by Brett Larner
The month-long national championship ekiden season starts Sunday in Sendai with the 33rd running of the National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships. Twenty-seven corporate league women's teams from across the country will compete over the six-stage, 42.195 km course in front of a nationwide audience courtesy of TBS' live broadcast starting at 11:50 a.m. Japan time.
Last year's winner Team Universal Entertainment returns as one of the favorites, taking the Nov. 3 East Japan regional qualifier by more than two minutes over 2011 national champion Team Daiichi Seimei even without its star runner, Moscow World Championships 10000 m 5th-placer Hitomi Niiya. Niiya, still recovering from an injury that has kept her out of competition since Moscow, is on Universal's roster for tomorrow's national championships, and if she runs they may be close to unbeatable.
Last year's runner-up Team Denso may be its strongest competition. Led by 2011 national 10000 m champion Kayo Asaba, Denso runners set new records on three of the six stages at the Oct. 20 Central Japan regional qualifier to win in a new overall course record of 2:15:54. Its time was 19 seconds slower than East Japan winner Universal's, but with a more challenging course Denso is in a good position to improve on last year's result by one place, especially if Niiya is out of action. 2008 natioanl champion Team Toyota Jidoshokki was exactly a minute behind Denso in 2nd.
With all three of Japan's Moscow World Championships marathoners competing, the Oct. 27 West Japan regional qualifier was the most competitive of the three districts. Moscow 4th-place finisher Ryoko Kizaki got Team Daihatsu off on the right foot, winning the 6.7 km First Stage to put Daihatsu ahead. Three of the five remaining Daihatsu runners won their stages, giving the team the win in a 2:17:23 course record. Its margin of victory was the narrowest in the three regions, only 36 seconds ahead of Team Otsuka Seiyaku which delivered a classic ekiden team performance as it took 2nd overall despite only two of its runners making the top three on their stages. That kind of stability should make Otsuka Seiyaku a solid contender for top five at nationals. Team Wacoal, with Moscow marathon bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi, and Team Sysmex, headed by marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi, finished only 7th and 8th.
Apart from the top two teams in each region, other strong competition includes East Japan 3rd-placer Team Sekisui Kagaku featuring Moscow 5000 m runner Misaki Onishi, ascendant 5th-placer Team Yamada Denki, West Japan 3rd-place Team Noritz, and 2010 national champion Team Tenmaya.
Overseas viewers may be able to watch TBS' broadcast online via Keyhole TV or by searching any of the many sites out there linking live TV streaming. Check back Sunday for complete results and reporting on this year's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships.
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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