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Ritsumeikan Wins Second-Straight Mt. Fuji University Women's Ekiden in Last Elite Race of Year

by Brett Larner

Cloudless skies, a fresh snow cap and carefully worked out camera angles that included Mt. Fuji as a backdrop in almost every shot made for spectacular viewing at the second running of the Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden, the last elite race of the year on the Japanese calendar.  Formerly held in Tsukuba, Ibaraki and serving as the season-ending National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships, the Mt. Fuji race was once again dominated by the unstoppable Ritsumeikan University whose seven runners handled the downhill first half, flat middle and 164 m-climb 7.7 km anchor stage with equal skill, all seven making the top four out of twenty on their stages.

Maya Iino (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) took a short-lived lead on the 78 m-downhill First Stage, but Ritsumeikan's Tomoka Iwai was quick to move to the front on the 25 m-descent Second Stage.  3000 mSC collegiate national record holder Chikako Mori (Daito Bunka Univ.) provided a brief challenge, but Iwai managed to reopen a slight lead that held near 20 seconds through the end of the Fifth Stage.

From the Third through the Fifth Stages Daito Bunka struggled back and forth, both Osaka Gakuin University, the alma mater of former marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi, and Meijo University making contact, in Meijo's case thanks to a Third Stage win by its Mei Matsuyama.  The run of the day came on the perfectly flat 9.4 km Fourth Stage, where, starting in last place, 2014 National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m winner Rina Nabeshima (Kanoya Taiiku Univ.) ran a massive stage record of 29:59, equivalent to a 31:54 road 10 km, while chasing down seven runners.  It was all but a one-woman show, however, as Kanoya Taiiku ultimately fell back down to finish 18th out of twenty.

On the 5.0 km Fifth Stage Daito Bunka's other star runner, Kanto Regionals 5000 m meet record-setting 3rd-year Sakurako Fukuuchi, pulled off a 15:50 stage win to come in sight of leader Ritsumeikan, but Ritsumeikan 1st-year Kotona Ota dropped a 21:37 record for the 6.8 km Sixth Stage, more than a minute faster than the next-best runner, to reopen a safe lead barring a breakdown on the uphill anchor leg.  Injured earlier in the year, Mai Tsuda delivered another stage win to bring Ritsumeikan home for the win in 2:20:20.  Daito Bunka's twins Eri and Mari Tayama took it over the last two stages, but a powerful pair of anchor stages from Osaka Gakuin saw hopes of 2nd slip away.  Osaka Gakuin's Wakana Hayashi overtook DBU's Mari Tayama on the steepest section of the anchor leg's uphill to cross the line over 3 1/2 minutes behind Ritsumeikan in 2:24:04, Daito Bunka another 28 seconds back in 3rd.  The last-place East Japan Select Team escaped the anchor stage white sash start by 2 seconds, making for a rare race with all teams finishing with their original tasuki.

A popular new event with an excellent TV broadcast that catered to national public tastes with at least 36 different generous views of the iconic Mt. Fuji, combined with the new Nikko Irohazaka Women's Ekiden and the long-standing Morinomiyako Ekiden the Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden brought university women's distance running closer to parity with the three-race men's circuit, a welcome development at a time when the quality at the pro level among Japanese women is decreasing rapidly.  Fans now have a week off before championship ekiden season continues with the New Year Ekiden national corporate men's championships and, on Jan. 2-3, the biggest of them all, the university men's season-ending Hakone Ekiden.

2nd Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden
National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships
Shizuoka, 12/23/14
20 teams, 7 stages, 43.4 km, 50 m net ascent
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:20:20 - CR
2. Osaka Gakuin Univ. - 2:24:04
3. Daito Bunka Univ. - 2:24:32
4. Meijo Univ. - 2:25:52
5. Matsuyama Univ. - 2:26:45
6. Fukuoka Univ. - 2:27:18
7. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 2:27:31
8. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:27:36
9. Hakuoh Univ. - 2:27:38
10. Nittai Univ. - 2:27:47

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.6 km, 78 m descent)
1. Maya Iino (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 20:23
2. Natsuki Omori (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 20:25
3. Ayumi Uehara (Matsuyama Univ.) - 20:29

Second Stage (3.5 km, 25 m descent)
1. Chikako Mori (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 10:48
2. Tomoka Iwai (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 11:00
3. Yurino Yokoyama (Meijo Univ.) - 11:07

Third Stage (4.4 km, 9 m descent)
1. Mei Matsuyama (Meijo Univ.) - 14:20
2. Manaka Kobori (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 14:21
3. Yukako Ueno (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 14:24

Fourth Stage (9.4 km, 0 net elev. change)
1. Rina Nabeshima (Kanoya Taiiku Univ.) - 29:59 - CR
2. Mai Shoji (Chukyo Univ.) - 30:47 (CR)
3. Saori Noda (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 30:50 (CR)

Fifth Stage (5.0 km, 3 m descent)
1. Sakurako Fukuuchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 15:50
2. Yukari Wada (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 16:13
3. Minori Goto (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 16:22

Sixth Stage (6.8 km, 1 m ascent)
1. Kotona Ota (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 21:37 - CR
2. Eri Tayama (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 22:47
3. Mai Nagaoka (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 22:48

Seventh Stage (7.7 km, 164 m ascent)
1. Mai Tsuda (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 27:42
2. Wakana Itsuki (Fukuoka Univ.) - 27:49
3. Wakana Hayashi (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 27:51

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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