Skip to main content

Universal Entertainment Claims First-Ever National Title

by Brett Larner

In its second year on a new course in Sendai, the National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships were again dominated by a team that led wire-to-wire.  #1-seeded Universal Entertainment of the East Japan region fought off a stomach virus that swept through the team last week and headwinds at times upwards of 50 kph to lead the entire race, winning just off last year's course record in 2:17:35 as three of its six members set new individual stage records.  Central Japan's Denso took an expected 2nd place after a sensational stage record run by anchor Mai Ishibashi, while defending champion Daiichi Seimei overcame the absence of 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon silver medalist Yoshimi Ozaki to run down West Japan champ Wacoal for 3rd on the last lap of the track.  Despite the headwinds on the point-to-point course, five of the six stages saw new records, most with multiple women cracking last year's times.

Universal's Rui Aoyama led things off on the hilly 7.0 km First Stage, outgunning last year's stage runner-up Yurie Doi (Team Starts) to break Ozaki's course record in 22:12.  Doi was also under Ozaki's record, with Ozaki's junior teammate and 2012 National Corporate Half Marathon champion Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) 3rd just off the record in 22:21.  Many of the other favorites including Denso, Wacoal and Daihatsu got off to slow starts far back in the pack.  Aoyama handed off to virtual unknown Moeno Nakamura for the 3.9 km Second Stage, and Nakamura did an outstanding job of strengthening Universal's position.  Running a stage record 12:04 she widened the lead from 4 to 11 seconds heading into the biggest and baddest stage of the day, the 10.9 km Third Stage.

The 10.9 km Third Stage featured most of the best runners of the day, including 5000 m national champion Hitomi Niiya (Team Univ. Ent.), 10000 m national champion Mika Yoshikawa (Team Panasonic), national record holders Yuriko Kobayashi (Team Toyota Jidoshokki), Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), 2011 World Championships marathoners Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) and Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku), and many more.  Niiya, who led most of the London Olympics 10000 m before finishing 9th in an all-time #3 Japanese 30:59.19, was again comfortable frontrunning, clocking a 2:55 first km into the wind and ultimately extending Universal's lead to 35 seconds.  Behind her, the best racing of the day went down.

The Toyota Jidoshokki team started just seconds ahead of Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo and Wacoal, a dream scenario which meant that, with every standard distance national record from 1500 m to half marathon and, at one point, the marathon, between them, Kobayashi, Shibui and Fukushi all went head to head.  Fukushi and Shibui were smiling as Fukushi cracked jokes while the two closed the gap to Kobayashi.  Running as a trio they picked off the competition one by one until Shibui began to lose touch.  Kobayashi was next, leaving Fukushi alone heading into the wind.  Catching Niiya was unthinkable, but Fukushi advanced as far as 2nd and easily took the stage best in a new course record of 35:04 despite running almost entirely into the wind.  She was nearly 30 seconds faster than Niiya, who also broke the record.  After finishing Fukushi was her usual self, saying, "Oh yeah, I beat 'em.  Would've been nice to get those last four seconds, though.  And Niiya."  Asked about the wind she joked about Shibui's weight gain: "Well it was windy, but if there was one person it didn't bother it was definitely Shibui."

On the 3.6 km Fourth Stage, the "International Stage" to which all the non-Japanese athletes are restricted to minimize television time and the advantage of teams that can afford them, Universal's Felista Wanjugu tied her own course record of 11:29 to double the team's lead.  Some short-lived turnover happened behind her as other Kenyan-wielding teams made up ground, but the 10.0 km Fifth Stage played a more important role.  Much of Universal's fate lay in the hands of Mizuho Nasukawa, who finished 2nd at the Yokohama International Women's Marathon four weeks ago and came down with the stomach virus that wracked the team only last week.  Missing several days of training, she was only able to run at 4:00/km after returning to practice.  Despite the setback she set out at a steady pace and ultimately managed to increase Universal's lead by three seconds with the third-fastest time on the stage.  Further back, London Olympics marathoners Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) and Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) went 1-2 on stage time, with marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) a minute slower and 12th on stage time in 34:22.

With a 94-second lead and 6.795 km to run Universal anchor Kaoru Nagao had a margin of error to work with, and as another Universal runner hit by stomach flu she needed it.  Slow and steady she went on toward the finish, never straining but never worried even as the competition came into sight behind her.  Running only 19th of 29 on time for the stage, she held on to give Universal the win by a margin of 52 seconds. Wacoal's Noriko Higuchi, declared winner of the 2011 Tokyo Marathon following the positive doping test of Russian runner Tatiana Aryasova, looked set to take the runner-up spot after dropping Toyota Jidoshokki's Sayuri Sento, but in a thrilling finish Denso's Mai Ishibashi, coming from seemingly nowhere, and Daiichi Seimei's Yuka Kakimi caught her on the last lap of the track, Ishibashi smoking a 20:48 stage record, the fastest by 26 seconds over Kakimi, to take 2nd.  Kakimi and Higuchi brought Daiichi Seimei and Wacoal home seconds later, with Sento and Toyota Jidoshokki nearly 10 seconds back to round out the top five.

Past national champion Tenmaya fell from 4th last year to 6th, while Otsuka Seiyaku and Shimamura had their best-ever placings, 7th and 8th.  Last year's 2nd and 3rd place teams Panasonic and Sekisui Kagaku limped into the top ten this year nearly three minutes behind Universal Entertainment.

One major road race remains for Japanese women this year, the Dec. 23 Sanyo Ladies Road Race half marathon and 10 km.  Top Nationals competitors including Akaba and Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) to line up.  In January comes the National Women's Ekiden, followed by the next big marathon on the Japanese calendar, the Osaka International Women's Marathon.  Look for Fukushi, scheduled to run last month's cancelled New York City Marathon, to take another stab at an Osaka that has thus far treated her harshly.  Noguchi and Shibui are reportedly planning to line up alongside her.

2012 National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships
Sendai, 12/16/12
6 stages, 42.195 km, 29 teams
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Universal Entertainment (East Japan) - 2:17:35
2. Denso (Central Japan) - 2:18:27
3. Daiichi Seimei (East Japan) - 2:18:29
4. Wacoal (West Japan) - 2:18:32
5. Toyota Jidoshokki (Central Japan) - 2:18:41
6. Tenmaya (West Japan) - 2:19:15
7. Otsuka Seiyaku (West Japan) - 2:20:05
8. Shimamura (East Japan) - 2:20:10
9. Panasonic (East Japan) - 2:20:27
10. Sekisui Kagaku (East Japan) - 2:20:30

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (7.0 km) - Rui Aoyama (Team Univ. Ent.) - 22:12 - CR
Second Stage (3.9 km) - Moeno Nakamura (Team Univ. Ent.) - 12:04 - CR
Third Stage (10.9 km) - Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 35:04 - CR
Fourth Stage (3.6 km) - Felista Wanjugu (Kenya/Team Univ. Ent.) - 11:29 - CR
Fifth Stage (10.0 km) - Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) - 33:23
Sixth Stage (6.795 km) - Mai Ishibashi (Team Denso) - 20:48 - CR

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Japan's London World Championships Marathon Squad Arrives Back Home

The six members of Japan's men's and women's marathon teams at the ongoing London World Championships returned to Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Aug. 9. Decked out in the official team suit, Japanese team captain and at 9th the top-placing Japanese marathoner in London Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) spoke to the media.

Having declared pre-race his intention to withdraw from consideration for future Japanese National Team positions, post-race Kawauchi showed no change in that intent. With regard to his future plans, his motivation as a competitor likewise remaining unchanged, Kawauchi indicated that he will run Decmeber's Fukuoka International Marathon,where his 3rd-place overall finish last year earned him his place in London. "In Fukuoka I want to break my PB and run 2:07," he said. "There are things I want to accomplish besides being on the National Team."

Kawauchi revealed that his next marathon will be September's Oslo Marathon, whe…

Silver and Bronze - Summary of Japanese Performances at 2017 London World Championships

Thanks to a last-minute rush Japan walked away from the London World Championships with a passable haul. The JAAF judges performance in terms of medals and top 8 finishes. Up to Saturday, only one Japanese athlete had met either, 18-year-old sprinter Abdul Hakim Sani Brown finishing 7th in the men's 200 m final as the first Japanese man to make a 200 m final at Worlds since 2003. Three other Japanese athletes had scored top 10 placings, Yuki Kawauchi and Kentaro Nakamoto in the men's marathon and Ayuko Suzuki in the women's 10000 m, but under the JAAF's criteria these were not viewed as success.


Saturday's men's 4x100 m final brought the first Japanese medal of the Championships, with Japan following up on its Rio Olympics silver with a bronze, its first-ever Worlds medal in the discipline. Sunday morning brought Japan's best-ever showing in the men's 50 km race walk, Rio bronze medalist Hirooki Arai moving up to silver, Kai Kobayashi taking bronze wit…

London World Championships - Day Nine Japanese Results

Following up on its silver medal at the Rio Olympics, the Japanese men's 4x100 m relay squad delivered the first Japanese medal of the London World Championships as it took bronze behind hosts Great Britain and U.S.A. Swapping in alternate Kenji Fujimitsu for ailing anchor Aska Cambridge in the final, the team featured only two starting members of the Rio lineup. Lead runner Shuhei Tada, a student at Kwansei Gakuin University who burst onto the scene in May, again proved himself the best new development in Japanese men's sprinting with a fast start. Rio members Shota Iizuka and Yoshihide Kiryu did their bits on second and third to keep Japan even with Jamaica in 3rd before Fujimitsu delivered the goods.

With bronze at the Beijing Olympics and silver in Rio last year it was Japan's first-ever World Championships men's 4x100 m relay medal. At age Fujimitsu may not make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but with Cambridge, 200 m finalist Abdul Hakim Sani Brown and Rio team …