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Richard Etir Over Benard Koech in 13:00.17 at Golden Games in Nobeoka

Fresh off a near-miss on the world-leading men's 10000 m time with a 27:06.88 Japanese collegiate record at Nittai University on Apr. 22, Tokyo Kokusai University 1st-year Richard Etir had the run of the day at Thursday's Golden Games in Nobeoka with the fastest outdoor 5000 m in the world so far this year, outkicking 10 mile world best holder Benard Koech (Kyudenko) and other top-level Japan-based Kenyans to win the B-heat in a new collegiate record of 13:00.17.

With attendance reported by the JAAF at 22,000, fans lined the track beating on metal sponsor boards with batons to push Etir and the rest of the five-strong lead pack on to meet record times. All of them were well under the 13:10.69 MR set by Hyuga Endo last year, Koech just catching Emmanuel Kiplagat (Mitsubishi Juko) for 2nd in 13:00.38, Kiplagat 3rd in 13:00.90, Michael Temoi (GMO) 4th in 13:01.48 and Benson Kiplangat (Subaru) 5th in 13:02.74.

Etir's predecessor at TKU, Vincent Yegon (Honda) was 6th in a PB 13:13.22, raising the likelihood that his record on the Hakone Ekiden's 2nd through 4th stage might not last through Etir's tenure. Yegon's teammate Tatsuhiko Ito followed up his 1500 m PB at Nittai on the 22nd with a 5000 m PB of 13:17.65, the fastest Japanese time so far this year by almost 10 seconds. Endo's last-minute scratch was a big disappointment. If he'd been there in last year's shape a new NR might have been in the cards.

With 10 heats of men's 5000 m on the program there were a lot of other runs good enough to make news. The all-Kenyan C-heat saw Anthony Maina (Toyota Kyushu) come up just short of Endo's MR prior to Etir breaking it, winning in 13:12.26. Chuo University 2nd-year Shunsuke Yoshii won the A-heat in 13:27.33, beating his older brother Yamato Yoshii's time in the B-heat by almost 12 seconds. He was also just short of Komazawa University 2nd-year Keita Sato's winning time of 13:27.04 at last weekend's Oda Memorial Meet, but to be fair conditions in Nobeoka were as close to perfect as you can get while Sato did it in heavy cold rain.

Just behind Yoshii in the A-heat, 34-year-old Aritaka Kajiwara (Comodi Iida) ran a PB 13:30.56 for 3rd, the fastest time ever by a Japanese man over age 33. In the D-heat, won by Kyuma Yokota (Toyota Kyushu) in a PB 13:31.60, 37-year-old Rikkyo University head coach Yuichiro Ueno ran 13:32.36, his fastest time since 2011. Ueno has now run sub-14 every year since 2002 except for 2008, when he ran only 14:07.26, and 2018-19 when he didn't race. His fastest Rikkyo athlete of the day, 3rd-year Raiki Yamamoto, ran only 13:55.57 in the F-heat.

The G-heat saw another high schooler join the sub-14 club. Kaisei Ogata, a 3rd-year at Kyoto's Rakunan H.S. where he was a teammate of Keita Sato's two years ago, ran a PB 13:55.62 for 7th behind winner Shinba Sato (Sekino Kosan).

There were more women's races than ever at GGN, with three 5000 m heats and, for the first time, a 10000 m. Taking the season off from the 3000 mSC, Olympian Yuno Yamanaka (Ehime Ginko) soloed an impressive negative split 15:33.42 PB for the win in the B-heat, beating runner-up Yuna Takahashi (Shimamura) by over 23 seconds. Judy Jepngetich (Shiseido) easily beat Janet Nyiva (Panasonic) and Dolphine Omare (U.S.E.) to win the A-heat, coasting the later stages of the race as the other two ran out of gas in the their attempt at running sub-15 for the first time and kicking away for the win in 15:06.52. Nittai University 3rd-year Risa Yamazaki had an excellent run for 4th in a PB of 15:31.39, outkicking Ethiopian Desta Burka (Denso) and corporate leaguer Misaki Hayashida (Kyudenko) to get there.

The women's 10000 m was the most entertaining of the night except maybe the men's 5000 m B-heat, with a tiny field of only 8 containing some of the country's current best. The lead group quickly shook off Yuka Takashima and Tomoka Kimura from the national champion Shiseido team to leave only their teammate Rino Goshima, 2:21 marathoner Rika Kaseda (Daihatsu) and 5000 m NR holder Ririka Hironaka (Japan Post) up front. A sub-30:40 Budapest qualifying time was never really in the works, but even so Hironaka, the only one of the three to have actually done that, wasn't able to keep up. Kaseda and Goshima traded the lead most of the rest of the way before Kaseda pulled away for the win in 31:49.56. Goshima just made it under 32 minutes in 31:59.00.

Having already cleared the Budapest standard Hironaka only needed to finish in the top 3 to have her place on the Budapest team guaranteed, but behind her 32:22 runner Haruka Kokai (Daiichi Seimei) picked it up over the second half and closed. Once Kokai went by Hironaka made one effort to regain contact, but as soon as Kokai realized that Goshima was in range too she surged again to put Hironaka away for good. Kokai came just short of catching Goshima for 2nd but was rewarded with a 21-second PB of 32:01.83 for 3rd and stopped Hironaka from being named a first-round pick for Budapest. Considering Hironaka's recent dull streak that might not be a bad thing.

The men's 10000 m was the last race of the night, and even though it started at 21:15 the majority of the crowd stayed and kept up their enthusiasm enough that even Michael Johnson would have to rethink his manifesto on how to make track more popular. Rodgers Kwemoi (Aisan Kogyo) paced through 7600 m on a very steady pace just on track for sub-28. Yuto Imae (GMO) stayed locked behind him the whole way, but once Kwemoi stepped off Olympic steepler Kazuya Shiojiri (Fujitsu) and fastest-ever Japanese-born collegiate man Ren Tazawa (Toyota) took off for a head-to-head duel.

Shiojiri seemed more in control, and over the last lap he kicked away to open 5 seconds on Tazawa for the win in 27:46.82, a negative split by over 10 seconds. Tazawa was 2nd in 27:51.21 in his corporate league debut at the distance. Imae was run down by sub-28 man Tomoki Ota (Toyota), but with a massive kick over the last lap he pulled away again to take 3rd in 27:55.82. Olympic marathon trials-qualified runners took 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 15th in the field of 15 finishers, with Ryuya Kajitani (Subaru) a DNF in the early going.

© 2023 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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