Friday, October 31, 2008

Shibui Returns From Kunming 'Satisfied'

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 29 Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) returned with a teammates from a three-week training camp in Kunming, China. Shibui is in preparation for the Nov. 16 Tokyo International Women's Marathon. "I did everything [on the practice menu]," she commented. "I'm satisfied." Shibui saw news of Naoko Takahashi's retirement on TV. "It takes a lot of courage to say you're going to retire. It gave me many things to think about."

Shibui also talked about her teammate Reiko Tosa, who dropped out of the Beijing Olympics marathon with a foot injury. "She basically back to regular jogging. Her foot doesn't really hurt any more," said Shibui. Both runners plan to compete in December's All-Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden.

Translator's note: Last year Shibui returned from Kunming and ran a stage record on the 10 km anchor leg of the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden two weeks before Tokyo, where she failed utterly. East Japan is scheduled for Nov. 3 this year but this article and others do not mention Shibui's participation, so she may be saving her energy this time around.

National University Ekiden Championships - Preview

by Brett Larner

The late fall and early winter ekiden season is the cornerstone of the Japanese running year, and nowhere is this more true than in university men's running. The university season comprises a series of 3 major ekidens culminating in the Biwako University Ekiden for schools from western Japan and the Hakone Ekiden for those in eastern Japan. It's one of the peculiarities of the Japanese distance running world that the major race of the season for university men is a regional event which takes place after the National Championships. There's no question that Hakone is the most important distance running event in Japan, but November's All-Japan University Men's Ekiden Championships offer a rare opportunity to see schools from other areas of Japan take on the famed powerhouses of eastern Japan.

The National Ekiden covers an 8 stage, 106.8 km course from Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture to Ise in Mie Prefecture. October's Izumo Ekiden offers the season's first national-level ekiden competition, but the event's 6 stage, 44 km course is geared more for speed and doesn't offer an accurate indication of what Japanese university runners are really training for. The National Ekiden is better suited to their conditioning, with individual stages ranging from 9.5 km to 19.7 km. The top 6 teams each year are seeded for the following year's Nationals, with the remaining teams having to run qualifying races in early summer. See below for videos of each region's qualifying races.

26 teams will compete in the National Ekiden, 12 of them from eastern Japan. Eastern Japan schools have historically dominated Nationals, taking the seeded top 6 positions for at least the last 6 years. This is hardly surprising considering that apart from attracting more talent, eastern Japan schools train for Hakone in which the shortest stage is 18.5 km, while the western Japan schools train for Biwako where the longest stage is 15.1 km.

2008 Hakone Ekiden winner Komazawa Univ. is the heavy favorite to win. Komazawa has won the National Ekiden the last two years and four of the last six years. It almost won October's Izumo Ekiden, caught at the last moment only by Nihon Univ.'s Daniel Gitau. Sporting potentially its greatest team ever, Komazawa's sheer strength is sure to outweigh the individual contributions of a lone, talented Kenyan ringer over the National Ekiden's longer distances.

Nihon was the last school to beat Komazawa at Nationals, in 2005, but that year's Komazawa squad was one of its weakest and a repeat upset this year is all but unthinkable. The only other school to beat Komazawa at the National ekiden in recent history, Tokai Univ., has for the last few years relied on the combination of two aces, Hideaki Date and Yuki Sato. With the loss of Date to graduation and Sato still in recovery from injuries sustained late spring Tokai will not challenge Komazawa's domination. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. finished 4th at Izumo without its superstar Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu who was in Rio for the World Half Marathon. With Mogusu back in the lineup Yamanashi, this year fielding two Kenyans, may present a threat.

Despite history, western Japan's Daiichi Kogyo Univ. also has the potential to be a factor, having finished 3rd at Izumo and like Yamanashi Gakuin featuring two Kenyans. Daiichi Kogyo was also 3rd last year at Biwako. The two schools which beat it there, runner-up Kyoto Sangyo Univ. and winner Ritsumeikan Univ., are also in the National Ekiden lineup. Kyoto Sangyo finished 13th at Izumo and Ritsumeikan 7th, but like Komazawa both schools' strengths may translate better into the National Ekiden's longer distances.

The All-Japan University Men's Ekiden Championships take place Nov. 2 at 8:00 a.m. and will be broadcast nationwide on TV Asahi with commentary by Olympians Toshihiko Seko and Katsuhiko Hanada. On its website TV Asahi has provided video clips from each region's National Ekiden qualifying races in early summer. Click each region heading below for regional qualifier results and links to the race videos and each university name for team photos and profiles.

2008 All-Japan University Men's Ekiden Championships Field
Hokkaido Region
Sapporo Gakuin Univ.

Tohoku Region
Tohoku Fukushi Univ.

Hokuriku Region
Shinshu Univ.
Takaoka Hoka Univ.

Kanto Region
Komazawa Univ. (seeded)
Nittai Univ. (seeded)
Chuo Univ. (seeded)
Tokai Univ. (seeded)
Waseda Univ. (seeded)
Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. (seeded)
Chuo Gakuin Univ. (special invitation)
Meiji Univ.
Toyo Univ.
Teikyo Univ.
Tokyo Nogyo Univ.
Nihon Univ.

Tokai Region
Aichi Kogyo Univ.
Chukyo Univ.
Tokai Regional Select Team

Kansai Region
Ritsumeikan Univ.
Kyoto Sangyo Univ.
Kanaya Sangyo Univ.

Chugoku-Shikoku Region
Hiroshima Univ.

Kyushu Region
Daiichi Kogyo Univ.
Nihon Bunri Univ.
Fukuoka Univ.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Reiko Tosa Now Hopes to Run A Final Marathon Before Retirement

translated by Brett Larner

Reiko Tosa (32, Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo), who after failing to finish the Beijing Olympics marathon announced her intent to retire, returned to Japan on Oct. 29 from a high altitude training camp in Kunming, China, telling reporters at the airport that she now wants to run one last marathon.

"I want to have one more go [at 42.195 km]," Tosa said. She does not want her last memory of her running to be that of having dropped out of the Olympic marathon after injuring her foot, but hopes to make a more fitting end to her career. Tosa is not planning to run in a major international race but will most likely return to her roots and run her hometown Ehime Marathon in February, a race she won in her marathon debut in 1998.

Asked for comments about Sydney Olympics marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi's retirement this week, Tosa replied, "I was really surprised. She is the pioneer of the speed marathon. I think she will still go on to do great things elsewhere."

Tosa's teammate Yoko Shibui (29), competing in the Nov. 16 Tokyo International Women's Marathon in an effort to make the 2009 Berlin World Championships marathon team, also returned to Japan along with Tosa. "There's no question I'm going to win," Shibui said resolutely. On the topic of Takahashi, who had also planned to run Tokyo, Shibui showed her respect by commenting, "It takes courage to say that you're going to retire."

Translator's note: Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo will run in the East Japan Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden on Nov. 3.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tokyo International Women's Marathon Announces Elite Field For Its Final Running

by Brett Larner

On Oct. 28 the Tokyo International Women's Marathon announced the elite field for the event's 30th and final running, to take place Nov. 16. Top domestic runners Yoko Shibui, Yuri Kano, Yoshimi Ozaki and others will face off for slots on the 2009 Berlin World Track and Field Championships marathon team while competing against foreign competition including 2008 Osaka International Women's Marathon winner Mara Yamauchi of the U.K., 2007 Tokyo IWM runner-up Salina Kosgei of Kenya, and 2008 London Marathon runner-up Russian Svetlana Zakharova. Aging Ethiopians Derartu Tulu and Elfenesh Alemu are also on the entry list along with newcomers Tetyana Filonyuk of Ukraine and Kenyan Magdaline Chemjor.

Former marathon national record holder Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) had a career-worst run at last year's Tokyo but afterwards went on to experience a rebirth on the track, running the kind of performances not seen since her glory days over five years ago and ultimately making the Beijing Olympics 10000 m. If her rejeuvenation this year extends to the marathon she will be one of the favorites.

Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC) has also had a very strong year, clocking track and road PBs, winning June's Sapporo International Half Marathon, finishing 3rd in July's New York City Half Marathon, and winning October's Rock and Roll Half Marathon in San Jose. Kano is still relatively inexperienced at the marathon but seems poised for a breakthrough performance.

Yoshimi Ozaki (Team Daiichi Seimei), the younger sister of Kano's teammate Akemi Ozaki, ran a noteworthy debut marathon at the Nagoya International Women's Marathon in March, clocking 2:26:19 to take a close 2nd behind fellow debutante Yurika Nakamura's winning 2:25:51. Ozaki was graceful and strong, and like Kano may be ready for bigger things.

2008 Tokyo International Women's Marathon Elite Field
Svetlana Zakharova (Russia) - PB: 2:21:31 (Chicago `02) - SB: 2:24:39 (London '08)
Mara Yamauchi (U.K.) - PB: 2:25:10 (Osaka '08) - SB: 2:25:10 (Osaka '08) and 2:27:29 (Beijing Olympics)
Yoshimi Ozaki (Japan - Team Daiichi Seimei) - PB: 2:26:19 (Nagoya '08) - SB: 2:26:19 (Nagoya '08)
Salina Kosgei (Kenya) - PB: 2:23:22 (Berlin '06) - SB: 2:26:30 (London '08)
Yuri Kano (Japan - Second Wind AC) - PB: 2:24:43 (Osaka '07)- SB: 2:26:39 (Nagoya '08)
Tetyana Filonyuk (Ukraine) - PB: 2:28:40 (Paris '08) - SB: 2:28:40 (Paris '08)
Yukiko Matsubara (Japan - Team Asahi Kasei) - PB: 2:34:05 (Osakai '08) - SB: 2:34:05 (Osaka '08)
Ayumi Hayashi (Japan - Team Juhachi Ginko) - PB: 2:29:59 (Nagoya '06) - SB: 2:34:09 (Nagoya '08)
Yoko Shibui (Japan - Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - PB: 2:19:41 (Berlin '04) - SB: 2:34:15 (Tokyo IWM '07)
Derartu Tulu (Ethiopia) - PB: 2:23:30 (Helsinki '05) - SB: 2:36:32 (Madrid '08)
Magdaline Chemjor (Kenya) - PB: 2:28:16 (Amsterdam '07) - SB: 2:46:25 (Boston '08)
Elfenesh Alemu (Ethiopia) - PB: 2:24:29 (London '01) - SB: ---

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Coach Koide Regrets Takahashi's Retirement as 'Such a Waste'

translated by Brett Larner

Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (36, Team Phiten) held a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 28 to announce her retirement from professional running. Sakura AC head coach Yoshio Koide (69), the man who led her to greatness, still has not 100% accepted the news. "I didn't think she would quit," Koide regretfully told reporters in the arrivals lobby of Tokyo's Narita Airport after returning from a training camp in Kunming, China on Oct. 28. "Maybe she is just worn out. It's such a waste...."

Koide and Takahashi were together for ten years, from her early days with Team Recruit in 1995 until 2005. That year Takahashi, expressing a desire for independence, relocated to Boulder, Colorado in 2005 to continue training without a coach. At the time she commented of Boulder, "I have to admit that I love it there." But the bond between the two remained in place.

At 8:30 on the morning of Oct. 28 Koide received a call on his cell phone. It was Takahashi. "I'm sorry not to have told you earlier," Takahashi said after giving him the news of her retirement. Koide's first reaction was to blurt out, "What happened? Are you getting married?" "No, absolutely not," Takahashi replied levelly. "We'll talk about it later."

"As far as I'm concerned," Koide somewhat wistfully told reporters at Narita, "Q-chan* still has the ability to get another Olympic medal before she's 40. She could still run around 2:20-2:22. She says she's spent everything her body has? She's never known how to train herself, that's why she thinks she's spent."

In terms of her future, Koide hopes that Q-chan will come back to join him in his 'Koide Dojo' training program for recreational runners. "Q-chan and I started the idea that 'The marathon is fun!' I want to give her something now of which she can say, 'Yes, this is a good way to end.' Koide's yearning for a reunion with his star pupil is clear as he waits in hope for her call.

The Tasks Ahead for Noguchi to Reach London

translated by Brett Larner

Athens Olympics women's marathon champion Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), who withdrew from the Beijing Olympics after sustaining an injury to her left thigh, plans to make the 2012 London Olympics the main goal over the next few years. In four years she will be 34. "Age doesn't matter," Noguchi believes. "I have to tell my coaches about my condition more often and control myself better from now on." Noguchi will listen more carefully to what her body is telling her in order to catch potential injuries and an early stage.

38 year old Constantina Tomescu-Dita (Romania) won the Beijing Olympic Marathon. Looking at keeping her motivation as time goes on, Noguchi says, "The more I run the marathon the more interesting it becomes." Her 150 cm-tall body has always looked full of power when she runs, the kind of power which won her the gold medal in Athens. After Athens she continued to develop herself, working on improving her form, raising her running to an entirely new level.

Noguchi's coach Nobuyuki Fujita believes, "Wisdom gained from life's experiences is without question important as you advance in years. This is essential for reducing the time lost to injury and fatigue." The tiny Noguchi does "The hardest training of anyone in the world," says Coach Fujita. For Noguchi to remain competitive at the world level they want to maintain her training load, but Fujita admits that along with discipline and "The willingness to do what is necessary to train over a long span of time," Noguchi's team must find a way to include more rest in her schedule.

Thus far in Noguchi's recovery she has only been able to jog. Her next marathon will likely not be until next fall. To build up her confidence on the way to London Noguchi will run her next marathon as a high-speed race. This plan is already in place, but, Noguchi says, along the way, "I want to set new personal best marks on the track and in the half marathon, even by one second, to make sure I'm not losing my speed." As she returns to her throne, the queen of Japanese distance running looks to strengthen both body and mind.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Naoko Takahashi's Statement From Her Retirement Press Conference
and NHK 6:00 News broadcast, 10/28/08

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On the afternoon of Oct. 28, Sydney Olympic marathon gold medalist and former world record holder Takahashi gave a press conference at Tokyo's Grand Prince Hotel to announce her retirement. A portion of Takahashi's statement follows.
"Hello, I am Naoko Takahashi. I planned to run the Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka International Women's Marathons but have to give it up. To the fans, staff and sponsors who supported me I offer my sincerest apologies. I had this goal to run these three races as a thank you or goodbye to everyone but now I find that I've spent everything my body has, that I've done all I can and am left with just a peaceful feeling. It's not that something happened, I just can't do the kind of training I need in order to stand in front of you all as the Pro Naoko Takahashi, the kind of running I can be proud of, anymore. I don't want to just show up and run badly anymore either. The years when I won the Olympics and set the world record were
like a typhoon, and now the typhoon has passed and there is just a gentle breeze blowing. I love running and will keep going into my 50's and 60's, but from now on it'll be as the 'Jogger' Naoko Takahashi."

Asked whether leaving her coach Yoshio Koide at her peak had been a mistake, Takahashi replied, "It wasn't that big a deal. I thought about retiring when I left him, but I would have retired earlier if I hadn't left."

A Brief Look Back at Naoko Takahashi

by Brett Larner

With Naoko Takahashi's abrupt announcement of her retirement today less than three weeks before her planned entry in the Tokyo International Women's Marathon it's worth taking a minute to look back at some of the achievements which made her Japan's greatest marathon runner, male or female, and one of its most beloved public figures.

Gold Medal - Sydney Olympics 9/24/00
By far the accomplishment for which Takahashi is most respected in Japan is winning the country's first-ever Olympic marathon gold medal. Japan had scored several men's and women's silver and bronze Olympic marathon medals over the years, but until Sept. 24, 2000 no Japanese runner had ever taken the top position. Takahashi, accompanied partway by teammates Ari Ichihashi and Eri Yamaguchi, dominated the race, setting an Olympic record of 2:23:14 which still stands. She became an instant icon in Japan, achieving unprecedented respect for a woman in the public eye and winning the National Honor Award, a tremendous distinction usually given to Japan's greatest writers, musicians and other luminaries.

World Record and First-Ever Sub-2:20 - Berlin Marathon 9/30/01
Takahashi's last four marathons leading into Berlin '01 showed that she had phenomenal speed. In Berlin she was perfect, clocking 2:19:46 to go down in history with the first-ever women's sub-2:20 mark. Her accomplishment was somewhat obscured when Catherine Ndereba of Kenya ran 2:18:47 a week later in Chicago, but the fact remains that it was Takahashi who broke this barrier first. Takahashi became and remains, along with American Joan Benoit-Samuelson, one of only two women to win Olympic gold and set the world record.

Gold Medal and World Record for Women-Only Marathon - Asian Games, Bangkok, 12/6/98
This race is often forgotten next to Takahashi's achievements in Sydney and Berlin but it is at least their equal. Takahashi, running only her third marathon, ran 2:21:47, alone, in temperatures of 32 C (90 F) and tropical humidity, at a time when the world record was 2:20:47. She finished more than 13 minutes ahead of the next runner having run without pacemakers or rivals, setting the fifth-fastest time ever by a woman and the fastest-ever for a women-only race and breaking her own nine-month old national record by 4:01. Think about how much emphasis was placed on Samuel Wanjiru's 2:06:32 Olympic gold medal-winning run in Beijing having been run in moderate humidity and temperatures which peaked at 30 C (86 F) late in the race, the fact that as great as it was, it was 2 minutes 6 seconds off the world record at the time, the fact that Wanjiru had strong competitors to keep him going until late in the race, and the fact that once he was alone he dropped significantly off-pace in the heat. Then think about Takahashi's Bangkok gold medal run again.

National Record - Nagoya International Women's Marathon, 3/8/98
Takahashi set her first national record in her second marathon, winning the 1998 Nagoya International Women's Marathon in 2:25:48 at age 24. It was not a spectacular time by the standards of the era, but it was a sign of things to come from the Takahashi-Koide combination. Yoshio Koide was already one of Japan's top marathon coaches, but he recognized what he saw in Takahashi and put everything he had into her training, secretly mortgaging the house where he, his wife and his children lived in Japan in order to finance a home in Boulder, Colorado in which Takahashi could live by herself and train without concerns or distractions.

Nagoya '00 and Berlin '02 Wins
Takahashi qualified for Sydney with a course-record 2:22:19 win at the 2000 Nagoya International Women's Marathon. After the world record she returned to Berlin the following year, winning again with a 2:21:49 timing. Everything looked on track for a medal defense at the Athens Olympics, but at the 2003 Tokyo International Women's Marathon Takahashi was 2nd in only 2:27:21, a time far too slow to qualify her for the Japanese Olympic team. She was passed over by the selection committee, and shortly afterward Takahashi made the suprising annoucement that she was parting ways with Koide.

Comeback Win, Tokyo International Women's Marathon, 11/20/05
Takahashi did much on her own to create a new model for Japanese marathoners, particularly women, gathering her own coaching and support staff and collecting sponsorship money through product endorsements and commercial appearances rather than running on a corporate team and having to spend significant time and energy on ekidens. Unfortunately she was unable to regain the same level she attained through Koide's coaching, and her running declined even as her popularity ascended. The only bright spot in Takahashi's solo career was a surprise win at the 2005 Tokyo International Women's Marathon, which she ran in a strong 2:24:39. The comeback win secured her place in the Japanese public's heart, but it marked the end.

The Decline
The following year she ran 2:31:22 in Tokyo while trying to qualify for the 2007 World Championships team. Absent from the 2007 season, she made one last attempt, returning to the 2008 Nagoya International Women's Marathon to try for the Beijing Olympics team. She finished 27th in 2:44:18. Shortly afterward she announced that she would run all the 2008-2009 season big three women's marathons, Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, but on Oct. 28 announced that her summer training had been inadequate, and that she was through.

Takahashi's decision to split with Koide was her own and cannot be criticized, but it's hard to look at her career and not see it as a mistake. It's also regrettable that the world never got to see her live up to the promise of her three biggest performances and follow through with challenges at world-class races such as London, Chicago, Boston or New York. Nevertheless, what she did achieve in the races detailed above was enough to surpass Japan's legendary Toshihiko Seko to become the country's most respected marathoner and one of the very best, male or female, the world has ever seen.

A photo retrospective of Takahashi's career can be seen here.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Naoko Takahashi Retires

translated and edited by Brett Larner

2000 Sydney Olympics women's marathon gold medalist and former marathon world record holder Naoko Takahashi (36, Team Phiten) retired from professional running on Oct. 28. Takahashi planned to run three marathons this season, November's Tokyo International Women's Marathon, January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, and March's Nagoya International Women's Marathon, and has been at her training camp in Boulder, Colorado since May in preparation. Despite winning three races during this period, including a course record at the Mt. Evans mountain race in June, Takahashi couldn't meet the targets in her training plan and cancelled the rest of the camp and her three-marathon season, returning to Japan in secret a short time ago. She is scheduled to give a press conference later in the day on Oct. 28 to formally announce her retirement.

Takahashi's coach from her peak era, Yoshio Koide, was interviewed by telephone on Fuji TV's 'Tokudane!' program the morning of the 28th. "I'm completely stunned," Koide commented. "I have no idea what happened." He went on to say that he had just seen Takahashi in Boulder recently and that she had been in very good spirits. "It's a huge shock. She loves running and always said, 'I'm going to run until I'm 50.' She's got to be just worn out."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ritsumeikan Takes Third Straight National Ekiden Title

by Brett Larner

After a slow start which saw two-time defending champion Ritsumeikan University in 7th at the end of the first stage of the 38.6 km, six-stage National University Women's Ekiden Championships, also known as the Morinomiyako Ekiden, the school moved up through the field through the following three stages to take first the lead and then its third consecutive national title and fifth national win in six years. Buoyed by a stellar stage-record performance by third-year star Kazue Kojima on the third leg, Ritsumeikan runners clocked stage records on the fourth and fifth legs as well and won in 2:06:53, just off the course record which Ritsumeikan set last year. Rivals Bukkyo University once again had to settle for 2nd, finishing 1:15 behind the winner in 2:08:08. 2005 winner Meijo University rounded out the podium positions with a 2:08:47 finish in 3rd.

Ritsumeikan's win essentially amounted to a simple display of power. Despite five of the six members of last year's course-record team returning in the current season, the school ran first-year runners on four of the ekiden's six stages. With only anchor Akiko Matsunaga graduating in the spring Ritsumeikan looks to have a dynasty in the making.

detailed report coming soon

2008 All-Japan University Women's Ekiden - results
Top Teams - click here for video of each team's finish
1. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:06:53
2. Bukkyo Univ. - 2:08:08
3. Meijo Univ. - 2:08:47
4. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 2:09:21
5. Tamagawa Univ. - 2:10:05
6. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:10:20
----- (top six schools seeded for 2009) -----
7. Josai Kokusai Univ. - 2:10:41
8. Nittai Univ. - 2:10:50
9. Josai Univ. - 2:11:00
10. Hakuho Univ. - 2:11:23
11. Nihon Univ. - 2:11:53
12. Juntendo Univ. - 2:12:20
13. Osaka Taiku Univ. - 2:12:49
14. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:13:12
15. Kansai Univ. - 2:15:14
16. Kanaya Taiku Univ. - 2:15:56
17. Osaka Nin. Univ. - 2:16:38
18. Matsuyama Univ. - 2:17:13
19. Kyoto Koka Univ. - 2:18:23
20. Chukyo Univ. - 2:19:43
21. Fukushima Univ. - 2:20:35
22. Tohoku Fukushi Univ. - 2:21:36
--- Tohoku Select Team - 2:23:18*
23. Takaoka Univ. - 2:25:20
24. Seishu Univ. - 2:29:04
25. Hokkaido Univ. - 2:29:55

*The Tohoku Select Team is not included in the scored results.

Stage Best Performances
1st stage (6.0 km) - Akiko Matsuyama (1st year, Kansai Univ.): 19:14
2nd stage (6.6 km) - Natsuko Goto (3rd year, Nihon Univ.): 21:16 - stage record
3rd stage (9.1 km) - Kazue Kojima (3rd year, Ritsumeikan Univ.): 29:35 - stage record
4th stage (4.9 km) - Michi Numata (1st year, Ritsumeikan Univ.): 15:19 - stage record
5th stage (4.0 km) - Hanae Tanaka (1st year, Ritsumeikan Univ.): 13:07 - stage record
6th stage (8.0 km) - Eri Sato (4th year, Meijo Univ.): 26:53

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 25, 2008

National University Women's Ekiden - Preview pt. II: The Top Five Contenders

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The 26th All-Japan University Women's Ekiden, also known as the Morinomiyako Ekiden, takes place Oct. 26 in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Two-time defending champion Ritsumeikan University is set to win a third-straight title, with four schools presenting potential challenges. Brief profiles of each school follow.

Ritsumeikan University
Ritsumeikan University, alma mater of professionals including 2008 Sapporo International Half Marathon winner Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC), is the dominant women's running school in Japan, winning the Western Japan Regional Ekiden title every year since 2003 and the National Invitational Ekiden all five years of the event's existence thus far. Ritsumeikan won the 2003 and 2004 National University Women's Ekiden titles but in trying to become the second school in Morinomiyako history to win a third consecutive championship lost out to rivals Meijo University in 2005. Ritsumeikan came back to win in 2006, then dominated the event in 2007 with its runners setting new stage records on the first three of the ekiden's six legs and clocking stage best times on the fourth and fifth legs. The team as a whole set a new record of 2:06:19 for the 38.6 km course and beat runners-up Bukkyo University by 2:27.

Five of the six members of last year's team return in the 2008 season, although only three are on the Morinomiyako entry list. One of them is the team's star runner, third-year Kazue Kojima, who among other achievements since last year's Nationals ran on the Japanese national team at February's Yokohama International Women's Ekiden. The team has also picked up several star first-year recruits including Risa Takenaka and Michi Numata, both of whom were on Ritsumeikan Uji High School's winning team at last year's National High School Ekiden championships. Numata won the National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m in September, and Takenaka, Numata and Sendai Ikuei High School graduate Machiko Iwakawa were on Ritsumeikan's team at September's Western Japan Regional University Women's Ekiden where the team won by 47 seconds over Bukkyo. In short, if any of the other schools can come even close to Ritsumeikan this year it will be a major upset, and the team's future looks secure for at least the next few years.

Nihon University
Ritsumeikan's biggest challenger, on paper at least, may be two-time Eastern Japan Regional University Women's Ekiden winners Nihon University. Nihon faltered last year, finishing in 7th place just 8 seconds outside the seeded bracket for this year's Nationals. The team focused on cross-country running and speedwork over the summer and looks to be in a much stronger position this year. At Regionals its first stage runner Natsuko Goto beat Josai University's Yui Sakai, possibly the best university woman in Japan, and the team now sports two Kenyan 'exchange students,' Ann Kingori and Jemima Maina. Nihon's men's team won this month's Izumo Ekiden on the strength of a spectacular run by its Kenyan anchor Daniel Gitau, and Kingori followed suit at Regionals, making up a large gap to take the win. She will be hard-pressed to take any of Ritsumeikan's runners, but one of the truisms of university ekidens is that the unexpected usually happens.

Bukkyo University
Last year Bukkyo University had its best-ever finish at Morinomiyako, landing in 2nd almost entirely thanks to its ace Ryoko Kisaki, who has since graduated and moved on to Team Daihatsu. Bukkyo finishing 2nd to Ritsumeikan was a familiar situation, as it mirrored the two school's positions in all five editions of the National Invitational Ekiden. This year, despite Kisaki's loss, the team looks stronger than ever. Kasumi Nishihara, who as a first-year broke Ritsumeikan's stranglehold on stage titles at last year's Morinomiyako by winning the sixth stage, returns to the team. Fourth-year Chizuru Ideta finished 3rd in the 10000 m at September's National University Track and Field Championships. Third-year Yuika Mori set a new stage record on the second leg of this year's Western Japan Regional University Women's Ekiden. Bukkyo head coach Kenichi Morikawa claims the team has nine top-notch athletes this year versus only six last year and has confidently predicted an upset for Ritsumeikan. Last year Bukkyo was 1:46 behind Ritsumeikan at Regionals and 2:27 behind at Nationals. This year Bukkyo improved its Regionals performance by 59 seconds, finishing 47 seconds behind Ritsumeikan. This improvement may not be enough for them to overtake the defending national champions, but it may put Bukkyo's runners close enough that each invidual can find the extra something they will need to stay in contention.

Josai University
Josai, alma mater of 2008 Olympian Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren), has never finished higher than 4th at the National level. This year may be different. The team includes 2008 East Japan Regional University 5000 m and 10000 m champion Yui Sakai, one of the highest-potential runners in the current generation of Japanese university women. Sakai has shown dramatic improvement over the last two years and is now so much better than any other woman on the Josai team that she does much of her training with the Josai's men's team. Sakai will give Josai a large advantage, but any team dependent upon one star is vulnerable. At Regionals in September Josai finished only 5th, but Josai head coach Naoto Suzuki had planned for the team to peak at Nationals and was undisturbed by the team's relatively weak showing.

Osaka Taiku University
Osaka Taiku only finished 9th at last year's Morinomiyako Ekiden, but the team's potential is in reality much higher. In 2006 it recruited two star high school runners, identical twins Mai and Yui Ouchi. As a first-year Mai was injured and could not run, but the team nevertheless finished 3rd thanks in part to a strong performance by Yui. Last year Mai was again injured, and this time Yui likewise struggled, finishing 11th on her stage, the team dragging its way home in 9th. This year both runners are in excellent form, with Osaka Taiku finishing a close 3rd behind Ritsumeikan and Bukkyo at September's Western Japan Regional University Women's Ekiden. It's unlikely that Osaka Taiku will be able to overtake Ritsumeikan, but the school remains a darkhorse contender and it would not be suprising if it marked a 2nd-place finish.

Other Contenders
2005 Morinomiyako winner Meijo University remains a threat, although its fortunes have declined somewhat in the time since its victory. Last year's 6th-place finisher Tamagawa University looked poised for a dramatic improvement thanks to its combination of aces Tomomi Tanaka and Kumiko Komiya, but Komiya was injured over the summer and will not be running. Tamagawa will likely be trying just to stay within the top six teams in order to remain seeded for next year's Morinomiyako Ekiden.

The 2008 Morinomiyako Ekiden takes place Oct. 26 at 12:10 p.m. It will be broadcast nationwide from Sendai on Nihon Television.

Source articles:

Friday, October 24, 2008

National University Women's Ekiden - Preview pt. I

by Brett Larner

The 26th All-Japan University Women's Ekiden championship race, also known as the Morinomiyako Ekiden, takes place on Oct. 26 in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Ritsumeikan University is poised to extend its winning streak to a third consecutive year, a feat so far accomplished only once in the event's history by Kyoto Sangyo University in the 1990's. Ritsumeikan will face strong challenges from last year's runner-up Bukkyo University as well as from 2005 winners Meijo University.

The Morinomiyako Ekiden began in 1983 as an international university women's ekiden competition held in Osaka on the last Monday of November, a national holiday in Japan. The ekiden consisted of six stages covering a total of 39 km. U.C.S.D. (U.S.A.) won the inaugural event, with other schools from Germany, England, Australia, The U.S.S.R., Korea, Brazil, China, and Italy taking part each year. In 1999 the race's format changed and it became the national championship ekiden for university women's teams.

In 2005 another major change took place, as the Morinomiyako Ekiden moved from its Osaka base to the northern city of Sendai. The new course was similar to that in Osaka, consisting of six stages covering 38.6 km. Meijo won the first running on the new course. The next year the event moved forward a month to the final Sunday in October, with Ritsumeikan taking the first of its consecutive victories.

Tomorrow JRN will present a preview of Ritsumeikan and four of its challengers for the 2008 national title. The Morinomiyako Ekiden takes place Sunday, Oct. 26 at 12:10 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on Nihon Television.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Captain and the First-Year Ace Lead Fukushi University's Northern Girls to National Ekiden Championships

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 26, teams from across the country will run the 26th Morinomiyako Ekiden, the National University Women's Ekiden Championships, on a six-stage, 38.6 km course stretching from the Miyagi Track and Field Grounds to Sendai City Hall. Three teams from the Tohoku [northeastern] region of Japan will represent all northern girls. Along with the Tohoku Regional University Select Team will be Fukushima University, making its third consecutive and tenth total appearance, and Fukushi University, competing for the second consecutive and sixth total time. Running on Fukushi's team for the first time are captain Shoko Mori (fourth year) and ace recruit Makiko Ishiyama (first year).

Shoko Mori - Fourth Year
Going to the Morinomiyako Ekiden for the first time as a senior and as captain, Mori's enthusiasm and focus are at a peak. "We're representing all of Tohoku," she says. "I have no insecurity at all. I'll be fast." Keeping command of herself and setting the tempo for the whole team are her main goals.

Mori has gone from the very bottom to an elite height. After continuously improving her best times since entering university, Mori fell into a slump in February and March this year. "I couldn't run at all, and had become one of the slowest people on the team. Every day I was afraid that coach was going to say, "Please give up your position as captain." Entering her senior year in April with a broken spirit, Mori thought to herself, "I have to pull myself together and get back to normal." She forced herself to grind away through the workouts, and soon saw the light come shining. In April she ran a 5000 m PB during a time trial. In August she improved her mark again. "At this time last year," Mori recalls, "I was having stomach pains from all the stress, but this year everything's OK. The only thing left is to kill whichever stage I'm given in the ekiden." Mori's rivals have been given fair notice.

Last year as anchor Mori had to run the 6th stage wearing a white tasuki [after earlier runners ran their stages too slowly and missed the cutoff time to pass the team's tasuki]. "This year I want the team to be like a meteor on the first half," says head coach Hironobu Ozaki (39), indicating that this year he plans to use his stronger runners early on. Mori agrees, saying, "I don't want to leave the younger runners with bad memories." Having rebuilt herself into a capable leader, Mori will soon pass the tasuki on to her juniors.

Shoko Mori - Born Feb. 3, 1987 in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture. 153 cm, 37.5 kg, blood type O, youngest of three children. Competed on the softball and ekiden teams while at Iwanuma J.H.S. Gave up softball to focus on distance running in high school. H.S. team finished 9th in the Miyagi Prefectural High School Ekiden Championships during her second year, qualifying for the Tohoku Regional Championships. At this year's National University Women's Half Marathon Mori was the only runner from Tohoku.

Makiko Ishiyama - First Year
With a 5000 m PB in the 16-minute range, first-year Ishiyama is Fukushi University's ace. 5th in the National High School 1500 m, Fukushi's rookie comes to her first Morinomiyako Ekiden with a sparkling reputation and dying to run.

Tohoku's qualification race for the Morinomiyako Ekiden took place in late September. Fukushi University earned its second straight appearance in the ekiden, but Ishiyama was not there. She began suffering inflammation in her left knee in practice and withdrew shortly before the race. Afterwards, Ishiyama's dreams for her big university debut burned even hotter. "This team can win even without me," she says, "but I'm still sorry to have brought them shame by not being able to run."

The star first-year returned to training after a very short interval with no signs of any lingering injury. In team practices she has been competing with captain Mori and other top runners to lead the workouts. In the Morinomiyako Ekiden she will likely be given one of the early stages. "It's a lot of responsibility and pressure," Ishiyama admits, "but that's not something I can let get to me." The pressure comes partly from running to support the senior runners. "Shoko and some of the other senior runners can get pretty scary during workouts and races, but that's the only time. I'm really thankful to all of them for their leadership and want to show my gratitude through my performance in the race."

Before running Ishiyama always follows a ritual of hitting herself over her heart with her right fist to get herself mentally ready to go, an act which has earned her the reputation of being a 'traditionalist.' "I'm ready right now and will bring it all to the race," she says in closing. On Oct. 26 she will need to fully charge her self-confidence as she presents herself to the nation in her first Morinomiyako Ekiden.

Makiko Ishiyama - Born Nov. 11, 1989 in Yamagata Prefecture. 156 cm, 47 kg, blood type O, oldest of three children. Ran in the National Junior High School Ekiden Championships while still playing on her junior high school's basketball team. Focused on track and field upon entering high school and made the National High School Ekiden Championships her second and third year.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jobu University Qualifies for its First Hakone Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

At the Oct. 18 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai [Qualification Race], Jobu University's ekiden team finished 3rd to qualify for the 85th Hakone Ekiden in only the team's 5th year of existence. On Oct. 20 Takasaki city mayor Yukio Matsuura held a reception in the Jobu ekiden team's honor, heartily congratulating them and urging the team on to success in the Jan. 2-3 main event.

Head coach Katsuhiko Hanada and 20 runners from the team appeared at the reception. Mayor Matsuura addressed them, smiling as he told them, "You are the first [team] from Gunma Prefecture to run the Hakone Ekiden. Show us all something special when we see you on TV." Coach Hanada discussed the team's performance at the Yosenkai and its goals for Hakone, saying, "Our runners believed in themselves, and they ran outstandingly. We're aiming for the seeded bracket [top 10] in Hakone, and running as one united whole we can do it."

The team members, all dressed in suits, each gave somewhat nervous speeches. 3rd-year Mao Fukuyama (20), who last year became Jobu's first runner to compete in the Hakone Ekiden when he ran the legendary uphill 5th stage on the Kanto Regional University Select Team, finishing with the 3rd-best time on the stage, promised with obvious confidence, "If I am put on the 5th stage again this year I will win it."

Jobu University's main campus is in Isesaki city, Gunma Prefecture, but its administration offices are based in Takasaki city. Jobu University president Kukie Mitsuma and other top university officials also attended the reception.

Meijo University Ready for National University Women's Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 16, Nagoya's Meijo University held a support rally for its women's ekiden team which will be competing at the 26th National University Women's Ekiden Championships, the Morinomiyako Ekiden, in Sendai on Oct. 26. Meijo last won a national title in 2005; it finished 2nd in 2006 and was 3rd last year. Senior captain Eri Sato (22), told supporters, "Our goal is to win, but whatever happens we want to be able to say we came out of Nationals having exceeded our own expectations. Our biggest rivals are ourselves."

Meijo University will host a viewing of the Morinomiyako Ekiden at its Nakamura-ku Meieki campus.

'Freya Murray Earns GB Call-Up for Trip to Japan'

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'UK Athletics - Chiba Ekiden Team Announced'

Tokai's Yuki Sato to Join Team Nissin Shokuhin

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 18, Rikuren's long distance bureau announced that Tokai University senior Yuki Sato will join Tokyo-based Team Nissin Shokuhin after his graduation next spring. With regard to his decision to join the top-ranked ekiden team, Sato commented, "If I'm on a high-level team then I can improve my own level and develop my potential." Sato has set new stage records all three years that he has thus far run the Hakone Ekiden.

Translator's note: Nissin is one of the best pro ekiden teams in Japan. Besides top-ranked runners such as Toshinari Suwa, Julius Gitahi and Gideon Ngatuny, Nissin has in the last few years pulled in several of the best graduating university students including Satoru Kitamura, Bene Zama, and Sato's former Tokai teammate Keizo Maruyama.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tomoya Onishi Defends Takashimadaira 20 km Title

by Brett Larner

Less than a week after a brilliant run in the Izumo Ekiden, Toyo University senior Tomoya Onishi barely missed becoming the second university student to break the hour mark on the Takashimadaira Road Race's 20 km course, winning his second straight Takashimadaira title in 1:00:05.

Takashimadaira serves as an early-season tuneup for Tokyo-area universities, with three or four schools sending a mix of ace runners wanting a controlled time trial effort on the roads and B-squad members who did not run in either the previous week's Izumo Ekiden or the previous day's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai [Qualifying] 20 km but still have a chance of making the final team for Hakone.

Toyo fielded a full squad including half its team from the Oct. 13 Izumo Ekiden, but gave star first-year Ryuji Kashiwabara and Izumo team members Hiroyuki Uno and Masaya Mori a rest. Izumo Ekiden runner-up Komazawa University sent a smaller group, none of whom had run Izumo. Kanagawa University and Shuto University Tokyo likewise sent their secondary teams, each school's top twelve athletes having run the previous day's Yosenkai race.

Onishi, who won last year's race in 1:00:52, controlled the field right from the gun, running each iteration of the four-lap criterion course progressively faster. In sunny and warm conditions which became steadily windier, Onishi led a large pack through a relatively slow first 5 km lap of 15:15. A 15:00 second lap dropped the pack down to eight made up of five Toyo runners, two from Komazawa, and the race's lone professional, Tsuyoshi Igarashi of Team JR Higashi Nihon. As the winds picked up Onishi pressed on in search of a sub-hour mark. By the end of the 14:58 third lap the pack was down to just Onishi, teammate Shogo Otsu, and Igarashi. Despite a strong headwind at the finish, Onishi managed a 14:50 final 5 km to finish just over an hour. Otsu and Igarashi were a short distance behind, with the student runner beating out the professional in a sprint finish.

Toyo and Komazawa will next face each other in November's All-Japan University Ekiden championships.

Takashimadaira Road Race 20 km - Top Finishers
1. Tomoya Onishi (Toyo Univ.) - 1:00:05
2. Shogo Otsu (Toyo Univ.) - 1:00:15
3. Tsuyoshi Igarashi (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 1:00:16
4. Shuichi Fujiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:03
5. Ryo Takami (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:09
6. Hikaru Tominaga (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:38
7. Tatsuya Yokoyama (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:46
8. Kotaro Fujioka (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:46
9. Atsuyoshi Tobisaka (Toyo Univ.) - 1:01:53
10. Taishu Iwai (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:10

Takashimadaira Road Race - Course Records
Men's 20 km: Hideaki Date (Tokai Univ.) - 58:51 (2006)
Women's 20 km: Asami Obi (Team Starts) - 1:07:15 (2004)
Men's 10 km: Karamore Tsunaki (Team Honda) - 29:06 (1995)
Women's 10 km: Julia Mombi (Team Phiten) - 32:42 (2004)
Men's 5 km: Nobuaki Nagai (Dream AC) - 14:49 (2005)
Women's 5 km: Ai Mitamura (Team Phiten) - 16:24 (2004)

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Takeyasu Makes Top 10 in Beijing Marathon

by Brett Larner

Team Chudenko's Masahiko Takeyasu ran the Oct. 19 Beijing Marathon, placing 9th in his second marathon in a modest 2:15:10. Takeyasu debuted at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon where he was 4th in 2:14:18. He was the lone Japanese runner to make the top ten as no elite Japanese women placed.

As in Beppu-Oita, Takeyasu was beaten by Morroco's Rachid Kisri, who in Beijing was 4th in 2:11:31. Also finishing ahead of Takeyasu was Chinese national record holder Longyun Ren, who ran 2:14:27 to finish 7th this year after a memorable national record 2:08:15 while finishing 2nd at last year's Beijing Marathon.

Kenyans took the top three positions, with Benjamin Kiptoo winning in 2:10:14. Chinese teenager Xue Bai won the women's race in 2:26:37.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Josai Wins 2nd Straight Hakone Ekiden Qualification Race

by Brett Larner

Relative newcomer Josai University had a strong showing at the 2008 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai, a 20 km road race held Oct. 18 in western Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park to select non-seeded teams for the 2009 Hakone Ekiden. Josai won the Yosenkai for the 2nd year in a row despite a mediocre run by its ace, 3rd year Yuta Takahashi. 12 other teams likewise qualified for January's Hakone, the Kanto regional men's university 2-day ekiden championships and the most popular race in Japan.

In a typical year, Hakone features 19 university teams and 1 select team made up of top runners from Kanto-area schools which failed to qualify. The top 10 finishing schools are seeded for the following year's Hakone with the remaining teams having to run the Yosenkai to requalify. In the Yosenkai, universities may field teams of up to 12 runners. All runners run an open 20 km race, with the aggregate time of a school's top 10 finishers determining the team finishing order. For the bottom three qualifying slots schools receive a time handicap bonus based on the schools' overall performance, including field events, at the 2008 National University Track and Field Championships, meaning that for these lowest-ranking positions schools with faster ekiden teams may be passed over in favor of team with slower ekiden teams but stronger overall track and field programs.

The 2008 Hakone Ekiden was, however, anything but typical. The select team finished in the top 10, a rarity, meaning only 9 teams would be seeded for 2009. 3 schools, including defending champion Juntendo, 2008 co-favorite Tokai, and the smaller Daito Bunka, failed to finish due to runner mishaps, the first time in the event's 84 year history so many schools dropped out.

The presence of major schools Juntendo and Tokai meant that weaker schools would have more difficulty than usual qualifying at the 2008 Yosenkai, but the Hakone Ekiden organization came to the rescue. In honor of the event's 85th anniversary, Hakone announced that 3 additional schools would be allowed to compete in 2009, meaning that 13 teams had a chance to qualify at the Yosenkai along with the select team.

Josai, which first ran Hakone in only 2004 and has progressively moved its way up through the ranks, had 2 runners in the top 4, although its 2nd, Takahashi, was not in top condition and faded from the leaders when the top pack broke away in the 2nd half of the race. Josai is well-poised to try again to finish in the seeded top 10 at the 2009 Hakone after near-misses in 2007 and 2008.

Runner-up Tokyo Nogyo repeated its surprise run at last year's Yosenkai, qualifying with ease. Its top finisher, 3rd year Kazuki Tomaru, was one of the big stories of this year's Yosenkai. Tomaru was the overall winner and the only man in the field to break the hour mark, no small accomplishment considering the twisting, undulating course and temperatures of 23 degrees at the start. He ran in the top pack for the first 15 km of the race, then launched a long attack at the 5 km to break leader Kodai Matsumoto of Meiji. Tokyo Nogyo was not able to parlay its strong performance at last year's Yosenkai into an equivalently strong run at the 2008 Hakone Ekiden, but a new year is a new year.

The biggest story of this year's Yosenkai was the 3rd place finish by Jobu University. Jobu's ekiden team began 5 years ago when a group of student runners at the school wrote letters to retired athletes asking them to become their coach. The students succeeded in persuading the university to hire Katsuhiko Hanada, a 2-time Olympian and Waseda graduate who set the stage record on Hakone's 4th leg in 1993. In 2008, 2nd year student Mao Fukuyama was the first Jobu runner to compete in Hakone, running the famous uphill 5th stage on the Kanto select team. He passed 5 other runners, finishing with the 3rd best time on the stage and inspiring his teammates to work harder. At this year's Yosenkai Jobu's top runner finished in 1:01:11, far behind the leaders. Fukuyama, now a 3rd year, was next in 1:01:14. Incredibly, Jobu's next 8 scoring finishers were all under 1:01:50, making it the 1st school in the race to land all 10 scorers. The result speaks very well for both Hanada's coaching and the Jobu team's motivation. Jobu's 1st-ever Hakone appearance, earned without the aid of either the time handicap from Nationals or the extra 3 slots at this year's Hakone, will be one of the most anticipated highlights of the 2009 Hakone Ekiden.

Takushoku and Meiji will both return to Hakone after short absences, the former having missed making the 2007 Hakone Ekiden by 1 second, the latter buoyed by the performance of 3rd year Kodai Matsumoto who led the Yosenkai for its first 15 km and was 2nd until the final km when he suffered a hamstring strain and almost dropped out, falling to 9th but still leading the Meiji team in.

The other success story of this year's Yosenkai was Aoyama Gakuin, which, after being the 1st team outside the qualification bracket last year, took 13th this year to qualify for its 1st Hakone Ekiden in 33 years. Granted, Aoyama qualified thanks to the extra 3 slots this year, but considering that it actually finished 12th on pure time, ahead of 2007 Hakone winners Juntendo who were only ranked higher in the final standings due to a larger handicap bonus, its run was outstanding. The school's last appearance was long before the births of any of the current members and in that running Aoyama's anchor fainted 200 m from the goal and failed to finish. Given these facts, this year's team will be motivated to restore the school's name.

At the other end of the spectrum, Hosei University failed to qualify for Hakone, beaten out by Aoyama Gakuin by just 6 seconds. Hosei, along with Waseda, Chuo and Nihon, is one of the few schools which have been in Hakone since the event's inception. It has run in 72 of the 84 previous editions, so its absence in 2009 is prominent to say the least. Hosei's strongest runner, 3rd year Masahiro Fukushima, took the result very hard as he had had a bad day and run far off his capabilities. To give credit where it is due, Hosei actually finished 13th on pure time but were eliminated by Juntendo on the strength of Juntendo's larger handicap bonus.

Of the 3 schools which failed to finish the 2008 Hakone Ekiden, Tokai and Daito Bunka had moderate results which reflected the fact that both schools ran the Izumo Ekiden on Monday. Tokai, which was 6th in Izumo but 7th in the Yosenkai, was clearly fatigued, its superstar runner Yuki Sato, who in peak shape would easily have won the race, dropping from the lead pack in only 5 km. Sato eventually stopped at least 3 times with leg cramps and finished far down in the field. By contrast, Daito Bunka's 10th place finish in the Yosenkai was a better reflection of its abilities than its 14th place finish in Izumo, revealing where the priorities of its coach Shinya Tadakuma lie. Daito Bunka 4th year Naoki Sumida, the runner who was responsible for the school dropping out of the 2008 Hakone Ekiden, hoped to redeem himself at the Yosenkai but had another bad day, stuggling home in 1:04:56 as the 12th man on the team, outside the scoring positions.

Which leaves Juntendo. The 2007 champion, Juntendo was in danger of finishing outside the seeded positions as the defending champ in 2008 when its 5th leg runner Hiroyuki Ono collapsed just a few hundred m from the end of his stage and eliminated the school. While Ono ran well through the spring and summer track season, the fortunes of the rest of the team have fallen so far so quickly that head coach Akira Nakamura should be seriously fearing for his job. Juntendo came in 14th at the Yosenkai on time, but thanks to a large time handicap from Nationals finished in 12th, nearly 2 1/2 minutes behind the minor Kokushikan team and just 20 seconds ahead of Aoyama Gakuin. Juntendo must be very thankful for the extra 3 slots this year, but its chances of making the seeded positions in Hakone look very slim. If Juntendo fails to be seeded it will have to run the Yosenkai for a 2nd consecutive year, only the 2nd time in the school's history this will have happened.

2008 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Team Results
top 13 teams qualify for 2009 Hakone Ekiden
1. Josai Univ. - 10:13:20
2. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 10:13:46
3. Jobu Univ. - 10:15:47
4. Nittai Univ. - 10:17:04
5. Takushoku Univ. - 10:17:43
6. Kanagawa Univ. - 10:18:04
7. Tokai Univ. - 10:18:15
8. Senshu Univ. - 10:19:25
9. Meiji Univ. - 10:19:30
10. Daito Bunka Univ. - 10:21:01
11. Kokushikan Univ. - 10:17:57* (10:21:32 run time - 11th fastest)
12. Juntendo Univ. - 10:20:13* (10:24:03 run time - 14th fastest)
13. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 10:20:33* (10:21:48 - 12th fastest)
14. Hosei Univ. - 10:20:39* (10:23:49 run time - 13th fastest)
15. Kokugakuin Univ. - 10:25:51* (10:26:21 run time - 15th fastest)

*The aggregate times for the 11th-13th place teams plus those not qualifying for Hakone include a handicap bonus based on the schools' overall performances, including field events, at the 2008 National University Track and Field Championships.

Complete team results are available here.

Top Individual Results
1. Kazuki Tomaru (3rd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:42
2. Keisuke Tanaka (2nd yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:00:04
3. Koji Gokaya (3rd yr., Senshu Univ.) - 1:00:11
4. Yuta Takahashi (3rd yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:00:16
5. Taiga Ito (4th yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 1:00:17
6. Kazuya Deguchi (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:00:28
7. Norimasa Yoshida (4th yr., Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:32
8. Takahiro Mori (3rd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:00:34
9. Kodai Matsumoto (3rd yr., Meiji Univ.) - 1:00:35
10. Hiroyuki Ono (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:00:37
112. Yuki Sato (4th yr., Tokai Univ.) - 1:02:15

Complete individual results are available here.

2009 Hakone Ekiden Entry List - 23 Teams
Komazawa Univ.
Waseda Univ.
Chuo Gakuin Univ.
Asia Univ.
Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.
Chuo Univ.
Teikyo Univ.
Nihon Univ.
Toyo Univ.
Josai. Univ.
Tokyo Nogyo Univ.
Jobu Univ.
Nittai Univ.
Takushoku Univ.
Kanagawa Univ.
Tokai Univ.
Senshu Univ.
Meiji Univ.
Daito Bunka Univ.
Kokushikan Univ.
Juntendo Univ.
Aoyama Gakuin Univ.
Kanto Regional Univ. Select Team

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, October 17, 2008

Takao Watanabe Resigns From Coaching Sendai Ikuei to Train Kinukawa Full-time in Leadup to London Olympics

translated and edited by Brett Larner

A day after his prodigy Megumi Kinukawa (19, Team Mizuno) returned from prolonged illness to set a new women's junior national record of 31:23.21 in the 10000 m at the Oct. 13 Niigata Big Festa meet, Sendai Ikuei High School head coach Takao Watanabe (61) announced that he was resigning his position after 9 years with the school in order to focus on Kinukawa's development full-time over the next 4 years leading up to the 2012 London Olympics marathon and thanked the school warmly. "I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to coach from my heart."

After taking over as head coach in 1999, Watanabe led the boy's ekiden team to 6 national title victories in the National High School Ekiden Championships, making Sendai Ikuei the top running high school in Japan. He also brought half marathon world record holder and Olympic marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya to Sendai Ikuei and was Wanjiru's first coach in Japan. Asked for his favorite memories from his tenure as coach, Watanabe cited his first season in 1999, the 2004 "God's Country" season when the team set the ekiden high school world record of 2:01:32, and last year when Sendai Ikuei edged out the 2nd place team to win despite both schools clocking the same time.
Watanabe's successor as head coach at Sendai Ikuei, Junichi Seino (24), paid tribute to the retiring leader, saying, "The legacy that Coach Watanabe leaves behind is profound and invaluable. It's a heavy weight to carry, but I will do everything I can to continue the leadership he personified."
Kinukawa attended Sendai Ikuei High School, where she set the previous women's 10000 m junior national record as a senior, qualifying her for the 2007 World Track and Field Championships where she finished 14th. A serious viral infection in the late fall kept her out of competition, including the Beijing Olympics, and reduced her training to just an hour of walking per day. On Sept. 20 she ran her first race in nearly a year, beginning a swift comeback which led quickly to her new junior national record and signalled that she was ready to pick up where she left off a year ago.
Watanabe began coaching Kinukawa when she was a student at Sendai Ikuei and is now devoting himself to cultivating this very special athlete. "More than running in the World Championships last year," Watanabe said of Kinukawa, "setting the new junior record yesterday was a transformative experience. She's not ready to think about challenging [Mizuki] Noguchi yet, but this result showed her that she's good enough to run at the world level."
Kinukawa's mark ranks her at 9th on the all-time Japanese women's 10000 m record list and clears the A-standard for next summer's World Championships in Berlin. "World-class level is coming closer one step at a time," said Kinukawa after her performance in Niigata, a great start on the road to the 42.195 km race 4 years distant.

This month, Kinukawa begins training full-time at the National Training Center in Tokyo. Watanabe chose to move from Sendai to Tokyo in order to dedicate himself to guiding her training as her private coach. "Japan's marathoning in the Beijing Olympics was like a blunt sword. I want to make sure this doesn't happen again in London," Watanabe told listeners, confirming that Kinukawa intends to make the marathon the focus of her career. "Kinukawa will run the marathon in the London Olympics."

At next summer's World Championships Kinukawa plans to race the 10000 m on the track, then in 2010 she will run her marathon debut. Still recovering from the illness which kept her out of competition for most of the year, her longest training run leading up to Niigata was only 16 km, but her training menu for the near future includes runs over 20 km. The next step is, according to Coach Watanabe, "Sub-31 minutes [for 10000 m] next year." Looking over Watanabe's training menus in his plan for a progressive buildup to the marathon, Kinukawa agreed and lightheartedly shrugged, "Yeah, I plan to do my best." After a miraculous comeback, Megumi Kinukawa has the potential to be the great redeemer of Japanese women's marathoning.

Translator's note: Watanabe's move, leaving the six-time national champion high school to focus on one athlete, sets up a relationship like that between Japan's two most revered marathoners, Takahashi and Seko, and their coaches, Koide and Nakamura. In four years today's story may prove to be historic.

Two Kenyan Pros Abandoned by Their Sponsor Teams Imprisoned in Nagoya and Facing Deportation

translated by Brett Larner

update: I've received some inquiries about how to help Munyi and Kamau since posting this article yesterday. Please contact Takahide Watanabe of the Owari Asahi Running Club. The club's message board discussion about the situation here, and a copy of the documents Watanabe has filed with the Immigration Bureau protesting the Kenyans' pending imprisonment and outlining their legitimacy as runners is here.

Fired by their sponsoring jitsugyodan teams after sustaining injuries and given shelter by a sympathetic small independent local car parts manufacturer, two elite Kenyan runners living in Nagoya were arrested early this month and imprisoned in the Nagoya Immigration Violation Detention Center. The two are facing deportation, but a group of local supporters is attempting to fight the Immigration Bureau's action, saying, "These two men are truly talented athletes and deserve to stay in Japan."

The two runners, Simon Maina Munyi (30) and Joseph Mwaura Kamau (20), live in Japan on amateur athlete visas. Simon came to Japan in 1997 when he was hired by a jitsugyodan team based in Aichi Prefecture,* going on to win the Nagoya Half Marathon twice. Joseph came to Japan in 2003 as an exchange student at a high school in Okayama Prefecture before joining a jitsugyodan team,* finishing in the prizes at both the Yokohama and Kyoto Half Marathons.

However, both runners became injured and were fired by their sponsoring jitsugyodan teams. Friends came to their aid and introduced them to a small, independent car parts manufacturing firm in Nagoya in September last year. Sympathetic to their situation, the company created a track and field team to support the Kenyans' training and gave them minor jobs in its factory to help them survive. Both men recovered from their injuries and were planning to run comeback races in half marathons this October and November.

Asked for details concerning the two men's arrests and detention, an Immigration Bureau official responded, "We have no comment." Takahide Watanabe (50), head of the Owari Asahi Running Club, an amateur group with which Simon and Joseph train on weekends, said that because the car parts company sponsoring the two Kenyans is not one of the major manufacturers, Immigration Bureau officials most likely did not take the company's track team seriously and chose to treat the two men as ordinary workers, a status not permitted under the terms of their visas. "I want the Immigration Bureau to make the right decision here," he told reporters.

Joseph also talked about his situation. "The training environment in Japan is superb, and I would like to stay here," he said. "I believe I'm capable of breaking 2:07 in the marathon, and I only want to get back to my training."

Translator's note: The article declines to name the jitsugyodan teams which fired the two injured Kenyans. Simon Maina Munyi ran for Toyota, while Joseph Mwaura Kamau competed for Omokawa.

Fukushi and Nakamura to Battle at Awajishima Women's Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The entry lists for the Nov. 3rd Awajishima Women's Ekiden were released at an Osaka press conference on Oct. 15. Heading the list are Beijing Olympians Kayoko Fukushi (26, Team Wacoal), who finished 11th in the 10000 m, and Yurika Nakamura (22, Team Tenmaya), who was 13th in the marathon. The two are expected to run against each other on the ekiden's longest stage, the 11.78 km 3rd leg.

The dangerous road racer Nakamura is considering another shot at the marathon. There is a possibility that Fukushi, who debuted at the marathon in January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, may also give the distance another try later in the season, but at last weekend's Niigata Big Festa track and field meet Fukushi herself said only, "I'm getting ready for ekiden season."

Team Wacoal head coach Tadayuki Nagayama downplayed speculation about Fukushi's 2nd marathon, saying, "Nothing after ekiden season is fixed yet. Right now we're only thinking as far as Awajishima," and stressing that Fukushi is focused on the ekiden. The dangerous road racer Nakamura is also considering another attempt at the marathon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Murai, the Man Who Made Tosa, Leads Matsuyama University to First National Championship Ekiden

translated by Brett Larner

At the All-Japan University Women's Ekiden on Oct. 26 in Sendai, Beijing Olympic marathoner Reiko Tosa's alma mater Matsuyama University, will represent central Shikoku in its first-ever appearance at the national championship ekiden. The team's assistant coach is Keiichi Murai (34), Matsuyama alumnus and coach and husband to Tosa. In a classic example of a running marriage, Murai cultivated a winning athlete.

The day before the Sept. 23 qualification race for All-Japan, Murai held a meeting with his runners at Matsuyama. "When I told Reiko that I thought we would definitely make All-Japan she said that I shouldn't say that. 'You don't know what'll happen, especially in such a high-pressure situation. As the coach you should be more careful about what you say.'" Understanding the tension his runners would be feeling and trying to help them relax such words of wisdom is part of Murai's coaching style. With his and Tosa's support, the Matsuyama women set a meet record while winning the qualification race to earn for their first trip to the national championships.

Murai met Tosa when the two were students at Matsuyama, he the captain of the track and field team and she a team member two years his junior, and they married in 2004. Resigning from his Osaka-based company in 2005, Murai moved with Tosa to her hometown of Matsuyama. Using Tokyo as a base for Tosa's training, Murai began working at Matsuyama University while living with his parents-in-law.

The opportunity for a major change came in April last year. The assistant coach of ekiden powerhouse national champions Meijo University, Takayoshi Onishi, became head coach of Matsuyama, and Onishi soon invited Murai to become assistant coach. Onishi made the job offer on the basis of Murai's success advising athletes such as team captain Yukiko Kokusen (second year), who this year placed 9th in the National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m.

Murai is known for effectively communicating to his athletes both the hardships they must face and the kind of success they can expect in return for hard work, the kind of success experienced by Reiko Tosa on her road from being a no-name athlete to an Olympian, telling them, "Reiko put everything she had into her workouts." Kokusen commented, "I'm proud to say that there's a great legacy of runners like Tosa here before me, and it means a lot to hear about her attitude toward workouts." Coach Onishi added, "Coach Murai is a very nice guy who has created a warm and caring atmosphere among the team."

Murai described his own view of his role as, "I'm just the man behind the curtain. I'm here to support Coach Onishi and the team as well as I can in whatever they do." The reward for his efforts may well be an athlete who will rise to become the next generation's Tosa.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Noguchi: "I'll Be in the London Olympics"

Originally published 10/12/08 in the Nikkei Newspaper

translated by Brett Larner

Mizuki Noguchi (30, Team Sysmex), who pulled out of the Beijing Olympics women's marathon after an injury to her left thigh, took part in a panel discussion at an event in Sado, Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 11, telling the audience through her tears, "I sincerely apologize [for pulling out of the race]. My big goal now is to be ready to run the London Olympics." It was Noguchi's first public appearance since her injury, and she sent a positive message with her mention of plans four years in the future.

The panel discussion was part of an event organized by Noguchi's coach Nobuyuki Fujita. "Fujita Running Academy" is a program designed to support and develop elementary and junior high school student runners. Appearing as a special guest, Noguchi spoke publically about her injury for the first time while addressing the student audience. "Getting hurt was my own fault. I wanted to be in the best shape possible for the Olympics and I did too much [training]. The fault was my own. Coach Fujita and my trainer [Hisakazu] Hirose bear no blame...."

Noguchi tried at one point to begin training again after her Olympic pullout, but the pain persisted and she returned to recovery and rehabilitation mode. Looking to the future, she commented, "I'm still motivated and looking forward to coming back to the top."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

'Izumo Ekiden'

Ivy League Alumni Select Team runner Owen Washburn writes about his time running this year's Izumo Ekiden:

Nihon University's Gitau Steals Izumo Ekiden Victory From Komazawa (updated)

by Brett Larner

The 2008-2009 university ekiden season officially got underway on Oct. 13 with the 20th anniversary edition of the Izumo Ekiden. Twenty-two teams competed over the six stage, 44 km course, including the top teams from the Kanto regional championship Hakone Ekiden, strong schools from other regions of Japan, and a select team of ace runners from the American Ivy League. Tokai Unversity had won the previous three years at Izumo on the strength of its two stars Hideaki Date and Yuki Sato, but with the loss of Date to graduation Tokai faced a tough challenge in its quest for a first-ever fourth straight title from 2008 Hakone Ekiden winners Komazawa University. Komazawa’s runners have traditionally relied on sheer strength over speed to make it the top running school in Japan, but this year Komazawa comes to ekiden season with six runners under 14 minutes for 5000 m for the first time in its history. Waseda University, with 5000 and 10000 m Olympian Kensuke Takezawa and a squad of four outstanding first-year students, was also expected to be a serious challenger to Tokai’s title.

Toyo Univ. led most of the way on the strength of yet another noteworthy performance by its own outstanding first-year, Ryuji Kashiwabara, who looks poised to become the new big name in Japanese university distance running, and a brilliant run by its ace senior Tomoya Onishi, but lost control to Komazawa University in the final part of the 4th stage. Komazawa appeared to have a safe margin of victory on the anchor leg, but its first victory in 10 years was snatched away at the last moment by a stage-record run by Nihon Univ. junior Daniel Gitau, who covered the 10.2 km stage in 28:28 despite recent injury troubles. Gitau has been overshadowed by Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.'s popular Mekubo Mogusu during his first two years in the university ekiden circuit, but his double victory over Mogusu at last month's National University Track and Field Championships and his stage record in Izumo suggest he is ready to move up. Gitau was also charismatic and likeable during his first Japanese-language TV interviews before and after the ekiden and even poked fun at himself, removing the tasuki before finishing his anchor leg in parody of his debut ekiden run at Nihon when he was unaware of ekiden rules and took his tasuki off, only done when handing off to a following runner, before finishing his anchor leg. He is sure to earn many fans this season.

Komazawa’s performance illustrated its main strength as a team, its strength. The absence of a single star runner but overall high level is the reason it is the dominant school in the Hakone Ekiden, and its performance at the 2008 Izumo Ekiden demonstrates that it is likely to be the favorite for the 2009 edition of Hakone as well despite an Izumo loss to Nihon, which relies heavily on the strength of its Kenyan ringer.

Along with Gitau, top domestic runners Kensuke Takezawa and Yuki Sato returned from their own injury troubles, Takezawa with an unremarkable turn on the 3rd stage and Sato with a solid anchor run to land Tokai in 6th. It was clear from this performance the extent to which Tokai relied on its Date-Sato combination, boding ill for its chances this season. Waseda, after several years of improvement, finished a dismal 11th, its much-hyped first-year recruits failing to approach expectations in their ekiden debut and Takezawa’s run raising questions about whether he is fully recovered from his injuries. Waseda will have a long way to go to be competitive in time for Hakone.

Nine-time Kyushu Regional University Ekiden champion Daiichi Kogyo had its best-ever result at the Izumo Ekiden, finishing 3rd. The performance was partially due to Daiichi Kogyo’s use of two Kenyans, but strong performances by its Japanese runners, particularly senior Ryohei Nakano on the third stage, were also major contributing factors. As a university outside the Kanto region Daiichi Kogyo does not compete in the Hakone Ekiden and thus does not attract as many top high school runners as schools like Komazawa, Tokai and Waseda, so its performance at this year’s Izumo Ekiden is commendable.

Yamanashi Gakuin and 2008 Hakone Ekiden runners-up Chuo Gakuin had to settle for mediocre 4th and 10th place finishes respectively in the absence of their strongest runners, Mekubo Mogusu and Masato Kihara, both of whom were competing in the World Half Marathon Championships in Rio, Brazil. Mogusu will return to Japan from Rio only to find a challenger to his title as the top Kenyan student runner in Japan, as it was his stage record that Gitau erased.

Next up in the university ekiden season is November's All-Japan University Ekiden, followed by January's Hakone Ekiden. Tokai, Daito Bunka and other schools which are not seeded for next year's Hakone Ekiden will also take part in the Oct. 18 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km road race to qualify for Hakone.

Stage-by-Stage Report
First Stage – 8.0 km
Conditions at the start were unseasonably hot, 24 degrees and sunny as the race began in front of Izumo Great Shrine, one of Japan’s most important cultural sites. Kenyan exchange students Samuel Ganga of Hiroshima Univ. of Economics and Kibet Kipngeno of nine-time Kyushu University Ekiden champions Daiichi Kogyo Univ. led on the first stage, pursued by Nihon Bunri Univ.`s Ryota Yoshida and Toyo Univ.’s superb first-year Ryuji Kashiwabara. Yoshida soon dropped back, joined by Komazawa’s Sota Hoshi as Kashiwabara stayed with the Kenyans through a 2:38 first km. By 2 km Kipngeno had been replaced by Hoshi and Kashiwabara was challenging Ganga for control. Leading the chase pack were Kipgenon and Waseda’s biggest new recruit, 2007-08 high school champion Yuki Yagi. Ganga, Kashiwabara and Hoshi hit 3 km in 8:19 with a substantial lead over the chase pack, while Yagi, holder of the fastest 5000 m PB in the field, 13:50, was dropping back through the ranks.

Just after 3 km Kashiwabara attacked on a steep downhill, opening a slight gap. Ganga responded but was unable to keep with the Toyo runner. He and Hoshi repeatedly traded places as they tried to catch back up. 4 km passed in 11:06 before Ganga was able to retake the lead. Hitting 5 km in 14:00, Ganga had a small lead over Kashiwabara and Hoshi was nowhere to be seen. At 5.5 km Kipngeno returned, catching Hoshi and moving up on a straining Kashiwabara. Ganga, a graduate of Sera High School, hit 6 km in 16:56 with Kashiwabara just under 17:00, then 7 km in 19:54. He looked back repeatedly during the final km, finishing the stage in 22:56 and just missing the stage record of 22:50 set at last year’s Izumo Ekiden by Chuo Univ. senior Yuichiro Ueno. Kashiwabara held on for 2nd in 23:09 with Kipngeno 3rd in 23:13. Komazawa was 4th, Tokai 15th, and Waseda 17th on the stage.

1. Samuel Ganga (Hiroshima Univ. of Economics) - 22:56 - stage best
2. Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) - 23:09
3. Kibet Kipngeno (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 23:13
4. Sota Hoshi (Komazawa Univ.) - 23:39
5. Eiji Teramoto (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 23:40

Second Stage – 5.8 km
Toyo first-year Hiroyuki Uno quickly overtook Hiroshima Econ’s first-year Chihiro Uehara to move into the lead, taking control after just 1.5 km. Uehara held on for nearly one km but quickly fell away, overtaken in turn by Daiichi Kogyo’s Shota Atsuchi and a pack including Komazawa, Nihon, Yamanashi Gakuin and Rikkyo. The pack, led by Komazawa’s Nobuhiro Ajima, continued to advance and overtook Atsuchi with just 500 m to go. With 400 m left Nihon’s Takahiro Taniguchi attacked in an all-out sprint, pursued only by Yamanashi Gakuin’s Aoi Matsumoto. Uno held off the charge, handing off to ace Tomoya Onishi in the lead position and covering the stage in 17:01. Taniguchi was 9 seconds back in 2nd, Matsumoto just steps behind. After a short gap came Ajima and Atsuchi. Tokai advanced only one place to 14th, while Waseda failed to catch any rivals, maintaining 17th.

1. Hiroyuki Uno (Toyo Univ.) - 40:10 (17:01)
2. Takahiro Taniguchi (Nihon Univ.) - 40:19 (16:39)
3. Aoi Matsumoto (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 40:21 (16:38 - stage best)
4. Nobuhiro Ajima (Komazawa Univ.) - 40:26 (16:47)
5. Shota Atsuchi (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 40:27 (17:14)

Third Stage – 8.5 km
The 3rd stage featured many schools’ best runners, setting viewers up for some of the Izumo Ekiden’s most exciting racing. Komazawa and Daiichi Kogyo swiftly caught up to Nihon and Yamanashi Gakuin, forming a pack of four to chase down Toyo senior Onishi. Onishi, part of a set of identical triplets, one of whom passed away as an infant, the other of whom, Kazuki, is Toyo’s captain, looked steady and comfortable but lost ground to the challenge led by Komazawa junior Takuya Fukatsu. Nihon senior Takuma Sasaya was unable to stay with Fukatsu’s pace, falling away from the chase pack.

Far to the rear, Takezawa was rapidly creating a classic run. The first university ekiden Olympian in forty-four years, senior Takezawa sat out most of 2008 with serious injuries, returning just in time to qualify for the Olympics. He picked off one runner shortly after beginning, then at 2.6 km went by a group of five including Tokai. Tokai senior Norimasu Yoshida stayed with Takezawa, moving a step ahead running together for one km. Takezawa began to grimace and looked red in the face. Within another km, Yoshida had pulled away, opening a gap of over 5 m over Takezawa.

In the lead, Yamanashi Gakuin’s Daisuke Koyama out of contention by 4.5 km, but Fukatsu and Daiichi Kogyo senior Ryohei Nakano were still close behind Onishi. At 5.6 km they were 4 seconds behind the leader. Further back, Sasaya had returned, overtaking Koyama. Tokai’s Yoshida continued to pull away from Takezawa, overtaking Chuo’s Tomoya Mizukoshi just as the pair reached the 5.6 km checkpoint. Takezawa was 13 seconds back.

After 6 km, Onishi began a long, slow acceleration, gradually shifting his form and pulling away from his tired pursuers. It was a masterful move which effectively neutralized Fukatsu’s finishing speed along with that of the more unknown Nakano. As a student at the Kyushu region's Daiichi Kogyo, Nakano cannot run in the Hakone Ekiden and thus does not receive anywhere near the media attention accorded to rivals such as Fukatsu, but he nevertheless ran as a worthy rival, outkicking Fukatsu by 4 seconds and finishing 13 seconds back from Onishi, who covered the stage in 24:41. Sasaya finished 1:04 back from Onishi, with Koyama another 13 seconds behind.

Tokai’s Yoshida finished the stage in 9th, 2:11 behind Onishi but advancing the defending champs five places. Takezawa was 37 seconds behind Yoshida in 11th place, picking up six spots but losing 56 seconds to the leader. He commented afterwards that his right thigh continues to be a source of trouble and that it had flared up during his Izumo run.

1. Tomoya Onishi (Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:51 (24:41)
2. Ryohei Nakano (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 1:05:04 (24:37 - stage best)
3. Takuya Fukatsu (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:05:08 (24:42)
4. Takuma Sasaya (Nihon Univ.) - 1:05:55 (25:36)
5. Daisuke Koyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:06:08 (25:47)

Fourth Stage – 6.5 km
Toyo sophomore Yu Chiba led through the 4th stage, pursued by Daiichi Kogyo’s Ryo Taniguchi and Komazawa captain, senior Soji Ikeda. At 2.5 km Chiba looked back to check on the situation but seemed to continue without change. At 2.8 km Ikeda caught Taniguchi, running abreast as the gap to Chiba narrowed and then pulling away at the halfway point on the stage. A kilometer later Ikeda was right with Chiba, pulling into the lead at 4.5 km and putting Komazawa in position for its first Izumo victory in ten years. Chiba refused to be dropped, pulling even with Ikeda once again 400 m later. The two repeatedly traded stride-long leads, Chiba still looking relaxed but Ikeda showing the strain of having played catchup. With one km to go Ikeda launched his final spurt, definitively pulling away from Chiba, running with his eyes closed, and finished 8 seconds up on 2nd placer Chiba. Taniguchi was 29 seconds back from Chiba. Just behind him, Yamanashi Gakuin’s Kota Otani ran an incredible last km to overtake Nihon junior Yuki Marubayashi and set up a duel between the two schools’ Kenyan anchors on the 6th stage. Tokai advanced to 7th, 1:50 behind the leader, while Waseda maintained 11th but picked up 3 seconds.

1. Soji Ikeda (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:23:49 (18:41)
2. Yu Chiba (Toyo Univ.) - 1:23:57 (19:06)
3. Ryo Taniguchi (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 1:24:26 (19:22)
4. Kota Otani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:25:02 (18:54)
5. Yuki Marubayashi (Nihon Univ.) - 1:25:02 (19:07)
stage best: Masataka Fujiwara (Tokai Univ.) - 18:37

Fifth Stage – 5.0 km
Komazawa junior Yusuke Takahashi began quickly, opening his lead over Toyo junior Tatsuya Yokoyama. He was showing signs of struggle by the halfway point but maintained a steady pace of 2:41/km, on track for a potential new stage record. Behind him, Nihon’s Yosuke Inoue led Yamanashi Gakuin`s Kei Goto as the two worked to make headway against Daiichi Kogyo’s first-year Aya Yamamoto. At 4 km Goto pulled slightly ahead of Inoue who attempted to retake his lead with a long push but was outkicked by Goto in the final sprint.

Takahashi finished in 14:41, just outside the stage record as he handed off to anchor Tsuyoshi Ugachi. Yokoyama came through next, 30 seconds behind. Yamamoto handed off to Daiichi Kogyo’s second Kenyan, first-year Kiragu Njuguna, 1:07 behind Ugachi. 19 seconds later Goto was next, handing off to first-year Kenyan Cosmas Ondiba in the absence of Yamanashi Gakuin’s star Mekubo Mogusu who was in Rio for the World Half Marathon Championships. 3 seconds later Nihon’s ace Daniel Gitau started, 1:29 behind the leader and raising his fist in a victory sign as he began.

1. Yusuke Takahashi (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:38:30 (14:41 - stage best)
2. Tatsuya Yokoyama (Toyo Univ.) - 1:39:00 (15:03)
3. Aya Yamamoto (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 1:39:37 (15:11)
4. Kei Goto (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:39:56 (14:54)
5. Yosuke Inoue (Nihon Univ.) - 1:39:59 (14:57)

Sixth Stage – 10.2 km
Komazawa junior Tsuyoshi Ugachi began in an all-out sprint, desperate to build his lead over the battery of Kenyan anchors he was facing. As first-years Njoguna and Ondiba’s abilities were relatively unknown factors, but in a pre-race interview Gitau had said he was confident he could win if he were within 1:20 of the leader at the start. Race announcer and legendary marathoner Toshihiko Seko voiced his concerns about Ugachi’s pacing, saying it was clearly far too fast after a 2:47 first km, but Komazawa coach Hiroaki Oyagi was unconcerned, saying that Ugachi was running according to plan and that if he was able to sustain himself through the first 7 km he was confident of victory.

At 2.4 km Ugachi had a lead of 49 seconds over Toyo senior Masaya Mori. Njuguna was 57 seconds behind Ugachi, with Ondiba and Gitau coming through together 1:02 behind the leader. Gitau had made up 11 seconds per km up to this point and was thus well on track to overtake Ugachi. Somewhat lost in the storm in 2:00 behind Ugachi in 6th place was Tokai anchor Yuki Sato, potentially Japan’s greatest distance runner but recovering from injury.

At a corner at the 4.2 km point Ugachi looked back to check on his pursuers. Ugachi’s pace had gradually slowed, covering the 4th km. in 3:01 as he ran into a headwind. Nothing could be seen, but behind him Njuguna had passed Mori, then in turn been passed by Gitau, who had dropped Ondiba just before taking Mori and Njoguna. Njuguna stayed right on Gitau’s heels as the two advanced toward the lead, and Ondiba overtook Mori, hinting at the possibility of a Kenyan sweep on the anchor stage. Ugachi slowed further to 3:04 for the 5th km, taking water at a drink station.

On the long downhill during the 6th km, one of Ugachi’s coaches shouted details of his situation to the struggling anchor. He responded, accelerating somewhat awkwardly and returning to sub-3 min/km pace. Gitau in the meantime pulled away from Njuguna, steadily pressing forward. With 3 km to go he was 15 seconds behind, and the only question became how many of the Kenyans would pass the unfortunate Ugachi. Just past 8 km the hammer came down as Gitau took the lead. Ugachi responded again, trying to stay in contention, but with 400 m Gitau had opened a gap and it was over. Or was it? Gitau began looking back, losing some of his composure and beginning to struggle. Ugachi seemed to hold his position, while Njuguna and Ondiba continued to get closer. Ugachi rallied in the final 500 m, but Gitau was too strong and finished 14 seconds ahead, 1:43 faster than his rival despite some recent knee trouble. Gitau’s time for the 10.2 km anchor stage was 28:28, a new stage record by 5 seconds over the mark set last year by Yamanashi Gakuin’s Mogusu.

Njuguna was 3rd, delivering Daiichi Kogyo its best-ever finish. Ondiba came in 4th with a strong showing, boding well for Yamanashi Gakuin’s next few years following Mogusu’s graduation. Toyo’s hapless anchor Mori came in 5th after being wiped out by the three Kenyans, but managed to hold off Sato, who brought the defending champs Tokai home in 6th place with the only sub-30 minute time by a Japanese runner on the 6th stage. Waseda struggled home in a crushing 11th place, just behind 2008 Hakone Ekiden runners-up Chuo Gakuin whose ace Masato Kihara was competing on the Japanese national team at the World Half Marathon Championships.

1. Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) - 2:08:27 (28:28 - new stage record)
2. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 2:08:41 (30:11)
3. Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 2:09:10 (29:22)
4. Kiragu Njuguna (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 2:09:18 (29:33)
5. Masaya Mori (Toyo Univ.) - 2:10:05 (31:05)

Overall Results
1. Nihon Univ. - 2:08:27
2. Komazawa Univ. - 2:08:41
3. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:09:10
4. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 2:09:18
5. Toyo Univ. - 2:10:05
6. Tokai Univ. - 2:10:23
7. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:11:31
8. Chuo Univ. - 2:12:05
9. Teikyo Univ. - 2:12:08
10. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 2:12:32
11. Waseda Univ. - 2:12:47
12. Asia Univ. - 2:13:28
13. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:14:09
14. Daito Bunka Univ. - 2:14:59
15. Nihon Bunri Univ. - 2:15:50
16. Hokkaido Select Team - 2:16:38
17. Ivy League Select Team - 2:17:21
18. Hokushinetsu Select Team - 2:18:26
19. Aichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:19:01
20. Hiroshima Univ. of Economics - 2:19:19
21. Central Shikoku Select Team - 2:19:55
22. Tohoku Select Team - 2:23:23

For more information including complete stage-by-stage results visit the Izumo Ekiden's website. The listings in the box on the left show a summary of the results in the link at the top of the box as well as overall standings by handoff order on the left and by time on each stage on the right.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved