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Meijo Wins Fifth-Straight National Title, 18-Year-Old Fuwa Sets Sendai on Fire at National University Women's Ekiden

Meijo University led almost start-to-finish at Sunday's National University Women's Ekiden, taking five of the six individual stage bests to become only the second school to win five-straight national titles. Opening runner Yuma Yamamoto waited until the last km of her 6.6 km stage to turn it on, opening a 7-second lead to win it in 21:48. Second runner Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu overcame a bad season to break the record for her stage, running 12:01 for 3.9 km and building Meijo's lead to 23 seconds. Third runner Yuna Wada added another 56 seconds to the lead with a 21:51 win on her 6.9 km stage, and fourth runner Nanase Tanimoto turned in a 15:37 stage record for 4.8 km to chalk up another 14 seconds. 

10000 m collegiate record holder Narumi Kobayashi was the weakest link, finishing only 3rd on the 9.2 km Fifth Stage on individual time but still stretching out Meijo's lead to 2:07. Anchor Yuka Masubuchi had more than enough to work with with only 6.7 km to run, but that didn't stop her from running a 22:14 stage record to bring Meijo home in 2:02:59 for the 38.1 km course. Surprisingly Meijo missed its own overall course record by 2 seconds, but with a fifth-straight title to its name and a big chunk of the team returning next year its chances of a record six titles looks good.

2nd in every one of Meijo's previous four wins, Daito Bunka University had some bad luck when collegiate steeplechase record holder Reimi Yoshimura fell on the opening stage, finishing the stage only 11th. The team spent the rest of the race digging its way out of that hole, and a course record-breaking 28:59 on the 9.2 km Fifth Stage from 2019 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Yuka Suzuki was enough to get them back up to 2nd yet again, ultimately finishing 2:36 behind Meijo.

But let's talk about Seira Fuwa. The 18-year-old Takushoku University first-year has made waves on the track this season, running 15:20.68 for 5000 m in July and beating Kobayashi to win the 5000 m at September's National University Track and Field Championships. In hopes of scoring Takushoku's first-ever finish on the eight-deep podium its coach made the risky move of putting her on the longest stage, the 9.2 km Fifth Stage, against Kobayashi and Suzuki, her first time running that kind of distance. And she completely, utterly dominated it and them. I don't even know what to say about it, really. She was that good. Fuwa was smooth, under control, never straining the entire way as she took down rival team after rival team. On a hilly course she split 15:20 at 5 km and then got faster, 15:05 pace from 5 km to the end, taking Takushoku from 9th all the way to a school record 3rd and to within 9 seconds of Suzuki. 

And that's exactly how long Suzuki's CR lasted, as Fuwa beat it by a minute in 28:00. If she'd kept that up for another 800 m it would have been a 30:26 road 10 km, with hills. The U20 world record for 10000 m on the track is 30:26.50. The Japanese national record is 30:20.44. Nobody else in Japan is running at that level right now, and only one has in recent years. You don't want to get too worked up about one great run and extrapolate too much from it, but it's safe to say this was the greatest distance performance in Japanese collegiate women's history. Not just for the time itself, but for the margin by which she beat Suzuki, who has run 31:37.88 for 10000 m, about the same as what her 28:59 today projects to, and Kobayashi, who ran her 31:22.34 collegiate record in July. These would be top-level people even in the NCAA, and Fuwa was just on another level.

Post-race Fuwa said, "My minimum goal was to run 29:10 and get the stage record, but I kept seeing people ahead of me and going after them. I'm just getting started. I'm not going to rest on just this one result." Let's hope they take good care of her and not push Fuwa to do too much too young like a lot of others before her. Again, you don't want to read too much into one run, but Japan hasn't had women this good very often. Maybe never.

39th Morinomiyako Ekiden

National University Women's Ekiden
Sendai, Miyagi, 31 Oct. 2021
26 teams, 6 stages, 38.1 km

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage - 6.6 km
1. Yuma Yamamoto (Meijo Univ.) - 21:48
2. Nanako Otani (Matsuyama Univ.) - 21:55
3. Haruko Hosaka (Nittai Univ.) - 21:55

Second Stage - 3.9 km
1. Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Meijo Univ.) - 12:01 - CR
2. Yuiri Ogata (Nittai Univ.) - 12:17 (CR)
3. Mayu Morijiri (Josai Univ.) - 12:23

Third Stage - 6.9 km
1. Yuna Wada (Meijo Univ.) - 21:51
2. Rinka Hida (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 22:27
3. Saya Nakajima (Kanoya Taiiku Univ.) - 22:34

Fourth Stage - 4.8 km
1. Nanase Tanimoto (Meijo Univ.) - 15:37 - CR
2. Kaede Okajima (Nittai Univ.) - 15:47
3. Yuna Fujiwara (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 15:51

Fifth Stage - 9.2 km
1. Seira Fuwa (Takushoku Univ.) - 28:00 - CR
2. Yuka Suzuki (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 28:59 (CR)
3. Narumi Kobayashi (Meijo Univ.) - 29:28

Sixth Stage - 6.7 km
1. Yuka Masubuchi (Meijo Univ.) - 22:14 - CR
2. Asa Kobayashi (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 22:25
3. Kasumi Fujimura (Josai Univ.) - 22:39

Top Team Results
top 8 auto-qualify for 2022
1. Meijo University - 2:02:59
2. Daito Bunka University - 2:05:35
3. Takushoku University - 2:06:23
4. Ritsumeikan University - 2:06:30
5. Nittai University - 2:06:56
6. Osaka Gakuin University - 2:07:08
7. Josai University - 2:07:10
8. Matsuyama University - 2:07:18
9. Tohoku Fukushi Universtiy - 2:08:46
10. Kansai University - 2:09:05
11. Osaka Geijutsu University - 2:09:17
12. Chukyo Gakuin University - 2:09:24
13. Kansai Gaikokugo University - 2:09:57

© 2021 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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Stefan said…
Brett, your write up on Seira Fuwa echoes exactly how I felt after watching her run that 5th stage. The expectation on her young shoulders now will be enormous. I, for one, am looking forward to see how she progresses. The "Super Rookie" title definitely belongs to her. Great performance and great event once again. Well done Meijo for a 5th win in row.
Kyle S said…
Brett, I really appreciate that extra context for Fuwa's run. I just caught up on the race and was so impressed by how smoothly Fuwa went by each and every runner she passed -- she made them look like they were out for a leisurely jog. Definitely an athlete to watch, and I completely agree with you about the hope that Takushoku U. takes care of her and doesn't push her to do too much too young.

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