Sunday, November 27, 2016

Double Olympian-Powered Japan Post Wins First National Corporate Women's Ekiden Title

by Brett Larner


In just its third year of existence the Japan Post Group team swept to the top of Japan's corporate women's league, winning the 36th running of the National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships Sunday in Sendai, Miyagi.  Featuring Rio track Olympians Ayuko Suzuki and Hanami Sekine, Japan Post was in it from the start.  Lead runner Kyoka Nakagawa got the team off in 4th as she covered the 7.0 km First Stage in 22:01, 11 seconds off leader Mao Ichiyama's 21:50 course record and 9 seconds under the old course record.  Still on the mend from the injury that hit her just before Rio, Suzuki was 5th on time on the 3.9 km Second Stage but still improved Japan Post's position to 3rd.  Sekine and fourth runner Rina Iwataka held steady in 3rd before fifth runner Rina Nabeshima got to work.

Covering 10.0 km on the Fifth Stage, Nabeshima caught leaders Yukiko Okuno (Team Shiseido) and Maki Ashi (Team Kyudenko) just as Yumi Kozasu (Team Wacoal) and Rio Olympics marathoner Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) entered orbit 2 km into the stage, forming a line five-wide across the road.  Not having any of that, Tanaka surged past and was pursued by Nabeshima.  Together they dropped the other three, Nabeshima continuing to look calm and relaxed but Tanaka starting to strain and grit her teeth.  When the time came Nabeshima effortlessly dispatched Her Olympian rival to open a 17-second lead before the handoff to the 6.795 km anchor stage.

Daiichi Seimei anchor Fumika Sasaki closed five seconds on Japan Post's Nozomi Terauchi but could get no closer before Terauchi launched into a 3:03 last kilometer to seal the win in 2:15:08.  Last year the Denso corporate team set a course record of 2:14:22.  With Suzuki still far less than 100% and running a much shorter stage than would be normal for her position on the team it's very likely Japan Post could have taken that record had she been fully operational.  The team's performance was a testament to head coach Masahiko Takahashi's ability, a new team in just its second national championships appearance winning decisively and casting the long shadow of a potential dynasty over the years to come.

Daiichi Seimei was 2nd in 2:15:21, more than a 30-second improvement over its performance last year.  Just 11th on the first stage, Yamada Denki spent the race moving forward and ended up 3rd in 2:16:08 thanks in large part to its fifth runner Sakiho Tsutsui, second on time behind Nabeshima, and anchor Kasumi Nishihara's stage-winning run.  The top eight are seeded for the following year's Nationals, and an intense battle for 8th upped the anchor stage drama.  Five teams were in the running for the last two spots, and in the end it came down to the last 100 m as Universal Entertainment's Moeno Nakamura outkicked Hokuren anchor Reno Okura in the home straight for 8th in 2:17:16.  Hokuren was 9th in 2:17:18, its third year in a row getting bumped back to the Princess Ekiden qualifier on the anchor stage.  Having lost star runner Yuka Takashima to the Shiseido team, course record holder and three-time defending champion Denso finished only 11th in 2:18:00.

More drama came earlier in the race for teams further back in the field.  Yutaka Giken's leading runner China Takano was in obvious trouble almost immediately, falling off the pack in the first kilometer and limping visibly.  Her pace slowing to almost a walk it looked doubtful that she could finish the 7.0 km First Stage, but incredibly she saw it out, staggering in to the exchange zone more than nine minutes behind stage winner Ichiyama and over five and a half minutes behind her nearest competition and immediately collapsing.  Pure guts running.


Yutaka Giken finished 21st, but they finished the race.  Not so lucky for last year's runner-up Toyota Jidoshokki.  In 3rd at the end of the First Stage, incoming Toyota Jidoshokki runner Yui Fukuda looked in vain for her outgoing runner Miho Shimada in the exchange zone, jogging forward as her momentum carried her.  Shimada leapt in from the side and grabbed the tasuki, but on review judges ruled that the exchange had happened outside the zone, resulting in Shimada and the entire Toyota Jidoshokki team's disqualifications.  Outgoing runners not being ready in time does happen at the amateur and junior levels, but it's rare to see in a pro race let alone a national championships.  The upset showed just how unpredictable the ekiden format can be, success or failure riding on every single member of the team.

Queen's Ekiden
36th National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships
Sendai, Miyagi, 11/27/16
22 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results - top eight seeded for 2017
1. Japan Post Group - 2:15:08
2. Daiichi Seimei Group - 2:15:21
3. Yamada Denki - 2:16:08
4. Kyudenko - 2:16:38
5. Wacoal - 2:16:44
6. Tenmaya - 2:16:50
7. Shiseido - 2:16:52
8. Universal Entertainment - 2:17:16
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9. Hokuren - 2:17:18
10. Sekisui Kagaku - 2:17:36
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DQ - Toyota Jidoshokki

Top Stage Performances
First Stage (7.0 km)
1. Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) - 21:50 - CR
2. Risa Takenaka (Shiseido) - 21:51
3. Yui Fukuda (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 21:58

Second Stage (3.9 km)
1. Tomoka Kimura (Universal Entertainment) - 12:04
2. Yuki Hori (Panasonic) - 12:10
2. Harumi Okamoto (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 12:10
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DQ - Miho Shimada (Toyota Jidoshokki)

Third Stage (10.9 km)
1. Yuka Takashima (Shiseido) - 34:33
2. Hanami Sekine (Japan Post) - 34:50
3. Misaki Kato (Kyudenko) - 34:52

Fourth Stage (3.6 km)
1. Shure Bulo (Toto) - 11:05
2. Susan Wairimu (Denso) - 11:21
3. Ann Karindi (Toyota Jidoshokki) - 11:24

Fifth Stage (10.0 km)
1. Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post) - 32:39
2. Sakiho Tsutsui (Yamada Denki) - 32:42
3. Tomomi Tanaka (Daiichi Seimei) - 32:47

Sixth Stage (6.795 km)
1. Kasumi Nishihara (Yamada Denki) - 21:25
2. Fumika Sasaki (Daiichi Seimei) - 21:28
2. Moeno Nakamura (Universal Entertainment) - 21:28

© 2016 Brett Larner
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