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Asahi Kasei and Fujitsu Win Regional Qualifiers for New Year Ekiden

Regional qualifying for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships got started on the Nov. 3 holiday with the Kyushu Corporate Men's Ekiden in Kitakyushu and the East Japan Corporate Men's Ekiden in Kumagaya. Starting last year Kyushu had already switched to a loop course, but as a measure against the coronavirus crisis East Japan was also held on a loop courses at a park instead of its usual road course.

In Kyushu, four-time national champion Asahi Kasei led almost start to finish after a good 36:55 run on the 12.9 km opening leg by Keijiro Mogi. The only flaw came on the 7.0 km Second Stage, where Asahi Kasei fell to 5th as Kenyan Robert Kipchirchir Mwei ran only 19:39, over a minute slower than stage winner Benard Kibet Koech's smoking 18:28 stage record. Koech was 29 seconds up on both the old record and 2nd-place on the stage to put the Kyudenko team into 1st.

But a stage record-breaking debut from Akira Aizawa on the Third Stage put Kenta Murayama in position to return Asahi Kasei to the lead spot on the Fourth Stage. With three more stage wins after Murayama Asahi Kasei easily built up a winning margin of more than a minute and a half over Mitsubishi Juko, its 46th win in the race's 57-year history. 

Toyota Kyushu caught Kyudenko on the line, both teams clocking the same time but Toyota Kyushu awarded 3rd. From the Third Stage on the Togami Denki and Nishitetsu teams were less than ten seconds apart in 8th and 9th, Togami Denki just holding Nishitetsu off in the end by 4 seconds to take the last qualifying spot.

In East Japan, a year after failing to qualify for the New Year Ekiden the Fujitsu team almost duplicated Asahi Kasei's run, leading start to finish except for a brief dip to 2nd place when second man Benard Kimeli was run down by Kanebo's Samwel Masai. In this case, though, once it came back Fujitsu's lead was never safe, with the GMO and Honda teams challenging for the lead over and over all the way until the second of three laps of the park on the final stage. That was where anchor Kazuya Shiojiri dropped a surge to open a stage-winning lead and bring Fujitsu home 23 seconds up on GMO. 

In the most exciting development of the race, Fukuoka International Marathon-bound, Keita Shitara, twin brother of former half marathon and marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara, won the race's longest stage, running 47:41 for the 16.8 km Third Stage and helping Hitachi Butsuryu take 5th overall just 7 seconds up on early leader Kanebo.

New Year Ekiden regulars Subaru were a surprise DNF when fifth man Kengo Nakamura failed to make it home. With Subaru out of the race the door was open for some of the smaller teams to take a shot at making the cut. Rival supermarket chains Sunbelx and Comody Iida both made it, as did new medical university staff team SID Group. With the influx of new teams several other regulars were cut out along with Subaru, the Yachiyo Kogyo, Press Kogyo and Komori Corporation teams all coming up short. 

Regional qualifying for the New Year Ekiden continues Nov. 15 in the Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku and Hokuriku regions.

57th Kyushu Region Corporate Men's Ekiden

Honjo Park, Kitakyushu, 3 Nov. 2020
18 teams, 7 stages, 80.2 km
top eight teams qualify for New Year Ekiden

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (12.9 km) - Keijiro Mogi (Asahi Kasei A) - 36:55
Second Stage (7.0 km) - Benard Kibet Koech (Kyudenko) - 18:28 - CR
Third Stage (10.9 km) - Akira Aizawa (Asahi Kasei A) - 30:39 - CR
Fourth Stage (9.5 km) - Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei A) - 28:18
Fifth Stage (13.0 km) - Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei A) - 37:46
Sixth Stage (10.9 km) - Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei A) - 31:25 - CR
Seventh Stage (16.0 km) - Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei A) - 46:49

Top Team Results
1. Asahi Kasei A - 3:51:31 - CR
2. Mitsubishi Juko - 3:53:08
3. Toyota Kyushu - 3:55:32
4. Kyudenko - 3:55:32
5. Kurosaki Harima - 3:56:16
(OP) Asahi Kasei B - 3:56:53
6. Yasukawa Denki - 3:57:26
7. Hiramatsu Byoin - 4:01:15
(OP) Corporate Select Team - 4:02:14
8. Togami Denki - 4:02:43
9. Nishitetsu - 4:02:47
10. Kyocera Kagoshima - 4:08:57

61st East Japan Region Corporate Men's Ekiden

Kumagaya, Saitama, 3 Nov. 2020
23 teams, 7 stages, 76.4 km
top 12 teams qualify for New Year Ekiden
complete results

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (13.4 km) - Kohei Ogino (Fujitsu) - 38:26
Second Stage (8.4 km) - Samwel Masai (Kanebo) - 22:31
Third Stage (16.8 km) - Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu) - 47:41
Fourth Stage (8.4 km) - Yuta Bando (Fujitsu) - 23:18
Fifth Stage (8.4 km) - Atsuto Shimanuki (GMO) - 23:50
Sixth Stage (8.4 km) - Toshinori Watanabe (GMO) - 23:31
Seventh Stage (12.6 km) - Kazuya Shiojiri (Fujitsu) - 35:53

Top Team Results
1. Fujitsu - 3:36:43
2. GMO - 3:37:09
3. Honda - 3:38:00
4. Yakult - 3:39:38
5. Hitachi Butsuryu - 3:39:40
6. Kanebo - 3:39:47
7. JR Higashi Nihon - 3:40:49
8. Konica Minolta - 3:41:22
9. Sunbelx - 3:42:17
10. Saitama Ika Daigaku Group - 3:43:20
11. ND Software - 3:43:56
12. Comody Iida - 3:44:00
13. Yachiyo Kogyo - 3:44:41
14. Press Kogyo - 3:45:00
15. Komori Corporation - 3:45:20
DNF - Subaru
© 2020 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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