National championship ekiden season looks like it's going to mostly happen, and this will be the first full weekend of qualifying action for the winter's main events. Following Saturday's Hakone Ekiden qualifier is Sunday's Princess Ekiden, the qualifying race for the Nov. 22 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships. This is the first major ekiden to be held on public streets during the coronavirus era, so there is a lot of attention, good and bad, to how it goes and the organizers have banned cheering groups from the different teams in the race and asked fans not to come cheer along the course. It's a test drive to see how the rest of championship season will go to be sure.
Last year's top 8 teams at Nationals are guaranteed the return trip this year, The top 14 teams at the Princess Ekiden will qualify to join them, and with 28 teams entered following scratches from Aichi Denki and Daiso that means a decently competitive race to make it. Last year Sekisui Kagaku won the 6-stage, 42.195 km Princess Ekiden by just 16 seconds over Kyudenko. Both teams are back, but with its best runner from last year's lineup, Sayaka Sato, having set a 25 km national record and 2019 800 m and 1500 m national champ Ran Urabe and half marathon NR holder Hitomi Niiya having come on board since then look for Sekisui Kagaku to blow the rest of the field out of Fukuoka. Probably at Nationals too.
Shiseido is up in strength after barely making the cut last year and should be in the race for a top 3 finish. Yamada Holdings, formerly Yamada Denki, is one of the teams that got knocked back to the Princess Ekiden after a bad performance at Nationals last year, and with veteran Kasumi Nishihara running especially the best she has in years it should be in the mix for top 3 or at worst top 5.
The young Route Inn Hotels team will be trying to make the jump, but Kenyan Pauline Kamulu's fitness remains a question after injury troubles over the last year. SID Group is another brand-new team that looks to have a good chance of making it, especially with the 6 extra spots available in celebration of Nationals' 40th anniversary.
The International Stage, in this case the short, 3.8 km Fourth Stage, where non-Japanese runners are forced to run, is always one of the highlights of any ekiden. Daiso's withdrawal means Rebecca Njeri, 14:55.32 last month, won't be there, and Kamulu, winner of the stage last year, may not be 100%, but there is still plenty of talent entered on the stage, including eight Kenyans led by Joan Chepkemoi (Kyudenko), Veronica Marsha (SID Group) and Marta Mokaya (Canon), and Australian Melissa Duncan (Shiseido).
TBS will be broadcasting the entire race live starting at 11:50 a.m. local time Sunday. It looks like there will be official streaming from multiple cameras on the course via a TBS app, but it's not clear whether it'll be available outside Japan. Unofficial live streaming options include mov3.co, iTVer, and TVJapanLive. JRN will be doing English commentary on @JRNLive as well.
2020 Princess Ekiden Entry List
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships Qualifier
Munakata, Fukuoka, 18 Oct. 2020
28 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
top 20 finishers qualify for November's National Championships
1. Sekisui Kagaku
3. Daiichi Seimei
5. Yamada Holdings
8. Universal Entertainment
10. Route Inn Hotels
11. Higo Ginko
12. Otsuka Seiyaku
15. Kagoshima Ginko
20. Ehime Ginko
21. SID Group
22. Miyazaki Ginko
23. Juhachi Ginko
24. Kojima Press
28. Iwatani Sangyo
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