In the last big Japanese race of the year 2018 Morinomiyako Ekiden winner Meijo University ran an almost perfect team performance to break the course record at the Mount Fuji Women’s Ekiden, the 2018 National University Women’s Invitational Ekiden Championships.
Under clear blue skies in the foothills of Mount Fuji Meijo got off to a good start, 2nd from the gun behind the National University Select Team made up of top runners from schools that didn’t qualify for Mount Fuji as a team. The Select Team’s first three runners all won their stages with its second runner Rino Goshima of Chuo University running 20:50 to set a new course record for her 6.8 km stage. But Meijo was never far behind, just 28 seconds off the Select Team by the end of the Third Stage with four more to go.
Graduating senior Kana Matsuura, who had announced Mount Fuji as her final race, put Meijo into the lead with a winning time on the Fourth Stage, and from there Meijo was never in danger. Its next two runners Rika Kaseda and Kanna Tamaki both won their stages, and anchor Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu broke the course record for the uphill anchor stage to bring Meijo home in 1st in 2:22:50, well under the old course record of 2:23:45. Head coach Katsuro Yoneda wept with joy in praising the leadership of his graduating seniors in post-race interviews.
Five-time defending champion Ritsumeikan University struggled to hit its rhythm, moving up from 3rd to 2nd midway through the race but none of its runners scoring a stage win. From far back Daito Bunka University, which beat Ritsumeikan for 2nd at Morinomiyako in October, closed on Ritsumeikan on the Fifth Stage thanks to a stage winning run from star third-year Natsuki Sekiya. Sixth runner Aki Saito held position before anchor Yuka Suzuki delivered the performance of the day.
Still just a first-year, Suzuki fearlessly attacked Ritsumeikan’s Aki Manabe, who set the course record for the anchor stage last year, flying past her early in the stage and never looking back. Uphill stages are risky, especially for inexperienced first-years who attack the early flats hard, but on the climb Suzuki was a revelation. Drawing comparisons to Hakone Ekiden uphill legends Daichi Kamino and Ryuji Kashiwabara, Suzuki took a minute off Manabe’s record for the 8.3 km stage and outran Meijo’s Takamatsu by 42 seconds. DBU finished 2nd in 2:24:19 not far off the old CR, more than a minute up on Ritsumeikan which took 3rd in 2:25:22 to replicate the top three finishing order at Morinomiyako.
The Select Team was 4th, recovering from a mid-race slide down to 6th thanks to a great run by Sixth Stage runner Yukina Ueda of Tsukuba University. Kyoto Sangyo University had a strong second half to take 5th, with last year’s runner-up Tokyo Nogyo University only 6th due in part to the absence of 2018 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Yuki Munehisa with an injury.
The race for the final few places on the podium, which usually guarantees a place at the following year’s race, is one of the highlights of most of the national championship-level ekidens. At Mount Fuji it came down to a three-way sprint finish between Osaka Gakuin University, Nittai University and Toyo University for the final two spots, all three finishing within one second but Toyo landing on the outside in 9th. 2016 Morinomiyako winner Matsuyama University spent most of the race between 4th and 6th-place but fell out of range of the podium to 14th when anchor Masaki Tokunaga ran the slowest time in the field of 22 teams.
For most teams Mount Fuji marked the end of the season. A few will line up against top corporate and high school teams at next month’s Kita-Kyushu Women’s Invitational Ekiden, while star runners will represent their home prefectures along with the best junior high school, high school and corporate league runners at Kyoto’s National Women’s Ekiden on Jan. 13.
Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden2018 National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships
22 teams, 7 stages, 43.4 km
Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage (4.1 km) - Erika Sano (Takushoku Univ./Select Team) - 12:58
Second Stage (6.8 km) - Rino Goshima (Chuo Univ./Select Team) - 20:50 - CR
Third Stage (3.3 km) - Wakana Kabasawa (Keio Univ./Select Team) - 10:17
Fourth Stage (4.4 km) - Kana Matsuura (Meijo Univ.) - 14:27
Fifth Stage (10.5 km) - Rika Kaseda (Meijo Univ.)/Natsuki Sekiya (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 34:43 - CR
Sixth Stage (6.0 km) - Kanna Tamaki (Meijo Univ.) - 19:46
Seventh Stage (8.3 km, uphill) - Yuka Suzuki (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 28:39 - CR
Top Team Performances
1. Meijo University - 2:22:50 - CR
2. Daito Bunka University - 2:24:19
3. Ritsumeikan University - 2:25:22
4. National University Select Team - 2:26:54
5. Kyoto Sangyo University - 2:26:59
6. Tokyo Nogyo University - 2:27:47
7. Osaka Gakuin University - 2:28:01
8. Nittai University - 2:28:02
----- top eight seeded for 2019
9. Toyo University - 2:28:02
10. Hakuoh University - 2:28:20
© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved