by Brett Larner
Just shy of six months since a stress fracture knocked Enock Omwamba and Yamanashi Gakuin University out of the 2014 Hakone Ekiden, Omwamba sent a clear signal that he is back to full strength. Omwamba made a tentative return at last month's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships with a double 1500 m and 5000 m win but sat out defending his title in the 10000 m. In the first meet of this summer's Hokuren Distance Challenge series in Fukagawa, Hokkaido, Omwamba outran a half-dozen corporate-league Africans and top Japanese talent including sub-28 men Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), Keita Shitara (Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Team Honda) to cut more than 15 seconds off his best as he won the 10000 m A-heat in 28:00.33. With Omwamba fully recovered, senior Hiroto Inoue having cleared 62 minutes for the half marathon this season, the entire core of Yamanashi Gakuin Prep High School's 2013 National H.S Ekiden champion team joining its roster this year and the extra motivation of a DNF at Hakone this year, YGU should be a major threat in this fall's university ekiden season.
Omwamba's new PB also bettered that of his rival for the position of #1 Kenyan on the university circuit, Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Nihon Univ.). While Omwamba raced in Hokkaido, Kitonyi was in Tokyo to lead Nihon at the National University Men's Ekiden Kanto Region Qualifier, a unique series of four track 10000 m races with two athletes per university running in each heat and their combined times determining their team score and the top seven schools earning places behind the top seeded schools at November's National University Men's Ekiden Championships. After a sudden, violent thunderstorm that caused the alternates' race to be stopped after 4400 m, Kitonyi lead the fastest of the four heats to win in 28:15.99 over 2014 Kanto Region D1 10000 m champ Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), 2013 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) and others. Despite his efforts, Nihon Univ. finished only 9th of the 20 schools in the field and failed to qualify for the National Championships. Kanagawa University took the top position in 3:59:54.79 by a fraction of a second over Juntendo University, with Tokai University, Jobu University, Daito Bunka University, Josai University and Chuo Gakuin University joining them in qualifying.
Back in Hokkaido times in Fukagawa and the second Hokuren Distance Challenge meet in Shibetsu were relatively conservative. Suguru Osako (Team Nissin Shokuhin), who spent most of the spring training under Alberto Salazar with the Nike Oregon Project in the U.S., took a shot at improving on his all-time Japanese #6 5000 m PB of 13:20.80, but although he was well on track at 3000 m in 8:00-flat Osako faded badly to a 13:42.54 finish in Shibetsu. The man sitting one place behind him on the all-time Japanese 10000 m lists, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) was again one step behind, running 13:44.46 in Fukagawa in his first serious race since making his marathon debut in Dubai in January.
Rina Yamazaki (Team Panasonic) led a decent women's 10000 m in Fukagawa that saw the top four clear 32:30, Yamazaki winning by four seconds in 32:17.25. Kenyan Rosemary Wanjiru (Team Starts) continued her successful transition from Aomori Yamada H.S. to the corporate leagues with a 15:35.83 win in the Shibetsu women's 5000 m, where Natsuki Omori of 2013 National University Women's Ekiden champion Ritsumeikan University ran the fastest time of the weekend by a Japanese woman, 15:49.30.
Higher-level women's results came elsewhere in the country. At the Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials meet, Azusa Sumi, the star runner from 2013 National High School Girls' Ekiden champion Toyokawa H.S., ran 9:01.19, the fourth-best time ever by a Japanese high schooler, to win the 3000 m A-heat by almost 15 seconds. It's an indication of how good Sumi's performance was that although both the Fukagawa and Shibetsu Hokuren meets had women's 3000 m on the schedule, the fastest time in either was only 9:15.02 by corporate league runner Miho Shimizu (Team Hokuren).
Although most of the country's best athletes were up north in Hokkaido for summer training, Japan's 47 prefectures also held their prefectural track and field championships this weekend. This year's 10000 m national champion Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) had an easy win in the Gunma Championships 5000 m, setting a meet record 16:14.02 to take the title. Two weeks after setting a 50 km national record, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) picked up the Saitama 1500 m title in 3:56.48. The most impressive results, however, came in Osaka where Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) and her younger sister Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin J.H.S.) went 1-2 in the 1500 m, both breaking Nozomi's 4:20.25 meet record from last year. Nozomi again got the win in 4:19.59 but Tomomi was just behind in 4:19.96, the third-best ever by a Japanese junior high school student. The daughter of Kenyan 2001 Nagano Marathon winner Maxwell Musembi and Japanese mother Kaoru Takamatsu, Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu will make her international debut in the 3000 m at next month's World Junior Championships in the U.S.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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