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Osaka Kunei Girls Win First-Ever National High School Ekiden Championships

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of race broadcaster NHK

A back-and-forth race between four of the top five ranked schools in the country saw Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. emerge to take its first national title Dec. 21 at the 26th National High School Girls Ekiden Championships in Kyoto, covering the five-stage, 21.0975 km course in 1:07:26.

Defending champion Toyokawa H.S. was never a factor, 26th of 47 teams at the end of the 6.0 km First Stage and working its way back up through the field to 6th thanks in large part to a 15:42 stage win for the 5.0 km anchor leg by star Azusa Sumi.  In its absence, #3-ranked Tokiwa H.S. took an early lead with its top runner Harumi Okamoto winning the First Stage in 19:12.  #2-ranked Osaka Kunei moved up on the 4.0975 km Second Stage as its 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu quickly took the lead, but while Takamatsu looked strong a surprise came from Fukiko Ando of #5-ranked 2012 national champion Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.  Focused, strong, and keeping tight to the tangent of a long curve, Ando went by Takamatsu on the opposite side of the street and had a lead before Takamatsu noticed her, ultimately winning the stage in 12:50.  Ritsumeikan Uji's Maako Konishi followed up with a 9:34 win on the hilly 3.0 km Third Stage to get far enough in front to be almost out of sight.  It looked like it might be a blowout for Kyoto locals Ritsumeikan Uji, but Osaka Kunei's fourth runner Rino Maeda had other ideas.

A relative unknown, Maeda ran a stage best 9:11 for 3 km to even up the lead for a simultaneous handoff with Ritsumeikan Uji to the two schools' final runners.  Osaka Kunei anchor Ena Kagayama ran one of the best legs of the day, dropping a 3:00 first km on the 5.0 km stage to immediately open a 7-second gap on Ritsumeikan Uji anchor Aki Manabe.  Manabe appeared under control and unconcerned about Kagayama's reckless pace, but as the final lap of the track drew closer Kagayama never faltered.  Kagayama brought Osaka Kunei home to its first national title in 1:07:26, 8 seconds ahead of Ritsumeikan Uji.

Further back, #3-ranked Tokiwa lost ground on the top two schools after Okamoto's strong opening, sparring with #4-ranked Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. and ultimately taking 3rd by 10 seconds in 1:08:11.  Both schools held off #10-ranked Aomori Yamada H.S.' Kenyan anchor Monica Margaret, who moved up from 6th to 5th but could not close the gap to either team.  Defending champion Toyokawa's Sumi picked up five places to take 6th, with Saikyo H.S. and Kamimura Gakuen H.S. rounding out the eight-deep podium.  Holding steady in the top eight the entire race, Sera H.S. suffered heartbreak on the anchor stage as it fell from 5th to 10th.

26th National High School Girls Ekiden
Kyoto, 12/21/14
47 teams, 5 stages, 21.0975 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. (Osaka) - 1:07:26
2. Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. (Kyoto) - 1:07:34
3. Tokiwa H.S. (Gunma) - 1:08:11
4. Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. (Yamanashi) - 1:08:21
5. Aomori Yamada H.S. (Aomori) - 1:08:28
6. Toyokawa H.S. (Aichi) - 1:08:56
7. Saikyo H.S. (Yamaguchi) - 1:09:07
8. Kamimura Gakuen H.S. (Kagoshima) - 1:09:12
9. Nagano Higashi H.S. (Nagano) - 1:09:20
10. Sera H.S. (Hiroshima) - 1:09:35

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.0 km)
1. Harumi Okamoto (2nd yr., Tokiwa H.S.) - 19:12
2. Kanami Sagayama (1st yr., Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 19:19
3. Kanako Yahagi (3rd yr., Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 19:26

Second Stage (4.0975 km)
1. Fukiko Ando (2nd yr., Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 12:50
2. Mai Takahashi (3rd yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 13:06
3. Yuka Mukai (1st yr., Sera H.S.) - 13:08

Third Stage (3.0 km)
1. Maako Konishi (2nd yr., Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.) - 9:34
2. Wakana Kabasawa (1st yr., Tokiwa H.S.) - 9:38
3. Kanna Munehiro (2nd yr., Kojokan H.S.) - 9:47

Fourth Stage (3.0 km)
1. Rino Maeda (2nd yr., Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 9:11
2. Akari Murofushi (3rd yr., Hakuoh Prep Ashikaga H.S.) - 9:28
3. Reina Shinozaki (1st yr., Tokiwa H.S.) - 9:29

Fifth Stage (5.0 km)
1. Azusa Sumi (3rd yr., Toyokawa H.S.) - 15:42
2. Ena Kagayama (3rd yr., Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 15:56
3. Monica Margaret (1st yr., Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 16:03

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Anonymous said…
A 19:12 for a 6k as a junior in high school...!

-Anna

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