Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Takaoka Will Keep Running "To Better Understand What the Marathon Is"

translated by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin

The 42nd Ome Marathon* is fast approaching. Once again this year, runners from across the country, male and female, amateur and professional, will converge on the mountainous town of Ome in record numbers. This year 20,000 athletes are entered, 5000 in the 10 km and 15,000 in the 30 km. This is the first in a series of 6 articles profiling runners who will be travelling Ome's early spring roads.

Among such runners is Japanese men's full marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (2:06:16), running with a new theme and motivation. At the Beijing Olympics selection Fukuoka International Marathon last December, Takaoka fell behind the lead pack after the halfway point and finished 10th and failed to make the team. His road to Beijing was cut off, and he almost lost his reason to run. Many observers, considering Takaoka's age, speculated that he would retire, but Takaoka himself had no such plans."To better understand what the marathon is I will keep running."

His theme from now will be to master the marathon. Since his first marathon in December 2001 he has run 9 marathons, becoming famous since setting the national record. Takaoka admits, however, that, "The marathon is deep. There is much more to learn." Regretting his failure in the Olympic selection race, he wants to look thoroughly for the right answer to the question of the marathon.

"There isn't only one way to prepare for a marathon, although I haven't changed my approach so far." If you are trying to win, you cannot take risks. Since Takaoka no longer has a chance of making the Olympic team he no longer has anything to lose. "It's interesting when you can change your race strategy and try something different. This is my new ambition." At the age of 37, Takaoka wants to approach his races with the flexible thinking of young, inexperienced runners.

The first step toward this goal is Ome. Takaoka plans to run a marathon this spring either overseas or in Japan and chose Ome because of its difficult up and down course. "30 km is long, so I can gain confidence from it." Having run the Kumamoto 30 km in 2001, Ome will complete Takaoka's west-east tour of the country's two greatest 30 km races. "Up to now I've always planned my races 4 years in advance. Being free to choose now that I can't make the Olympics makes me miss those days a little." To fill the hole in his heart he will begin again in Ome.

Toshinari Takaoka: b. 9/24/70, Yamashiro-machi, Kyoto. 186 cm, 64 kg. Began running track at Yamashiro Junior High School. Attended Rakunan High School, then Ryukoku University. Joined Team Kanebo in 1993. 7th place in Sydney Olympics 10,000 m. Set Japanese 10,000 m national record of 27:35.09 in Stanford, California in May, 2001 and Japanese marathon national record of 2:06:16 in Chicago, Illinois in October 2002.

*Translator's note: The Ome Marathon is actually a 30 km road race. The term 'marathon' is often used in Japan to denote any distance running event regardless of length. 'Full marathon' is used to describe the marathon itself.

Osaka Top Japanese and Olympic Hopeful Tomo Morimoto On Hold Until Nagoya

translated and edited by Brett Larner

At the Osaka International Women's Marathon on Jan. 27, 2nd place overall finisher Tomo Morimoto (24, Team Tenmaya) couldn't quite secure a position on the Beijing Olympic team. Although she couldn't move with eventual winner Mara Yamauchi's breakaway at 32 km, Morimoto didn't lose any additional ground over the final 9 km. Describing her race, Morimoto said, "I was watching the breathing of the runners around me, and at 30 km I took off. I was a little weak mentally this time, though and couldn't keep my own race together. That's why my time was not what I wanted."

Morimoto was the top Japanese finisher in 2:25:34, off her target time of 2:22-23. "I'm very happy to have been the top Japanese in an Olympic selection race," Morimoto commented after the race. "The Nagoya selection race is still coming up and I know that it will be hard to make the Olympics with the time I ran here, but I'm going to train with the assumption that I will be selected. I'm trying not to think about it and to just focus on doing what I need to do to recover from this marathon quickly and get on with my training." Team Tenmaya coach Yutaka Taketomi detailed Morimoto's preparation schedule, including a long, intensive training camp on Amami Oshima. "We will be focusing on improving her speed until after the official Olympic team selection is made."

Among the scheduled entrants at Nagoya are Morimoto's Team Tenmaya teammates Naoko Sakamoto and Yurika Nakamura. For Morimoto, "It would be wonderful if Tenmaya had a team member in the Olympics for the 3rd time in a row, but of course, for myself they are still my rivals. I want to reach my own dream."

On Jan. 29 Morimoto attended an award ceremony where she was presented with a bouquet of flowers by Okayama Prefecture Governor Masahiro Ishii. "I couldn't reach my goal of winning, but I'm proud to still be in contention for the Olympics," Morimoto said during her speech. Addressing the assembled crowd, Governor Ishii told Morimoto, "I look forward to hearing good news in March. Please take care of yourself while recovering and do your best during your spring training."

Fukushi in the Aftermath

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The door is open for Q-chan to make it to Beijing. At the second selection race for the Beijing Olympic women's marathon team, queen of the track Kayoko Fukushi failed to make the grade. Top Japanese finisher Tomo Morimoto's time was also relatively slow, meaning that the Olympic team's final member will not be settled until the Nagoya International Women's Marathon on Mar. 9. For Naoko Takahashi, who declared some time ago that she would be running Nagoya, the chance exists to make the team.

The marathon is not sweet. The bloody scrape across her nose is a fitting symbol of Fukushi's first time at the 42.195 km distance. Going out faster than Mizuki Noguchi's course record pace, Fukushi was smooth and powerful but building up a debt her lack of preparation could not repay. With legs growing heavier after the 25 km point the race became a demonstration of Fukushi's lack of stamina. When pursuing runners began to catch her she could not even attempt to stay with them as they flew by. "Something unpredictable happened here," commented Tadayuki Nagayama, Fukushi's coach and head coach of Team Wacoal.

570 m before entering the stadium and 3 more times during the single lap to the finish Fukushi fell to the ground, the last time just meters before the goal line. "After 30 km my eyes and legs stopped working properly. Everything in my brain went white. I can't remember anything about the last stretch," Fukushi told reporters before being taken to a nearby hospital. She was examined and treated and then returned to her hotel.

After the race Rikuren executive Keisuke Sawaki commented, "The marathon takes a great deal of seriousness and preparation." Fukushi began her preparation for Osaka after running her last ekiden of the year in December. Yoshio Koide, former coach of Olympic medalists Takahashi and Yuko Arimori, also weighed in. "Fukushi is the kind of athlete who comes along once in 10 years, but the marathon is not so sweet. 1 month is not enough time to get ready."

So many journalists tried to cover the "Race of the Century" that their numbers had to be limited at the stadium. Although Fukushi failed in the face of such attention, everything is not over for her. She has already decided to aim for the 10000 m in Beijing. "I'm not going to dwell on this. I'm looking toward what comes next." Fukushi will try to put the nightmare of Osaka behind her when she runs the All-Japan Track and Field Championships in June to qualify for the Beijing Olympics. She has yet to run an Olympic A-standard 31:45 within the current qualification window but will run a race in the spring to do so before the Championships. Nagayama had no comment on Fukushi's future marathon plans.

Early in the morning after her marathon debut Fukushi jogged for an hour, cheerfully calling out, "Good morning!" Nagayama described Fukushi as, "Healthy and in good spirits. She wasn't hurt as badly as we thought." She returned to Kyoto by car later in the day.

Osaka Winner Yamauchi to Run Ome on Feb. 3

translated and edited by Brett Larner

At the Osaka International Women's Marathon on Jan. 27, first-time winner Mara Yamauchi (34, U.K) moved one step closer to an appearance in the Beijing Olympics. Not only an elite runner but also a high-ranking member of the British Foreign Office, Yamauchi passed Osaka leader Kayoko Fukushi at the 34.6 km point to take her first marathon victory in a PB time of 2:25:10. "The last 4 or 5 km were very hard, but I tried as hard as I could. I'm very happy," Yamauchi told reporters in Japanese. "This win was big for me. In Beijing I think I can run with the best in the world."

One sign of how big the win was for Yamauchi was that the night following her victory her blog* received 30,000 hits, a record. "I usually get about 5 hits a day," she laughed.

In preparation for the Beijing Olympics, Yamauchi has been on leave from the Foreign Office since 2006 to focus on her training. Her Japanese husband Shigetoshi, 36, also quit his job in March last year to work full time as Mara's manager and training assistant. Her next race will be this Sunday, Feb. 3 as defending champion in the Ome Marathon women's 10 km, where Yamauchi will go for her third straight victory. Following that will be the Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon in March and the London Marathon in April**. "There's no pressure, I just want to enjoy running these races." With her Osaka and Ome titles in hand, Yamauchi is close to realizing her Beijing dream.

Mara Yamauchi: b. 8/13/73, Oxford, U.K. 162 cm, 50 kg. Graduated from St. Anne's College, Oxford Univ., 1995. Ran XC and 10,000 m. Ran debut marathon at 2004 London Marathon. At 2006 London finished 6th in 2:25:13 to become all-time #2 British woman. Entered British Foreign Office in 1996; currently on leave. Married Japanese husband Shigetoshi Yamauchi in 2002.

Translator's notes:
*Mara Yamauchi's blog is available in English and Japanese.
**When asked for verification of this statement about her upcoming race schedule, Yamauchi told JRN, "I'm not running London, no way!" She also indicated that she is only doing Ome at a jog as she is too sore to race.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

First-Time Winner Mara Yamauchi Takes Osaka in 2:25:10 PB, Kayoko Fukushi 19th in Debut

by Brett Larner

Mara Yamauchi (GBR, Second Wind AC) took a surprise win in cold, windless, intermittently snowy conditions at the Osaka International Marathon, running a PB of 2:25:10 for her first marathon victory. Taking the lead at 34.63 km from struggling first-time marathoner Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), Yamauchi powered her way to the win, holding off a late charge from top Japanese finisher Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya). Morimoto finished 2nd in 2:25:34, a good time but not strong enough to seal her a spot on the Beijing Olympic team. Her fate is left up to the runners in March's Nagoya International Marathon, including Naoko Takahashi, Naoko Sakamoto, and possibly defending Osaka champion Yumiko Hara who dropped out shortly before today's race with a cold. Yamauchi's teammate Yuri Kano, one of the pre-race favorites, dropped out of the race with leg pain after only 17 km.

Osaka's other major pre-race favorite, Japanese national 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon record holder Fukushi, had a disastrous but courageous debut. Fukushi took the lead from the first km, going out completely alone at an aggressive sub-2:20 pace while the large pack settled around 2:23 pace. Fukushi held roughly to 3:20/km for the first 25 km, looking relaxed, smooth and powerful, laughing at teammates' messages written on her drink bottles, gargling with her special drink, and repeatedly waving off camera bikes that came too close. Naoko Takahashi's Sydney-era coach Yoshio Koide commented on-screen that he thinks Fukushi has the potential to run 2:16 in the future, but that the truth of her debut would come in the final 10 km.

After 30 km she began to show signs of strain, slowing to 3:42 during the 32nd km versus a 3:21 by the chase pack of Yamauchi, Morimoto, Julia Mombi (Team Aruze), and fellow 1st-time marathoner Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko). During the 33rd km Yamauchi broke away from the other runners with a 3:18 km. Fukushi rapidly lost her lead of over 500 m, surrendering 1st place to Yamauchi at 34.63 km and to the others shortly before 35 km. She continued to slow to 6 minutes per km and beyond.

Her final km was a replay of that of Hiroyuki Ono in the final km of this year's Hakone Ekiden 5th stage. Fukushi staggered, almost falling several times before finally going down in the last 800 m. She got up and continued, but after entering the stadium she abruptly fell flat on her face. After struggling to stand and pausing to regain her bearings, Fukushi resumed running. With less than 200 m to go she fell again, laughing as she got up and continued on only to fall a final time 10 m from the finish. She once more forced herself up, laughing and bleeding, and crossed the finish line in 19th place with a time of 2:40:54, a humbling demonstration of the marathon's power.

Among the many PBs in the top 10, Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) deserves special mention. Unable to stay with the chase pack of 4 runners, Ohira had fallen back and was running alone in the final 10 km. After overtaking Fukushi, Ohira was able to run hard enough to catch up to debutante Ogi and finish 4th in 2:26:09, a PB by 3 1/2 minutes.

In her post-race victory interview, Yamauchi, speaking in Japanese, said that she had learned from running the Osaka course during last summer's World Championships marathon. In that race Yamauchi had attacked during the course's hilly pass through the Osaka Castle grounds, a move which she admitted had taken too much out of her. She told interviewers that this time she was resolved to save some energy for the end. Race announcers noted the obvious effects in this regard of Yamauchi's first-ever 45 km training run. "Today was only a 3 second PB; I hoped to run faster but a win is a win!" Yamauchi enthusiastically smiled during the interview, thanking spectators for their warm support in the midst of the snowy conditions.

1. Mara Yamauchi (GBR, Second Wind AC): 2:25:10 (PB)
2. Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya): 2:25:34
3. Julia Mombi (Kenya, Team Aruze): 2:26:00 (PB)
4. Miki Ohira (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo): 2:26:09 (PB)
5. Madoka Ogi (Team Juhachi Ginko): 2:26:55 (debut)
6. Lidia Simon (Romania): 2:27:17
7. Mika Okunaga (Team Kyudenko): 2:27:52 (PB)
8. Aki Fujikawa (Team Shiseido): 2:28:06
9. Constantina Tomescu (Romania): 2:28:15
10. Christelle Daunay (France): 2:28:23 (PB)

19. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal): 2:40:54

Complete results are available here.
Click here for the IAAF's coverage.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Takaoka to Try for Comeback at Ome Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

On Jan. 23 the organizing committee of the Ome Marathon* announced the elite field for this year's 42nd running on Feb. 3. Headlining the men's 30 km race is Japanese marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka (37, Team Kanebo). In the women's race, last year's World Road Running Championships competitor Akane Taira (25, Team Panasonic) will take part. The guest starter for the 30 km will be course record holder Toshihiko Seko (51, Team S&B). 20000 people entered this year's race.

Having failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics with a disappointing 10th place finish at December's Fukuoka International Marathon, Takaoka will be trying to launch a comeback. Before running a spring marathon, either in Japan or overseas, Takaoka decided to tackle Ome. "If I can win here it will give me renewed strength and confidence," Takaoka told reporters. He was scheduled to run in the 2003 Ome but withdrew with an injury to his right leg. "I've wanted to run this race ever since then."

Seko set the course record of 1:29:32 in the 1981 edition of the race, a mark still waiting to be broken.

*Translator's note: The Ome Marathon is actually a 30 km race.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Olympic Berth at Stake in Osaka International Women's Marathon (updated)

by Brett Larner

For the Japanese entrants in Sunday's Osaka International Women's Marathon far more is at stake than the race itself.

Osaka is the 2nd of Japan's qualification races for the Beijing Olympics. One slot on the three-member Olympic marathon team has already been assigned to Reiko Tosa for her bronze medal performance at the Osaka World Championships last summer. Defending Olympic champion Mizuki Noguchi is an almost certain choice for the team thanks to her resounding course record victory at the first of the selection races, last November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon. One slot remains to be decided between the winners of the Osaka and Nagoya International Women's Marathons. Nagoya competitors, including Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi, will have the advantage of knowing the Osaka winner's time, the mark they must beat to make the team. Osaka contestants cannot afford any kind of slow, tactical race or a finish behind foreign runners but must instead target a fast time and the overall victory right from the start. For every Japanese runner in the field, a sizeable PB along with the overall win will be necessary to have any possibility of being considered for the Olympic team.

The marathoner with the strongest credentials in the domestic field is defending winner Yumiko Hara. Hara set her PB of 2:23:48 when she won last year's Osaka, the fastest Japanese run of the year until Noguchi's win in Tokyo. Hara ran both the Helsinki and Osaka World Championships marathons. In Helsinki Hara memorably tried to run down world record holder Paula Radcliffe in the early stages of the race before fading and missing her PB by only seconds. In last summer's World Championships she again aggressively frontran the race before withering in the heat and finishing far back in the field. Hara has been invisible since the World Championships. She was scheduled to run in December's All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden for Team Kyocera but did not start the race, raising the possibility that, like Tosa, she is suffering lingering effects from the heat and humidity in the Osaka World Championships. In pre-race interviews Hara said she is ready for this Sunday's race but uncomfortable about the strength of the field, in particular naming marathon debutante Kayoko Fukushi.

Fukushi is the Japanese national record holder at both 5000 m and half marathon. In her debut half marathon in 2006 she authoritatively defeated then-record holder Mizuki Noguchi. Her marathon debut is long-awaited and the subject of intense speculation; Fukushi for years avoided questions about her plans for the marathon and gave the strong impression that she does not want to run such long distances despite her immense potential to be Japan's next sub-2:20 woman. Her announcement in December that she would run Osaka was tempered by the fact that she is not entered as an invited elite but rather as an individual entrant. Since confirming that she will run Osaka, Fukushi has continued to avoid the media and, when cornered, has consistently downplayed her participation in the race, claiming to not be training seriously. In her most recent interview she claims to have only done pace runs up to 22 km rather than the Japanese standard 40 km. Some in Japan's professional running world have speculated that Fukushi is running Osaka only to make people stop asking her about the marathon rather than as a serious Olympic bid, but it is hard to see a deadly competitor like Fukushi make such a move. Regardless of outcome, Fukushi is the single biggest wildcard in the Beijing Olympic selection process.

Other strong domestic contenders include Tomo Morimoto and Yuri Kano. Both runners have PBs in the 2:24 range, are relatively inexperienced in the marathon, and show potential for further improvement. Morimoto set her PB of 2:24:33 in winning the 2006 Vienna Marathon. Kano's PB of 2:24:43 came in her debut at last year's Osaka International Women's Marathon. Kano finished 3rd and missed making the Osaka World Championships team by only seconds. She instead ran the Hokkaido Marathon, executing a gutsy performance to win in hot and humid conditions nearly identical to those at the World Championships. Since then she has been training at altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico, logging over 1000 km in 34 days with a target of running 2:22 in Osaka.

Rounding out the Japanese field are veterans Kayoko Obata and Haruko Okamoto along with younger runners Mika Okunaga, Kazue Ogoshi and Yuka Ezaki. Competitive individual entrants include Aki Fujikawa and Miki Ohira and debutantes Yoshiko Fujinaga, Madoka Ogi and Kei Terada.

Among the overseas competition, with the fastest PBs in the field only the veteran Romanian duo of Constantina Tomescu and Lidia Simon may represent a challenge to the top Japanese runners. Tomescu had a checkered 2007 with two strong and two weak performances, while Simon, whose PB of 2:22:54 was set in winning Osaka in 2000, had a surprisingly strong showing at the Osaka World Championships and reports being in excellent shape. The U.K.'s Mara Yamauchi and Kenya's Julia Mumbi will be running for PBs but are unlikely to be in contention for the overall win. Other foreign runners in the field include Christelle Daunay of France, Olesya Nurgalieva of Russia in a rare appearance without her identical twin sister, and Nina Rillstone of New Zealand.

Complete details on the elite field are available here. The Osaka International Women's Marathon begins at 12:10 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27 and will be broadcast on Fuji Television.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner

all rights reserved

Twin Brothers Dream of Running Olympic Marathon Together

translated by Brett Larner

In Kagoshima live two runners with a big dream. The identical twin Ichida brothers Takashi and Hiroshi are 3rd year students at Yoshino Junior High School where they are members of the school's track team. In the 3000 m at last year's All-Japan Junior High School Championships the brothers finished 1-2; they are already dreaming about when they move up to the world level. "We want to run the Olympic Marathon together."

The brothers were selected for the Kagoshima prefectural team for this past Sunday's 13th All-Japan Men's Interprefectural Ekiden in Hiroshima. Takashi ran the 2nd leg where he passed 14 runners and took the 2nd fastest time on the stage. Before running the 6th stage, Hiroshi said, "I'm going to get revenge for Takashi [not getting the stage best time]." He followed through on his promise, setting the stage best mark. Quite impressive considering that the brothers have only been running for two years. The twins were members of their school's soccer team as 1st year students, but when they ran in a school ekiden and took the top spots on their individual stages they decided to switch to the track team.

Both brothers weigh 46 kg, but Takashi is 161 cm tall and Hiroshi 160 cm. In races Takashi is an aggressive 1st half type, while Hiroshi tends to run the 2nd half faster. In the last year Takashi improved his 3000 m PB by 30 seconds while Hiroshi took 50 seconds from his PB. At last summer's All-Japan Junior High School Championships, the win wasn't decided until the last 500 m when the brothers spurted away together. The margin between the two at the finish tape was only 0.04 seconds. "We are each other's biggest rivals, but we always run together."

This spring the Ichida brothers will enter a high school in Kagoshima with a well-known ekiden team. In coming years they are sure to be seen handing off the tasuki to one another.

Translator's note: Japan has a long tradition of strong pairs of identical twin distance runners, including the legendary Soh brothers, Team Konica Minolta's Matsumiya brothers, Team Toyota Shatai's Ominami sisters, and Toyo University's Onishi brothers.

High School Track Prodigy Megumi Kinukawa Signs With Mizuno, Intends to 'Change the World'

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Jan. 22, sports gear maker Mizuno announced that Sendai Ikuei High School distance running prodigy Megumi Kinukawa, 18, will join its team after graduating in the spring. Mizuno's team includes hurdler Shingo Suetsu and hammer thrower Koji Murofushi, but Kinukawa will be its first distance runner. At a press conference in Tokyo, Kinukawa told reporters, "My ambition extends to the world. I want to reach a new level in my running."

"My motto is 'Change the World.'" Kinukawa chose Mizuno in large part because she does not want to spend her career running ekidens but would rather focus her energy on track running. In last summer's Osaka World Championships Kinukawa was 14th in the women's 10000 m, the only high school student on the Japanese team. She was injured late last year but this month has returned to regular training and is likely to have the fastest 10000 m qualifying time among Beijing team members. "In the Beijing Olympics I will be targeting a top 8 finish," Kinukawa predicted.

After the Olympics she will shift her focus to the marathon. The youngest Japanese woman to compete in an Olympic or World Championship marathon was Akemi Masuda, aged 20 years and 7 months, at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Kinukawa's birthday is in August, so she will have the chance to take Masuda's title at the 2009 Berlin World Championships. These new steps in her career will be eagerly anticipated.

Translator's note: Kinukawa also ran an outstanding leg on the Chiba International Ekiden in November. Her 10000 m PB is 31:35.27, the national junior record. It is somewhat unusual for high school runners to skip university in order to turn pro, but possibly more common in women's running where ekidens do not receive the attention given to men's races such as the Hakone and New Year Ekidens.

Fukushi's Debut at Osaka International Women's Marathon Will Be Closely Watched

translated by Brett Larner

Every step of Fukushi's run will be closely observed. The most dominant Japanese track runner, Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) has chosen the Beijing Olympics-qualifying Osaka International Women's Marathon this Sunday for her debut marathon. Fukushi has been sequestered at a secret training camp in preparation for this eagerly-anticipated debut.

Defending champion Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera), who had a difficult time in last year's World Championships marathon, will be running. Last year's 3rd place finisher Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and 2006 Vienna Marathon winner Tomo Morimoto (Team Tenmaya) are also on the start list. Foreign competitors include Sydney Olympics silver medalist Lidia Simon and 2:21:30 runner Constantina Tomescu-Dita, both of whom hail from Romania.

Osaka World Championships marathon bronze medalist Reiko Tosa (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) has already secured one spot on the Beijing Olympic team. November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon winner Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) will almost certainly be selected for the team, leaving only one spot. Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) is scheduled to run the final Olympic-qualifying race, March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, and like Fukushi will be closely observed.

Translator's note: This article omits mention of the U.K.'s Mara Yamauchi among the strong foreign competition in Osaka.

Harriers Win Shibuya Ekiden (updated)

by Brett Larner

The Harriers team overcame an accident-ridden 1st stage to score its first-ever win in the Shibuya Ekiden on Jan. 20. Threatened snowy weather did not materialize, making for ideal conditions on the 12 km, 4 stage course. 1st stage Harriers runner Eiji Kobayashi ran the first 10 m of the race without realizing that his tasuki had come off while taking off his warmup uniform. Kobayashi doubled back to the warmup area to retrieve the tasuki before starting again, losing over 1 minute. Harriers' 2nd, 3rd and 4th stage runners clocked stage best time performances to help the team move up through the field, with anchor Jason Lawrence of New Zealand taking the lead immediately after beginning his run. Harriers won in a total time of 37:43 including loss time from the 1st stage accident. 2-time defending champion Namban Rengo was 2nd, with the Tokyo Fire Department AC 3rd.

UPDATE: On the strength of its win at the Shibuya Ekiden, Harriers was selected by Shibuya government officials on Jan. 22 to represent Shibuya at the Mar. 23 Tokyo Championship Ekiden.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sato Sends Nagano on to Win in All-Japan Men's Interprefectural Ekiden

by Brett Larner

In miserable conditions of rain and snow with temperatures of 3 degrees, Nagano overcame rivals Hyogo and a strong performance by Aichi on Jan. 20 to take back the title it lost at last year's All-Japan Men's Interprefectural Ekiden.

The Interprefectural Ekiden features a 7-stage, 48 km course starting and ending at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. Like last week's women's edition of the event, teams in the Interprefectural Ekiden include star professional, university, high school and junior high school runners from each of Japan's 47 prefectures. It is an unusual sight to see young runners barely into their teens handing off to Olympian teammates, but this is one of the Interprefectural Ekiden's unique points. The last four years have been duels between Nagano and Hyogo, with Nagano coming out on top for three years straight before Hyogo's victory last year on the strength of its anchor Satoru Kitamura's dominating performance. This year looked set to be a rematch between the two powerhouses.

The 7 km 1st Stage was expected to be dominated by Hyogo's Yuki Yagi, the top high school distance runner last year with a 5000 m PB of 14:01. Yagi unexpectedly ran behind the large pack in last place, leaving it up to others to set the pace. Fukushima's Ryuji Kashiwabara took up the challenge, dropping the pack and opening a lead of 10 seconds to prove that his freshly-minted 5000 m PB, also 14:01, was not a fluke. Yagi accelerated after 2.5 km and passed the entire pack but could not make up the gap to Kashiwabara.

It looked as though Fukushima's Seichiro Kondo would be quickly overtaken by runners from Hyogo, Nagano and Aichi on the 3 km 2nd Stage, but the junior high school student negative splitted to hang onto his team's slim lead. His teammate Hideyuki Anzai, an ace runner from Komazawa University who earlier this month became only the 4th person to break 1:20 on the uphill Hakone Ekiden 5th Stage, opened the 8.5 km 3rd Stage with a ridiculous 2:40 before being overtaken by Aichi's Hidekazu Sato and Nagano's Yuki Sato. Both Satos ran together for a distance before Yuki Sato, record holder on individual stages in most of Japan's major ekidens, accelerated to deliver the lead to his prefectural team. Surprisingly, though, he did not earn stage best honors. Behind him, Hokkaido's Takashi Ota outran Sato's time by 10 seconds to take the stage title. Television announcers reported that Ota will be running next month's Tokyo Marathon in a bid for the Beijing Olympic team.

Nagano did take stage best honors on the 5 km 4th Stage and 8.5 km 5th Stage thanks to excellent performances by high school runners Kenta Sasaki and Akinobu Murasawa, the latter of whom moved the team 1 second ahead of course record pace. Aichi maintained 2nd place, while Hyogo tried in vain to move up from 3rd. Last year's 4th Stage winner Takuya Nakayama of Hyogo, son of legendary marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama, once again displayed the beautiful form which has drawn even more attention than his name but was unable to make up the distance to Aichi on the 4th Stage. Hyogo's 5th Stage runner Kondo Yohei launched a wicked attack at 5 km to try to catch Aichi but could not maintain the pace and was overtaken by Akita's Masaki Ito at the 7.5 km point.

Nagano's Shun Morozumi maintained his team's lead over the 3 km 6th Stage but slipped off course record pace by 7 seconds, delivering a 1:06 lead to anchor Hideyuki Obinata. Obinata, a last-minute replacement for the unwell Yuichiro Ueno, started well on the 13 km 7th Stage but with the freezing rain worsening his condition declined and he progressively slowed. Behind him, Aichi's Yoshihiro Yamamoto came closer and closer. Akita's Yuko Matsumiya, who last month ran 2:09:40 at the Fukuoka International Marathon to place himself as an outside contender for the Beijing Olympic team, started in 3rd place but was quickly overtaken by Hyogo's Satoru Kitamura and a group of other runners. Further back, notable aces running the anchor leg included Hakone Ekiden 5th Stage 'God of the Mountain' Masato Imai of Fukushima, Osaka World Championships 5000 m runner Yu Mitsuya of Fukuoka, and Osaka World Championships marathon runners Tsuyoshi Ogata of Hiroshima and Mitsuru Kubota of Kochi.

Kitamura quickly tired of the pack in 3rd place and launched a sensational acceleration in pursuit of Aichi. In the home stretch it looked as though Yamamoto might overtake Obinata and, in turn, as though Kitamura might overtake Yamamoto, but the separations were too large and the three teams finished within 27 seconds of each other without changing order. Imai overtook Matsumiya, while Mitsuya, Ogata and Kubota all had strong runs to advance their teams several places. To the surprise of many, it was Kitamura who took the stage best time for the anchor stage with an outstanding 38:09.

Obinata was in visible pain and almost unable to control his shaking body and voice during the post-race interview, and needed assistance to walk away afterward. Despite disappointment at his relatively weak run, he said he was happy to have been able to help bring the national title back to Nagano.

1. Nagano: 2:21:07
2. Aichi: 2:21:19
3. Hyogo: 2:21:34
4. Kumamoto: 2:22:04
5. Saitama: 2:22:06
6. Oita: 2:22:16
7. Chiba: 2:22:20
8. Saga: 2:22:30
9. Fukushima: 2:22:36
10. Akita: 2:22:40

Ken Nakamura's detailed stage-by-stage report for the IAAF is here. A Japanese-language report is here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, January 18, 2008

Can Nagano Win? A Preview of the Jan. 20 Men's Interprefectural Ekiden (updated)

translated by Brett Larner

The All-Japan Men's Interprefectural Ekiden takes places in Hiroshima this Sunday, Jan. 20. The course starts from Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and covers 48 km in 7 stages. Last year's winner Hyogo Prefecture took the victory with a 1 minute 33 second margin over runner-up Nagano Prefecture, but this year with a strong group of university and high school students Nagano will be looking for its first victory in 2 years.

World-class student runners who will be trying to help bring Nagano the victory include Yuichiro Ueno (Chuo University, Saku Chosei High School) and Yuki Sato (Tokai University, Saku Chosei High School). Sato, who set a new stage record on the 7th stage of this year's Hakone Ekiden, will be running the 8.5 km 3rd stage, while Ueno will be running the 13 km anchor stage for the 1st time in 3 years.

The high school student stages will be dominated by members of the 2007 All-Japan High School Ekiden 2nd place finishers Saku Chosei High School. Kenta Sasaki won the stage best time honors on the 6th stage of the All-Japan High School Ekiden and will be confidently running the 7 km 1st stage on Sunday. Kenta Chiba will run the 5 km 4th stage, while ace runner Akinobu Murasawa will tackle the 8.5 km 5th stage.

The junior high school student 2nd and 6th stages will be a cause for worry. Runners will be trying to find cracks in their rivals through which to open wide gaps.

Nagano's chief rivals will be last year's victors Hyogo Prefecture, who ended Nagano's streak of 4 successive victories. The Hyogo team was scheduled to include Osaka World Championships 10000 m participant Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda University), but Takezawa has been forced to sit out due to injury. It will be up to Satoru Kitamura (Nittai University), Takuya Nakayama (Suma Gakuen High School), Yuki Yagi (Nishiwaki Kogyo High School) and 8-minute range junior high school students to make up the victory.*

Osaka World Championships 5000 m participant Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu) and 10000 m participant Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) will be representing Fukuoka Prefecture, while 2005 Helsinki World Championships marathon bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) will be helping to make Hiroshima Prefecture a contender.

The Nagano team hopes to take the lead when Sato runs the 3rd stage. If Nagano is able to maintain the lead on the 4th and 5th stages, anchor Ueno will be in a strong position to bring the team home to victory. Nagano coach Tamio Nishizawa commented, "I want each runner to do what they can to run as fast as possible." With high-level ambitions, the course record of 2:19:06 set by Fukuoka in 2003 is well within the team's reach.

*Translator's note: This article, written by a local Nagano news organization, omits mention that Masato Kihara of Chuo Gakuin University, the top Japanese runner on the showcase 2nd stage of this year's Hakone Ekiden where he defeated Kitamura along with Hideaki Date (Tokai University) and many other aces, will also be running for the Hyogo team.

UPDATE: Yuichiro Ueno has dropped out of the Interprefectural Ekiden due to illness. He had a cold at the time of the Hakone Ekiden two weeks ago.

Suwa, Rothlin, Njenga, Kirui to Headline 2008 Tokyo Marathon

by Brett Larner

With exactly one month to go until race date the Tokyo Marathon released details on the field of elites who will be competing in the 2nd of Japan's Olympic selection races.

The domestic field is easily headlined by Team Nissin's Toshinari Suwa, a 2:07 marathoner who competed in the Athens Olympics and Osaka World Championships. Suwa had previously announced he would run March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon but he has evidently changed strategy in his attempt to qualify for the Beijing Olympic marathon team. Other domestic contenders include Team Kanebo's Satoshi Irifune who competed in the Helsinki World Championships, veteran Olympian Kenjiro Jitsui also of Team Nissin, and younger runners Kenichi Kita and Kazushi Hara. Several strong runners are not among the elite field but have entered as individuals, including Team Chugoku Denryoku's Teruto Ozaki and Kurao Umeki, Team Nissin's Kazuyoshi Tokumoto, and Team JAL Ground Service's Takayuki Nishida.

The foreign elite field includes defending champion Daniel Njenga of Kenya, Osaka World Championships marathon bronze medalist Viktor Rothlin of Switerland, 2-time Olympic marathon medalist Eric Wainaina of Kenya, 2-time Olympian Jon Brown of Canada, 2007 Biwako Mainichi Marathon winner Samson Ramadhani of Tanzania, Boston Marathon winner Hailu Negussie of Ethiopia, and 2007 Berlin Marathon 2nd place finisher Abel Kirui of Kenya. Olympian Julius Gitahi of Kenya is entered in the individual division.

As with last year, Tokyo has not organized an elite women's field. Instead the race has invited an impressive range of retired runners to participate in the marathon and 10 km as guests. Guest runners include 2-time Olympic medalists Rosa Mota, Valentina Egorova and Yuko Arimori, Sydney Olympic marathon silver medalist Lidia Simon, Stuttgart World Championships marathon medalists Junko Asari and Tomoe Abe, Olympians Masako Chiba and Eriko Asai and veteran Mari Tanigawa.

A complete list of the elite field is available here. A list of guest runners is here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Announces Elite Field

by Brett Larner

On Jan. 17 the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon announced the domestic and international elite fields for the event's 57th running on Feb. 3. Although Beppu-Oita, or Betsudai as the race is colloquially known, has in the past sometimes served as a selection race for world-level competitions, its absence from the pool of Beijing Olympics selection races means that this year's domestic elite field is comparatively limited.

The Japanese elite field includes only four athletes. Team Kanebo's Michitane Noda is the most experienced of the group, holding a PB of 2:09:58 from the 2003 Fukuoka International Marathon. Noriyuki Mizuguchi of Team Otsuka Seiyaku will be trying to improve on his PB of 2:14:26. The remaining two domestic competitors, Team Nissin's Kenta Oshima and Team Fujitsu's Takayuki Ota, are fast half-marathoners who will be debuting at the full marathon distance in Betsudai.

The overseas elite field is slightly larger at seven runners. The top entrant is four-time Chunchon Marathon winner Elijah Mutai of Kenya. Los Angeles Marathon winner Mark Yatich, also of Kenya, will be another contender. Both Kenyans have PBs in the 2:09 range. Two-time World Championships marathon runner Ruggero Pertile of Italy will also be trying to qualify for the Beijing Olympics and should be a factor. Other foreign elites include Rachid Kisri of Morocco, Scott Westcott of Australia, John Kabia of Kenya, and 20 year old Asheber Girma of Ethiopia in his overseas race debut.

A complete listing of the elite field is available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

'Where the Marathon Matters: Japan's Long-Running Tradition'

A good introduction to the Japanese long-distance running world written by a former member of my club who is now a prominent agent.

'The Sensei: Japan's Champion Coaches Yamashita, Ito, and Morishita

Another good article by Brendan Reilly, this one a profile of three of Japan's most successful jitsugyodan-level coaches. The headline in the actual article misnames Ito, also transliterated Itoh, as 'Hoh.'

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Takayuki Matsumiya, Harumi Hiroyama to Run Marugame Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

At a pre-race press conference on Jan. 16, race officials announced the elite men's and women's fields for the 62nd Kagawa Marugame Half Marathon on Feb. 3rd. The women's field includes veteran runner Harumi Hiroyama (Team Shiseido) and Osaka World Championships women's marathon competitor Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz). In the men's race, 30 km world record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) is scheduled to appear.

Translator's note: Matsumiya's appearance is significant in that he comes to Marugame fresh from a strong 2007 and in particular from running 1:02:28 for 22 km in the New Year Ekiden, a performance equivalent to 59:54 for a half marathon. This is 31 seconds faster than Atsushi Sato's national record set in October, albeit with a drop of 30 m over the 22 km distance. Mekubo Mogusu ran under 1 hour on the Marugame course last year, so it is entirely possible that Matsumiya will be looking to follow suit or at least to break Sato's record.

Waseda University Recruits Top Three High School Aces Including Son of Takeyuki Nakayama

by Brett Larner

The 2nd place finishers at this year's Hakone Ekiden have made a major advance toward returning to the winner's podium after a 15-year absence. On Jan. 4, Waseda University announced that the top three runners from this year's crop of high school graduates will enter Waseda this April.* The new recruits include Yuki Yagi of Nishiwaki Kogyo High School, Yusuke Mita of Toyokawa Kogyo High School, and Takuya Nakayama of Suma Gakuen High School.

Yagi, Mita and Nakayama finished 1-2-3 in the 2007 National High School 5000 m Championships and, along with fellow recruit Taro Inoue of Yawatahama High School, represent a major coup for Waseda. In the 2008 Hakone Ekiden Waseda suffered from weak performances by its injured star Kensuke Takezawa and several of its runners on the last few stages. Nevertheless, thanks in large part to outstanding mountain stage performances by Ryuta Komano and Sota Kota it won Day One and did not give up the lead to eventual winners Komazawa University until the penultimate 9th stage. While Komano will be graduating this March, his loss will be offset by the introduction of Waseda's new talent. On paper, with a healthy Takezawa and with these runners replacing this year's weaker members, several of whom are also graduating, Waseda looks unstoppable for the 2009 Hakone.

In an interview broadcast on Jan. 12, Komazawa head coach Hiroaki Oyagi acknowledged that Waseda will be Komazawa's main obstacle to a title defense next year. Komazawa will be losing six members of this year's winning team and will likely be looking at a rebuilding year. With most of Waseda's squad returning with star recruit reinforcements it will be very difficult for Komazawa to be in contention.

Nakayama's recruitment adds an element of historical irony to this story in that he is the son of the great marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama. The elder Nakayama was a bitter rival of Waseda's most legendary alumnus, Toshihiko Seko, feuding with Seko and at times publically denouncing his more famous adversary. A book has even been written about their rivalry. Throughout his career the senior Nakayama has spoken out against Japan's university and professional running systems and in particular against Rikuren, the governing body of the Japanese running world. In an interview with Japan Running News' Mika Tokairin, the elder Nakayama said that he has tried to discourage his son Takuya from running too hard in school, telling him just to watch and learn from others' mistakes and to save his own best efforts until he can make money. He did add that he realizes his son is his own person and free to make his own decision, but for the younger Nakayama to choose the alma mater of his father's strongest rival it seems less than a coincidence.

Yuki Yagi: 5000 m PB: 14:01.97 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. 5000 m champion
Yusuke Mita: 5000 m PB: 14:11.45 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. Ekiden 1st stage 3rd place (top Japanese)
Takuya Nakayama: 5000 m PB: 14:12.55 / 2007 Interprefectural Ekiden MVP (H.S.)
Taro Inoue: 5000 m PB: 14:37.44 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. 5000 m 7th place

*The Japanese academic year runs from April through March.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Noguchi to Receive Over $500,000 Bonus for Successful Gold Medal Defense

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Having taken a big step toward the Beijing Olympics with her victory at last year's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, Mizuki Noguchi of Team Sysmex addressed the media at her Kyoto hotel a day after her stage best anchor run in the 26th Interprefectural Women's Ekiden. Speaking in front of a crowd of 300, Noguchi told the press, "If I am selected for the Olympic marathon team I will show the world that although I am small I can do it."

Noguchi received additional motivation to show the world what she can do when Sysmex president Hisashi Ietsugu announced that Sysmex will give her a significant financial bonus in the event of a successful defense of her gold medal. Referring to Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia who won gold medals in the men's marathon at the 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Ietsugu said, "If she wins another gold she will be as great as Abebe. He is an historic figure and, while we can't pay her millions of dollars, if Noguchi also becomes such a legend we will reward her accordingly." Although Sysmex did not give the precise amount Noguchi will receive, Ietsugu indicated that it would be larger than the ¥50,000,000 bonus (app. $500,000) she received from former sponsor Globaly for her gold medal in the Athens Olympic marathon.

Noguchi is scheduled to leave on Jan. 20 for her high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China where she did much of her preparation for the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. Her coach Nobuyuki Fujita said that Noguchi will run two more races before Beijing.

Translator's note: Although not stated in these articles, it has been previously announced that one of Noguchi's two upcoming races will be a 30 km world record attempt at the Kumamoto Road Race on Feb. 24.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kyoto Sets Course Record in Interprefectural Women's Ekiden, Noguchi Runs Anchor Leg Stage Best, and a Preview of the Interprefectural Men's Ekiden

by Brett Larner

The Kyoto Prefectural team took the lead on the 2nd stage of the 26th All-Japan Interprefectural Ekiden, progressively widening its lead to take its 4th straight victory and break Kumamoto's 11 year old course record with a finish time of 2:14:58. The Interprefectural Women's Ekiden is held in Kyoto on the same course as the All-Japan High School Boys' Ekiden, covering the full marathon distance of 42.195 km in 9 stages. The event features teams made up of top runners from each of Japan's 47 prefectures and has an unusual format in that teams are made up of a mix junior high school, high school and university students running together with professionals and Olympians over appropriately-scaled stages. This year's race took place in cold, windy, intermittently rainy conditions. Mizuki Noguchi had a good start to the year by running a stage-best 31:53 on the 10 km anchor stage over an assortment of other stars including Yukiko Akaba to bring the Mie Prefectural team into the top 10.

For detailed results please consult Ken Nakamura's writeup for the IAAF or the Yomiuri Online's report. The official website linked above has many pictures from the race.

Osaka World Championships marathon bronze medalist Reiko Tosa was also at the ekiden serving as an announcer. Her commentary at several points suggested that she has still not recovered from the health problems she experienced during the fall season.

The men's edition of the Interprefectural Ekiden takes place Jan. 20 in Hiroshima. Like the women's race, the men's Interprefectural Ekiden includes a mix of students and professionals from throughout Japan running for their home prefectural teams. Runners scheduled to appear include top high school aces Yuki Yagi and Takuya Nakayama (son of legendary marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama), university stars Masato Kihara, Yuki Sato and Yuichiro Ueno, along with 5 members of Komazawa's winning Hakone Ekiden team and 32 other Hakone runners, and jitsugyodan runners Yu Mitsuya, Kazuhiro Maeda and Tsuyoshi Ogata, all of whom ran in last summer's Osaka World Championships. Additional information may be found in the Chugoku Shimbun.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mizuki Noguchi Returns From Amami Oshima Training Camp Having Inspired Baseball Great Shimoyanagi

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Athens Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (29, Team Sysmex) returned on Jan. 7 from a training camp on the island of Amami Oshima in southern Kagoshima Prefecture, landing at Osaka Airport. At the camp she focused on cross-country running. "At first I had a bit of a sore throat, but I was able to complete the training menu," Noguchi told reporters at the airport. She visited a shrine near the camp on New Year's Day, where she prayed "with a clear and empty mind" at the start of the Olympic year.*

While training on Jan. 6, Noguchi encountered Hanshin Tigers pitcher Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi (39) at a track where both were doing solo workouts. After watching Noguchi practice, Shimoyanagi shook his head and commented, "I'm glad I decided to become a baseball player." At 150 cm Noguchi weighs in at less than half Shimoyanagi's body weight, but her strength and stamina made a huge impression on Hanshin's star pitcher.

When he arrived at the track for morning practice Noguchi was already working out. During a break she told him that it was her second run of the day, having already done 15 km earlier in the morning. After Shimoyanagi completed his full training menu, Noguchi was still running. That evening she went back out for road work.

Noguchi for her part was also impressed with Shimoyanagi's weight-resistance sprint practice. "The amount of focus he showed while training alone was amazing. Watching him I felt that most track and field athletes, including me, practice like amateurs. Seeing how a professional trains taught me a great deal about my own training." The two athletes had dinner and talked about this and other issues in athletics.

Noguchi will run her first race of the year on Jan. 13 in the All-Japan Interprefectural Women's Ekiden in Kyoto.

*Translator's note: Noguchi is refering to prayer in the Zen ideal of emptiness and self-negation as opposed to praying for a specific outcome for herself.

Elementary Students Set Course Record 2:13:29 in Marathon-Distance All-Japan Unicycle Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

On January 6th, the 14th All-Japan Unicycle Ekiden was held along the Arakawa River in Tokyo's Adachi Ward. On a windy day, 700 people took part in the event and showed off fine performances.

Each team consisted of 6 athletes handing over a tasuki in traditional ekiden style over the 42.195 km full marathon course. In addition to elementary school, junior high school and independent categories there was a 5 km mini-marathon for individual cyclists. In the elementary school division 'The Green Angels' unicycle club of Jonai in Shizuoka Prefecture set a new course record of 2:13:29.

Natsumi Kanazawa and Rie Yamazaki of the Adachi Ward Unicycle Association select team 'Pretty Girls' were chosen to represent all 700 members of the field in promising to compete with fair play and to abide by race regulations.

For results and additional information please consult the Adachi Ward Unicycle Association homepage.

Hiroyuki Ono, Hakone Ekiden 5-Ku (updated)

I was very touched by the video of Juntendo's Hiroyuki Ono on the Hakone 5-区. Today I came across another video of a news segment which includes home video of Ono going down, an interview with him, and highlights of Hakone. The first section is on the three stage records set this year by Mekubo Mogusu, Yuki Sato and Jun Shinoto (2008 Hakone Ekiden MVP). The second is on the three schools which DNF'd, showing Tokai's Takehiro Arakawa, Daito Bunka's Naoki Sumida, and Juntendo's Ono. I'll try to put up a translation of the audio track shortly. The text printed across the bottom of the still below is Ono saying, "I want to apologize to everybody."

Someone put up a video of Juntendo University's Day One anchor Hiroyuki Ono collapsing 460 m from the finish, eliminating the defending champions from the Hakone Ekiden. Two other schools, Tokai University and Daito Bunka University, also did not finish, the first time in Hakone's 84 year history that three schools failed to finish. Several other schools also had runners almost collapse, leading to a small wave of media speculation in Japan about problems with coaches pushing their student runners too hard in the current era of mass Hakone Ekiden popularity.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Takahashi to Remain in Kunming for Training

reported in Nikkei Newspaper, 1/9/08
translated by Brett Larner

In training for the Mar. 3 Nagoya International Women’s Marathon where she hopes to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, Naoko Takahashi (Team Phiten) announced that she will remain at her altitude training camp in Kunming, China through the end of Feb. rather than returning to Japan this month and then going back to Kunming as she had originally planned. Takahashi’s management told press on Jan. 8 that her preparation for Nagoya has been going extremely well and that she sees no benefit to interrupting it by returning to Japan for a short time. Furthermore, while most athletes who train in Kunming do so at 1900 m elevation, Takahashi has stepped up her plans to focus on training at 2400 m during the remainder of her time there.

1500 m National Record Holder Yuriko Kobayashi Barred from Competing Professionally

reported in Nikkei Newspaper, 1/9/08
translated by Brett Larner

The governing body of Japan’s professional jitsugyodan running system ruled on Jan. 8 that women’s 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi (19, Team Toyota Jidoshokki) is not eligible to compete as a jitsugyodan runner on the basis of her enrollment at a college in Okayama. Kobayashi was recruited by Toyota after graduating last spring from Suma Gakuen High School in Hyogo Prefecture, one of Japan’s top running high schools. Kobayashi subsequently decided that she wanted to continue her education and was granted the freedom to both study and train by Toyota’s management. She has been commuting between school and training by shinkansen (bullet train), but with yesterday’s ruling she will no longer be able to compete in jitsugyodan events such as ekidens. Kobayashi explained her rationale for her decisions by saying, “I chose this course of action because I wanted both to train at the highest level and to get an education. Now it feels like the way forward for me is being blocked.”

Officials explained that while this is an isolated case, they wish to avoid setting a precedent which would allow jitsugyodan teams to recruit top high school talent by promising to pay for their university education. Team Toyota Jidoshokki coach Yoshio Koide expressed his dismay over the ruling, commenting, “Runners need both physical ability and intelligence to become world class. I want her to be allowed to compete as soon as possible.”

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Komazawa's Sakai to Debut at Biwako Mainichi Marathon and Join Team Fujitsu

reported in Sports Nippon Newspaper, 1/4/08
translated by Brett Larner

Fresh from taking the lead on the Hakone Ekiden’s 9th stage to bring Komazawa University its victory, Koichi Sakai will soon be entering a new phase of his life. On Mar. 2, Sakai will debut in the Biwako Mainichi Marathon in a bid to make the Beijing Olympic marathon team. “Winning Hakone exactly according to our race plan was a good step forward,” Sakai told interviewers after the race.

Sakai has been doing marathon training this season with Komazawa alumnus and former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita of Team Fujitsu, which Sakai will join after graduating from Komazawa in the spring. Fujita staggered to a disappointing 8th place finish at Dec.’s Fukuoka International Marathon, failing to qualify for Beijing. Sakai said that he cried when he watched Fujita fall just meters before the finish line in Fukuoka and that it has given him special motivation for his marathon debut. “I want to run to realize Fujita’s dream of making the Olympics. I will run hard, in the lead pack.”

It is not only big name star runners like Waseda’s Kensuke Takezawa and Tokai’s Yuki Sato who want to make the leap from Hakone to Beijing. Other hardworking men who have never been called aces will also have their shot.

Koichi Sakai
b. 3/11/86, Hyogo Prefecture
height: 1 m 73 cm
weight: 59 kg
graduated from Shikama Kogyo High School
2004: entered Komazawa University
2006 Hakone Ekiden: 2nd fastest time, 8th stage
2007 Hakone Ekiden: 4th fastest time, 9th stage
2008 Hakone Ekiden: 2nd fastest time, 9th stage
5000 m: 14:13.40
10000 m: 28:50.96
1/2 mar.: 1:03:20
will join Team Fujitsu in Apr., ‘08

Translator’s note: Komazawa University won the 2008 Hakone Ekiden after its 9th stage runner Koichi Sakai took the lead and opened a wide gap over 2nd place finisher Waseda. Sakai is nicknamed ‘Futomomo,’ literally ‘fat thighs,’ because of his unusually muscular legs and overall build. While he does not look like a distance runner, his strength and stamina, particularly on hilly courses, have been impressive over the past few years. He is not extremely fast but based on what he has done so far it is hard to see him breaking down in the marathon.

Monday, January 7, 2008

2007 Japanese Distance Running Top 10 Performances


5000 m
1. 13:13.20 Takayuki Matsumiya, Team Konica-Minolta, 7/28 (national record)
2. 13:18.32 Yu Mitsuya, Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu, 5/2
3. 13:19:00 Kensuke Takezawa, Waseda University, 7/28
4. 13:21.49 Yuichiro Ueno, Chuo University, 7/28
5. 13:28.84 Kazuhiro Maeda, Team Kyudenko, 5/26
6. 13:34.44 Terukazu Omori, Team Shikoku Denryoku, 4/20
7. 13:36.13 Atsushi Sato, Team Chugoku Denryoku, 6/17
8. 13:36.18 Satoshi Irifune, Team Kanebo, 5/26
9. 13:36.51 Yuki Matsuoka, Juntendo University, 6/10
10. 13:37.69 Yuta Takahashi, Josai University, 6/10

10000 m
1. 27:45.59 Kensuke Takezawa, Waseda University, 4/29
2. 27:51.65 Yuki Sato, Tokai University, 10/14
3. 27:51.90 Terukazu Omori, Team Shikoku Denryoku, 6/2
4. 27:53.78 Takeshi Makabe, Team Kanebo, 12/2
5. 27:55.17 Kazuhiro Maeda, Team Kyudenko, 12/2
6. 28:00.22 Satoru Kitamura, Nittai University, 6/2
7. 28:03.83 Kenji Noguchi, Team Shikuoku Denryoku, 4/29
8. 28:04.40 Kenta Murozuka, Self-Defense Force Academy, 12/2
9. 28:07.57 Takashi Horiguchi, Team Honda, 12/2
10. 28:10.68 Daisuke Shimizu, Team Suzuki, 12/2

1. 1:00:25 Atsushi Sato, Team Chugoku Denryoku, 10/14 (national record)
2. 1:01:59 Yuko Matsumiya, Team Konica Minolta, 9/30
3. 1:02:08 Kazuhiro Maeda, Team Kyudenko, 10/14
4. 1:02:11 Takayuki Matsumiya, Team Konica Minolta, 2/4
5. 1:02:14 Terukazu Omori, Team Shikoku Denryoku, 3/11
6. 1:02:14 Naoto Yoneda, Team Konica-Minolta, 3/11
7. 1:02:15 Toru Okada, Team Yasukawa Denki, 3/11
8. 1:02:16 Kazuyoshi Shimozato, Team Nissan Jidosha, 3/11
9. 1:02:18 Kazuo Ietani, Team Sanyo Tokushu Seiko, 3/11
10. 1:02:19 Yoshinori Oda, Team Toyota Jidosha, 3/11

1. 2:07:13 Atsushi Sato, Team Chugoku Denryoku, 12/2
2. 2:09:40 Yuko Matsumiya, Team Konica Minolta, 12/2
3. 2:10:04 Takayuki Matsumiya, Team Konica Minolta, 4/15
4. 2:10:23 Atsushi Fujita, Team Asahi Kasei, 2/4
5. 2:10:30 Shigeru Aburaya, Team Chugoku Denryoku, 12/2
6. 2:11:22 Tomoyuki Sato, Team Asahi Kasei, 2/18
7. 2:11:52 Kensuke Takahashi, Team Toyota, 12/2
8. 2:12:21 Tomohiro Seto, Team Kanebo, 9/30
9. 2:12:28 Yusuke Kataoka, Team Otsuka Seiyaku, 10/21
10. 2:12:44 Kazushi Hara, Team Mitsubishi Juko, 2/4
10. 2:12:44 Satoshi Irifune, Team Kanebo, 2/18

Women`s 5000 and 10000 m results need a little more work. Sorry.

5000 m
1. 15:05.73 Kayoko Fukushi, Team Wacoal, 7/13
2. 15:15.34 Kayo Sugihara, Team Panasonic, 5/26

10000 m
1. 31:23.27 Yukiko Akaba, Team Hokuren, 12/23
2. 31:35.27 Megumi Kinukawa, Sendai Ikuei High School, 4/22
3. 31:39.32 Akane Wakita, Team Toyota Jidoshoki, 4/22
4. 31:48.87 Yoko Shibui, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo, 7/11
5. 31:50.45 Yoko Miyauchi, Team Oki, 4/22
6. 31:54.59 Kayo Sugihara, Team Panasonic, 4/22
7. 31:57.26 Megumi Seike, Team Sysmex, 10/13

1. 1:08:00 Kayoko Fukushi, Team Wacoal, 2/4
2. 1:08:22 Mizuki Noguchi, Team Sysmex, 7/8
3. 1:08:56 Chisato Osaki, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo, 10/14
4. 1:09:17 Akane Taira, Team Panasonic, 10/14
5. 1:09:26 Yoshimi Ozaki, Team Daiichi Seimei, 10/14
6. 1:09:53 Kazue Ogoshi, Team Daihatsu, 11/23
7. 1:10:23 Harumi Hiroyama, Team Shiseido, 2/4
7. 1:10:23 Yurika Nakamura, Team Tenmaya, 12/23
9. 1:10:24 Yumiko Hara, Team Kyocera, 1/28
9. 1:10:24 Yoko Shibui, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo, 1/28

1. 2:21:37 Mizuki Noguchi, Team Sysmex, 11/18
2. 2:23:48 Yumiko Hara, Team Kyocera, 1/28
3. 2:24:39 Mari Ozaki, Team Noritsu, 1/28
4. 2:24:43 Yuri Kano, Second Wind AC, 1/28
5. 2:26:37 Hiromi Ominami, Team Toyota Shatai, 4/15
6. 2:28:33 Naoko Sakamoto, Team Tenmaya, 9/30
7. 2:28:39 Akemi Ozaki, Second Wind AC, 11/18
8. 2:28:49 Yasuko Hashimoto, Team Sega Sammy, 3/11
9. 2:28:55 Harumi Hiroyama, Team Shiseido, 3/11
10. 2:29:24 Takami Ominami, Team Toyota Shatai, 3/11

3rd Stage Results from New Year Ekiden

by Brett Larner

The 3rd stage of the 2008 New Year Ekiden featured an incredible array of Japan-based African stars including half marathon world record holder Samuel Wanjiru, Osaka World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi, 2007 World XC Championships 4th place finisher Ngatuny Gideon, and all-time top 10 fastest marathoner Daniel Njenga. The top 10 finishers on the 3rd stage, 11.8 km with about 15m downhill and strong headwind:

1. Ngatuny Gideon: 30:59
2. Josephat Muchiri Dabili: 31:15
3. Martin Mathathi: 31:16
4. Samuel Wanjiru: 31:17
5. John Kariuki: 31:22
6. Tesfaye Asefa: 31:26
7. Sammy Alex: 31:27
8. Cyrus Jui: 31:41
9. Charles Kamathi: 32:04
10. Daniel Njenga: 32:08
10. Davis Kabiru: 32:08

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Julia Mombi Wins Miyazaki Women's Half Marathon

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Kenyan Julia Mombi won the 28th Miyazaki Women's Road Race half marathon on Jan. 6 in a PB time of 1:09:34. She followed her pre-race plan precisely, attacking with 2 km to go and dropping Hiroko Miyauchi of Team Oki.

Mombi attended Aomori Yamada High School and now runs for Team Aruze. She is preparing for the Jan. 27 Osaka International Women's Marathon, where she hopes to run 2:25 to qualify for the Kenyan marathon team at the Beijing Olympics. Mombi enthusiastically smiled, "I ran easily today. My legs have gotten stronger."

Miyauchi finished 20 seconds behind Mombi in 2nd place, while Miyauchi's sister Yoko, also of Team Oki, finished 3rd. 2006 Asia Games women's marathon bronze medalist Kayoko Obata of Team Acom did not run due to a fever. 47 runners started the race and 45 finished.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hakone Day Two detailed report finished

I've had a busy last couple of days, including a 24 km tempo run this evening in an unexpected 1:22:01, so I haven`t had much time to finish the detailed Day Two Hakone report. It's done now except for a few missing names and splits which I will add soon. Check here for the report. The detailed version of the Day One report is still here. Digest versions of both days are also on the main page.

Some post-Hakone news will be up tomorrow.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Hakone Ekiden Day Two: Komazawa Reclaims Title, Tokai and Daito Bunka DNF, Shinoto and Sato Set Stage Records

by Brett Larner
videos by Mika Tokairin

Komazawa University fulfilled predictions to win the 2008 Hakone Ekiden. Komazawa reeled in Day One winner Waseda University over the course of Day Two, taking the lead on the 9th stage and running on to its 1st win in three years. Waseda was content with its 2nd-place finish, something of a return to form for the old-time powerhouse after a weak decade. Tiny Chuo Gakuin University had its best performance ever, coming 3rd on the strength of an unexpected stage record performance by captain Jun Shinoto, and the East Japan Select Team, made up of top runners from schools which failed to qualify for Hakone, surprised all by coming 4th. Japan`s top university runner Yuki Sato of pre-race favorite Tokai University set a new stage record, but Tokai was eliminated from competition when its anchor collapsed with 2.5 km to go. Daito Bunka University was also eliminated on the 9th stage.

Day Two was filled with even more unexpected upsets than Day One. Toyo University`s Kazuki Onishi slowed to a walk with 400 m to go on the 800 m elevation loss downhill 6th stage, almost falling just meters before the finish. On the 8th stage, Akira Kimizu of defending champion Juntendo University also slowed to a walk with several km to go before rallying to beat the stage`s cutoff time by 19 seconds. Juntendo had been eliminated on Day One when its 5th stage runner Hiroyuki Ono collapsed from dehydration less than 500 m from the goal, but the school was allowed to symbolically run Day Two out of competition. On the 9th stage, Naoki Sumida of Daito Bunka suffered from dehydration and repeatedly stopped, each time starting to run again just as officials were about to pull him from the race. He was finally withdrawn at 21.75 km after both of his legs tightened with cramps. Daito Bunka`s anchor Daisuke Mizukoshi had already started with a white sash after Sumida failed to reach the handoff zone before the cutoff time. Mizukoshi ran the 10th stage not realizing that Daito Bunka had already been eliminated.

The most shocking upset came when Tokai`s anchor, captain Takehiro Arakawa, abruptly stopped and fell at the 20.9 km point of the 23.1 km stage, quickly withdrawn from the race by medical staff. Arakawa, running in 7th place, had been repeatedly looking back at closely trailing Chuo University when he went by the 19.9 km point but otherwise showed no signs of trouble. After the race it was announced that Arakawa had caught one of his feet in a railroad crossing at the 6 km point and done some ligament damage. He had continued running but his body gave out from the pain. When Tokai was eliminated it became the 1st time in the Hakone Ekiden`s 84 runnings that three teams failed to finish. Only once in the race`s history had even two teams failed to finish.

Tokai`s Yuki Sato, potentially Japan`s greatest distance runner ever, lived up to expectations. He overcame a mediocre 2007 in which he failed to make the national team for the Osaka World Championships to break the oldest standing stage record in the Hakone Ekiden, running 1:02:35 on the 21.3 km 7th stage to take away Ryuji Takei`s 1993 title by 18 seconds. This was Sato`s 3rd stage record in his three Hakone Ekidens to date. He now holds the record on the 1st, 3rd and 7th stages. Like last year when he set the 1st stage record, Sato was running over 40 seconds ahead of stage record pace before suffering cramps in both legs. This aggressive pushing of the pace from the beginning combined with Sato`s natural ability gives him great potential on the international level.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day occured when captain Jun Shinoto of Chuo Gakuin University ran a 37 second stage record on the 23.2 km 9th leg. Like Juntendo`s Genta Matsuse on the anchor leg of last year`s Hakone, Shinoto had run Hakone each year of his university career without ever achieving particularly noteworthy results. In his final Hakone, Shinoto started strong but gradually accelerated. He did not move ahead of stage record pace until the 14.7 km checkpoint, where he was 1 second ahead. At 20 km he was 7 seconds ahead. He made up the remaining 30 seconds over the final 3.2 km, an incredible run which eclipsed the other stage records set by star runners Mekubo Mogusu and Yuki Sato and unanimously earned Shinoto the 2008 Hakone Ekiden MVP award. Shinoto`s average pace was equivalent to a 1:01:51 half marathon, just 1 second slower than the all-time Japanese university student #2 record held by Shinoto`s teammate Masato Kihara. The fact that Shinoto ran a negative split means his final 21.0975 km were likely even faster. It was a superb conclusion to his student running career and perhaps the most scintillating moment of a Hakone Ekiden filled with the unexpected.

A detailed, stage-by-stage report on Day Two is to be found either in the next article below or here.

Overall Results -- Click each team for video of its anchor runner.
1. Komazawa: 11:05:00
2. Waseda: 11:07:29
3. Chuo Gakuin: 11:11:05 (new stage record: Jun Shinoto, 9th stage (23.2 km): 1:08:01)
4. East Japan Select Team: 11:12:25
5. Asia: 11:14:10
6. Yamanashi Gakuin: 11:15:00 (new stage record: Mekubo Mogusu, 2nd stage (23.2 km): 1:06:23)
7. Chuo: 11:16:32
8. Teikyo: 11:16:48
9. Nihon: 11:16:52
10. Toyo: 11:17:12
Note: The top 10 teams are seeded for the 2009 Hakone Ekiden. Remaining teams must requalify at the 2008 Yosenkai 20 km road race in October.
11. Josai: 11:20:19
12. Nittai: 11:20:30
13. Kokushikan: 11:23:43
14. Senshu: 11:25:37
15. Kanagawa: 11:27:22
16. Hosei: 11:28:06
17. Tokyo Nogyo: 11:30:58
Tokai: DNF, 10th stage (new stage record: Yuki Sato, 7th stage (21.3 km): 1:02:35)
Daito Bunka: DNF, 9th stage
Juntendo: DNF, 5th stage

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
videos (c) 2008 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved

Hakone Ekiden Day Two: Stage By Stage Report

by Brett Larner

Day Two of the 2008 Hakone Ekiden dawned with weather as perfect as on Day One, cool, sunny and windless. The big news of the morning was that defending champion Juntendo University, who had been eliminated 460 m from the finish the previous day when their runner Hiroyuki Ono collapsed, would be allowed to run in a ceremonial capacity, out of competition.

6th Stage: 20.8 km
On Day Two, runners start one by one with a time handicap and order determined by their team’s finish on Day One. For example, Komazawa finished 1:14 behind leader Waseda on Day One, so its 6th stage runner Hikaru Fujii started Day Two 1:14 after Waseda’s runner Sota Kato began. Any teams which finished more than 10 minutes behind Waseda on Day One started together with an appropriate modification added to their later stage times. Fireworks announced each runner`s departure from the starting line to the tens of thousands of fans lining the course.

Waseda`s Kato went out hard, 1 second behind stage record pace at the peak of the uphill first 5 km. On the downhill next km he let loose with a 2:29 split, widening the gap over Komazawa. He continued to run extremely hard over the 800 m-plus elevation loss downhill stage. Kato suffered a side cramp at the 10 km point, falling off stage record pace by 10 seconds, but recovered and accelerated, back on record pace at the 12 km and 13.7 km checkpoints. At 14 km he suffered another side cramp, but again recovered and accelerated, running much of the next 4 km with his eyes closed.

Behind him, Fujii was struggling, losing ground to Yamanashi Gakuin’s Yuta Chuman and the East Japan Select Team’s Yuji Sato. Sato caught Chuman at the 7.5 km, the two runners staying together until 16 km where Sato surged to go after Fujii.

Further back, Toyo`s Kazuki Onishi, the identical twin brother of Toyo’s 1st stage runner Tomoya Onishi, was making enormous ground, passing Tokai’s Kazuma Kaikura and Asia’s Masashi Mifune at 3.5 km and Nihon’s *** at 9 km. Nittai’s Keichiro Ishitani, well-known in Japan for overcoming a potentially fatal heart malformation to make the Hakone Ekiden last year, overtook Kokushikan’s Teppei Takeda, and Teikyo’s Tsubasa Akagi likewise advanced a place over Daito Bunka’s Takumi Sato.

In the final stretch of the 6th stage the pendulum began to swing back against most of the runners who had pushed hard on the steepest parts of the downhill. Kato could not maintain his pace once the course flattened out in the final 3 km, dropping off stage record pace to finish in a stage best time of 59:15, Waseda’s first victory on the 6th stage in 40 years and its first combined victory both ways on the mountain in 75 years.

Fujii continued to falter, slowing almost to a walk with 2 km to go. Komazawa’s coach *** Oyagi got out of the following van to give Fujii water, then after returning to the van shouted at Fujii over a loudspeaker, calling out ‘encouragement’ such as, “Come on and be a man, this is your last Hakone!” Sato and Chuman were now visible behind him, but Fujii managed to get to the handoff zone before they overtook him, having lost almost 2 minutes to Waseda.

Onishi was the biggest casualty of the stage, retaken by Nihon at 13 km and Kaikura at 15 km. Kaikura continued to accelerate, his coach having told him to hold back until the course began to level out in the last few km. Kaikura went on to overtake Nihon at 17 km, while Onishi continued to slow. With 400 m to go Onishi was walking and was passed by four more teams, Daito Bunka’s Sato moving into 10th position. Onishi almost fell twice in the last 200 m but made it to the handoff zone in the end.

1. Waseda: *** (Sota Kato, 2nd yr.: 59:15 stage best)
2. Komazawa: *** (Hikaru Fujii, 4th yr.: 1:01:12)
3. East Japan Select Team: *** (Yuji Sato, 3rd yr., Heisei Kokuritsu Univ., 1:00:03)
4. Yamanashi Gakuin: *** (Yuta Chuman, 4th yr., 1:01:25)
5. Chuo Gakuin: *** (Masahiko Watanabe, 3rd yr., 1:00:58)

7th Stage: 21.3 km
Tokai chose to put its superstar runner, 3rd year student Yuki Sato, on the 7th stage. Sato has so far in his career shown the potential to become the best distance runner Japan has yet produced. The 7th stage thus became a showcase for Sato’s attempt on a 3rd stage record, each time on a different stage.

Sato started out hard, running the 1st km in 2:43 and the 2nd in 2:48. With subsequent splits he stayed well ahead of stage record pace:

4 km: 11:07 7 km:19:47 9 km:25:24 11 km:31:31 14 km:40:33 17 km:49:22 20 km:58:44

Along the way he picked up Chuo Gakuin’s ***, Yamanashi Gakuin’s captain Nobuhiko Izuka, and the East Japan Select Team’s Kazumasa Kawanabe. At 9 km, Komazawa’s coach Oyagi got out of the van to give water to his runner Tomoaki Bungo, looking back nervously. At 16 km Sato came within sight of Bungo and accelerated, jumping to 40 seconds ahead of stage record pace. At this point, Sato experienced a replay of last year’s Hakone when he set the record for the 1st stage. Sato’s left leg began to cramp, breaking his stride slightly and causing him to slow. 3 km later his right leg also began to cramp and he began to lose ground, even though Bungo was also slowing.

Elsewhere on the course, Waseda’s Yozo Ishibashi ran by himself in the lead, passing 10 km in 29:51 and doing his best to maintain Waseda’s margin over Komazawa. Teikyo’s Tomonao Nishimura caught Chuo’s Toshinori Seki at 13 km, and Asia’s Yuichiro Ogawa passed Nihon’s Shuhei Takahashi at 16.5 km. Nishimura likewise passed Takahashi shortly before the finish, and Izuka also overtook Kawanabe near the stage’s end.

With both legs having tightened up, Sato continued to slow as he approached the handoff zone, but there was never any question of his missing the stage best record. He came through in 1:02:35, 18 seconds ahead of the old record and just over a minute behind Komazawa. He became the first Hakone runner in 51 years to hold three stage records at the same time. In his stage victory interview, Sato said that while the record was nice he was disappointed that he had slowed and as a result been unable to help Tokai more by catching Komazawa.

Another of Japan's most talented university runners, Juntendo's Yuki Matsuoka, was scheduled to run the 7th stage as his final student race. When Juntendo were eliminated on Day One and then permitted an honorary run on Day Two, Matsuoka gave up his space to 1st year runner *** to help *** gain experience for the future. It was a selfless gesture of leadership and teamwork.

1. Waseda: 7:37:35 (Yozo Ishibashi, 4th yr.: 1:05:11)
2. Komazawa: 7:39:48 (Tomoaki Bungo, 4th yr.: 1:04:14)
3. Tokai: 7:41:07 (Yuki Sato, 3rd yr.: 1:02:35 new stage record)
4. Yamanashi Gakuin: 7:42:29 (Nobuhiko Izuka, 4th yr.: ***)
5. East Japan Select Team: 7:42:39 (Kazumasa Kawanabe, 3rd yr., Kokugakuin Univ.: ***)

8th stage: 21.5 km
Little changed during the first quarter of the 8th stage. After the 5 km splits came up it became apparent that Komazawa’s Takuya Fukatsu was quickly making up the distance to Waseda’s captain Junji Iizuka and widening the gap over Tokai’s Ryuichi Yoshimura, having picked up 38 seconds on Iizuka and added 1:04 against Yoshimura. Komazawa’s coach again jumped from the trailing van, this time to run alongside and yell at Fukatsu. At 10 km it was clear that at least part of Fukatsu’s improvement against Tokai was due to a bad day for Yoshimura, whose 10 km split was over 31 minutes.

At 10.6 km Toyo’s rookie Yu Chiba caught *** of Daito Bunka but could not make any progress against Chuo’s fellow newcomer Takamori Yamashita in the important 10th place position. By the 8th stage the schools near the 10th spot usually become desperate, as only the top 10 schools are seeded for the following year’s Hakone Ekiden. It is a great mark of distinction to make this seeded class, particularly for the smaller, weaker schools. Yamashita moved away from Chiba as the runners entered the 2nd half of the stage, catching Teikyo’s Yusuke Owaki and Nihon’s Hiroya Takahashi at 12 km. Takahashi dropped out of the trio at 13.2 km. In a similar play up ahead, Yamanashi Gakuin’s Keita Kurihara and the East Japan Select Team’s *** caught the weakened Yoshimura of Tokai at 14.5 km. When Kurihara put on a short attack Yoshimura was unable to respond and drifted away. Shortly afterward, Teikyo’s Owaki dropped Chuo’s Yamashita to take 8th.

All the while, Fukatsu was rapidly gaining on Iizuka. With 4.5 km to go Fukatsu was 30 seconds back and gaining. With 2.5 km to go the gap was down to 20 seconds, but at this point Iizuka rallied to put on his final push while Fukatsu began to show the strain of his powerful run. With 1 km to go the gap had widened to 22 seconds and it was clear that Iizuka was safe. Komazawa’s coach again left the van to yell at Fukatsu, but the runner was spent and could not get himself together for a strong enough final kick.

Back at 18.6 km Toyo’s Chiba and Daito Bunka’s *** caught Nihon’s Takahashi, making a pack of three schools running together for the 10th position. Even further back, Juntendo’s Akira Kimizu had stopped running and was barely walking, making it look like Juntendo would be eliminated again, even from their honorary participation. Kimizu managed to get back together, coming in 19 seconds ahead of the stage cutoff time to allow Juntendo to avoid the dreaded white tasuki start.

Fukatsu picked up stage best honors for his performance. Nevertheless, he cried during his stage victory interview when expressing his disappointment over not being able to move Komazawa into the top position.

1. Waseda: 8:44:29 (Junji Iizuka, 4th yr.: ***)
2. Komazawa: 8:44:44 (Takuya Fukatsu, 2nd yr.: 1:04:57 stage best)
3. East Japan Select Team: 8:49:10 (***: ***)
4. Yamanashi Gakuin: 8:49:25 (Keita Kurihara, 4th yr.: ***)
5. Tokai: 8:50:46 (Ryuichi Yoshimura, 3rd yr.: ***)

9th Stage: 23.2 km
With only a 15 second lead at the start, Waseda’s Masayuki Miwa had little chance against Komazawa’s strongest runner, Koichi Sakai. The squat, muscular Sakai looks more like a wrestler than a distance runner and is singularly tough on rolling, hilly courses like Hakone’s 9th stage. Although Miwa opened with a 2:49, Sakai came on with a far more effortless-looking 2:42 over the uphill first km. He overtook Miwa with ease at 2.6 km and went on to run a 14:24 5 km split, just 2 seconds off stage record pace. To most commentators’ surprise, Miwa stayed right next to him. At 8.4 km Sakai attacked on a mild downhill, breaking Miwa’s contact and quickly pulling away.

Behind the two leaders there were many changes taking place. Yamanashi Gakuin’s Masato Miyagi caught up to the East Japan Select Team’s Hirotaka Nakamura within the first 2 km. Nakamura runs for Rikkyo University and was the first member of that school’s team to make Hakone in over 40 years. He was not to be easily dropped, matching Miyagi’s pace. Chuo Gakuin’s captain Jun Shinoto caught Tokai’s Takeshi Maegawa at 5.1 km. Toyo’s Takamasa Nakada and Nihon’s captain Shoji Akutsu worked together to drop Daito Bunka’s Naoki Sumida, making it a 2-team race for 10th place. At 11.8 km Akutsu took off and threw away his lumbar support belt, immediately launching a series of sprint attacks against Nakada. In each case the Toyo runner was able to respond. Sumida continued to slow, losing a place to Nittai’s Kota Noguchi at 14 km.

While Sakai continued to widen his lead, it became clear that he was not going to win the stage best title. Chuo Gakuin’s Shinoto went through the 14.7 km checkpoint 1 second ahead of stage record pace and accelerating. He passed Miyagi and Nakamura to move into 3rd, all but guaranteeing Chuo Gakuin its best-ever finish. At 20 km he was 7 seconds ahead of stage record pace. At the same time, Nakada dropped Akutsu and Chuo’s Nobuhiko Hirakawa passed Teikyo’s Kanenori Oda to strengthen Chuo’s claim on a seeded placing. Nakamura dropped the exhausted Miyagi easily, opening a gap of almost a minute.

Komazawa’s Sakai came to the handoff zone with a comfortable 1:21 lead over Waseda. Shinoto was next, picking up a stellar additional 30 seconds on the course record over the final 3.2 km to finish in 1:08:01, a stage record by 37 seconds. It was Chuo Gakuin’s first ever stage record and as the largest of the three stage records set at this year’s Hakone was good enough to earn Shinoto the overall MVP award over stars Mekubo Mogusu and Yuki Sato. Shinoto, a one-time national steeplechase champion, said he hopes to run the 3000 m steeplechase at the Beijing Olympics.

Tokyo Nogyo’s Tomohiro Shiiya pulled off an exciting finish, making it to the handoff zone 4 seconds before the cutoff time. Back at the 17.2 km point, Daito Bunka’s Sumida was in serious trouble. He stopped running, talked to his coach and a race official, then slowly restarted. The cutoff time at the next handoff zone passed with Shiiya still far away, and Daito Bunka’s anchor Muga Hamazaki began with a white tasuki. At 19 km Hamazaki stopped again, then began walking with his coach next to him. He began to run again but when he stopped again at 21.75 km a race official immediately withdrew him from the race, eliminating Daito Bunka from the ekiden. In post-race interviews Daito Bunka’s coach *** Maeda told reporters that, like Juntendo’s Hiroyuki Ono the day before, Sumida had suffered from dehydration. When Sumida slowed to a walk, his legs cramped to the point that he was unable to move any further. His elimination tied the Hakone DNF record of 2 schools, while Daito Bunka’s anchor Hamazaki continued on unaware.

1. Komazawa: 9:53:59 (Koichi Sakai, 4th yr.: 1:09:14)
2. Waseda: 9:55:20 (Masayuki Miwa, 3rd yr.: 1:10:51)
3. Chuo Gakuin: 9:59:25 (Jun Shinoto, 4th yr.: 1:08:01 new stage record)
4. East Japan Select Team: 10:00:39 (Hirotaka Nakamura, 3rd yr., Rikkyo Univ.: 1:11:29)
5. Yamanashi Gakuin: 10:01:38 (Masato Miyagi, 3rd yr.: 1:12:13)

10th Stage: 23.1 km
Waseda’s anchor Yoichi Kanzawa made a good effort to take back the lead Waseda had held since the previous day’s 5th stage. Over the first 13 km of the 10th stage he slowly but steadily gained on Komazawa’s Yukinori Ota. In the final 10 km the strain of making up ground caught up with him and he began to fade, while Ota continued on steadily to bring Komazawa back to the winner’s stand for the first time in 3 years. Little else changed in the upper echelons until Shinpei Miyata of 2006 winners Asia caught Yamanashi Gakuin’s Go Nakagawa at 13 km to move into 5th place.

Further back, the race to make the top 10 gained dramatic momentum. Pre-race favorite Tokai was down to 7th place as its anchor and captain Takehiro Arakawa ran unexpectedly slowly. Chuo’s Masashi Kada and Teikyo’s captain Takayuki Tanabe were a short distance behind and closing. Not much farther behind Teikyo was Toyo’s Yoshimitsu Kishimura in 10th. Behind him, Nihon’s Takuma Sasaya was waging a furious battle to make up the 40 second gap he inherited at the stage’s start, with Josai’s Yoshito Nagaiwa out of range but running even faster in 13th. Sasaya relentlessly pushed the pace, down 30 seconds on Kishimura at 16.6 km and 10 seconds at 20.4 km. It looked simply a question of Sasaya having enough ground left to make up the last few meters separating him from earning Nihon a seeded slot.

Everything changed abruptly at 20.9 km. With no warning, Tokai’s Arakawa stopped and fell. He could not continue the final 2.4 km and was swiftly given a red flag, eliminating Tokai and making history as the first time 3 schools have been eliminated in the same edition of the Hakone Ekiden. In post-race interviews Tokai’s coach revealed that Arakawa had caught his foot in a railroad crossing at the 6 km point and had done some ligament damage. Despite the pain he had continued running as long as he could, but his leg had simply given out when he began his final push to stay ahead of Chuo and Teikyo.

With Tokai out of the race, both Toyo and Nichidai each had a seeded slot secured. Sasaya nevertheless continued his attack and successfully overtook Kishimura at 21.2 km to take 9th place. Josai’s Nagaiwa caught Nittai’s Kazuya Deguchi at 21.5 km to take 11th place, also taking the stage best time. This was Josai’s 2nd time to take the stage best on the anchor leg in the last 3 years.

1. Komazawa: 11:05:00 (Yukinori Ota, 3rd yr.: 1:11:01)
2. Waseda: 11:07:29 (Yuichi Kanzawa, 2nd yr.: 1:12:09)
3. Chuo Gakuin: 11:11:05 (Masaki Ikeda, 4th yr.: 1:11:40)
4. East Japan Select Team: 11:12:25 (Ryuichi Yokota, 4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.: 1:11:45)
5. Asia: 11:14:19 (Shinpei Miyata, 4th yr.: 1:11:20)
stage best: Yoshito Nagaiwa, 2nd yr., Josai Univ.: 1:10:14

Day Two Results:
1. Komazawa: 5:30:38
2. Chuo Gakuin: 5:33:49 (new stage record: Jun Shinoto, 9th stage (23.2 km): 1:08:01
3. Waseda: 5:34:21
4. East Japan Select Team: 5:36:00
5. Teikyo: 5:36:14
6. Asia: 5:36:16
7. Josai: 5:37:00
8. Chuo: 5:37:29
9. Nittai: 5:38:40
10. Toyo: 5:38:49
11. Kanagawa: 5:38:59
12. Nihon: 5:39:05
13. Senshu: 5:39:40
14. Yamanashi Gakuin: 5:39:53
15. Kokushikan: 5:42:08
16. Tokyo Nogyo: 5:43:24
[Juntendo: 5:43:32 – out of competition]
17. Hosei: 5:45:43
Tokai: DNF, 10th stage (new stage record: Yuki Sato, 7th stage (21.3 km): 1:02:35)
Daito Bunka: DNF, 9th stage

For overall results please see the bottom of this article.

© 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved