by Brett Larner
Along with the Berlin Marathon, where Moscow World Championships bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) turned in the fastest Japanese women's performance overseas so far this year at 2:26:25 for 6th and 2014 Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon winner Kazuki Tomaru (Team Toyota) cracked the top ten with a 2:11:25 PB, the fall season got underway for real all across Japan.
The university ekiden circuit kicked off with the Kansai Region University Women's Ekiden on Saturday, where for the second year in a row Osaka Gakuin University beat national champion Ritsumeikan University. The two schools traded the lead for the first four of the race's six stages before Osaka Gakuin got free on the Fifth Stage, ultimately winning by 7 seconds in 1:38:53. The Kanto Region University Women's Ekiden followed on Sunday, with Daito Bunka University taking the lead on the Second Stage to run unchallenged all the way to the finish in a course record 1:38:22. Early leader Tokyo Nogyo University and Nittai University ran the entire way within 7 seconds of each other before Nittai anchor Hiromi Hikida outkicked Tokyo Nogyo's Natsuno Furuya by 2 seconds for 2nd place in 1:41:46.
In preparation for next month's Izumo Ekiden the Daito Bunka University men were in action on the track, hosting the Saitama Jitsugyodan Long Distance Time Trials meet. DBU's star twins Takashi Ichida and Hiroshi Ichida took the top two spots in the 10000 m, Takashi running 28:57.69 and Hiroshi 2nd in 29:14.99. Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University had its Izumo lineup focus on 5000 m, where junior Kazuma Watanabe led in 14:01.81.
A half dozen other areas had minor meets at about the same level as Saitama's but the biggest track results of the weekend came at the season's first edition of the Nittai University Time Trials meet. In her first pro season, Ayuko Suzuki (Team Japan Post) got things started in a big way with the first Japanese women's sub-9 minute 3000 m in over six years as she soloed an 8:58.08 PB to win the A-heat. Ritsumeikan grad Michi Numata turned in a good 15:32.41 to top the 5000 m A-heat, while in the men's races Kenyans Leonard Barsoton (Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Bernard Kimanyi (Team Yakult) won the 5000 m and 10000 m in 13:25.39 and 27:50.66.
Back on the roads, another Japan-based Kenyan, John Maina (Team Toho Refine) won the Ichinoseki International Half Marathon in 1:03:29, with Hawaiian resident Polina Carlson (Russia) winning the women's race in 1:16:48. Maina told reporters, "I'm very happy to win a race here in my hometown." A little further north, Tomohiro Tanigawa of 2014 New Year Ekiden winner Team Konica Minolta won the Hakodate Half Marathon in 1:03:20. Much further south, Toyo grad Hisanori Kitajima (Team Yasukawa Denki) was a surprise winner in the Fukuoka Prefecture 10-Mile Championships, outrunning defending champion Ryuji Watanabe and marathoner Masato Imai (both Team Team Toyota Kyushu) by over a minute for the win in 48:24.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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