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A Little Love for Hitomi Niiya, Please

by Brett Larner
photo by Mika Tokairin
split chart courtesy of Dr. Helmut Winter

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Hitomi Niiya.

She received little more than passing mention, if that, in most English-language coverage of Sunday's Moscow World Championships women's 10000 m, but she deserves a lot of credit for making the race regardless of its predicable outcome. Prefigured precisely by her meet record 31:06.67 win at June's National Championships, where she took the lead just past 3000 m and ran alone right on national record pace to lap the entire field, and by the London Olympics where she led a significant portion of the race to make the top ten in a PB of 30:59.19, a performance that you would think should have earned her enough respect to be called by her name rather than just "Japanese girl" by at least one prominent American outlet covering Moscow, Niiya took over from struggling American rabbit Shalane Flanagan after 3000 m and relentlessly pushed on at PB pace until she had ground the field down to just four competitors, two Ethiopian and two Kenyan.

Needless to say, all four outkicked her over the last lap, but it is worth a second look at Niiya's lap-by-lap splits to see just how great she ran.  Dr. Helmut Winter of German Road Races was kind enough to send the following split chart.  Click the chart to enlarge it.

It's easy to see that the second Flanagan was unable to sustain Niiya's target pace, Niiya was there ready to step up.  Except for a slightly rocky stretch between 6 and 7000 m she was incredibly steady, and take a look at the 400 m splits from 8000 to 9200 m. Three laps in a row at exactly the same speed, 1:14.15, with the next at 1:14.12.  Keep in mind that this was at PB pace while leading the late stages of a World Championships race, and that only three Japanese women including Niiya have ever broken 31 minutes. Yes, she didn't have the kick to cope with the likes of Tirunesh Dibaba, but it's hard to fault the way she strove to kill off as much competition as she could or her 30:56.70 finish in 5th.  A 2 1/2 second PB and four-place improvement over her London Olympics result, Moscow leaves her just 8 seconds off the Japanese national record and tantalizingly close to achieving what Flanagan did in Beijing and, earlier, Kara Goucher in Osaka.  With more development and more animal birth videos in her, Niiya's next two or three years should be pretty interesting.

In the meantime, give it up for what may end up as the purest guts performance of the Moscow World Championships.  Have fun in the pet shops, Hitomi.

text (c) 2013 Brett Larner / photos (c) 2013 Mika Tokairin / split chart (c) 2013 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved


yuza said…
I was finally able to watch the second half of the race on Youtube, because it appears that there is no coverage of the World Championships at all on Australian television (cable included).

Anyway, she ran really well, especially given the conditions. Her consistency is remarkable....I hope she gets the national record in the next couple of years.
Alan Dent said…
Hitomi Niiya had a great race - excellent consistency - was willing her to drop another couple from the leading group.
Will certainly be watching out for her future results.
The race received and Niiya received good coverage on BBC
Anonymous said…
Niiya ran the race bravely and beautifully. I think her consistency makes her a good prospect for Japanese women marathoning, that is, if she decides to head back that way. One thing, Brett, I don't know much Japanese, but the American commentator in one of the YouTube scripts pronounced her name as NAI-YA. I've always thought it was NEE-YA. Oh, thanks for this article. Well done.
Brett Larner said…
Thank you. Glad to hear the BBC had good coverage, although that's a shame about Australia. Niiya is pronounced like the latter option, NEE-YA. Or, for people who call her 'Japanese girl,' KNEE-YA.
Anonymous said…
Well count me in as a fan, been following her results for more than a couple years now...absolutely love her and her running style!

Expected her to front-run this time as well, though i'll admit that i was pleasantly surprised at how well she hung on though (compared to London).
TokyoRacer said…
She won the first Tokyo Marathon.

It would be easy to say "she's too thin" at 3.1% body fat, but you can't argue with the fact that she's the 5th strongest woman 10,000m runner in the world.
Coming from England and watching the comprehensive coverage of both Niiya's race and the rest of the championships the commentators are knowledgeable and former distance racers themselves. They knew hwr and the others names and used thwm too. The plaudits they heaped on Niiya were in keeping with her herculean performance. Even the studio pundits had tears in their eyes after watching Niiya's breakdown into tears herself.
Well done Niiya Hitomi you are a star and youe time WILL come.

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