Sunday, November 30, 2008

Time Trials Japanese Style Pt. II: The National Long Distance Meet in Tokyo

by Brett Larner

Jonathan Ndiku, Kazuhiro Maeda and Martin Mukule battle in the Pro A heat.

With the ekiden season drawing to a close, jitsugyodan and university teams across Japan are in the process of finalizing their lineups for the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden and the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. Massive track time trials are common this time of year; last week JRN detailed the 199th Nittai University Time Trials meet. This week on Nov. 29 Team Konica Minolta hosted the National Long Distance Meet series of 10000 m time trials at Tokyo's National Stadium. Not a public meet in the usual sense of something publicized to attract fans, the National Long Distance Meet is in fact a day-long set of 19 heats of men's time trials, 13 for university students and 6 for jitsugyodan runners and a select few university aces, along with one 5000 m heat for university women. All 6 of the professional heats featured top Kenyans as pacemakers, most notably 2:06:16 marathoner Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult). Complete results for the professional heats are available here, with university results here.

Among the more interesting heats was Heat 14, the jitsugyodan men's A group. Start lists promised an all-star showdown, but despite the absence of former marathon national record holder Atsushi Fujita (Team Fujitsu), 10000 m high school Olympian Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) and International Chiba Ekiden national team members Yusei Nakao (Team Toyota Boshoku) and Naoki Okada (Team Chugoku Denryoku), the race featured a battle between sub-28 minute runners Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko), Yuki Sato (Tokai Univ.) and four Kenyans, Martin Mukule (Team Toyota), Charles Kamathi (Team Fujitsu), Martin Waweru (Team Fujitsu) and Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Cable). Pacemaker John Tsuo (Team Toyota) was assigned to run dead on 28:00 pace, but Ndiku and Mukule went out well ahead. Kamathi, Maeda, Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) and the remainder of the pack strung out in a line behind, running the target pace.

Sato, one of the two best university runners in Japan, has been injured much of the year and for the most part running poorly in his fall races. He started out conservatively and gradually moved up through the field. He looked to be on track for a solid comeback but after the halfway point dropped away from the leaders of the chase pack. Kamathi, not listed as a pacemaker, dropped out at 5000 m, leaving Maeda to follow Tsuo closer and closer to the two Kenyan leaders. In the end Ndiku broke away for a 28:08.28 win, just off the target pace. Maeda overtook Mukule in the final lap. Mukule attempted to outkick Maeda in the home stretch, but when he knew he could not retake 2nd the Kenyan abruptly stopped and walked off the track with 50 m to go. Maeda was 2nd in 28:20.73, while Iwai finished 3rd in 28:47.58. Sato was a distant 4th in a weak 29:03.54, almost overtaken by runners from the third pack. Sato's former co-leader at Tokai, the formidable Hideaki Date (Team Chugoku Denryoku), finished only 7th in 29:15.87. Ex-Juntendo University star Yuki Matsuoka (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) was last in 30:00.57.

Daniel Njenga acts as pacemaker for Takuya Nakayama, son of legendary marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama.

Heat 18, the jitsugyodan men's E group, included Matsuoka's identical twin brother Satoshi (also Team Otsuka Seiyaku) with pacemaking courtesy of marathon star Daniel Njenga (Team Yakult). Also in Heat 18 was Waseda University's Takuya Nakayama, one of its four star first-year recruits and son of the legendary Takeyuki Nakayama, a former national record holder at 10000 m and the marathon and a two-time Olympic marathon 4th place finisher. The elder Nakayama, who resides in southern Japan, surprisingly turned up to watch his son run. While Waseda's other first-years have turned in solid performances this season, Takuya has run poorly since joining Waseda. He surely felt pressure to perform with his father standing trackside watching him run, staying right behind Njenga from the start but unable to maintain the target pace. He faded from the lead after 4000 m, eventually ending up 11th in an unremarkable 30:03.21. Matsuoka was just behind, 13th in 30:08.16. Juntendo's Masaki Sekito won the heat, outkicking Njenga to finish in 29:17.55.

Toyo Univ.'s Tomoya Onishi runs a PB of 28:54.02 to win Heat 13.

Heat 13, one of the university rounds, was notable in that Toyo University's star Tomoya Onishi, fresh from a great performance with the Japanese University Select Team on the 5th stage of Monday's International Chiba Ekiden, continued his impressive season by leading from start to finish to run a PB of 28:54.02. Also of note in Heat 13 were Jobu University's Yusuke Hasegawa, 4th in 29:19.27, and Mao Fukuyama, 6th in 29:33.39. Jobu's team has only been in existence for 5 years. The team finished 3rd at October's Hakone Ekiden qualifier, making the elite race by having its ten scoring runners finish the 20 km race within 40 seconds of each other and another two runners just seconds behind. Hasegawa and Fukuyama's solid performances, not stellar in and of themselves, along with those of Jobu's runners in other heats confirm the overall uniform level of quality of their team, an asset which will go a long way in Hakone. Jobu's performance will be possibly the most interesting aspect of this year's Hakone Ekiden.

1991 World Championships marathon gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi and former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama watch the Pro F heat.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Megumi Seike Wins Shanghai Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex) won the half marathon competition at the Nov. 30 Shanghai International Marathon, running a PB of 1:10:15 to outclass her competitors. For Seike, a teammate of marathon great Mizuki Noguchi, it was the best result in a year which saw her make her overseas debut when she ran on the Japanese national team at March's World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland.

A longer article detailing the marathon results is available here.

Photo by Eugene Hoshiko. Click here for additional pictures of Seike in Shanghai.

Yoshida Leads Japanese Contingent With 4th Place Finish in Great Australian Run

by Brett Larner
photo of Kaori Yoshida in Albuquerque courtesy of John Schrup

In training for the Dec. 14 Honolulu Marathon, Kaori Yoshida (Second Wind AC) was the top-placing Japanese competitor at the Nov. 30 Great Australian Run in Melbourne, Australia, a new 15 km road event which attracted some of the top names in international distance running. Yoshida led a chase pack of four behind Olympic marathon silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya through 10 km in 34:26 before falling behind Kiwi Alica Mason and Australian Lisa Weightman. Ndereba took the win in 50:43, Yoshida clocking 51:44. Yoshida beat Olympic marathon gold medalist Constantina Dita of Romania by 48 seconds. Further back, Megumi Oshima (Team Shimamura) was 11th in 56:13.

In the men's competition, Team Honda fielded two runners, ace Seigo Ikegami and captain Suehiro Ishikawa. Ikegami spent most of the race in the third pack, while Ishikawa sat in the fourth pack. Marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia won in 42:40, with Ikegami 9th in 44:44 and Ishikawa 14th in 45:59.

Complete results for the Great Australian Run are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, November 28, 2008

Jobu University's Five-Year Road From Zero to Hakone Began With a Single Email Message

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

"I want to nurture athletes who can compete on the national level." --Jobu University Head Coach Katsuhiko Hanada
In qualifying for the ultimate stage in university distance running, the Hakone Ekiden, Jobu University's ekiden team, the first from Gunma Prefecture to make Hakone, has become an inspiration for high school and junior high school distance runners who hope to make it to the national level. This incredible achievement, coming less than five years since the team's establishment in 2004, is due to the leadership provided by head coach Katsuhiko Hanada (37) and to the dedication of Jobu's athletes. "I want to nurture athletes who can compete in the top class of national races," says Hanada. His team shares this dream.

"Would you coach us?"

In 2004, Daisuke Ono (24), the first captain of Jobu's ekiden team, send an email to Hanada, a message which was the beginning point for everything to come. Coach Hanada had been a member of Waseda University's Hakone Ekiden winning team during his student days, afterwards going on to the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics in the long-distance track events. He retired in 2004 and began looking for a way to become a coach. Around this time, he received a simple, honest, email message from Ono, saying, "I want to run the Hakone Ekiden. Would you coach us?"

Although Hanada initially said no, his mentor, legendary marathoner Toshihiko Seko, pushed him to accept, telling Hanada, "Nothing is impossible if your students want it, you are motivated, and there is support from the school." Hanada listened to Seko's advice and accepted the position at Jobu.

Initially Hanada had problems gathering enough good runners. "Even if runners didn't have great achievements at the national level in high school, if I felt that they had the right enthusiasm I took them on," he recalls. "By treating their first two years as a base-building period, we can nurture runners who will be very strong in their third and fourth years."

At the Oct. 18 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai [qualifying road race], Jobu finished 3rd, defeating two of the top teams in the country, Nittai University and 2007 Hakone winners Juntendo University. In their first Hakone Ekiden, Jobu's runners intend to run at or beyond their potential. Team captain Yoshiki Otsuka says, "Our main goal in Hakone is to make the seeded positions [top 10]. We want to show our gratitude to everyone who supported us in getting there."

Its first appearance in Hakone has not even happened yet, but the simple fact of its qualifying has made the school instantly famous throughout Japan. Coach Hanada says, "In the future we hope to be the place the best high school runners in the prefecture will come to move up in the distance running world." Some Jobu runners have already been hired by professional jitsugyodan teams. Senior Yuichi Goto secured a position with Team Komori Corp. in Ibaraki Prefecture, and fellow senior Takahiro Yanagi is going on to Team Sekino Kosan of Toyama Prefecture. Coach Hanada hopes, "These runners will go on from Jobu to the jitsugyodan world, then return to Gunma in the New Year Ekiden."

The 85th Hakone Ekiden takes place Jan. 2-3, starting in Tokyo's Otemachi district, travelling to Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, then returning to Otemachi. For the first time, Gunma's runners will share the Hakone Ekiden's legendary roads.

Translator's note: Jobu's qualification for Hakone and the incredible depth it showed at the Yosenkai, where its top ten runners finished the 20 km race within 40 seconds of each other with another two runners just seconds behind, are one of the most fascinating developments in recent Hakone Ekiden history. A finish within the top ten seeded positions would make the school worthy of portrayal in a classic American sports team movie.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Japanese Citizen Stephen Mayaka Dreams of Returning to Hakone Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Samuel Wanjiru (L) and Stephen Mayaka (R)

Stephen Mayaka, who came to Japan from Kenya in the 1990's and dominated the Hakone Ekiden while running for Yamanashi Gakuin University, is in pursuit of his 'second dream.' Having become a Japanese citizen three years ago and taken a Japanese name, Mayaka, 35, is now head coach of the track and field team at Sozo Gakuen University in Gunma Prefecture.

This year Sozo Gakuen's team ran October's Hakone Ekiden qualifying race for the first time, finishing 28th and missing Mayaka's mark of reaching the main Hakone race. Considering that less than two years ago there were only two runners on the team, however, Mayaka is not discouraged. "This year we have twenty athletes," he nods. "There is a lot to look forward to." Not least of which is undoubtedly the chance for him to resume his rivalry with his university-era foe Yasuyuki Watanabe, the star runner at Waseda University and now Waseda's head coach.

After graduating from Yamanashi Gakuin Mayaka became a jitsugyodan runner, first with Team Daiei and later with Team Hitachi Cable. As a pro Mayaka was a major force on the road race circuit, winning the Sapporo International Half Marathon three times among other achievements. He was shocked when his elder at Yamanashi Gakuin, Joseph Otwori, the first Kenyan university student runner in Japan, was killed in a car accident two years ago.

In the time since Otwori's era, Mayaka has become recognized as a leader among Kenyan runners based in Japan, busy day to day with helping his countrymen cope with life in their host country. "There are now more than 100 Kenyan runners in Japan. I want to be the bridge between the two countries," Mayaka says.

In his capacity as a leader among Kenyans, Mayaka travelled to the Beijing Olympics as part of the support staff for Kenya's first Olympic marathon gold medalist, Japan-based Samuel Wanjiru, and went back to Kenya with Wanjiru afterwards to attend the celebrations in Wanjiru's honor. "It was nice to be invited to the party given by Kenya's president, but even better was the one in Wanjiru's hometown. The whole stadium was completely filled. It was really incredible."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Gideon Ngatuny Sets 1:00:11 Course Record in Nagoya Half Marathon

translated and edited by Brett Larner
photo courtesy of Nissin Shokuhin

Kenyan Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) won the Nov. 24 Nagoya Half Marathon, setting a new course record of 1:00:11 for the 21.0975 km race beginning at Nagoya's Mizuho Park Track and Field Grounds. Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) was the top Japanese finisher, 3rd overall.

Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) won the women's race in 1:09:31, with her identical twin sister Takami (Team Toyota Shatai) finishing 2nd.

Translator's note: Nagoya was Gideon Ngatuny's half marathon debut. Satoru Kasuya is running his marathon debut at the Dec. 21 Hofu Yomiuri Marathon.

2008 Nagoya Half Marathon Top Finishers
1. Gideon Ngatuny (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:00:11 - new course record
2. Samuel Ndungu (Team Aichi Steel) - 1:01:17
3. Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) - 1:03:35
4. Noriko Kamijo (Team Aichi Steel) - 1:03:38
5. Shinji Suzuki (Team Aisan) - 1:03:42

1. Hiromi Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 1:09:31
2. Takami Ominami (Team Toyota Shatai) - 1:12:13
3. Kayo Sugihara (Team Denso) - 1:12:55

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ugachi Leads Komazawa to Fuchu Tamagawa Half Marathon Sweep

by Brett Larner

Komazawa University's Tsuyoshi Ugachi led the school's team to a near sweep of the 2008 Fuchu Tamagawa Half Marathon on Nov. 23, winning with a time of 1:04:08 and a margin of 50 seconds over teammate Yusuke Takabayashi. Running in perfect conditions, Komazawa runners, who typically dominate the race held near the university's training grounds, took the top 3 positions and 7 of the top 10 places. Kenyan Daniel Mwangi (Team JAL Ground Service) provided the only serious challenge to the national champion and defending Hakone Ekiden champion Komazawa runners, 4th in 1:06:02 after just outleaning Komazawa's Yukinori Ota and Toru Takahashi. Aoyama Gakuin University ekiden team members Soichiro Nishio and Keisuke Ichioka, preparing for their school's first Hakone appearance in 33 years, were 7th and 10th respectively. Nishio and Ichioka will next meet up with Ugachi and the rest of the Komazawa squad on Jan. 2 and 3 in the 2009 Hakone Ekiden.

2008 Fuchu Tamagawa Half Marathon Top Finishers
1. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:08
2. Yusuke Takabayashi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:58
3. Jun Watanabe (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:05:08
4. Daniel Mwangi (Team JAL Ground Service) - 1:06:02
5. Yukinori Ota (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:06:02
6. Toru Takahashi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:06:02
7. Soichiro Nishio (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:06:13
8. Akinori Iida (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:06:16
9. Kenji Sunahara (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:06:19
10. Keisuke Ichioka (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:07:05

Click here for complete results.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Julia Mumbi Repeats In Kobe Half; Noguchi Runs 10k

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Running in cool, rainy conditions on Nov. 24, Julia Mumbi of Team Aruze won the Kobe All-Japan Women's Half Marathon for the 2nd straight year, covering the course stretching from the HAT Kobe Center to Kobe Harborland in a time of 1:09:45. Team Toyota Jidoshoki's Akane Wakita was 12 seconds behind in 2nd place, with Team Kyocera's Maki Suzawa a distant 3rd in her half marathon debut. Right from the start it was a match race between Mumbi and Wakita, but when Mumbi attacked at 15 km she was easily able to pull away for the win.

Somewhat overshadowing Mumbi's victory was the surprise appearance of Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) as a guest runner in the 10 km race, her first public run since withdrawing from the Beijing Olympics marathon with an injury. Noguchi was scheduled to appear at the Kobe Women's Half Marathon as a guest award presenter, but the night before she told race organizers that she felt like running too. She ran the race amid the amateurs in the field, finishing the 10 km course in a time of 46 minutes.

Noguchi afterward reported that the run had felt very good. She said that she is still only doing light jogging but that her condition has improved to the point where she is doing rehabilitation exercise to prepare her body to resume normal marathon training. The 2004 Olympic champion added that she is eager to race again and that as the first step in her comeback on the way to London, running Kobe had given her important encouragement.

Translator's note: Both Team Aruze and Team Toyota Jidoshoki are coached by Yoshio Koide, coach of 2000 Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist and former marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi.

2008 Kobe All-Japan Women's Half Marathon Top Finishers
1. Julia Mumbi (Team Aruze) - 1:09:45
2. Akane Wakita (Team Toyota Jidoshoki) - 1:09:57
3. Maki Suzawa (Team Kyocera) - 1:12:29
4. Mari Ozaki (Team Noritz) - 1:12:42
5. Mai Kizaki (Team Kyocera) - 1:12:58
6. Akemi Ozaki (Second Wind AC) - 1:13:39
7. Yumiko Hara (Team Kyocera) - 1:13:45
8. Minori Hayakari (Kyoto Koka AC) - 1:14:19
9. Satoko Uetani (Kyoto Gakuin Graduate School) - 1:14:23
10. Mika Hikita (Team Aruze) - 1:14:57

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ueno and Kinoshita Win Ohtawara 10 km Road Race

by Brett Larner

Former Chuo University standout Yuichiro Ueno, an Olympic-class runner who joined Team S&B in April after his graduation and promptly disappeared with injuries, marked his true professional debut with a 29:13 victory in perfect conditions at the Nov. 23 Ohtawara 10 km road race in Tochigi Prefecture. Ueno had a wide margin of victory over Norihito Watanabe (Team Yanagawa Seiki), 2nd in 30:22, and, in a rare road appearance, 1000 m, 1500 m and 2000 m national record holder Fumikazu Kobayashi (Team NTN) who finished 3rd in 31:07.

In the women's race Yumiko Kinoshita (Second Wind AC), teammate of last week's Tokyo International Women's Marathon runner-up Yuri Kano, outclassed the rest of the field, running 34:50 to finish over 2 1/2 minutes ahead of two-time Mt. Fuji Mountain Race winner Yuri Kanbara (Namban Rengo AC), who clocked 37:31.

The Ohtawara 10 km is held every Nov. 23 in conjunction with the amateur-level Ohtawara Marathon. Complete results are available in Japanese here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Teenaged Ethiopian Squad Breaks International Chiba Ekiden Course Record

by Brett Larner

An Ethiopian team comprised mostly of teenagers outside their home country for the first time defeated defending champion Japan to win the 2008 International Chiba Ekiden in the event's second year featuring mixed-gender teams. The Ethiopian team covered the six stage, 42.195 km course in a record time of 2:05:27, taking four of the six stage best titles and setting two individual stage records. Japan was 2nd in 2:06:39.

Just past 1 km into the 1st stage.

Forecast rain began just moments before the start of the ekiden, with conditions deteriorating to a steady downpour and gusting wind by race's end. Ethiopia's Ali Abdosh ran 13:34 to open a 7-second gap on Japan's Yusei Nakao over the 5 km 1st stage, but Japanese women's 1500 m record holder Yuriko Kobayashi, running the last race of her teens, made up the difference on the 5 km 2nd stage, finishing 2 seconds ahead of Ethiopia's Sule Utura and clocking 15:08 to break 5000 m national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's stage record.

Japan's Naoki Okamoto and Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel lead the 3rd stage after 1 km.

Japan's Naoki Okamoto ran together with Ethiopia's Dejen Gebremeskel for the first half of the 10 km 3rd stage but was unable to maintain the pace, finishing 23 seconds behind Gebremeskel's stage record 28:20, a fitting gift to himself on his 19th birthday.

Ethiopia's Belaynesh Fikadu leads the 4th Stage. Click here to see Japan's Yuko Shimizu, the 3rd place pack, and Sweden's Ulrika Johansson running against Brazil's Michele Chagas.

From there to the finish it was Ethiopia's race as the gap widened over each of the remaining three stages. 4th stage runner Belaynesh Fikadu made the biggest contribution to the team's ultimate 1:12 margin of victory, opening 38 seconds on Japan over 5 km to set another stage record of 15:34.

Ethiopia's Hunegnaw Mesfin leads the 5th stage. Click here to see Japan's Takayuki Matsumiya, the 3rd place pack, Canada's Eric Gillis, Sweden, China and Brazil, and Romania's Cristinel Irinia.

Japan's 5th and 6th stage runners Takayuki Matsumiya and Mizuho Nasukawa ran almost even times with Ethiopia's final two runners Hunegnaw Mesfin and Tsega Gelaw but were unable to close the gap.

Takayuki Matsumiya hands off to Mizuho Nasukawa.

Further back, Australia and Great Britain dueled for 3rd place through the 5th stage, where they were overtaken by the Russian and Japanese University teams, which advanced in the later stages to finish 3rd and 4th after slow starts. The 10 km 5th stage featured an interesting duel between Russian Anatoly Rybakov, whose identical twin brother Evgeny ran the 3rd stage, and the Japanese University team's Tomoya Onishi, who runs for Toyo University together with his identical twin brother Kazuki. Anatoly proved the stronger, outrunning Onishi by 4 seconds, 28:59 to 29:03. Curiously, Onishi's time tied that of the Japanese team's Takayuki Matsumiya, who runs for the professional Team Konica Minolta with his identical twin brother Yuko.

Australia finished 5th, with the British team overtaken on the anchor stage by the host Chiba Prefectural team, which moved up from 10th to 6th thanks to stage 2nd-best performances by 2007 Tokyo Marathon winner Hitomi Niiya on the 4th stage and anchor Aya Nagata. Great Britain finished 7th.

The U.S. team peaked at 5th with Edward Moran's strong showing on the 1st stage, meandering between 6th and 7th place until 2004 Athens Olympian Dan Browne's disastrous run on the 5th stage. Browne covered the 10 km in 31:10, the slowest time of any of the thirteen teams in competition. American anchor Tera Moody recovered one position by overtaking Canada's Lisa Harvey. Harvey made a brave charge on the track at stage's end, moving up to Moody's shoulder on the final corner but unable to outkick the American. Moody brought the U.S.A. home in 8th, Canada 2 seconds behind in 9th.

China rounded out the top 10, with Sweden in 11th and Brazil in 12th. 2008 Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Tomescu had the dubious distinction of being the final runner to finish, running the 10th fastest time on the anchor stage to bring Romania to the goal in 13th place.

Complete results for the 2008 International Chiba Ekiden with stage-by-stage breakdown are available in English and Japanese here.

2008 International Chiba Ekiden
Team Results - click team to see finish video
1. Ethiopia - 2:05:27 - new course record
2. Japan - 2:06:39
3. Russia - 2:08:04
4. Japanese University Select Team - 2:08:47
5. Australia - 2:09:36
6. Chiba Prefecture - 2:10:00
7. Great Britain - 2:10:12
8. U.S.A. - 2:11:54
9. Canada - 2:11:56
10. China - 2:12:11
11. Sweden - 2:12:16
12. Brazil - 2:14:15
13. Romania - 2:15:37

Stage Best Performances
1st stage (5 km) - Ali Abdosh (Ethiopia): 13:34
2nd stage (5 km) - Yuriko Kobayashi (Japan): 15:08 - new stage record
3rd stage (10 km) - Dejen Gebremeskel (Ethiopia): 28:20 - new stage record
4th stage (5 km) - Belaynesh Fikadu (Ethiopia): 15:34 - new stage record
5th stage (10 km) - Hunegnaw Mesfin (Ethiopia): 28:54
6th stage (7.195 km) - Maria Konovalova (Russia): 23:31

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Time Trials Japanese Style: The 199th Nittai University Kirokukai

by Brett Larner

Several universities around Tokyo hold monthly open time trials. Anyone from beginner joggers to Olympians is free to run distances from 1500 m to 10000 m in heats seeded by personal best time. The Nihon Taiku University* Kirokukai series of time trials is perhaps the most popular. The November 22nd edition, the 199th in Nittai's series, focused on the 5000 m, with 26 heats of 5000 m and 4 heats of women's 3000 m stretched out over 12 hours from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. 30 to 45 runners ran in each heat, some of which included designated pacemakers. Heats early in the day were slower and featured mostly amateurs, while the later heats were filled with high school, university and jitsugyodan professionals tuning up for their championship ekidens.

Among the noteworthy runners on hand was Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), a 2:08:40 marathoner who was the alternate for the Beijing Olympics men's marathon team. Fujiwara is competing in the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 7 in an attempt to make the Japanese men's marathon team for the 2009 Berlin World Championships. He ran the Nittai Kirokukai as a tuneup for Fukuoka, running 14:34.73 in Heat 27 at 7:30 p.m., then returning 5 minutes later to run 14:28.75 in Heat 28 at 7:50 p.m. Fujiwara looked loose and relaxed, practicing a long push finish in both heats. His lack of a last kick suggested he has been running high mileage in the leadup to Fukuoka.

Other interesting heats included number 24, a women's 5000 m heat which saw Team Uniqlo's Kenyan Danielle Filomena Cheyech battle Team Hitachi's new 18 year old Kenyan Doricah Obare. Obare won in a PB of 15:21.08 despite fading in the final kilometers. Cheyech, who has been in poor form during the fall after a superb spring season, dropped to 5th, clipped at the line by Ritsumeikan University's outstanding first year Michi Numata.

Sendai Ikuei, Japan's top running high school and alma mater of Kenyan greats Samuel Wanjiru and Daniel Njenga, dominated Heat 29, with Wataru Ueno and Kenyan Steven Karuno frontrunning a field made up almost entirely of professionals. Surprisingly Karuno faded, while Ueno held off several challenges in the last lap to with with an impressive sprint finish in 14:13.34.

Sendai Ikuei rival Aomori Yamada High School fielded its Kenyan Michael Getange against the fastest field of the day in Heat 30. Getange ran 14:04.36 to easily win over the likes Tomohiko Sumi (Team Toyota Boshoku), a recent jitsugyodan recruit after a career as a top member of Nittai University's Hakone Ekiden team.

The 200th Nittai Kirokukai takes place in December.

*Abbreviated to 'Nittai.'

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nara Plans New Marathon As Part of 1300th Anniversary Celebrations

translated by Brett Larner

The Nara Prefectural Track and Field Association held a press conference Nov. 13 at the head offices of the Nara Newspapers Group to announce that, with the support of Rikuren director Yohei Kono, it will stage a new marathon beginning in 2010 as part of the celebrations for the 1300th anniversary of Nara's status as the ancient capital of Japan.

The Nara Marathon aims both to generate increased involvement in sports within Nara Prefecture and to attract the interest of those outside the prefecture in Nara's 1300 years of history. Nara T&F director Masahiro Morioka said that a race committee was in the process of being assembled and that it would hold its first meeting by the end of the year with the purpose of making preliminary decisions on the course and other basic organizational elements.

Sawaki to Head New 'Long Distance and Road Racing' Rikuren Division

published in the Nikkei Newspaper, 11/20/08

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Rikuren [JAAF] announced today that it has created a new 'Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee' to separate oversight of Japanese long distance and marathon runners from other track and field events in an effort to strengthen Japanese distance running. The new division is to be headed by Rikuren executive board member Keisuke Sawaki. The committee responsible for sprints and field events will be headed by current Rikuren track and field director Susumu Takano.

The final decision on creating the new division was made by Rikuren executive director Yohei Kono. "It was extremely embarrassing to see the result of the Beijing Olympic marathons," commented Kono. "Considering the size of our organization some might think setting up this new committee might be outrageous and too specific to one event, but our feeling is that this is necessary to deal with the current crisis."

In March, 2007, Sawaki was promoted from Track and Field director to Rikuren's executive board. Takano was brought in as Sawaki's replacement, but since then Japan performed poorly in both the World Championships and Olympics. Rikuren was asked to review its system. Takano, a former 100 m Olympic sprinter, commented, "If they want quick results, not something which is going to bear fruit five or ten years from now, then they should let me focus on my field of expertise." Kono commented, "To rebuild Japan's marathoning organization, Sawaki, a specialist in distance running, will be directly in charge."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Biwako Mainichi Marathon's Future in Doubt After Loss of Main Sponsor Rohm

translated by Brett Larner

Kyoto-based electronics company Rohm announced on Nov. 12 that it will end its long-standing sponsorship of the elite Biwako Mainichi Marathon after next March's edition of the race. The Shiga Prefecture Track and Field Association, which administers the marathon, issued a statement saying, "We want this event to continue and are looking for a new sponsor," but the shock of losing the source of half its funding has race organizers reeling.

The operating costs for the Biwako Mainichi Marathon stand at approximately $1,840,000 per year, of which about $920,000 comes from Rohm's financial support. The remainder is funded by the Shiga prefectural government, the Otsu municipal government, and other sources. In making the announcement of Rohm's withdrawal from sponsorship next year, the Shiga Prefectural Track and Field Association went on to further say, "The withdrawal of half of our financial support makes the future truly unstable, but this is a race with a great history and so we will do everything we can to find a sponsor who will help us to keep the 'Biwako Mainichi' name alive."

The Biwako Mainichi Marathon is overseen by Rikuren and the Mainichi Newspapers group. Founded in 1946, it is one of the most historic and important marathons in Japan and is used as a selection race for Olympic and World Championships teams. At this year's 63rd running in March, 3rd place finisher Satoshi Osaki (Team NTT Nishi Nihon) was selected for the Beijing Olympics men's marathon team.

Megumi Seike to Headline Shanghai Marathon's Half Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

Japanese runner Megumi Seike (Team Sysmex) is scheduled to compete in the half marathon event at the 2008 Shanghai Marathon, one of China's four large international marathons. A teammate of Mizuki Noguchi, Seike is a notable young runner, one of eleven female runners supported by the Sysmex company. Team Sysmex head coach Nobuyuki Fujita will accompany Seike to Shanghai to observe her performance.

A number of athletes who ran in the Beijing Olympics men's and women's marathons will compete in the full marathon event. The women's field includes 7th place finisher Irina Timofeeva of Russia and 11th place finisher Zivile Balciunaite of Lithuania. The men's field includes 7th place finisher Gashaw Asfaw of Ethiopia and 60th place finisher Lee Troop of Australia. Also in the men's field is Kenyan Joshua Chelanga, who was ranked 30th in the world in 2007.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Q-Chan 'Feels Strange' After Appearing at Arts Event

translated by Brett Larner

After retiring from professional running in October, 2000 Sydney Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi appeared at a Nov. 17 event in Tokyo to promote the release of the 'Chronicles of the Narnia Pt. II: The Tale of Prince Caspian' DVD. The previous day Takahashi made her debut as a television announcer at the Tokyo International Women's Marathon; her appearance at the Narnia promotion marked her first turn as a celebrity personality at an 'arts event.' "It's strange to see myself being discussed on the celebrity gossip shows," Takahashi commented. She views her new career as a fresh start, saying, "Outside of running, I'm a rookie at everything. I want to find something that only I can do."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Japan Running News has hit 500 posts. I started this blog just over a year ago and hope that it is achieving its goal of making some of the incredible running that happens here more visible to the rest of the world. I want to thank everyone who has helped me, the athletes, coaches and agents I've met through this work, and all the readers who have taken the time to contact me or leave comments.

In the next year I hope to expand JRN's scale to include more premium content and to work toward realizing some of the opportunities which came up this year both for Japanese runners to run overseas and for foreign runners to race here. I will also be moving toward increased legibility in format for those who do not like contrast. Thanks again.

Brett Larner

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Felix Limo, Tsegaye Kebede and Tsuyoshi Ogata Headline 2008 Fukuoka International Marathon - updated

by Brett Larner

The Fukuoka International Marathon announced on Nov. 18 the elite field for this year's race, scheduled for Dec. 7. The first of the four domestic selection races for the 2009 Berlin World Championships men's marathon team, the domestic field features 2005 World Championships bronze medalist and 2008 Beijing Olympics marathoner Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku), 2004 Athens Olympics marathon 5th place finisher Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku), and 2008 Tokyo Marathon runner up and Beijing Olympic team alternate Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon), along with a variety of other sub-2:10 countrymen.

The competitive foreign field stars Beijing Olympics bronze medalist Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia), London, Chicago and Rotterdam winner Felix Limo (Kenya), and two-time Olympic 4th-place finisher Jon Brown (Canada). Kebede and Limo's appearances continue Fukuoka's re-emergence as a world-class race, the 2006, 2007 and 2008 races having featured the top four finishers from the Beijing Olympics, gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (1st, 2007), silver medalist Jaouad Gharib (3rd, 2006), bronze medalist Kebede (to run 2008), and 4th place finisher Deriba Merga (2nd, 2007), along with two-time world record holder Haile Gebrselassie (1st, 2006) and previous world record holder Paul Tergat (withdrew at last moment, 2007).

As a World Championships selection race, the domestic Japanese component of Fukuoka promises to be extremely competitive. Of particular interest will be the performances of Ogata and Fujiwara. Ogata, an aging veteran nearing the end of his career, ran a thoroughly mediocre race in Beijing, afterwards promising that his next marathon would be fast from the start, a suicidal crash and burn speed race. It has been years since Ogata ran his best times and it is unlikely he could really follow through on his post-Olympic words, but the prospect of seeing such an established figure run a risky, dangerous race is exciting. Fujiwara had a stunning breakthrough in Tokyo this past February, running a memorable 2:08:40 performance but missing the Olympic team. He ran Chicago in October in an attempt to make a big international debut but shuffled in to a 2:26 finish. It's a surprise to see him turn around quickly and attempt Fukuoka, but the sting to his pride is no doubt still fresh and he will be one of the most aggressive runners in the field.

The Fukuoka International Marathon takes place Sunday, Dec. 7 at 12:10 p.m. The race will be broadcast nationwide on TV Asahi beginning at 12:00 noon. A complete listing of this year's field is available here.

2008 Fukuoka International Marathon
Elite Field
Felix Limo (Kenya) - 2:06:14 (2004)
Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) - 2:06:40 (2008)
Shigeru Aburaya (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:07:52 (2001)
Jose Manuel Martinez (Spain) - 2:08:09 (2003)
Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 2:08:37 (2003)
Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:40 (2008)
David Makori (Kenya) - 2:08:49 (2002)
Aleksey Sokolov (Russia) - 2:09:07 (2007)
Yuko Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:18 (2005)
Jon Brown (Canada) - 2:09:31 (2005)
Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo) - 2:09:40 (2008)
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (2004)
Yuriy Hychun (Ukraine) - 2:10:59 (2008)
Seiji Kobayashi (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) - 2:11:02 (2008)
Dan Robinson (U.K.) - 2:13:10 (2008)
Daniel Mwangi (Kenya) - 2:14:28 (2008)
Martin Dent (Australia) - 2:15:12 (2004)
Mark Tucker (Australia) - 2:17:45 (2008)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, November 17, 2008

Deeper and Deeper Goes The Greatest Half Marathon in the World - Ageo 2008

by Brett Larner
photos courtesy of TecNet

Everyone not wearing a hat will run under 70 minutes.

The Ageo City Half Marathon is the best-kept secret in Japanese distance running. On the surface it is nothing more than a local race in a small town, just one of a half dozen half marathons to choose from near Tokyo on the same day. Like most others it has scoring categories for age groups, gender, Rikuren-registered runners, and a category for university student runners. What sets Ageo apart is that the students come. All of them.

Ageo is six weeks before the Hakone Ekiden, a championship event for universities in eastern Japan's Kanto region and the country's most popular and prestigious race. After a grueling ekiden season university coaches know who their star runners are. These athletes' places on their schools' 10-member Hakone teams are secure, but the second-tier runners must still demonstrate that they are worthier of being in Hakone than teammates who may have peaked earlier in the season. Located deep in the heart of Kanto, Ageo and its secret half marathon provide coaches already holding a handful of diamonds with the ideal setting in which to pan through their rosters in search of gold. The result is the most competitive half marathon in the world.

Yuichi Tokuchi of Chuo Univ. wins the 2008 Ageo City Half Marathon.

The conditions at this year's race on Nov. 16 were cool and misty, with light rain until just minutes before the start of the race. Chuo University's Yuichi Tokuchi led from start to finish, running alone to win in a PB of 1:02:50. 2nd placer Yuichi Suematsu of Komazawa University and 3rd placer Yuki Kawauchi of Gakushuin University both clocked 1:03:22. Relatively pedestrian times, especially in Ageo where winning times in recent years have typically been in the 61-minute range, but digging deeper you find something else entirely.

10th place: 1:03:53
25th place: 1:04:20
50th place: 1:04:45
100th place: 1:05:28
200th place: 1:06:43
300th place: 1:08:09
400th place: 1:09:48
500th place: 1:12:59

408 runners under 70 minutes, even without the usual presence of the professional Team Honda's B-squad. This year the women's race, ordinarily at the most amateur of levels, was also competitive, with Juntendo University's Eriko Noguchi winning in 1:12:44 and Yuki Takeshima of Kokushikan University coming 2nd in 1:13:56. Two other women finished under 1:17.

Anyone can enter Ageo. If you have run it and are fast enough to be with or near the university runners it is hard to describe. It's the Wild West. It's Pamplona. Go out hard and you're with the bulls. Start more conservatively and you will be disoriented the entire time, passing dozens of students at a time who, being young student guys, went out too hard and have faded. Results are enigmatic, unpredictable, even laughable. Last year I ran with a cold and finished 501st in 1:14:58. This year, still recovering from injury, I ran 1:13:17 and finished 509th. For any coaches or athletes out there with times under 70 or even 75 minutes, travelling internationally for a half marathon may be a tall order, but if you are ever going to do it this is the race to run. There is nothing else like it, anywhere. Feel free to contact me for any assistance.

Complete results are available here. Select the second option from the pull-down menu and enter the number of results you would like to see. My report on the 2007 Ageo City Half Marathon is available here.

Update: TecNet added net times to the results. 4 more guys made it under 1:10 on net time, for a grand total of 412.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yoshimi Ozaki Wins Final Tokyo International Women's Marathon in 2:23:30

by Brett Larner

photo by Shoji Shimomitsu

Little-known Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) ran a race of genius in only her 2nd marathon, coming up from 4th place to overtake favorites Mara Yamauchi (U.K.), Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) for a 2:23:30 victory in the 30th and final edition of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. Ozaki missed being selected for the Beijing Olympics after running 2:26:19 to finish 2nd in her debut, March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, but her Tokyo victory gives her the honor of being the 1st woman to secure a spot on the Japanese women's team for the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon and her time puts her into the all-time Japanese women's top 10.

photo by Kazuo Chiba

In their own ways, all of the top 4 women ran brilliant races, aided by overnight and early morning rain which brought misty conditions on race morning with average temperatures of 15 degrees and almost no wind. Yoko Shibui was an image of soaring inspiration. With her sub-2:20 marathon PB making her without question the best runner in the field she could easily have run conservatively and edged out her rivals. Instead, she did what she does best, going out hard and trying for something epic. Shibui took the lead pack out in a first kilometer of 3:18 with no pacemakers to get in the way. Almost immediately there were only 3 people with her, Kano, Ozaki and Kenyan Magdaline Chemjor. The 4 went through 5 km in 16:22, on pace for a low 2:18 finish. Yamauchi and Kenyan Salina Kosgei trailed, running low 2:24 pace. Kano and Ozaki quickly let go, with Chemjor, a former race walker with only 2 marathons and a PB of 2:28:16 to her name, keeping up the pressure.

Shibui and Chemjor went through 10 km in 32:54 with Kano and Ozaki 12 seconds behind. Chemjor, obviously dreaming, kept it up for another 2 km but then burst, sinking through the field to finish among the talented amateurs in the mid 2:40's. From then on it was a race of individuals. Shibui blazed on alone. Ozaki dropped Kano, while Yamauchi and Kosgei maintained low 2:24 pace. Kano regained contact with Ozaki after 2 km, running comfortably and beautifully at PB pace. Kano and Ozaki overtook Chemjor. Shibui hit 15 km in 49:39. With each 5 km she was slowing ever so slightly, but it was clear she wasn't just going for a win and a ticket to the World Championships, or for Mizuki Noguchi's year-old course record of 2:21:37. She wanted the first sub-2:20 on Japanese soil, a mark which would make her the 3rd woman to clock 2 sub-2:20 marathons.

Kano dropped Ozaki just before the 18 km mark to move into 2nd. A kilometer later Yamauchi, having opened a small gap on Kosgei, passed Chemjor. Shibui hit 20 km in 1:06:26, seconds off sub-2:20 pace, with Kano just over 30 seconds behind. Halfway came for the leader in 1:10:06, a sub-2:20 looking more and more unlikely but still far ahead of Noguchi's course record. Shibui reached 25 km in 1:23:14, her pace slipping the tiniest bit by bit. Further back, Yamauchi caught Ozaki at 24.5 km, opening a small gap to put Ozaki into 4th place.

Shibui clocked 1:40:21 for 30 km, her first 5 km split over 17:00 but still on track for a course record. Kano was 54 seconds behind, with Yamauchi another 30 seconds behind and Ozaki just trailing. Just past 33 km things began to change. Ozaki began to accelerate, pulling away from Yamauchi. Shibui continued to slow and now lost ground to Kano, who looked as strong and poised as ever. Shibui came to 35 km in 1:58:06, a 17:45 5 km split. It looked certain that Kano would overtake her for the lead on the Tokyo course's famous uphill between 35 and 40 km.

Just past 36 km one of the race commentators made the startling announcement that although Kano looked fine and was advancing on Shibui, Ozaki was now only 20 seconds behind. A classic finish was in the making. At 37 km Shibui hit the base of the 30 m elevation gain hill. Kano was only 30 seconds away. The camera cut back to show Kano, and Ozaki was right there, just seconds behind her. At 37.8 km Ozaki went by Kano with ease. Shibui was just ahead. Ozaki surged, absolutely flying by Shibui at 38.4 km. The rest was history, as Ozaki sailed on to an incredible victory.

Kano came for Shibui at 38.9 km, Yamauchi following suit at 40.9 km.

Ozaki, Kano and Yamauchi all ran PBs, Kano finishing just behind Ozaki for the 2nd time and Yamauchi just missing her goal of a sub-2:25 but, like Ozaki and Kano, deserving praise for a run of outstanding discipline and strategy. Shibui stumbled in for a 2:25:51 finish, but my hat is off to her for not following the safe course and instead trying to make the final Tokyo International Women's Marathon something truly spectacular and immortal.

In 2009 a new elite women's marathon will begin in Yokohama to take the place of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon. The Tokyo Marathon will also introduce an elite women's component to its race complete with world-class prize money. The Osaka and Nagoya International Women's Marathons continue, but, inspired by the success of the Tokyo Marathon, Osaka is contemplating a mass participation marathon and has indicated that this will be at the expense of existing races. The question of whether Japan's small, elite-only women's marathons have a viable future alongside major marathons with enough money to attract true elite fields remains to be answered, but the Tokyo International Women's Marathon ended with a race to remember, one in which it was truly a shame that there could be only one victor.

2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon
Top Finishers - click name for finish video
1. Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:23:30 - PB
2. Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) - 2:24:27 - PB
3. Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) - 2:25:03 - PB
4. Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 2:25:51
5. Salina Kosgei (Kenya) - 2:30:34
6. Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - 2:30:42
7. Yukiko Matsubara (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:34:39
8. Ayumi Hayashi (Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:35:04
9. Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - 2:36:47
10. Chihiro Tanaka (Team Daitsu) - 2:37:03

Complete results are available here.

Yoshimi Ozaki's victory interview complete video including coach Sachiko Yamashita, and the award ceremony for the top finishers.

Other coverage of the 2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon:
Athletics-Leics * BBC * IAAF * The Telegraph * UK Athletics

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Daiichi Kogyo University Takes Western Japan Ekiden Championship

by Brett Larner

Buoyed by its finishes as the top-placing western Japan university at October's Izumo Ekiden and the National University Ekiden Championships earlier this month, #3-ranked Daiichi Kogyo University upset defending champion Ritsumeikan University at the Nov. 15 Biwako University Ekiden (alternate site here), western Japan's equivalent to eastern Japan's Hakone Ekiden. 22 teams competed in the 8-stage, 84.3 km championship. Ritsumeikan, which has not finished out of the top 2 since 2001, when it was 3rd, could never close the gap on Daiichi Kogyo's runners after trailing its rival by 6 seconds on the 11.1 km 1st stage.

Nara Sangyo University Tanzanian Jackson Kwarai scored the stage best of 33:07 on the opening leg, with Daiichi Kogyo's Shoto Atsuchi 3 seconds behind and Ritsumeikan's Takuya Kawakami another 6 seconds back. Despite running only 1 of its 2 Kenyans and missing ace Ryohei Nakano, Daiichi Kogyo took stage best titles on 4 of the remaining 7 stages including Ryo Taniguchi's new stage record of 32:40 on the 11.0 km 3rd stage, keeping them comfortably ahead of Ritsumeikan which picked up only 2 stage bests. Ritsumeikan's anchor Shogo Furubayashi took one of the 2 titles, outrunning Daiichi Kogyo anchor Akifumi Mantani by 26 seconds over 7.7 km but unable to singlehandedly bridge the 1:33 gap to the leader. Daiichi Kogyo won in a time of 4:12:47, with Ritsumeikan 2nd in 4:13:43. Last year's runner-up Kyoto Sangyo University was a distant 3rd in 4:18:25.

2008 Biwako University Ekiden
Stage Best Performances
1st stage (11.1 km): Jackson Kwarai (Nara Sangyo Univ.) - 33:07
2nd stage (7.3 km): Ryo Yamamoto (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 21:23
3rd stage (11.0 km): Ryo Taniguchi (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 32:40 - new stage record
4th stage (9.6 km): Junichi Nishimura (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 29:00
5th stage (8.8 km): Eiji Teramoto (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 27:13
6th stage (12.8 km): Seidai Shinohara (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 39:06
7th stage (15.1 km): Kibet Kipgenon (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 44:53
8th stage (7.7 km): Shogo Furubayashi (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 24:06

Top Team Performances
1. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. - 4:12:47
2. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 4:13:54
3. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 4:18:25
4. Osaka Taiku Univ. - 4:21:24
5. Kansai Univ. - 4:21:32
6. Nara Sangyo Univ. - 4:21:37
7. Aichi Kogyo Univ. - 4:22:02
8. Kansai Gakuin Univ. - 4:22:26
9. Osaka Keizai Univ. - 4:23:20
10. Osaka Kyoiku Univ. - 4:23:43

Complete results are available here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wanjiru Signs $3 Million Sponsorship Deal With Savas Sports Supplement Maker

translated by Brett Larner

Management for Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (22, Kenya) announced on Nov. 11 that Wanjiru has signed a sponsorship deal with Meiji Seika, makers of the sports supplement Savas. The two parties signed a contract extending from Nov. 1 through Nov. 2009 but have an agreement for the company's sponsorship to continue until 2018, a period covering the 2016 Olympics, with a total value of USD $3 million over this ten year span. The sponsorship deal frees Wanjiru to focus on his goals of a world record in the marathon and a second Olympic gold medal. In return Wanjiru will wear the Savas logo on his uniform, an arrangement similar to Savas' sponsorship of Japan's top soccer team, the J1 League Urawa Reds.

Wanjiru graduated from Miyagi Prefecture's Sendai Ikuei High School and joined Team Toyota Kyushu is 2005. Just before this summer's Beijing Olympics he resigned from the team, saying he wanted to focus on the marathon. Since the Olympics he has split his time between training in Fukuoka and in Kenya.

Translator's note: Wanjiru's sponsorship deal is almost unprecedented in Japan, particularly for men, and may well have an impact on the structure of the jitsugyodan team system. Savas also looks to be banking upon Tokyo winning its 2016 Olympics bid and upon Wanjiru winning gold on home soil.

The Final Tokyo International Women's Marathon - updated

by Brett Larner

The 30th and final edition of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon takes place this Sunday, Nov. 16, starting and finishing at Tokyo's National Stadium. TIWM was the world's first women-only elite marathon at the time of its inception in 1979, a time when Japan's male marathoners were among the most dominant in the world and there were no world-class Japanese women in the marathon scene. 30 years, two Olympic gold medals and a world record later, Japan's women are its most respected distance runners both domestically and worldwide. The list of TIWM winners contains many of the sport's great names, historical and modern. Joyce Smith, Katrin Doerre, Rosa Mota, Valentina Yegorova, Joyce Chepchumba, Derartu Tulu, Elfenesh Alemu, Naoko Takahashi, Reiko Tosa and Mizuki Noguchi all won. The birth of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007 brought the big city major marathon to Japan; with the addition of an elite women's field for the 2009 Tokyo Marathon, the Tokyo metropolitan government decided a separate women's race was no longer necessary and chose to bring an era to an end.

For the TIWM's final running, also doubling as a selection race for the 2009 Berlin World Championships women's marathon team, race organizers have assembled a small but competitive field. By far the biggest wildcard of the day is Yoko Shibui. At her best, Shibui is in a different class from her competitors in the TIWM, with achievements including the then-debut world record of 2:23:11 at Osaka in 2001 and the former Japanese national record of 2:19:41 at Berlin in 2004. Among TIWM entrants only Russian Svetlana Zakharova has run under 2:23, and that was in 2001.

The problem is that Shibui has a long history of performing badly in important races. After finishing 4th in the 2001 Edmonton World Championships marathon she failed to qualify for the marathon team in the 2004 Athens Olympics, 2005 and 2007 World Championships and 2008 Beijing Olympics. Her last good marathon was a 2:23:58 at Nagoya in 2006, and her attempt to make the Beijing Olympics team at last year's TIWM resulted in a personal worst 2:34:15. With a Berlin World Championships team spot on the line, her history is against her this time.

Why is Shibui at the top of the list? Since her failure in Tokyo last year Shibui has gone through a deep personal reevaluation, one which led her to a stellar spring and summer track season. Shibui recorded her 2nd, 3rd and 4th best-ever 10000 m times, the kind of times she has not run since setting the current 10000 m national record in 2002, and made her first-ever Olympic team in the 10000 m after winning the National Championships for the first time. Shibui has returned her track running to its peak and seems confident and focused on TIWM this fall. If she can translate this renaissance to the marathon she will be all but unbeatable. If her dark side returns it will be another story.

The good old Shibui leading the pack through a fast pace would mean that only three women in the field would have a realistic chance of staying with her, Kenyan Salina Kosgei, domestic rival Yuri Kano, and Russian veteran Svetlana Zakharova.

Salina Kosgei was runner up at last year's TIWM behind Mizuki Noguchi's course record run, running just 9 seconds off her PB of 2:23:22. Since then she has been very strong, running a half marathon PB of 1:09:57 in Lisbon in March, finishing 4th in London in 2:26:20 in April and 10th in the Olympic marathon with a time of 2:29:28. In Tokyo last year she soundly beat Shibui and was well ahead of 3rd place. A run like last year's duel against Noguchi would require an A-level performance from her rivals to defeat Kosgei, but in London she was beaten by Zakharova and in the Olympics by the U.K.'s Mara Yamauchi, so it can be done. Nevertheless, next to Shibui Kosgei remains the favorite for the win.

Yuri Kano is Shibui's major domestic competition. Kano debuted at Osaka last year, running 2:24:43 but just missing out on making the team for the 2007 World Championships, then followed up with a win in severe weather conditions at the Hokkaido Marathon just after the World Championships. An injury caused her to drop out of this year's Osaka after only a few kilometers and she was unable to carry through her training to Nagoya, where she ran only 2:26:39 and failed to make the Beijing Olympics team. Since then she has been dead set on winning the TIWM, running a PB of almost two minutes to win June's Sapporo International Half Marathon in 1:08:57, finishing 3rd in July's New York City Half Marathon, then winning October's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in San Jose, California. These performances suggest that Kano has taken her running up to the level necessary for a breakthrough win in the marathon. A 2:23 would not be surprising.

Russian Svetlana Zakharova holds the fastest time of the year among TIWM entrants with her 2:24:39 2nd place finish at London in April. At 38 Zakharova is a veteran, having beaten Shibui for the bronze at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships marathon and setting her PB of 2:21:31 the following year in Chicago. She was only 22nd in the Beijing Olympics marathon but no doubt takes confidence from her London run and inspiration from the successes of Constantina Tomescu-Dita, 38, and Ludmila Petrova, 40, this season.

A slower early pace brings Mara Yamauchi and Yoshimi Ozaki into the picture. Yamauchi, a Briton who lives and trains in Japan, has been a reliable 2:25 runner for the last three years. She was 9th in the 2007 World Championships after trying to stage a breakaway win, then came back at Osaka this year to win in a PB of 2:25:10 with a successful late-stage breakaway. She won March's Matsue Ladies' Half Marathon in 1:09:59, then finished 6th in the Beijing Olympics marathon, defeating numerous rivals with much faster best times. Yamauchi does not look likely to improve her times far beyond their current levels but she is an intelligent, tough racer with a mastery of the long spurt finishing strategy and will be dangerous if a pack is still together in the last third of the race.

Yoshimi Ozaki, the sister of Kano's teammate Akemi Ozaki, will be running only her 2nd marathon. Ozaki was on the Japanese national team at the 2007 World Road Running Championships and ran 1:09:30 at February's Marugame Half Marathon before her 2:26:19 debut in Nagoya in March. She finished 2nd in Nagoya just behind fellow debutante Yurika Nakamura, who was selected for the Beijing Olympics marathon team. Ozaki was graceful and strong in Nagoya and looked as though she has the potential to go much faster. TIWM offers an opportunity for her to significantly step up to the level of the top contenders.

Two relatively unknown runners, Ukrainian Tetyana Filonyuk and Kenyan Magdaline Chemjor, are also in the field. Filonyuk is a good pick to be the race's dark horse. She was only 31st in the Beijing Olympics but has been on an impressive development curve since debuting in 2006, running 2:39:57 in 2006, 2:34:58 in 2007, and 2:28:40 in Paris earlier this year. A rate of improvement such as this can't continue forever, but even a moderate jump in the TIWM would put her into a good position within the field. Chemjor was a race walker in the 90's before moving to distance running. She clocked a 1:09:39 half marathon in 2003 and debuted in the marathon at Amsterdam last year, running 2:28:16. At Boston this year she ran a dismal 2:46:25, raising questions about her viability in the TIWM.

Two other elite Japanese women will make up the rear of the pack. Yukiko Matsubara made an unremarkable 2:34:05 debut in Osaka this year, while Ayumi Hayashi ran an almost identical 2:34:08 in Nagoya. Hayashi holds a PB of 2:29:59 from Nagoya 2006 and, since this year's Nagoya, has run 5000 m and 10000 m PBs. She may be capable of setting a new PB this time but is unlikely to factor into the top positions.

Rounding out the elite field are two Ethiopian past champions, Derartu Tulu and Elfenesh Alemu. Tulu won TIWM in 2001. She was 4th in the 2005 Helsinki World Championships in a PB of 2:23:30 but did not race seriously in 2006 or 2007. Earlier this year she made a comeback, running 2:36:32 in Madrid in April. Alemu won TIWM in 2003 and went on to finish 4th in the Athens Olympics, but she has not raced seriously since 2005. Both Ethiopians are likely running only in the capacity of past champion, and it would be very surprising to see either contend for the lead.

Update: Elfenesh Alemu withdrew from the TIWM on Nov. 13 after injuring her left buttock.

The 30th Tokyo International Women's Marathon begins at 12:00 p.m. local time on Sunday, Nov. 16. It will be broadcast nationwide on TV Asahi.

Update: The IAAF's preview of the TIWM is located here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon to be Included Among 2009 World Championships Selection Races

translated by Brett Larner

On Nov. 13 the Kyushu Track and Field Association met in Oita for its first meeting of the season. The meeting also served to open proceedings for the 58th Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, to be held on Feb. 1. At the top of the meeting's agenda was confirmation that Beppu-Oita will be used as one of the official selection races for next summer's Berlin World Championships men's marathon team. The Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide on JNN.

Translator's note: The other selection races for Berlin at the current time are December's Fukuoka International Marathon, March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon, and March's Tokyo Marathon.

Alemu Withdraws From Tokyo International Women's Marathon

translated by Brett Larner

The Tokyo International Women's Marathon announced on Nov. 13 that elite overseas entrant Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) has withdrawn from this year's race, scheduled to take place Nov. 16 at Tokyo's National Stadium, after sustaining an injury to her left buttock. Alemu defeated Naoko Takahashi to win the 2003 edition of the Tokyo International Women's Marathon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

'Italy and Russia Dominate - IAU 100km World Cup' - updated

The Japanese women's team finished 3rd behind Russia and the U.S.A. with two runners in the top eight. My Harriers teammate Shinji Nakadai, the runner at 0:59 in the video above, was the 4th Japanese finisher on the men's team. おめでとうございます。 The video and others at the same site were sent to me by a JRN reader. Thank you.

Another reader sent this link to photos of the World Cup including two of the Japanese men. Thanks as well.

'Yamauchi Seeks Home-Town Glory'

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preliminary Elite Fields for Fukuoka and Hofu Marathons

by Brett Larner

December will see two of Japan's elite marathons take place in the country's deep south, the A-list Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 7 and the developmental Hofu Yomiuri Marathon on Dec. 21. Official entry lists for the two races have not been released, but a number of athletes have declared their intentions to compete in either or Fukuoka or Hofu.

This year Fukuoka is particularly significant in that it is the first of the domestic selection races for the 2009 Berlin World Championships men's marathon team. Headlining Fukuoka thus far is Arata Fujiwara, who finished 2nd at last February's Tokyo Marathon and was selected as the alternate for the Beijing Olympics men's marathon team. Fujiwara ran an atrocious race at October's Chicago Marathon and will run Fukuoka to make up for his failed international debut. His chief competition thus far is Yuko Matsumiya, the slightly less talented identical twin brother of Beijing Olympian Takayuki Matsumiya. Yuko Matsumiya is a reliable 2:09 marathoner who gives the impression of not having quite lived up to his potential yet. A breakthrough run in Fukuoka is certainly possible. Also in the mix at the current time is Tomoyuki Sato, a 2007 World Championships marathoner who finished just over a minute behind Fujiwara in Tokyo this year. Fujiwara's teammate Tsuyoshi Igarashi, who placed 3rd at October's Takashimadaira 20 km Road Race, will be making his marathon debut.

Hofu typically has a younger field than Fukuoka with a large percentage of first-timers. This year looks to be no exception. The most notable of the runners now in the Hofu Field is Satoru Kasuya, anchor of Komazawa University's Hakone Ekiden squad before his graduation in 2006, in his marathon debut.

Following is a list of runners who have declared that they will compete in one of the races along with team affiliation and PB details.

Fukuoka International Marathon, Dec. 7
Arata Fujiwara (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:08:40 (Tokyo 2008)
Yuko Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:09:18 (Biwako 2005)
Tomoyuki Sato (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:09:43 (Tokyo Int'l 2004)
Masatoshi Ibata (Team Aisan) - 2:13:26 (Biwako 2001)
Tsuyoshi Igarashi (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - debut (1/2 mar.: 1:03:46)

Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, Dec. 21
Tomohiro Minami (Team Aisan) - 2:15:55 (Nobeoka 2007)
Hiroyuki Kamiguchi (Team Suzuki) - 2:17:37 (Biwako 2006)
Nao Kazami (Team Aisan) - 2:18:58 (unknown date)
Takashi Yamauchi (Team Aisan) - debut (1/2 mar.: 1:02:35)
Satoru Kasuya (Team Toyota Boshoku) - debut (1/2 mar.: 1:03:40)
Yasushi Yamamoto (Team Suzuki) - deubt (1/2 mar.: 1:04:46)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

International Chiba Ekiden to Feature Tomescu-Dita, Fukushi, Browne and Other Olympians

by Brett Larner

On Nov. 10 the International Chiba Ekiden released the entry lists for the 2008 edition of the race, to take place Nov. 24 just east of Tokyo in central Chiba Prefecture.

In the second year of the Chiba Ekiden's mixed team format Japan will once again field a team of Olympians and national record holders including Kayoko Fukushi, Yuriko Kobayashi and Takayuki Matsumiya. Other countries competing in this year's Chiba Ekiden include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ethiopia, Great Britain, Romania, Russia, Sweden and the United States, along with a team representing hosts Chiba Prefecture and another made up of top Japanese university runners. Notably absent is Kenya, which has in the past typically fielded teams made up of professionals living in Japan.

The biggest name in the field is undoubtedly Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania. Several others countries are fielding runners with Olympic and world-level credentials, but all will have their work cut out for them to best Japan's all-star lineup. Ethiopia is likely to be Japan's strongest challenger, with two men under 13:10 for 5000m, two under 27:15 for 10000m, and one woman under 15:00 for 5000m. Russia also fields a dangerous team including two women with 5000m times better than 15:00. The Japanese university team this year is exceptionally strong and will be a candidate for a top-3 finish.

A complete listing in both English and Japanese of each country's team lineup is located here. Noteworthy runners in the field include:

Simon Bairu (Canada) - 10000m: 27:50.71
Daniel Brown (U.S.A.) - Athens Olympics men's 10000m and marathon
Constantina Dita (Romania) - Beijing Olympics women's marathon gold medal
Belaynesh Fikadu (Ethiopia) - 5000m: 14:45.25
Shawn Forrest (Australia) - 2008 NCAA 10000m 2nd place
Kayoko Fukushi (Japan) - 3000m, 5000m, half marathon NR, 15 km WR, Beijing Olympics women's 5000m and 10000m
Ibrahim Jeilan (Ethiopia) - 10000m: 27:13.08
Ryuji Kashiwabara (Japanese Univ.) - #1-ranked univ. 1st year
Yuriko Kobayashi (Japan) - 1500m NR, Beijing Olympics women's 5000m
Kazue Kojima (Japanese Univ.) - #1-ranked univ. woman nationally
Maria Konovalova (Russia) - 5000m: 14:38.09
Maria Magdalena Luca (Romania) - 2008 World Youth women's 800m gold medal
Takayuki Matsumiya (Japan) - 5000m NR, 30km WR, Beijing Olympics men's 5000m and 10000m
Hunegnaw Mesfin (Ethiopia) - 10000m: 27:13.05
Tera Moody (U.S.A.) - U.S. Olympic Trials women's marathon 5th place
Edward Moran (U.S.A.) - 2007 Pan American Games men's 5000m gold medal
Yusei Nakao (Japan) - 5th place, 2008 World Half Marathon
Hitomi Niiya (Chiba Pref.) - winner, 2007 Tokyo Marathon
Tomoya Onishi (Japanese Univ.) - Toyo Univ. star
Yui Sakai (Japanese Univ.) - #1-ranked univ. woman in Kanto Region
Lilia Shobukhova (Russia) - Beijing Olympics women's 5000m 6th place
Ben St. Lawrence (Australia) - 2008 World XC bronze medal team member
Melinda Vernon (Australia) - 2008 World XC bronze medal team member

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fukuoka Wins 72-Stage, 1056.2 km Kyushu Isshu Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Click here for video highlights of each prefectural team's finish.

The 57th Nishi Nihon Interprefectural Kyushu Isshu Ekiden, a 10 day, 72 stage, 1056.2 km competition around the edge of Japan's southernmost main island, wrapped up on Nov. 9 with the Fukuoka Prefectural team taking its 4th consecutive victory. At the end of the previous day Fukuoka was ahead of rival Miyazaki Prefecture in cumulative time and had won 7 of the 9 individual day titles. Fukuoka led the final day for the first of its 7 stages totalling 98.1 km, but Miyazaki ran all out to take the daily lead away, holding down 1st place for the 2nd through 6th stages. Only on the 7th stage did Fukuoka come back to retake the lead, coming to the finish in front of Fukuoka's Nishi Nihon Newspaper Group Head Office in the top spot to tie up 8 of the 10 day victory titles. Fukuoka won its 4th consecutive overall victory, beating Miyazaki by 19 minutes and 21 seconds in cumulative time over the ekiden's 10 days.

Fukuoka's Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) took the stage best title on the day's 1st leg, with Kagoshima Prefecture's Kiragu Njunuga (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) was just 2 seconds behind in 2nd place, delivering Kagoshima into the top 4 for the first time in 13 years, a performance which won him the Kyushu Isshu Ekiden's Best Newcomer award. Miyazaki's Yuki Iwai (Team Asahi Kasei) took the lead on the 2nd stage, with subsequent Miyazaki runners widening the lead to 46 seconds. It was, however, insufficient, as Fukuoka's anchor Takeshi Arisumi came back for the win. Miyazaki settled for 2nd but had the consolation of its ace Ryuji Ono (Team Asahi Kasei) receiving the ekiden's MVP award. Along with Njunuga's award, Kagoshima received the Most Improved Team award after taking 1:08:01 off its 2007 time.

A complete breakdown of individual and team prizes can be found here.

2008 Nishi Nihon Interprefectural Kyushu Isshu Ekiden
Team Results
1. Fukuoka Pref. - 53:26:54
2. Miyazaki Pref. - 53:46:15
3. Nagasaki Pref. - 54:29:40
4. Kagoshima Pref. - 56:13:20
5. Oita Pref. - 56:40:02
6. Saga Pref. - 56:44:05
7. Kumamoto Pref. - 56:57:31
8. Yamaguchi Pref. - 57:24:25
9. Okinawa Pref. - 58:15:48

Naoko Takahashi Runs First Race As An Amateur

translated by Brett Larner

Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (36, Team Phiten), ran in a half marathon in Ibigawa, Gifu Prefecture on Nov. 9, her first race since retiring from professional running last month. Takahashi acted as the guest starter for the event's full marathon and was scheduled to run the first 2 km runners of the half marathon as a ceremonial lead runner, but once at the event she decided to wanted to more than just put in face time and ran the whole distance. Her participation was greeted with joyous cheers at the start and she received shouts of thanks for all of her achievements from supporters along the course. Takahashi ran among the ranks of the other amateur runners and completed the race in a time around 1 and a half hours. After finishing she ran back out on the course to cheer on the other runners, an enjoyable start to her new post-professional career.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mai Tagami Wins Athens Classic Marathon

by Brett Larner

Mai Tagami, a protege of legendary coach Yoshio Koide, won the 2008 Athens Classic Marathon on Nov. 9, breaking away early in the second half to win by a margin of nearly four minutes. An early pack of five runners ran together for the first quarter of the race. By the halfway point the lead pack was down to only Tagami and Russian Elena Tikhonova, both of whom clocked 1:19:17 for the half marathon split. Tagami attacked shortly thereafter, pulling away from Tikhonova, who was in turn overtaken by Greece's top runner of the day, Georgia Ampatzidou. Tagami had a lead of 25 seconds over Ampatzidou at 30 km, with Tikhonova another 21 seconds back. Tagami ran a negative split to finish in 2:36:58, far off Mizuki Noguchi's course record of 2:26:20 from the Athens Olympics but sufficient to defeat her European rivals. Tikhonova rallied to retake Ampatzidou, finishing eight seconds ahead of the Greek in 2:40:45.

In the men's race, Yoshiyuki Suetsugu ran in the lead pack of ten through the halfway point, clocking a half marathon split of 1:07:02. Suetsugu faded to 8th but retook Kenyan Chebet Elias Kipkosgei to finish 7th with a time of 2:17:10.

Complete women's results are available here. Men's results are here.

The IAAF's report on the Athens Classic Marathon is located here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Tokyo Repeats in East Japan Women's Ekiden

by Brett Larner

The team representing Tokyo won its 2nd straight victory at the East Japan Women's Ekiden in Fukushima Prefecture on Nov. 9, outlasting a surprise challenge from the Niigata Prefectural team to take the 2008 title. The East Japan Women's Ekiden features a 9-stage, 42.195 km course and teams made up of star professional, university, high school and junior high school runners from the 18 prefectures in eastern Japan and is one of a series of regional precursors to January's All-Japan Interprefectural Women's Ekiden.

Tokyo won comfortably last year but this year was threatened over the entire course by the Niigata team, which had never placed higher than 8th in the event's 23 previous runnings. Niigata's Chiaki Takagi wore down Tokyo's Rie Takayoshi to win the 6 km 1st stage, breaking away at 4 km. Takagi finished the stage in 19:08 to Takayoshi's 19:11.

Tokyo's Chisa Nishio overtook Niigata's Moeno Nakamura with 1 km to go on the 4 km 2nd stage, Nakamura also falling prey to Saitama's Natsuko Goto who continued her impressive season after a brilliant run with Nihon University at last month's Morinomiyako Ekiden. Nishio led Goto by 17 seconds at the end of the stage, with Nakamura another 10 seconds back.

Niigata runner Kanako Fujiishi quickly overtook Saitama's Chisako Aikawa on the 3 km 3rd stage, but Tokyo's Chiemi Tachimori maintained her team's 17 second lead. It looked like the race might have already resolved into a repeat of last year's edition, but on the 3 km 4th stage Niigata's junior high school student Miwa Yokoyama ran far beyond her years, catching Tokyo's Ayaka Takahashi just past the 1 km point. She showed impressive form and potential as she opened Niigata a 29 second lead over Tokyo.

Tomoko Watanabe ran strongly on the 5.0875 km 5th stage but was no match for Tokyo's Azusa Nojiri who was truly incredible in catching Watanabe just after the 2 km mark. The 26 year-old Nojiri, who runs for the Daiichi Seimei jitsugyodan team, has had a highly unusual career parth, only beginning to run professionally in August of this year. Prior to that she was an international-level cross-country skier who had competed on the Japanese national team at the World Cup. Her muscular, aggressive style was in another class from the other women on her stage as she singlehandedly gave Tokyo a 26 second lead.

Tokyo's Yukari Abe widened her lead to 33 seconds over the 4.1075 km 6th stage while Niigata's Ami Watanabe was about 30 seconds ahead of 3rd place contenders Kanagawa and Chiba. Michiru Otsuki did her part for the Tokyo team, adding another 9 seconds to its lead over the 4 km 7th stage, but on the 3 km 8th stage Tokyo runner Karin Fujimoto was outdone by Niigata's star Megumi Minoguchi. Minoguchi made up the 42 second margin with room to spare, flying by Fujimoto with 240 m to go, setting a new stage record of 9:09 and setting up a battle on the 10 km anchor stage by giving Niigata a 7 second lead over Tokyo.

Niigata's Manami Murayama ran gamely but was no match for Tokyo's anchor Yoshiko Fujinaga. Fujinaga overtook Murayama after only 800 m and never looked back, bringing Tokyo in to win in 2:19:15. Murayama was overtaken by Chiba's Yukie Nagata and Kanagawa`s Kasumi Oyagi just before the entrance to the stadium finish, settling for 4th, its lowest position of the day but still ahead of the team's target of a 6th place finish. Nagata, running her first-ever 10 km, outkicked Oyagi to give Chiba a 2nd place finish with Kanagawa, last year's runner-up, close behind in 3rd.

2008 East Japan Women's Ekiden
Stage Best Performances
1st stage - 6 km: Chiaki Takagi (Niigata) - 19:08
2nd stage - 4 km: Chisa Nishio (Tokyo) - 12:53
3rd stage - 3 km: Kanako Fujiishi (Niigata) - 9:53
4th stage - 3 km: tie - Miwa Yokoyama (Niigata) and Tomoka Haneda (Tochigi) - 9:25
5th stage - 5.0875 km: Aya Nagata (Chiba) - 16:19
6th stage - 4.1075 km: Emi Kameyama (Nagano) - 13:13
7th stage - 4 km: Michiru Otsuki (Tokyo) - 13:14
8th stage - 3 km: Megumi Minoguchi (Niigata) - 9:09 - new stage record
9th stage - 10 km: Haruka Obara (Iwate) - 32:28

Team Results
1. Tokyo - 2:19:15
2. Chiba - 2:20:05
3. Kanagawa - 2:20:12
4. Niigata - 2:20:16
5. Miyagi - 2:20:48
6. Fukushima - 2:21:05
7. Saitama - 2:21:10
8. Gunma - 2:21:10
9. Yamanashi - 2:21:43
10. Nagano - 2:22:04
11. Tochigi - 2:22:10
12. Hokkaido - 2:22:29
13. Akita - 2:22:36
14. Ibaraki - 2:23:05
15. Yamagata - 2:24:08
16. Iwate - 2:25:05
17. Aomori - 2:26:21
18. Shizuoka - 2:26:44

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved