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Sekisui Kagaku Wins Second-Straight Princess Ekiden

In the first major road race held on public roads in Japan since the coronavirus crisis began, the Sekisui Kagaku team won its second-straight Princess Ekiden Sunday in Munakata, Fukuoka to lead the qualifiers for November's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships.

25 km national record holder Sayaka Sato took things out with a 22:22 CR for the 7.0 km First Stage, setting up a lead that last year's double 800 m and 1500 m national champ Ran Urabe held onto despite only running the third-fastest time on her 3.6 km leg. Urabe handed off to half marathon NR holder Hitomi Niiya, who took an incredible 1:15 off the record for the 10.7 km Third Stage. Niiya's time of 32:43 equated to 30:35 for 10 km, well under the track 10000 m NR, and singlehandedly took Sekisui Kagaku from a 10 second lead to 1:58 out front. Sekisui Kagaku's last three runners had it relatively easy, none of them in the top 8 on their stages but anchor Chikako Mori bringing them home safely for the win in 2:17:03, just 1 second off the overall course record.

Behind them, Yamada Holdings spent almost the entire race in 2nd, its Second Stage runner Yuri Tasaki beating Urabe with an 11:17 course record and fifth runner Hisami Ishii bringing them back with a stage win after Australian Melissa Duncan briefly put Shiseido ahead on the 3.8 km Fourth Stage. Yamada ended up 2nd in 2:18:06, most of the work on cutting down Sekisui's lead coming thanks to Ishii.

Shiseido's second runner Ayami Higuma was also under the old CR and good runs from third runner Rino Goshima and fourth runner Duncan brought them up into 2nd, but after getting retaken by Ishii they fell to a final placing of 5th behind Otsuka Seiyaku and Kyudenko. Kyudenko's Misaki Hayashida was one of at least three anchors who were confused by an arch and timing clocks several meters before a finish line hidden in shadows from nearby trees, stopping at the arch and walking off the course. She made it back just in time to hold off being beaten to the line by Shiseido's Yuka Takashima.

Apart from an unexplained DNF within sight of the first exchange zone by Kyocera's Kako Okada, most of the rest of the best action came down around the dividing line for qualification, 14th and 15th place. For almost the entire race at least three or four teams were battling it out at that level, with competition boiling down to Kagoshima Ginko, Hokuren, and, in search of their first-ever Nationals qualification, Nitori

In 13th through the Fourth and Fifth Stages, Nitori's anchor Rion Furukawa was quickly caught by Kagoshima Ginko anchor Miki Tachizako. From behind them it looked like Hokuren veteran Hiroko Miyauchi in 15th would quickly catch them, but as Tachizako picked it up Furukawa stayed with her to reopen a lead over Miyauchi. Tachizako eventually broke free, and int he final km Miyauchi returned to blaze past a disoriented-seeming Furukawa to seal up 14th and a return trip to Nationals. Staggering and weaving, Furukawa was caught in the last few meters by Daiichi Seimei anchor Yuka Mukai, ending up a disappointed 16th.

The fourteen qualifying teams will join last year's Nationals' top eight on Nov. 22 for the season-ending National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships. Like yesterday's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai, the Princess Ekiden marked a preliminary, if hesitant, first step back toward an ekiden and road racing season that started with multiple major events being canceled. There's still plenty of room for the situation to change in either direction, but for now at least this was a positive. Let's hope there are more to come.

Princess Ekiden

National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships Qualifier
Munakata, Fukuoka, 18 Oct. 2020
28 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
top 14 teams qualify for National Championships

Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage (7.0 km)
1. Sayaka Sato (Sekisui Kagaku) - 22:22 - CR
2. Maho Shimizu (Yamada Holdings) - 22:36
3. Keiko Nogami (Juachi Shinwa Ginko) - 22:43

Second Stage (3.6 km)
1. Yuri Tasaki (Yamada Holdings) - 11:17 - CR
2. Ayami Higuma (Shiseido) - 11:18 (CR)
3. Ran Urabe (Sekisui Kagaku) - 11:21

Third Stage (10.7 km)
1. Hitomi Niiya (Sekisui Kagaku) - 32:43 - CR
2. Rino Goshima (Shiseido) - 34:21
3. Sakiho Tsutsui (Yamada Holdings) - 34:31

Fourth Stage (3.8 km)
1. Pauline Kamulu (Route Inn Hotels) - 11:49
2. Joan Chepkemoi (Kyudenko) - 11:53
3. Naomi Muthoni (Universal Entertainment) - 11:56

Fifth Stage (10.4 km)
1. Hisami Ishii (Yamada Holdings) - 35:03
2. Honoka Tanaike (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 35:16
3. Misaki Nishida (Edion) - 35:33

Sixth Stage (6.695 km)
1. Kaede Hagitani (Edion) - 21:15 - CR
2. Yuka Takashima (Shiseido) - 21:25
3. Rie Kawauchi (Otsuka Seiyaku) - 21:34

Top Team Results
1. Sekisui Kagaku - 2:17:03
2. Yamada Holdings - 2:18:06
3. Otsuka Seiyaku - 2:18:46
4. Kyudenko - 2:19:08
5. Shiseido - 2:19:16
6. Edion - 2:19:32
7. Hitachi - 2:20:04
8. Route Inn Hotels - 2:20:45
9. Sysmex - 2:20:49
10. Universal Entertainment - 2:21:01
11. Higo Ginko - 2:21:21
12. Starts - 2:21:25
13. Kagoshima Ginko - 2:22:01
14. Hokuren - 2:22:24
15. Daiichi Seimei - 2:23:04
16. Nitori - 2:23:19
17. Iwatani Sangyo  2:23:56
DNF - Kyocera

© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Stefan said…
Some good racing especially by Hitomi Niiya who is just on another level. Without her in the Sekisui Kagaku team it would have been a different result. I'm looking forward to Nov 22 Exiden now. I think any team will find it difficult to beat the JP team and of course, the Panasonic team. Thanks for your article.
Geoff Burns said…
Reading about Niiya shredding everyone for a eye-popping stage-best feels like some sort of dose of normalcy. Brava.

What brought Duncan to the corporate leagues?
Brett Larner said…
Thanks for the comments, and nice to hear from you, Geoff. AFAIK Duncan's coach thought it would be a good paying gig and development opportunity ahead of Tokyo 2020. She had some injury problems her first year but has been coming up again this fall.

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