Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kyudenko Rounds Out New Year Ekiden Qualifiers With Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner
photo by akm.y

Corporate men’s qualification for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden national championships wrapped up Sunday with the westernmost region Kyushu Corporate Men’s Ekiden. Despite missing its top Japanese man, 2:08:00 marathoner Kazuhiro Maeda, defending champion and course record holder Kyudenko made it two in a row, taking the top spot over the seven-stage, 78.8 km course in 3:54:35 by 43 seconds over last year’s 3rd-placer Kurosaki Harima. After running almost even through the first two stages Kurosaki Harima pulled ahead and led Kyudenko until the 9.2 km Fifth Stage, when Moscow World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui ran a stage best 25:24 to put Kyudenko in the lead for good.

Yasukawa Denki, featuring Moscow World Championships marathon 5th placer Kentaro Nakamoto, was another 40 seconds back, anchor Bunta Kuroki running down Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita-coached Toyota Kyushu anchor Kento Otsu to give Yasukawa Denki 3rd by 2 seconds. The too-proudly all-Japanese 2012 Kyushu champion Asahi Kasei team headed by JAAF men’s marathoning director Takeshi Soh was a shambles, all but one of its runners finishing 4th or lower on their stages and the team finishing only 5th overall. With six places at the New Year Ekiden up for grabs for the seven quality teams in the region the battle for 6th was a good one, with the Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki team led by 2014 Asian Games marathon silver medalist Kohei Matsumura going back and forth with the Nishitetsu team all day before just holding them off by 10 seconds to pick up the last ticket.

The 6 teams from the Kyushu region join the 31 teams from the corporate league’s other 5 regions who have already qualified for the New Year Ekiden. In the most competitive region, Tokyo-centric East Japan, two-time New Year Ekiden winner Konica Minolta, running with all of its big guns except track and half marathon star Tsuyoshi Ugachi, beat 2012 New Year Ekiden winner Nissin Shokuhin who were likewise absent #1 man Yuki Sato. The other big news came down at the bottom of the field, where tiny Nanyo City Hall beat Kanebo, formerly one of the best teams in the country, for the thirteenth and final New Year Ekiden spot available to East Japan teams.

In the Chubu Region, seven quality teams competed for seven places at the New Year Ekiden, illustrating the partial futility of the regional qualification system.  The best of them, Toyota, won easily, taking five of the seven stage bests in spite of splitting its roster into two squads with most of its best men on the A team.  The Toyota A men scored the fastest average pace of any of the 37 teams in the 6 corporate regional qualifiers by over 3 seconds per kilometer, an indication of how much the other teams will have to step up their game come Jan. 1.  Toyota anchor Shinobu Kubota, a 2014 graduate of 4-time National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University, won the 13.1 km anchor stage by nearly a minute and a half.  Toyota's B team finished 3rd overall without counting toward New Year qualification, meaning extra depth that majorly improves Toyota's chances of breaking East Japan's hold on the national title.

The tiny Hokuriku Region held its regional qualifier concurrently with Chubu, its teams competing alongside the bigger region's but scored separately.  The YKK team, the only true national-quality team in the region, has a perpetual lock on New Year Ekiden qualification and made it again with ease, but in the race for the second spot last year's Hokuriku 4th-placer Omokawa Lumber, which this year recruited the late-career but still-strong Norio Kamijo, pulled off a surprise and outran both of the region's other two teams, Sekino Reform and the Takada SDF Base, to take 2nd.

In the foreigner-free Kansai Region, last year's winner SGH Group fell to 4th out of the five teams to qualify, only London Olympics marathoner Ryo Yamamoto and anchor Takayasu Hashizume running up to potential with stage wins.  In its place last year's 2nd-placer Otsuka Seiyaku came out on top of a very close race, beating the still-developing new Sumitomo Denko team by just 8 seconds over 80.45 km as rookie anchor Yudai Yamakawa overtook Sumitomo's Noritaka Fujiyama, another Komazawa graduate, with NTT Nishi Nihon another 8 seconds back.

The Chugoku Region, another with an equal number of quality teams and New Year Ekiden spots, saw the dominant Chugoku Denryoku team win again for the millionth straight year, over two minutes ahead of runner-up Mazda with an all-Japanese lineup.  The biggest news came on the anchor stage, where Chugoku Denryoku's likable Takehiro Deki, an enigmatic ekiden star while at Aoyama Gakuin University who ran a 2:10:02 marathon his junior year without specific training and has struggled ever since, ran a 38:05 stage record on the 13.0 km anchor stage.  If Deki is back to full strength Chugoku Denryoku's chances of improving on last year's 5th-place New Year Ekiden finish will be very good indeed.  Look for a full New Year Ekiden preview next month closer to race date, and follow @JRNLive for the only live English-language coverage of the event that justifies the existence of Japan's corporate running league.

East Japan Region - Nov. 3, 7 stages, 77.5 km
Konica Minolta - 2:57.7 / km
Nissin Shokuhin - 2:58.3 / km
Honda - 2:59.1 / km
Fujitsu - 3:00.2 / km
Yakult - 3:00.7 / km
Press Kogyo - 3:01.4 / km
Komori Corp. - 3:01.8 / km
DeNA - 3:02.1 / km
Hitachi Butsuryu - 3:02.2 / km
Subaru - 3:02.6 / km
Yachiyo Kogyo - 3:03.5 / km
JR Higashi Nihon - 3:03.8 / km
Nanyo City Hall - 3:05.5 / km

Chubu Region - Nov. 16, 7 stages, 83.3 km
Toyota - 2:54.4 / km
NTN - 2:57.9 / km
Toyota Boshoku - 2:59.0 / km
Aichi Seiko - 2:59.6 / km
Aisan Kogyo - 2:59.7 / km
Chuo Hatsujo - 3:01.5 / km
Toenec - 3:04.7 / km

Kyushu Region - Nov. 23, 7 stages, 78.8 km
Kyudenko - 2:58.6 / km
Kurosaki Harima - 2:59.2 / km
Yasukawa Denki - 2:59.7 / km
Toyota Kyushu - 2:59.7 / km
Asahi Kasei - 3:00.9 / km
Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki - 3:03.3 / km

Kansai Region - Nov. 16, 7 stages, 80.45 km
Otsuka Seiyaku - 2:59.5 / km
Sumitomo Denko - 2:59.6 / km
NTT Nishi Nihon - 2:59.7 / km
SGH Group - 3:00.3 / km
Osaka Gas - 3:00.9 / km

Chugoku Region - Nov. 16, 7 stages, 82.8 km
Chugoku Denryoku - 2:57.8 / km
Mazda - 2:59.4 / km
JFE Steel - 3:01.8 / km
Chudenko - 3:02.0 / km

Hokuriku Region - Nov. 16, 7 stages, 83.3 km
YKK - 3:00.6 / km
Omokawa Lumber - 3:03.5 / km

(c) 2014 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
photo (c) 2014 akm.y, all rights reserved

Monday, November 24, 2014

Japan Scores First International Chiba Ekiden Win in Five Years In Anchor Stage Battle Against Kenya

by Brett Larner

Up against a relatively anonymous team fielded by course record holder and three-time defending champion Kenya, the Japan team fought hard over the final two of the day's six stages to come up with its first International Chiba Ekiden win since 2009, covering the 42.195 km course in 2:05:53 for the win with an all-star team of three men and three women.  But it was anything but a one-dimensional race, at least half a dozen countries bringing top-quality teams that made for an exciting race of turnover the entire way.

#1-ranked collegiate runner Kenta Murayama led off for Japan but fell behind the talented front pack midway and finished only 6th on the 5 km First Stage.  Jake Robertson (New Zealand) did most of the work against Lucas Bruchet (Canada), Tadashi Isshiki (Japan Univ.) Florian Orth (Germany), Egor Nikolaev (Russia), Tyler Pennel (U.S.A.) and Brett Robinson (Australia), all staying side by side through most of the stage before Robinson kicked past Robertson to hand off first.

The 5 km women's Second Stage started off as a quartet of Madeline Heiner (Australia), Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand), Jessica O'Connell and Saori Noda (Japan Univ.) with Elena Korobkina (Russia), Kathryn Matthews (U.S.A.) and Ayuko Suzuki (Japan) in pursuit.  Korobkina was the first to make contact, Suzuki dropping Matthews before going straight past the leader group.  Only Korobkina was able to stay with Suzuki, getting away from her in the final straight to put Russia into 1st at the handoff.

Kota Murayama, the identical twin of Japan's First Stage runner Kenta Murayama, went out with a reported 2:30 opening kilometer for the 10 km men's Third Stage, immediately catching Evgeny Rybakov (Russia), also a twin.  Kelly Wiebe (Canada) and Duer Yoa (Australia) initially drew to within a few seconds of the lead pair but lost ground over the second half and were swallowed up by Ken Yokote (Japan Univ. Team), who set a stage record three weeks ago at the National University Ekiden.  Rybakov outkicked Murayama in the last kilometer to keep Russia's lead.  After a weak first two stages, Henry Sang (Kenya) ran the fastest time on the Third Stage to catch Christo Landry (U.S.A.) and Callan Moody (New Zealand) and put Kenya into 6th.

Despite running the two fastest times on the 5 km women's Fourth Stage Liz Costello (U.S.A.) and Shelmith Nyawira Muriuki (Kenya) found themselves locked in 6th and 7th as the race ahead of them developed.  5000 m national champion Misaki Onishi (Japan) initially dropped Alla Kuliatina (Russia) for the lead, but in the final kilometer Kuliatina returned to put Russia back ahead.  Last year's Fourth Stage winner Natsuki Omori (Japan Univ. Team) looked like she would join the two leaders but soon faded, nearly run down by Natasha Labeaud (Canada) but holding onto 3rd.  Bridley Delaney (Australia) was caught by Muriuki and nearly by Costello late in the stage but outkicked both to hang on to 5th.

At the start of the final men's stage, the 10 km Fifth Stage, Russia and Japan were just 4 seconds apart, the Japanese University team 19 seconds behind them, Canada 18 seconds away and Australia another 18 seconds distant.  None of that made much difference to Kenya's Matthew Kisorio, wearing the Kenyan national colors for the first time since his doping suspension.  Starting in 6th exactly a minute off the lead, Kisorio grinned as he flew past Jack Rayner (Australia) within a few steps, outclassing Samil Jibril (Canada) and cockily giving a #1 sign as he overtook self-coached collegiate Kentaro Hirai (Japan Univ.) to move into 3rd.  Just before 7 km he caught lead pair Minato Oishi (Japan) and Anatoly Rybakov (Russia) and took the lead, but Oishi was not through.

A veteran of the Hakone Ekiden's ~900 m uphill Fifth Stage in university, Oishi pursued Kisorio, dropping Rybakov and actually regaining ground on Kisorio on each of the steep uphills in the final 3 km of the stage.  As Kisorio scored a new stage record of 27:42, at the anchor handoff Oishi was only 8 seconds behind him, having opened 30 seconds on Rybakov in just 3 km.  Further back, last year's Third Stage stage record setter Zane Robertson (New Zealand) passed Australia, Canada and the U.S.A. to move up from 8th to 5th with the next-best time on the stage, 28:22.

The 7.195 km women's Sixth Stage is the toughest in Chiba, hilly almost the entire way until the home straight to the stadium finish.  2014 World Half Marathon Championships 5th-placer Mercy Kibarus (Kenya) went out hard with a 2:45 km, immediately doubling her lead over Japanese anchor Ayumi Hagiwara.  Hagiwara, wary of Russian anchor Natalia Popkova, took her time catching up, working the uphills to close the gap to Kibarus.  Seemingly surprised when Hagiwara pulled even Kibarus panicked and surged back out front, but Hagiwara again reeled he in on the hills and opened a slight lead that grew slowly to Japan's final 37-second margin of victory.

Popkova, visibly out of shape, was never a factor and was quickly run down by the Japan University Select Team's anchor Rina Nabeshima, who gave the collegiates 3rd overall in 2:07:16, 47 seconds behind Kenya.  Russia was 4th in 2:07:42, while New Zealand anchor Camille Buscomb held off the American team's Rachel Ward to keep the Kiwis in 5th in 2:09:00, top five favorite U.S.A. close behind in 2:09:13 for 6th just ahead of Canada.  Although mostly absent real African competition, the back-and-forth between the countries in the top end of the field made for an exciting race that illustrated how entertaining the ekiden can be as a spectator event.  If it were truly international in its distribution or intent the International Chiba Ekiden could be a great contribution to international athletics.

2014 International Chiba Ekiden
Chiba, Chiba, 11/24/14
13 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Team Results
1. Japan - 2:05:53
2. Kenya - 2:06:29
3. Japan University Select Team - 2:07:16
4. Russia - 2:07:42
5. New Zealand - 2:09:00
6. U.S.A. - 2:09:13
7. Canada - 2:09:28
8. Australia - 2:10:16
9. Germany - 2:13:12
10. Chiba Prefecture - 2:13:16
11. France - 2:13:35
12. Estonia - 2:16:49
13. China - 2:19:56

Top Stage Performances - click stage for complete results
First Stage - 5 km, men
1. Brett Robinson (Australia) - 13:33
2. Jake Robertson (New Zealand) - 13:34
3. Lucas Bruchet (Canada) - 13:35
4. Tadashi Isshiki (Japan Univ.) - 13:35
5. Egor Nikolaev (Russia) - 13:38

Second Stage - 5 km, women
1. Elena Korobkina (Russia) - 15:21
1. Ayuko Suzuki (Japan) - 15:21
3. Jessica O'Connell (Canada) - 15:33
4. Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) - 15:34
5. Madeline Heiner (Australia) - 15:37

Third Stage - 10 km, men
1. Henry Sang (Kenya) - 28:25
2. Kota Murayama (Japan) - 28:39
3. Evgeny Rybakov (Russia) - 28:43
4. Ken Yokote (Japan Univ. Team) - 28:44
5. Christo Landry (U.S.A.) - 28:55

Fourth Stage - 5 km, women
1. Liz Costello (U.S.A.) - 16:17
2. Shelmith Nyawira Muriuki (Kenya) - 16:19
2. Alla Kuliatina (Russia) - 16:19
4. Natashi Labeaud (Canada) - 16:20
4. Misaki Onishi (Japan) - 16:20

Fifth Stage - 10 km, men
1. Matthew Kisorio (Kenya) - 27:42 - CR
2. Zane Robertson (New Zealand) - 28:22
3. Minato Oishi (Japan)  28:46
4. Anatoly Rybakov (Russia) - 29:20
5. Kentaro Hirai (Japan Univ. Team) - 29:31

Sixth Stage - 7.195 km, women
1. Ayumi Hagiwara (Japan) - 23:02
2. Rina Nabeshia (Japan Univ. Team) - 23:21
3. Mercy Kibarus (Kenya) - 23:46
4. Lanni Marchant (Canada) - 24:09
5. Rachel Ward (U.S.A.) - 24:15

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Inoue Leads Kanto 10000 m Time Trials in 28:19.28 PB

by Brett Larner
video by naoki620

With universities in the Kanto Region gearing up for the season-ending Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2-3 the KGRR held its annual 10000 m time trial meet Sunday, moved this year from Tokyo's soon-to-be-demolished National Stadium to one of the most beautiful tracks in Japan, Keio University's Hiyoshi Field in Kanagawa.  Sixteen men's 10000 m heats and one women's 10000 m filled up most of the day until well beyond sunset.



In the fastest men's heat, 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships team member Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) ran a PB 28:19.28 for the win over last year's top finisher Takuya Fujikawa (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), whose 28:20.31 was a new AGU school record.  Inoue and Fujikawa ran in a front pack of five that included Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) and Yusuke Osumi (Daito Bunka Univ.), virtually all five men taking turns keeping the pace steady at 2:50/km, 28:20 pace, until 6800 m when Osumi was the first to slip.  Tseutaki was next, followed by Kubota, but both Inoue and Fujikawa held true to the pace all the way to the end, making up for a slightly slower ninth kilometer in their last kicks.  All five of the leaders broke 29 minutes in new PBs, earning scholarship money from the KGRR in the process.  Fujikawa and Kubota's success means AGU now has four men 28:30 or better this season, marking them as a legitimate threat to Hakone favorite Komazawa University.

Two other heats, both incorporating time trials for potential members of the newly-formatted Kanto Region University Student Alliance team for Hakone, saw the winners go sub-29, Inoue's teammate Junya Uemura (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) taking Heat 11 in 28:59.28 and Ryo Yamada and Hayato Yamada (both Meiji University) going 1-2 in 28:56.93 and 28:57.11.

The women's race saw a runner from outside the Kanto Region take the top position as Ayumi Uehara (Matsuyama Univ.) outran Fuyuka Kimura (Daito Bunka Univ.) for the win in 32:56.38 to 33:02.54.  The #1-ranked school in Kanto, the DBU women took six of the top ten places.

text and photos (c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tokyo Institute of Technology's First Hakone Ekiden Runner Masaki Matsui Hopes to Be the Next Kawauchi

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2014/11/23/kiji/K20141123009339970.html

translated by Brett Larner

A rebel runner with a high coefficient of variation is set to run the sport's biggest stage.  Members of the Kanto Region University Student Alliance team for the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden met with members of the media Nov. 23 in Yokohama for interviews following the Kanto Region University 10000 m Time Trials meet at Keio University.  Masaki Matsui, a junior at science powerhouse Tokyo Kogyo University, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, where he studies in the School of Engineering's Department of Aerospace Mechanics, told reporters, "Most of the time I train alone.  I mostly run by myself, so that's the way I want to run my race.  Whatever stage I'm put on I want to give it what I have."

As a second-year on the dominant Saku Chosei H.S. ekiden team Matsui suffered a stress fracture in his lower pelvis that forced him to leave the team.  Having gotten good grades ever since he was young, Matsui shifted his focus to his studies and was accepted to Tokyo Kogyo University.  "When I left the Saku Chosei team I thought that was it for me and athletics, but I started running again the day I got accepted," he said.

After entering Tokyo Kogyo University Matsui began living by himself in an apartment near the university campus.  At the university he is working to build "a robot that can do street performances."  While studying and working four part-time jobs as a tutor to make the money he needs to live Matsui has improved his 10000 m PB to 29:29.13.  His inspiration, he says, is civil servant runner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't).  "I'm not thinking about going to the corporate leagues at all," he said.  "I want to become the best I can be on my own like Kawauchi has."  With a robotic mechanical accuracy to his pitch, Matsui is set to become Tokyo Kogyo University's first-ever Hakone runner.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kawauchi Takes Nine Minutes Off Fukuchiyama Marathon Course Record - Road Review

by Brett Larner

Three weeks after an unsuccessful run at the TCS New York City Marathon and a week after the third-fastest half marathon of his career, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) returned to his favorite distance at the 24th Fukuchiyama Marathon in Kyoto.  Cancelled last year in the wake of a typhoon, Fukuchiyama was rewarded for its invite of Kawauchi as he took nearly nine minutes off the course record with a solo 2:12:59 win.  Opening with an ambitious 14:56 split for the first 5 km, 2:06 marathon pace, Kawauchi was immediately on his own, and despite progressively slowing for the rest of the way he opened over 14 minutes on 2nd place and held on well enough to just meet his pre-race goal of a 2:12 finish.  Post-race he deadpanned, "I'm majorly rewriting the course records at marathons across Japan to promote my "Japanese Archipelago Domestic Remodelling Project."  Click here for video of Kawauchi's finish.

Kawauchi's time also beat the new course record set at the weekend's largest marathon, the Kobe Marathon, at 17213 finishers nearly twice the size of Fukuchiyama.  In Kobe, Kenyan Harun Malel took four minutes off his PB to win in a new CR of 2:13:45.  Like Kawauchi's a mostly solo effort, Malel beat runner-up Yuya Takayanagi (Team Sysmex) by over six minutes.  The women's race was much closer, with Hiromi Saito (Team Kyocera) beating Riona Ishimoto (Team Noritz) by just three seconds for the win in 2:38:23.  Course record holder and defending champion Chihiro Tanaka (Athlec AC) outkicked Kenyan Mildred Kimanyi for 3rd by nine seconds in 2:41:15.

Ishimoto's teammate Kana Unno (Team Noritz) had better luck at the 27th Ohtawara Marathon, winning the women's race in 2:43:53.  Former national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), a local to the Ohtawara area, won the women's 10 km in 34:27.  On the men's side, Shingo Igarashi (Team Subaru) won in 2:16:18 with teammate Hayato Kono winning the 10 km in a modest 31:33.  52-year-old Mike Trees (Great Britain) ran a solid 32:49.

Earlier in the week another Kyocera athlete, Asami Furuse, outran another British runner, Charlotte Purdue, to take the win in 1:12:01 at the 33rd Sanyo Ladies Road Race half marathon in Okayama.  Traditionally a year-ending highlight, Sanyo was moved five weeks earlier this year due to the planned opening of a major new shopping center in central Okayama in mid-December.  American Mattie Suver was 4th in 1:14:50 behind Shoko Mori (Team Otsuka Seiyaku).  In the 10 km, Kenyans Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) and Felista Wanjugu (Team Univ. Ent.) went 1-2 with ease, Kimanzi taking the win in 32:05.  2011 Tokyo Marathon winner Noriko Higuchi (Team Wacoal) was far back in 3rd in 33:23.

Overseas, Chiyuki Mochizuki (Canon AC Kyushu) took silver at the 100 km World Championships in Doha, Qatar in 7:38:23, leading three Japanese women into the top ten to also pick up the team silver medal.  The Japanese men also scored team silver on the strength of 4th and 5th-place finishes by Hideo Nojo and Yoshiki Takada.  In Europe, members of the Meijo University women's ekiden team once again ran in the Zevenheuvelenloop 15 km road race, Yomogi Akasaka leading the way with a 6th-place finish in 50:44.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ritsumeikan Tears Down Rivals Kyoto Sangyo and Kwansei Gakuin for Kansai University Men's Ekiden Championships Title

by Brett Larner

As the world's best university distance runners start their buildup to the main event of their year, the Kanto Region's Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, and the U.S.A.'s NCAA holds its national cross country championships, their counterparts further west ran their season-ender Saturday at the 76th Kansai Region University Men's Ekiden Championships.

On a new course in Tango, Kyoto last year Kyoto Sangyo University beat crosstown rival Ritsumeikan University in a photo finish, both schools clocking 4:10:50 for the 8-stage, 81.2 km distance.  This year both were back up front on a slightly longer 81.4 km version of the Tango course, but instead of a two-school show both got a serious challenge from last year's 4th-placer Kwansei Gakuin University.

KSU started in 2nd with Ritsumeikan and KGU further back as most other schools put their best runners on the First Stage.  After a stage win by second man Yohei Koyama KGU was up to 2nd, and by the end of the Third Stage it was in the lead with a 6-second margin over KSU and an 11-second lead over Ritsumeikan.  KGU's next three men Masashi Nonaka, Hiroki Tsujiyoko and Kota Tamura all won their stages, putting KGU 1:11 ahead of KSU and 1:14 up on Ritsumeikan with two stages and 23.7 km to go.

KGU's seventh man Takahiro Kawaguchi faltered slightly, running only the fourth-best time on the Seventh Stage, but anchor Masaki Kai still inherited a 41-second lead on KSU and 59 seconds on Ritsumeikan with 11.8 km to run, not enough to be safe but far enough to make the other team's anchors work for it.  And they did.  With Kai running the third-fastest stage time of 36:57, KSU's Shuto Nakai ran 36:15 to catch Kai in the home staight.  It looked set to be a repeat of last year's photo finish, but Ritsumeikan anchor Shota Nagumo blazed a stage best 35:57 to fly past both Nakai and Kai and give Ritsumeikan the win in 4:10:04.

KSU was also timed at 4:10:04 but found itself on the other side of the line from last year's win, KGU almost dead even with them but given a 4:10:05 finish time.  4th-place Osaka Keizai University was a distant 4:15:56, showing the quality of the battle up front.  University men outside the Kanto Region don't get their fair share of attention, but this year's ekiden was as good as any racing to be found at the Hakone powerhouses.

76th Kansai Region University Ekiden Championships
Tango, Kyoto, 11/22/14
8 stages, 81.4 km, 20 teams
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 4:10:04
2. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 4:10:04
3. Kwansei Gakuin Univ. - 4:10:05
4. Osaka Keizai Univ. - 4:15:56
5. Kansai Univ. - 4:16:35

Stage Best Performances
First Stage - 8.0 km: Yuki Goto (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 23:49
Second Stage - 8.7 km: Yohei Koyama (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 28:49
Third Stage - 7.0 km: Yuya Iwasaki (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 20:05
Fourth Stage - 9.7 km: Masashi Nonaka (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 29:32
Fifth Stage - 12.3 km: Hiroki Tsujiyoko (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 36:30
Sixth Stage - 12.0 km: Kota Tamura (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 36:49
Seventh Stage - 11.9 km: Masatoshi Teranishi (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 36:22
Eighth Stage - 11.8 km: Shota Ogumo (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 35:57

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, November 21, 2014

International Chiba Ekiden Leads Weekend Action (updated)

by Brett Larner

Monday's International Chiba Ekiden leads Japan's weekend action, with 13 teams from 11 countries competing over a 6-stage, 42.195 course that alternates men's and women's stages.  Defending champion Kenya returns with a surprisingly weak team of relative unknowns led by Matthew Kisorio in his first race wearing the Kenyan national vest since his drug suspension and, on its women's side, Mercy Kibarus.  On paper at least 7 teams have a shot at beating the 3-straight winners, but Kenya has come to Chiba with uncredentialed teams that have mopped the roads with the competition before and can't be ignored.

The last team to beat them was the Japanese University Team in 2010, and this year's JUT is just as strong.  Meiji University's Ken Yokote broke a stage record at the National University Ekiden Championships 3 weeks ago and, with support from Aoyama Gakuin University stars Yusuke Ogura and Tadashi Isshiki, Kyoto University's independent-minded Kentaro Hirai and three collegiate women with 5000 m bests under 15:40 including last year's Fourth Stage winner Natsuki Omori (Ritsumeikan Univ.) the JUT team will do well.

But the Japanese National Team will have something to say about.  Not having won Chiba since 2009, after a runner-up finish last year Japan this year brings in the country's top two university men, identical twins Kenta and Kota Murayama of Komazawa and Josai universities, to prop up its corporate lineup.  The women's half of the team is flawless, with all four of the four fastest Japanese women of 2014 over 5000 m led by the #1-ranked Ayuko Suzuki (JP Post Group), 15:14.96 last month and last year's Second Stage winner, on the roster including alternate.  Going by entry lists few teams look like they can touch Japan.

The main competition for Kenya, JUT and Japan comes from Russia and the U.S.A.  Last year's 3rd-placer Russia looks to be the stronger of the two, featuring Chiba veterans Yevgeny and Anatoly Rybakov and four women with 5000 m bests under 15:30 led by Natalya Popkova in 15:05.95.  The American men's team is solid, with sub-28 men Girma Mecheso and Christo Landry, but the U.S. falters somewhat on the women's side with only one woman, Katie Matthews, under 15:45.  A repeat of last year's 5th-place finish looks possible.

Other solid teams with potential to challenge up front include Australia, featuring sub-13:20 men David McNeill and Brett Robinson, Canada, Germany and, returning with last year's Third Stage course record setter Zane Robertson and brother Jake, New Zealand.  JRN will cover the International Chiba Ekiden live on @JRNLive.  Check back over the weekend for start lists, final rankings, and info on streaming of Fuji TV's live broadcast.

Chiba is not the only thing going on this weekend, though.  The 4th running of the Kobe Marathon happens Sunday, its small elite field included 2:11:25 man Kensuke Takahashi formerly of the Toyota corporate team and women's course record holder Chihiro Tanaka (AthleC AC).  Athens Olympics marathon women's gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) heads Kobe's quarter marathon division.  3 weeks after running the TCS New York City Marathon and a week after the 3rd-fastest half marathon of his career, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) also returns to the marathon distance at the 24th running of the Fukuchiyama Marathon, part of his tuneup for a shot at 2:07 next month.

In Tokyo, the historic Fuchu Tamagawa Half Marathon celebrates its 37th running.  Further west, university men from outside the Tokyo-centric Kanto region will have their season-ender at the Tango University Men's Ekiden, a race serving as the Kanto Region University Men's Ekiden Championships.  Even further west, regional qualifying action for the corporate men's New Year Ekiden national championships wraps up with the Kyushu Corporate Men's Ekiden, one of Japan's most competitive.

There's even some track action as the Kanto Region hosts its annual University 10000 m Time Trials meet, traditionally at Tokyo's doomed National Stadium but this year to be held at Keio University due to the National Stadium's impending demolition.  The meet features a series of finely-graded men's 10000 m heats going all the way down to those targeting 28:00-28:20 plus one women's 10000.  With many top university names including last weekend's Ageo City Half Marathon runner-up Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) and 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships team member Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin University) on the entry list JRN will be on-hand to cover the meet live.

2014 International Chiba Ekiden
Chiba, 11/24/14
13 teams, 6 stages,  42.195 km
click here for complete start list

Japanese National Team
Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:34.53 / 27:49.94 / 1:00:50 (half)
Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 13:34.57 / 28:45.66 / 58:26 (20 km)
Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta) - 13:35.18 / 28:32.05 / 1:01:17 (half)
Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) - 13:36.40 / 28:18.73
Ayuko Suzuki (Team Japan Post Group) - 15:14.96 / 32:49.02
Reiko Matsuzaki (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:18.95 / 32:48.00
Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 15:21.73 / 32:58.00
Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo) - 15:24.56 / 31:41.80

Japanese University Team
Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.) - 13:45.63 / 28:38.73
Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 13:56.48 / 28:27.73
Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 13:59.07 / 28:23.40
Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) - 14:00.92 / 28:36.72
Rina Nabeshima (Kanoya Taiiku Univ.) - 15:31.89 / 33:08.00
Sairi Noda (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 15:37.74 / 33:16.70
Natsuki Omori (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 15:39.96
Kotona Ota (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 16:42.04

Other Team Roster Highlights

Australia
David McNeill - 13:18.60 / 28:03.02
Brett Robinson - 13:18.96 / 28:45.39
Duer Yoa - 13:50.50 / 29:06.74
Madeline Heiner - 15:27.75 / 32:50.00
Courtney Powell - 15:56.00

Canada
Lucas Bruchet - 13:33.20
Kelly Wiebe - 13:49.54 / 29:12.3
Natasha LaBeaud - 15:44.89 / 32:43.14
Rachel Cliff - 15:48.14
Lanni Marchant - 16:07.62 / 32:29.61

Chiba Prefecture
Takanori Ichikawa (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) - 13:48.57 / 28:36.34
Shinichiro Tai (Team Fujitsu) - 13:56.35 / 28:55.77
Shota Yamada (Chiba T&F Assoc.) - 14:00.98 / 29:02.84
Kanako Fujiishi (Juntendo Univ.) - 15:58.15

China
Guo Jian Dong - 13:43.47 / 28:17.60
Ding Hong Yang - 13:49.02 / 28:19.08
Guoxiong Su - 14:06.56 / 29:02.60
Ting Lian Fu - 15:47.82 / 32:39.99

Estonia
Sergey Tserepannikov - 14:26.67 / 30:12.21
Roman Fosti - 14:45.58 / 30:25.06
Jekaterina Pajuk - 15:54.94 / 33:46.00

France
Djamel Bashiri - 13:56.47 / 29:04.30
Pierre Urruty - 14:04.99 / 29:23.19
Jean Damascene Habarurema - 14:06.02 / 29:03.00
Ophelie Claude-Boxberger - 33:44.00

Germany
Florian Orth - 13:34.54
Simon Stuetzel - 13:41.13 / 28:56.24
Nico Sonnenberg - 13:55.65 / 29:02.44
Diana Sujew - 8:47.68 (3000 m)
Elina Sujew - 8:57.56 (3000 m)

Kenya
Matthew Kisorio - 12:57.83 / 26:54.25 / 58:46 (half)
Amos Kiprono Kaptich - 14:02.08 / 29:37.27
Henry Sang - 14:05.8 / 28:23.00
Mercy Kibarus - 15:20.01 / 32:30.15
Maureen Mutindi Muthiani - 15:40.10 / 32:56.11

New Zealand
Zane Robertson - 13:13.83 / 29:29.00
Jake Robertson - 13:15.54 / 27:45.46
Daniel Balchin - 13:57.26 / 31:11.70
Camille Buscomb - 15:38.74 / 34:00.00

Russia
Egor Nikolaev - 13:42.84
Rinas Akhmadeev - 13:58.38 / 28:32.01
Yevgeny Rybakov - 28:02.79
Anatoly Rybakov - 28:03.59
Natalya Popkova - 15:05.95 / 31:55.83
Elena Korobkina - 15:14.67
Alina Prokopeva - 15:23.78 / 31:57.38
Alla Kuliatina - 15:27.26

U.S.A.
Jake Riley - 13:32.82 / 28:08.36
Girma Mecheso - 13:34.83 / 27:52.38
Christo Landry - 27:59.22
Tyler Pennell - 13:42.00 / 28:23.54
Katie Matthews - 15:42.95 / 32:44.58
Liz Costello - 15:45.11 / 32:40.55
Rachel Ward - 15:47.05 / 32:15.85

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 16, 2014

High School National Champion Teammates Takada and Ichida Go 1-2, Yiu Sets Women's NR at Fast Ageo City Half Marathon (updated)

by Brett Larner
videos by Ekiden News



The Ageo City Half Marathon, Japan's major fall half marathon and, jointly with March's National University Half Marathon Championships, the deepest race at its distance in the world, delivered again in perfect conditions for its 27th running.  Every year the head coaches of most of the men's university teams bound for Japan's premier sporting event, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, use Ageo to narrow down their rosters to their final Hakone squad, meaning a dedicated and motivated pack of hundreds going for all they're worth and almost unimaginable results.  For the last three years the New York City Half Marathon has invited the top two Japanese collegiates in Ageo to run NYC in a relationship set up by JRN, adding an extra drive to the front end of the race.

Last year Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) craftily kicked his way to the win in the last few meters in a PB 1:02:36, the top five all finishing within 2 seconds of him.  Now a senior, Ichida returned to Ageo off a superb run on the National University Ekiden Championships First Stage two weeks ago to try to become the first Japanese collegiate to defend his title.  A massive pack of around 50 went out fast, going through 5 km on mid-1:01 pace with just a few meters separating them from the rest of the field.

The pace stayed hot but the pack stayed together until Toyo University 1st-year Kenta Nakatani made a small move to the front on a corner near 9 km.  Ichida and his identical twin brother Hiroshi Ichida immediately responded, taking off from the rest of the field pursued by Koki Takada and Shinichiro Nakamura of Waseda University and 1st-year Naoki Kudo of 4-time defending National University Ekiden champion Komazawa University.

Takada, missing out on the NYC invite last year when he was the 3rd Japanese collegiate finisher by a fraction of a second, was teammates with the Ichida twins at Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S. when K.J.H.S. won the 2010 National High School Ekiden Championships.  In that classic race Takashi Ichida ran the First Stage, Hiroshi Ichida covering the Sixth Stage and handing off to anchor Takada who ran down leader Sera H.S. to seal the win with a kick over the final 200 m.  All three now ran together again.

Behind them, a chase pack of around ten including Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) and like-mined independent Hideyuki Ikegami (Kyoto Kyoiku Univ.) separated from the main group.  Hiroshi Ichida dropped off the leaders to join the second pack just as Kawauchi, who missed three days of work with a cold after returning from the New York City Marathon two weeks ago, began to slip off the back.

At 15 km Nakamura was the next to falter, leaving just Takashi Ichida, Takada and Kudo in contention.  All three made small moves to the front, but the decisive move didn't come until 19 km where Ichida through in a surge that got rid of Kudo.

A kilometer later Takada responded with a surge of his own, but Ichida hung on to him as the pair moved into the final kilometer.  Behind them, Komazawa head coach Hiroaki Oyagi shouted to Kudo to attack, and against odds he closed on the two leaders just before the turn into the stadium for the final lap of the track.

But he was too late.  Takashi Ichida surged again on the first curve, opening a gap of 10 m on Takada.  With a superb kick to his credit it looked like Ichida might pull it off, but Takada had his own kick in reserve and drove past Ichida on the back curve to win in a PB 1:02:02, the third-fastest winning time in Ageo history.  Ichida was next in 1:02:03, also a PB, meaning the former National Champion high school teammates will travel to New York together for the final race of Ichida's university career.

Kudo, a relative no-name who turned 19 in September, was 3rd in 1:02:18, the third-fastest time ever by a Japanese junior and better than the winning time in Ageo the last three years.  The next four runners likewise all broke Takashi Ichida's winning time from last year.  Waseda and Komazawa dominated the top ten with three runners each, broken up only by Takashi Ichida and Hazuma Hattori of 2014 Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo.  All of the top 9 ran PBs but Kudo, whose excellent time was a debut.

Kawauchi took 10th in 1:02:55, just the third time in his career that he has broken 1:03.  The list of PBs extended far down the field.  Overall depth was down slightly from Ageo's very best years despite the perfect conditions and hard-driving race up front but still exceeded anything found anywhere else:

1st: 1:02:02
10th: 1:02:55
25th: 1:03:30
50th: 1:04:09
100th: 1:05:02
200th: 1:06:21
300th: 1:08:05
400th: 1:10:43

Last year in Ageo Singapore's Mok Ying Ren set a men's national record to make the 2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon.  Following his lead, Kit Ching Yiu of Hong Kong travelled to Ageo this year to go for the Hong Kong women's national record of 1:16:34.  And just got there, crossing the finish line in a 1:16:31 gun time after taking 8 seconds to get across the start line.   The pair's records show an interesting new possibility for the Ageo City Half Marathon, a small-town local race that just happens to be one of the world's great elite events, as a destination race of choice for people looking to be pulled along to their best.



27th Ageo City Half Marathon
Ageo, Saitama, 11/16/14

Men
1. Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) - 1:02:02 - PB
2. Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 1:02:03 - PB
3. Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:18 - debut
4. Shinichiro Nakamura (Waseda Univ.) - 1:02:30 - PB
5. Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 1:02:31 - PB
6. Shun Inoura (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:32 - PB
7. Shohei Otsuka (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:32 - PB
8. Shun Sato (Waseda Univ.) - 1:02:49 - PB
9. Shun Sakuraoka (Toyo Univ.) - 1:02:53 - PB
10. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 1:02:55

Women
1. Kit Ching Yiu (Hong Kong) - 1:16:31 - NR
2. Risa Suzuki (Art Sports) - 1:18:27
3. Mayumi Uchiyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:18:44
4. Hiroko Abasaki (Second Wind AC) - 1:22:04
5. Shuku Iwashita (Restart) - 1:24:22


text and photos (c) 2014 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
except award ceremony photo c/o Yusuke Inoue