (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC), 61-minute half marathoner Yusuke Takabayashi (Team Toyota), Ethiopian Bikila Demma Daba (Team Kanebo) and, back from time served at the Nike Oregon Project, #1-ranked collegiate Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.). Absent rival Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S., 2012 National High School Ekiden champion Toyokawa H.S. starts off its title defense campaign with four team members slated to run in Heat 6 of the high school 5000 m.
At least three of the five open men's 5000 m heats look pretty interesting. Heat 4 sees the year's #1-ranked Japanese marathoner Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) return to action for the first time since running 2:08:00 at February's Tokyo Marathon, backed by 2013 Hakone Ekiden stage winners Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.) and Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Kenyans Jeremiah Karemi (Team Toyota Kyushu), Benjamin Ngandu (Team Monteroza), Duncan Muthee (Takushoku Univ.) Micah Njeru (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.).
Almost every name in the 5000 m A-heat, Heat 5, deserves mention, but a few of the highlights include three of Japan's best-ever half marathoners, namely Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei), Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), past 5000 m national champions Kazuya Deguchi (Team Asahi Kasei) and Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC), collegiate half marathon champion Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.), 30 km collegiate national record holder Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Kenyans Paul Kuira (Team Konica Minolta), Patrick Mutunga (Team Toyota Boshoku), Josphat Ndambiri (Team Komori Corp.), Charles Ndirangu (Team JFE Steel), Paul Tanui (Team Kyudenko) and Edward Waweru (Team NTN).
In the women's races, Heat 2 of the open 1500 m includes 800 m national champion Ayako Jinnouchi (Team Kyudenko), Kenyans Beatrice Wainaina Murugi (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Mary Waithira (Team Toyota Boshoku), outstanding collegiates Minami Nakaarai (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) Risa Shibuya (Bukkyo Univ.) and World XC junior women's team members Yui Fukuda (Suma Gakuen H.S.) and Saki Yoshimizu (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.).
Four members of 2012 National High School Ekiden winner Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. are entered in Heat 4 of the high school 3000 m, where their competition includes the doubling Yoshimizu and her World XC teammate Azusa Sumi (Toyokawa H.S.). Heat 2 of the open women's 5000 m includes both Murugi and Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko), identical twin marathoners Hiroko and Yoko Miyauchi (Team Kyudenko), former Ritsumeikan Univ. stars Michi Numata (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) and Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) and, with a Japanese women's year-leading run at last week's Stanford Invitational, Nanaki Izawa (Juntendo Univ.).
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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