Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. outruns defending champ Toyokawa H.S. for the 2012 National High School Girls Ekiden title. Click for video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK.
As expected, the 2012 National High School Girls Ekiden Championships came down to a showdown between #1-seeded defending champion Toyokawa H.S. and #2-ranked Ritsumeikan Uji H.S.
Toyokawa, with a lineup bolstered by transfers from the great Sendai Ikuei H.S., started the race in 5th, losing out in a brilliant late-stage surge by Saki Yoshimizu (Chikushi Joshi H.S.) on the first leg. Toyokawa did not advance to the lead until the 3.0 km Third Stage, where its Azusa Sumi ran a course-record 9:21 to put the team into first three seconds ahead of Ritsumeikan Uji and #5-ranked Osaka Kunei H.S. with 2010 national champion Kojokan H.S., and 7th-9th ranked teams Kamimura Gakuen H.S., Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S. and Suma Gakuen H.S. close behind. Fighting off Ritsumeikan's Mai Hirota after she made contact early, Toyokawa's fourth runner Hanami Sekine only managed to add one second to the team's lead by the stage's end, but both teams pulled away from all competition in preparation for an anchor-stage duel.
Ritsumeikan Uji anchor Nanami Aoki quickly made up the ground to Toyokawa anchor Yuka Hori, but Hori was persistent in not letting Aoki come even with her. Losing patience after several moves were countered, Aoki finally made a definite move and broke Aoki, opening what would end up a 24-second lead to give Ritsumeikan Uji its first national title since 2007. The school's time of 1:07:22 was the fifth-best in the event's history, the fastest since Ritsumeikan Uji's 2007 win, and along with Kojokan it became one of only two schools to beat Toyokawa in the last five years. Toyokawa's time of 1:07:46 would have been near the winning time most other years, but this year it was only part of an overall fast day.
2010 winner Kojokan, ranked #3 pre-race took 3rd in a solid 1:08:03, with the next five teams all joining it sub-1:09. 2006 national champion Suma Gakuen took 6th in 1:08:18, just holding off Aomori Yamada H.S. anchor Rosemary Wanjiru, who ran a stage best 15:30 for 5 km to put Aomori Yamada onto the eight-deep podium. As an indication of how good the top bracket of teams were, all of the top ten schools except Aomori Yamada and 10th-place Nagano Higashi H.S. had better five-woman 3000 m averages than the 2012 NCAA DI XC champion University of Oregon, by nearly 13 seconds in the case of top two Ritsumeikan Uji and Toyokawa. All told, sixteen teams broke the 70 minute mark, one of the deepest days in the 24-year history of the National High School Girls Ekiden.
2012 National High School Girls Ekiden Championships
47 teams, 5 stages, 21.0975 km
click here for complete results
Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.0 km) - Saki Yoshimizu (Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S.) - 19:39
Second Stage (4.0975 km) - Mizuki Matsuda (Osaka Kunei H.S.) - 13:00
Third Stage (3.0 km) - Azusa Sumi (Toyokawa H.S.) - 9:21 - CR
Fourth Stage (3.0 km) - Mika Kobayashi (Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 9:12
Fifth Stage (5.0 km) - Rosemary Wanjiru (Kenya/Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 15:30
1. Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. (Kyoto) - 1:07:22
2. Toyokawa H.S. (Aichi) - 1:07:46
3. Kojokan H.S. (Okayama) - 1:08:03
4. Chikushi Joshi Gakuen H.S. (Fukuoka) - 1:08:14
5. Osaka Kunei Joshi H.S. (Osaka) - 1:08:15
6. Suma Gakuen H.S. (Hyogo) - 1:08:18
7. Aomori Yamada H.S. (Aomori) - 1:08:21
8. Kamimura Gakuen H.S. (Kagoshima) - 1:08:23
9. Hakuho Joshi H.S. (Kanagawa) - 1:09:00
10. Nagano Higashi H.S. (Nagano) - 1:09:11
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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