by Brett Larner
This weekend is one of the busiest on the Japanese calendar, with no less than five regional track and field championship meets. Leading the way is the first half of Japan’s toughest university meet, the Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. Bumped from its traditional place at Tokyo’s National Stadium by a two-night stand of Paul McCartney concerts, this weekend’s half of the Kanto Regionals meet takes place far out in the wilds of Saitama in Kumagaya.
The big news of the meet is the return of 2013 triple 1500 m, 5000 m and 10000 m D1 champion Enock Omwamba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) from a stress fracture that forced him to drop out of the Second Stage of the Hakone Ekiden in January, eliminating YGU from Japan’s most prestigious race. It’s a sign that he is taking the comeback easy that Omwamba is skipping the 10000 m, racing only the 1500 m, where he set a meet record 3:39.16 last year, this weekend and the 5000 m next weekend in Kawasaki. With the graduation of top Japanese collegiate 1500 m men Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) and Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) this spring Omwamba doesn’t have much competition for a 1500 defense if he is fit. If not, look for Tsukasa Anzai (Juntendo Univ.) or Omwamba's teammate Shogo Hata (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) to give him a run for it.
Bound to be a bigger race is the men’s 10000 m. With sub-29 and even sub-28 times now commonplace among Japanese university men there’s no shortage of contenders, especially if the race goes out relatively conservatively. In D1 the favorite is 2013 National University 10000 m champion Daniel Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.), right on the cusp of joining the 27-minute club. His top Japanese competitors are Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.), who set an all-time Japanese #3 mark and collegiate national record of 1:28:52 at February’s Kumanichi 30 km, and Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), the fastest-ever Japanese 21-year-old over the half marathon with a 1:01:39 for 3rd at this year’s Marugame Half, beating Kitonyi by 5 seconds.
It’s a regrettable quirk of the system that three-time defending National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University, all but unstoppable in long distance but without a healthy overall track and field program, is consigned to D2, especially this year with senior Kenta Murayama coming in with PBs marks of 13:34.97, 27:49.94 and 1:00:50 all set this season. Komazawa’s defending D2 champ Shogo Nakamura is sadly sitting the meet out after a breakdown at last weekend’s Golden Games in Nobeoka, but filling in is second-year Keisuke Nakatani hot off a 13:38.08 best in Nobeoka behind Murayama. It will be a shock if Murayama doesn’t walk away with the title, but Nakatani will have tough competition for 2nd from Aoyama Gakuin University’s Daichi Kamino and Yuki Kawasaki, Chuo Gakuin University’s Yuta Oikawa and Hironori Tsuetaki, and Kanagawa University’s Masaya Kakihara and Kazuma Ganaha, all better than or knocking right on 28:45. An interesting darkhorse is Shuhei Yamaguchi of the minor Soka University with a best of 28:46.92.
While Kanto is Japan’s dominant region for university men, Kansai plays that role for women. Nevertheless, the level has come up in the last few years among Kanto region women, and Friday’s women’s 10000 m features several of the top names in Japanese collegiate women’s distance running. 2012 National University 10000 m champion Haruka Kyuma (Tsukuba Univ.) has struggled with injury since winning the title, a DNS at last year’s Kanto Regionals and mostly absent since then, but with a place on the starting list she has to be considered a danger to defending Kanto champion Hitomi Suzuki (Tamagawa Univ.), who is back to go for a second-straight title. Hoping to stop her and pick up a third Kanto 10000 m crown is 2011-2012 winner Mai Shinozuka (Chuo Univ.). Last year’s 4th and 5th-placers Yuko Kikuchi (Hakuho Univ.) and Mari Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.) and Tayama’s identical twin, 2012 runner-up Eri Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.) are all in the race and should factor into the lead group.
Along with distance events, the Kanto Regionals meet will also feature brand-new 800 m national record holder Sho Kawamoto (Nihon Univ.), teen sprint star Yoshihide Kiryu (Toyo Univ.) and many more. JRN will be onhand to cover the meet live, so check back throughout this weekend and next for results and reports.
Alongside the Kanto Regionals meet are four regional corporate league track and field championships scattered across the country. The East Japan meet, including Kanto-region corporate teams, may be the most competitive, featuring world-level medalists Jonathan Ndiku (Kenya/Team Hitachi Butsuryu), Leonard Barsoton (Kenya/ Team Nissin Shokuhin), Clement Langat (Kenya/Team Subaru), sub-2:10 marathoners Suehiro Ishikawa (Team Honda), Koji Kobayashi (Team Subaru), top-level Japanese track talent Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu), Akinobu Murasawa (Team Nissin Shokuhin), Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin), Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta), Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) and many more on the men’s side. One notable absence is Moscow 10000 m team member Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), largely out of sight since a passable 2:13:41 marathon debut in Dubai in January.
On the women’s side, Kenyans Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts), Doricah Obare (Team Hitachi), Rosemary Monica (Team Starts) and Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.) lead the way for current #1-ranked track runner Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo), 2011 national corporate 10000 m champion Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki), 2014 World Half Marathon team member Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido), and others. Of special note is the presence of 10000 m junior national record holder Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) on the entry list for the 5000 m. If she starts it will be virtually her first race since missing out on her goal of making the 2012 London Olympic team.
The Kyushu region also features solid competition led by 2013 Moscow World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) and 2014 World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko). Top Japanese entrants include marathoners Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu), Kohei Matsumura (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki), Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) and Masanori Sakai (Team Kyudenko). The Chugoku region, which held its 5000 m last weekend, has been weakened on the women’s side by the departure of the Uniqlo team for East Japan, but look for athletes from the Tenmaya team to dominate women’s competition.
In the Kansai region, the only with a total ban on foreign athletes, the men’s 5000 m looks set for a great matchup between collegiate national record holder Kensuke Takezawa (Team Sumitomo Denko) and 2010 national champion Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku). London Olympics marathoner Ryo Yamamoto (Team SGH Group Sagawa) is the favorite in the 10000 m as he builds back from a 2:10:59 at April’s Vienna Marathon. Moscow World Championships marathon bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) and 4th-place Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) are absent from the women’s races, but look for marathoners Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal), Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and, in her first major race since setting the marathon collegiate national record at January’s Osaka International Women’s Marathon, Sairi Maeda (Team Daihatsu) to challenge track and ekiden specialists Reia Iwade (Team Noritz), Mao Kuroda (Team Wacoal) and Yui Okada (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) in the 5000 m and 10000 m.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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