by Brett Larner
Note: Start lists will be added when available.
The 30th anniversary National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships take place this Sunday, Dec. 19. It's fitting that the anniversary edition, the last to be held on the historic Gifu course before the race's move north to Sendai next year, is slated to mark the return of the great Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) to the national stage. Noguchi, the marathon national record holder and 2004 Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist, has been out of competition since an injury in the summer of 2008 prevented her from defending her title in Beijing. Finally racing again earlier this fall in the regional qualifier ekidens, she helped Sysmex to qualify for Nationals for the first time. Start lists have not yet been confirmed but Noguchi's presence on the entry list has been used heavily to promote Sunday's race across the country.
10000 m national record holder and former marathon national record holder Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) is also scheduled to make a comeback to the national level, having drifted away from fitness over the last two years and suffering repeated injuries. 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) is also scheduled to start, marking what may be one of the last times these three greats run the same race. Hopefully the evolution of the race permits at least two of them to end up head-to-head.
One notable likely absence is 2009 World Championships marathon silver medlist Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei). A source at Daiichi Seimei told JRN this week that Ozaki fell during a recent workout and sustained injuries that will probably keep her out of the ekiden. What that may mean for her preparations for a marathon, previously announced as either January's Osaka International Women's Marathon or February's Yokohama International Women's Marathon, remains to be seen.
Looking at the team competition, it looks like an open playing field with many of the usual powerhouses down on their luck. Defending champion Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo seems to be in a rebuilding period, with nobody to step up to replace the declining Shibui as the team leader. 2008 winner Team Toyota Jidoshoki benefits from the addition of rookie Kazue Kojima, the dominant university runner of the last four years, but its other strong members have not had a great year. Team Daiichi Seimei has a solid lineup, but if Ozaki is indeed injured then its chances are significantly weakened. 2009 runner-up Team Tenmaya is in a virtually identical position with ace Yurika Nakamura running sub-par most of this year.
Team Wacoal, led by Fukushi, may be one of the best bets for a consistent performance, but Team Daihatsu, which defeated Wacoal to win October's West Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden qualifier, should have something to say. Team Panasonic and Team Universal Entertainment, which were a close 2-3 behind Daiichi Seimei at the East Japan qualifier, may have breakthrough performances. If Noguchi runs, and runs well, Team Sysmex should be in contention for a top five spot after finishing 3rd in West Japan.
The 2010 National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships will be broadcast live nationwide on TBS beginning at 11:50 a.m. on Dec. 19. Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free using Keyhole TV. Click here for more information.
For complete entry lists, click here. For maps and a video guide to the six-stage, 42.195 km course, click here.
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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