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Konica Minolta and Asahi Kasei Win Regional New Year Ekiden Qualifiers

Two of the most competitive corporate men's regions held their qualifying races for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national championships this weekend.

In Saitama, Konica Minolta recovered from a slow start to take the lead on the 4th of 7 stages at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden with a pair of back-to-back stage record-breaking runs from Gen Hachisuka and Hiroyuki Yamamoto, winning in a course record 3:41:52. 5 of the 7 stages saw new records, with the top 6 teams all breaking the existing overall course record. The last of them, Hitachi Butsuryu, brought fans to their feet on the Third Stage as Keita Shitara, twin brother of half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda), led the field in his best performance in years, finishing the stage just 1 second slower than Yuta did.

Making the New Year Ekiden can mean the difference between continuing as a team or losing corporate sponsorship, and in East Japan this showed in a four-way battle for the last two qualifying spots. ND Software was the first to fall off, leaving Press Kogyo, Comody Iida and Yachiyo Kogyo to  settle it on the last lap of the track. Press Kogyo and Comody Iida were the stronger, taking 11th and 12th and Comody Iida, a small supermarket chain, qualifying for the first time in its 100th anniversary year as a company.

Last year's East Japan winner and course record holder Fujitsu, home of two of the stars of September's MGC Race Olympic marathon trials, Shogo Nakamura and Kengo Suzuki, was a shambles, suffering a late-race setback with 6th man Rei Omori sustained a mid-race injury but almost none of the rest of the team looking even close to being fit. Only one runner, 2019 National XC champion Yuta Bando, placed in the single digits on his stage, taking 2nd on the Fourth Stage. Fujitsu finished 17th overall and failed to qualify for the New Year Ekiden, something that would have seemed almost unthinkable pre-race. The TV producers are bound to be upset that they won't be featuring MGC winner Nakamura on their national broadcast come Jan. 1.

In Kyushu, three-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion Asahi Kasei faced unexpectedly strong competition from Kurosaki Harima and Kyudenko at the Kyushu Corporate Ekiden, not taking the lead until the 6th of the race's 7 stages. Rio Olympian Satoru Sasaki returned from a great run at September's Sydney Marathon to put Asahi Kasei into 1st, with anchor Shuho Dairokuno extending the team's lead out to over 3 minutes by the end of the race. Kurosaki Harima was a surprising 2nd after anchor Junichi Tsubouchi ran down Kyudenko's Shota Miyagami to put Kurosaki Harima 11 seconds ahead.

MHPS was 5th, with star runner Hiroto Inoue winning the Third Stage after a crushing last-place finish at the MGC Race. A stalwart Asics runner in his 2:06:54 and Asian Games gold medal runs last year, Inoue surprised fans by running the stage in Nike Vaporflies. The shoes have had a wildfire spread through Japanese distance running, and as in East Japan, Kyushu saw a mass of new records with 4 of the 7 stage records falling.

Asahi Kasei had enough material to play with to put its non-scoring B-team into 7th, with a likewise non-scoring regional select team taking 8th. Coming in behind them in scoring positions, Nishitetsu and Hiramatsu Byoin took the last two qualifying spots for the Jan. 1 main event.

60th East Japan Corporate Ekiden

Saitama, 11/3/19
27 teams, 7 stages, 76.9 km
complete results

Top Team Results - top 12 qualify for New Year Ekiden
1. Konica Minolta - 3:41:52 - CR
2. Honda - 3:42:30 (CR)
3. JR Higashi Nihon - 3:43:55 (CR)
4. Yakult - 3:43:56 (CR)
5. GMO - 3:43:58 (CR)
6. Hitachi Butsuryu - 3:44:08 (CR)
7. Kanebo - 3:44:36
8. Subaru - 3:44:36
9. Komori Corp. - 3:44:41
10. Police Dep't - 3:45:56
11. Press Kogyo - 3:46:52
12. Comody Iida - 3:46:53
13. Yachiyo Kogyo - 3:46:58
14. ND Software - 3:47:45
15. Saitama Ika Univ. Group - 3:47:55

Individual Stage Best Performances
First Stage (11.6 km) - Masaki Toda (Sunbelx) - 33:27
Second Stage (8.0 km) - Alexander Mutiso (ND Software) - 21:50 - CR
Third Stage (16.5 km) - Naoya Sakuda (JR Higashi Nihon) - 47:51 - CR
Fourth Stage (9.5 km) - Toshinori Watanabe (GMO) - 27:30 - CR
Fifth Stage (7.8 km) - Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) - 22:09 - CR
Sixth Stage (10.6 km) - Noritoshi Hara (Honda) - 29:51
Seventh Stage (12.9 km) - Kanta Shimizu (Subaru) - 37:34 - CR

55th Kyushu Corporate Ekiden

Kitakyushu, 11/4/19
22 teams, 7 stages, 80.5 km
complete results

Top Team Results - top 8 qualify for New Year Ekiden
1. Asahi Kasei A - 3:52:24
2. Kurosaki Harima - 3:55:29
3. Kyudenko - 3:55:40
4. Yasukawa Denki - 3:56:11
5. MHPS - 3:58:54
6. Toyota Kyushu - 3:59:54
7. Asahi Kasei B - 4:00:29 (not counted in qualifying)
8. Corporate Select Team - 4:02:35 (not counted in qualifying)
9. Nishitetsu - 4:03:21
10. Hiramatsu Byoin - 4:06:38
11. Togami Denki - 4:07:58
12. Hioki City Hall - 4:11:09
13. Kyocera Kagoshima - 4:11:44

Top Inidividual Stage Results
First Stage (12.9 km) - Yusuke Tamura (Kurosaki Harima) - 36:49 - CR
Second Stage (7.0 km) - Bernard Koech (Kyudenko) - 19:14
Third Stage (10.9 km) - Hiroto Inoue (MHPS) - 31:54
Fourth Stage (9.5 km) - Kazuharu Takai (Kyudenko) - 27:11
Fifth Stage (13.0 km) - Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei A) - 37:35 - CR
Sixth Stage (10.9 km) - Satoru Sasaki (Asahi Kasei A) - 31:55 - CR
Seventh Stage (16.3 km) - Shuho Dairokuno (Asahi Kasei A) - 46:09 - CR

© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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