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Sera Girls Win First-Ever National High School Ekiden Championships Title

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK

The Sera H.S. girls won their first-ever National High School Ekiden Championships Sunday in Kyoto thanks to a solid team performance and a stunning run from 2nd-year anchor Yuka Mukai.

Ranked #1, defending champion Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. was handicapped from the start by the loss of its #2 member Kanami Sagayama to injury and was far behind on the 6.0 km First Stage.  In Sagayama's absence Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. first-year Nozomi Tanaka, daughter of sub-2:30 amateur marathoner Chihiro Tanaka, led almost the entire way from her opening 3:10 km to the final stretch where she was outkicked by Sera's Shinobu Koyoshigawa.  The two handed off almost simultaneously and over the 4.0975 km Second Stage little changed in their teams' relative positions, Nishiwaki Kogyo handing off to its third runner one second ahead of Sera.  Behind them Tokiwa H.S. and Osaka Kunei drew closer, Osaka Kunei thanks to its debuting Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu, the younger sister of captain Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu.  Further back, Kenyan Helen Ekarare of Sendai Ikuei H.S. took 8 seconds off the stage record with a new mark of 12:27.

The elder Takamatsu overtook Tokiwa on the 3.0 km Third Stage, cutting the gap to Nishiwaki Kogyo and Sera down to 10 seconds.  On the 3.0 km Fourth Stage Sera's Kotone Asada ran into trouble, losing touch with Nishiwaki Kogyo's Yume Goto and overtaken by both Tokiwa and Osaka Kunei.  With a 15:31.92 best for 5000 m that put her at #10 among all Japanese women this year Sera anchor Mukai had said pre-race that she was confident of being able to make up a 30-second deficit.  When Asada handed off to her Mukai was 32 seconds behind Nishiwaki Kogyo anchor Yuina Onishi with two teams in between them.

Fluid and strong, Mukai was on the job.  In less than 2 km she went by Osaka Kunei's Rino Maeda.  Ahead Tokiwa's Yuki Kometani overtook Onishi for the lead, and just moments later Mukai did the same to move into 2nd, Kometani just ahead.  With just over a km to go Mukai went by Kometani and there was nothing left between her and the finish line.  Mukai broke the tape in 1:07:37 to give Sera its first national title, just 4 seconds outside the all-time top ten.  Her time of 15:26 beat her track PB by 5 seconds and, while not a stage record, was the fastest time ever by a Japanese-born runner on the anchor stage.  With the Sera boys all but guaranteed to win their race the girls' win meant a double was in the air for Hiroshima's strongest high school.

Tokiwa's Kometani held on after getting dropped, taking 2nd in 1:07:46.  Defending champions Osaka Kunei were a respectable 3rd in 1:08:10, 33 seconds out of the win.  Would Sagayama have made that much of a difference?  We'll never know.  Suma Gakuen H.S. anchor Mai Ota turned in one of the best performances of the day, running down longtime leader Nishiwaki Kogyo to take 4th by 9 seconds in 1:08:42.

National High School Girls Ekiden Championships
Kyoto, 12/20/15
59 teams, 5 stages, 21.0975 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Sera H.S. - 1:07:37
2. Tokiwa H.S. - 1:07:46
3. Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. - 1:08:10
4. Suma Gakuen H.S. - 1:08:42
5. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. - 1:08:51
6. Kojokan H.S. - 1:09:14
7. Yamada H.S. - 1:09:16
8. Kitakyushu Municipal H.S. - 1:09:24
9. Funabashi Municipal H.S. 1:09:31
10. Toyokawa H.S. 1:09:31

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage - 6.0 km
1. Shinobu Koyoshigawa (Sera H.S) - 19:20
2. Nozomi Tanaka (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 19:20
3. Yuka Sarumida (Toyokawa H.S.) - 19:30

Second Stage - 4.0975 km
1. Helen Ekarare (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 12:27 - CR
2. Wakana Kabasawa (Tokiwa H.S.) - 12:55
3. Fukiko Ando (Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 12:57

Third Stage - 3.0 km
1. Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 9:33
2. Natsuki Yamamoto (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 9:51
2. Asuka Nagao (Sera H.S.) - 9:51

Fourth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Yume Goto (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 9:21
2. Mana Arai (Tokiwa H.S.) - 9:22
3. Kanako Hayakawa (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 9:23

Fifth Stage - 5.0 km
1. Yuka Mukai (Sera H.S.) - 15:26 - fastest-ever by Japanese runner
2. Yuki Kometani (Tokiwa H.S.) - 15:57
3. Monica Margaret (Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 15:58

© 2015 Brett Larner
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