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Kusu Runs Steeplechase World-Leading Time, Yabuta and Yoshimura Break National Records, Tanaka Just Misses Fukushi's NR - Kitami and Liege Highlights

Wednesday afternoon and evening saw the fourth meet in this year's five-part Hokuren Distance Challenge series, this time in the town of Kitami. The program included the little-raced 2000 m steeplechase as a tuneup for Monday's series-closing Abashiri meet, and in both the women's and men's races the national records went down. A top collegiate steepler while at Kyoto Sangyo University, Yui Yabuta (Otsuka Seiyaku) ran 6:27.74 to break the women's record. In the men's race 1500 m specialist Yasunari Kusu (Ami AC) surprised many by breaking the Japanese national record with a world-leading 5:31.82 despite little experience in the steeple.

The women's 3000 m in Kitami was more explicitly set up as a national record attempt, with four of the ten fastest Japanese women ever over the distance lined up to gun for the great Kayoko Fukushi's 8:44.40 record dating back to 2002. From the gun it was out at NR pace, with pacers Hellen Ekalale (Toyota Jidoshokki) and Melissa Duncan (Shiseido) leading what quickly boiled down to a Japanese trio of 5000 m national champion Tomoka Kimura (Shiseido), 10000 m national champ Rina Nabeshima (Japan Post) and 2018 World U20 Championships 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Tanaka (Toyota Jidoshokki TC). Tanaka was dissatisfied with Duncan's pacing and moved ahead of her, Kimura hanging back and Nabeshima starting to fade near 2000 m.

With 800 m to Tanaka went ahead of Ekalale and opened a sizable lead, looking like the national record was hers for sure. But over the last lap she ran out of gas, dragging herself down the home straight as Ekalale closed behind her. Tanaka crossed the finish line 1st in 8:48.38, missing the national record by just under 4 seconds but moving up to all-time Japanese #3, with Ekalale next in 8:49.19 and Kimura getting under 9 minutes in 8:57.04 for 3rd. Post-race Tanaka said, "It's kind of embarrassing, but I lost count of the laps and thought I was on the last lap when I kicked. I didn't have anything left after that." Despite the mistake Tanaka came right up to Fukushi's record, and there's no question she looked like she's capable of getting it whenever she's in the right race.

A few hours later in Belgium a large contingent of 26 Japanese athletes competed at the Meeting International d'Athletisme in Liege. Less than 3 weeks after breaking the U20 national record to win the National Championships women's 3000 m steeplechase, Reimi Yoshimura (Daito Bunka Univ.) did it again with a new U20 NR of 9:49.30 for 8th. Only the fifth Japanese woman to ever break 9:50 in the steeplechase, Yoshimura moved up to all-time #4 on the Japanese list. 800 m and 1500 m double national champion Ran Urabe (Nike Tokyo TC) came back from a cold after her pair of national titles to take 3rd in the 1500 m in 4:19.30, disappointed with her time and the 8-second gap to the leading pair but using the race as a step toward her next race Saturday in Heusden-Zolder.

On the men's side, Ryoma Aoki (Hosei Univ.) joined the ranks of what has been an exciting last month in the Japanese men's steeplechase, running a PB 8:32.51 to move up to all-time #6 among Japanese collegiate men, just seconds from qualifying for this fall's Doha World Championships. One of the stars of 2019 Hakone Ekiden champion Tokai University's roster, Kazuto Iizawa also had a good day, winning the men's 1500 m in 3:48.44.

© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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