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Karoki, Mwangi, Omwamba and Wairimu top Second Half of Hokuren Distance Challenge

by Brett Larner

Japan’s biggest summer track series, the Hokuren Distance Challenge on the northern island of Hokkaido, wrapped up this week with its final two meets in the towns of Kitami and Abashiri. The Kitami meet was relatively low-key as everyone focused on the series closer in Abashiri. Building toward his marathon debut with two half marathon wins and a sub-27 best for 10000 m to his name this season Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA RC) delivered the biggest result in Kitami, winning the 5000 m A-heat in 13:15.25. Hokkaido-based high schooler Charles Ndungu (Kenya/Sapporo Yamanote H.S.) was 3rd in a quality best of 13:35.55 just ahead of top Japanese man Minato Oishi (Team Toyota), 4th in 13:36.40.

Kenyan Susan Wairimu (Team Denso) won the women’s 3000 m A-heat over two-time 5000 m national champion Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku), 9:01.29 to 9:05.45, while the year’s #1-ranked Japanese woman Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo) took the 5000 m A-heat in 15:33.71.

In Abashiri Hagiwara faltered, dropping out of the 5000 m A-heat as Onishi won in 15:28.25. Wairimu’s teammate Yuka Takashima (Team Denso) took the women’s 10000 m heat in 31:55.81, just the third Japanese woman this year to clear 32 minutes. Sairi Maeda (Team Daihatsu), who set the national collegiate marathon record of 2:26:46 in her debut at January’s Osaka International Women’s Marathon just before graduating from Kyoto’s Bukkyo University, was 2nd in a sizeable PB of 32:04.37, with 2014 World Half Marathon Championships team member Risa Takenaka (Team Shiseido) also PBing in 32:07.08 for 3rd. Moscow World Championships women’s marathon bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) made a long-delayed return to competition in the same heat, finishing 14th in 32:48.87.

Along with Takenaka, most of Japan’s men’s World Half Marathon Championships team also ran in Abashiri. Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta), 18th in Copenhagen in 1:01:23, doubled with a 3:44.21 win in the 1500 m before coming back to run 13:40.40 for 3rd in the 5000 m A-heat just off Copenhagen teammate Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.), 13:39.27 for 2nd behind 2014 Kanto Region University 1500 m and 5000 m champion Enock Omwamba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) who won again in 13:38.50. A third member of the World Half team, Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), took 5th in 13:42.74, while its other collegiate runner Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) struggled in the 10000 m A-heat as he finished last in 30:18.91. The Copenhagen team’s final member, 2013 national 5000 m champion Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu), sat Abashiri out after running a PB 13:38.46 in Kitami.

No Japanese men broke 28 in the Abashiri 10000 m A-heat, where newcomer James Mwangi (Kenya/Team NTN) continued his rapid rise with a 27:23.66 win over the Koichi Morishita-coached Jeremiah Karemi Thuku (Kenya/Team Toyota Kyushu), 2nd in 27:28.27. Muryo Takase (Team Nissin Shokuhin), sub-62 for the half marathon while at Yamanashi Gakuin University, ran a PB 28:03.81 to take top Japanese honors at 6th just ahead of former Komazawa University captain Shinobu Kubota who just nicked his best with a two-second PB of 28:05.08. Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin University) was the top Japanese collegiate, running a nearly 90-second of PB 28:23.40 for 13th to just beat AGU teammate Yusuke Ogura’s B-heat-winning 28:27.73, also a major PB by 42 seconds. AGU’s Yuhi Akiyama likewise cleared 29 minutes for the first time in the B-heat, as did three runners from rival Meiji University led by Hayato Yamada in 28:35.76. With 2014 Hakone Ekiden top two Toyo University and Komazawa University both suffering from significant losses to graduation both Aoyama Gakuin and Meiji look set to be serious factors in this fall’s university ekiden season, the highlight of the Japanese racing year.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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