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

by Brett Larner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternates' 5000 m
1. David McNeill (Australia) - 13:51.48
2. Rinas Akhmadeev (Russia) - 13:56.87
3. Amos Kiprono Kaptich (Kenya) - 13:59.08
4. Daniel Balchin (New Zealand) - 14:06.42
5. Pier-Olivier Laflamme (Canada) - 14:10.50

1. Rachel Cliff (Canada) - 15:58.73
2. Casey Wood (Australia) - 16:10.82
3. Elina Sujew (Germany) - 16:15.70
4. Sarah Pagano (U.S.A.) - 16:21.13
5. Floriane Chevalier-Garenne (France) - 16:25.70

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Brett Larner said…
Thanks to NZL team manager Craig Motley for the alternates' 5000 m results.

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