Skip to main content

Ekiden Weekend Roundup



Ekiden season is in full swing, and across the country it was another busy weekend. Although there were four major ekidens nationwide, the best action came as runners from high school to the pros tuned up for the string of national championship ekiden races stretching from the end of this month to mid-January. At Kanagawa's Nittai University Time Trials meet, two-time steeplechase junior world champion Jonathan Ndiku (Hitachi Butsuryu) pipped 5000 m junior world championships bronze medalist William Malel (Honda) at the line in the 10000 m A-heat, winning in 27:22.73 to Malel's 27:22.79. Four other Kenyans including Ndiku's junior teammate Richard Kimunyan broke 28 minutes as their coaches eye who to run at the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden.



Evans Yego of the tiny Sunbelx supermarket team won the more conservative 5000 m A-heat in 13:48.04, a race most notable for high schoolers Luka Musembi (Sendai Ikuei H.S.), Masato Suzuki (Suijo H.S.) and Reito Hanzawa (Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.) all breaking 14 minutes. Earlier the same day, Yego's teammate Ezekiel Cheboitibin won the nearby Setagaya 246 Half Marathon in 1:02:49 over a raft of second-tier Hakone Ekiden runners, setting up options for Sunbelx head coach Yukio Suzuki for the team's second-ever New Year Ekiden appearance.



Following some downtime after rocking an 8:54.88 in last month's National Sports Festival women's 3000 m, high schooler Shuri Ogasawara (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) got back into it with a 9:15.40 shakeout to win the Nittai women's 3000 m A-heat ahead of the upcoming regional and national high school ekiden championships. Helen Ekarare (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) took the 5000 m A-heat in a solid 15:14.79. To the south, former Nike Oregon Project runner Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu ran her best race since returning to Japan, winning the Kyoto Time Trials women's 3000 m in 9:16.83.



Many more top-level Japanese women ran in one of the two simultaneous women's ekidens that happened Sunday afternoon. In Fukushima, 2015 East Japan Women's Ekiden winner Chiba returned to the top, running most of the way side-by-side with last year's winner Nagano until a brilliant 9:14 for the 3 km Eighth Stage by junior high schooler Hinata Minami put Chiba ahead for good. Chiba anchor Natsuki Sekiya spread icing on the cake with the fastest time on her stage, winning it in 32:09 over the 32:36 by Nagano anchor Ai Hosoda to bring Chiba home in 2:18:37 for the nine-stage, 42.195 km race. Nagano was next in 2:19:21, with Ibaraki anchor Yukari Ishizawa outrunning 2:21:36 marathoner Yuka Ando by 4 seconds to take a surprise 3rd. Ando's London World Championships marathon teammate Mao Kiyota also ran for Shizuoka, leading off on the First Stage.



Further west in Fukui, National University Women's Ekiden 4th-placer Osaka Gakuin University surprised the field of top corporate, university and club teams with a win at the final edition of the Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden. With the Kyudenko corporate team a scratch Osaka Gakuin lit a slow burner, starting the race in 9th and moving up to the 3rd by the fifth of the 30 km race's six stages. Anchor Maho Shimizu ran the fastest time on the last stage, 26:05 for 6 km, to run down rival Fukuoka University and longtime leader Hitachi to win by almost 40 seconds in 1:39:15. Sadly, after a 33-year history the Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden is scheduled to wrap permanently after this year's race.



While the corporate men of East Japan were twiddling their knobs at Nittai and Setagaya 246, their counterparts in two other regions were duking it out to join them at the New Year Ekiden. At the Osaka-area Kansai Corporate Men's Ekiden, SGH Holdings Group, the only team in the region to include an African team member, led almost start-to-finish to win by more than two minutes. The only interruption came from the Yasuyuki Watanabe-coached Sumitomo Denko team, whose wunderkind rookie Hyuga Endo made his corporate ekiden debut in style, running the fastest time on the 10.87 km Third Stage, 31:06, to put Sumitomo Denko ahead briefly. Along with the two leaders, NTT Nishi Nihon and Otsuka Seiyaku both scored New Year Ekiden spots, a do-or-die outcome for many smaller teams.


At the Hiroshima-area Chugoku Corporate Men's Ekiden, last year's winner Mazda again beat past area powerhouse Chugoku Denryoku to take the top spot, winning by 24 seconds thanks in large part to official MVP Kenji Yamamoto, who set a new stage record of 56:37 for the 19.0 km Sixth Stage. The tiny Chudenko team scored the final New Year Ekiden ticket, putting an end to the JFE Steel team's 40-year+ string of New Year Ekiden appearances as they beat JFE by three minutes for 3rd. Former Sera H.S. ringer Charles Ndirangu was one of the few bright spots on the JFE team, running 19:59 for the 7.2 km Second Stage ahead of his marathon debut at the Fukuoka International Marathon in three weeks.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Kiplagat, Ichiyama, Tadese and Shitara Lead Marugame Half Elite Field

The Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon is always one of Japan's deepest races of the year on the men's side, its 2012 running setting a world record for the most men under 64 minutes in a single half marathon in history. On the women's side the field is always smaller but still home to the 1:07:26 Japanese national record set by Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) back in 2006.

Edna Kiplagat (Kenya), Sara Hall (U.S.A.) and Betsy Saina (Kenya) lead the women's international field, two-time defending champ Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain) giving Marugame a miss this year. Fresh off a 1:09:14 PB at last month's Sanyo Ladies Half, Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) leads a trio of Japanese women with recent sub-1:10 times, something that has become a puzzling rarity lately. Fukushi is also back, her recent best of 1:12:04 a long way from her best days.

Speaking of which, world record holder Zersenay Tadese (Eritrea) will be looking to break 60 minutes for the first time since 2015. His toughest…

Cheboitibin, Kiprono and Sonoda Top Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon Elite Entries

With just over two weeks to go the organizers of the Feb. 4 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon have released their elite field for this year's race. With its history as an elite men-only race Beppu-Oita's women's field is still tiny given its status as an IAAF silver label race, but this year promises a good race between two local 2:32 women, 2016 winner Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) and Yuka Takemoto (Canon AC Kyushu), that should see the 2:39:57 course record fall. Defending champ Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) also returns with a 2:38:43 PB from last fall that puts her range of the course record as well.

The men's race is heavier-duty, with a spot in the MGC Race Tokyo Olympic Trials available to the top Japanese man under 2:11:00 and to up to five others if they clear 2:10. Hayato Sonoda (Kurosaki Harima) and Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) are the only Japanese men in the field to have run those kinds of times in the last couple of years, and with support from 2:09~2:10 men

Tokyo Marathon to Move to March Date Beginning in 2019

At a press conference in Tokyo on Dec. 12, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation announced that beginning in 2019, the Tokyo Marathon will move from its current date on the last Sunday of February to the first Sunday of March. The next Imperial succession is set to take place in 2019, meaning that February 23 will become the Emperor's Birthday national holiday starting in 2020. The race date is being preemptively moved to avoid any potential overlap.

According to the Foundation, setting up and breaking down the facilities necessary to hold the Tokyo Marathon takes several days. With the finish area being positioned in front of the Imperial Palace there were concerns that problems would arise due to the large number of people who would gather in the area to celebrate the Emperor's birthday.

Translator's note: The Tokyo Marathon previously experimented with a March race date in 2009 but abandoned it to return to February the next year. Since 1994 the first Sunday of March has been t…