Friday, December 19, 2014

National High School Ekiden Championships Preview: Toyokawa Girls Look to Repeat, Sera Boys Set to Dominate

by Brett Larner

While most of the rest of the racing world kicks back for the holidays in the lull between seasons, Japan's distance runners from junior high to pro are hitting the peak of their year with the month-long championship ekiden season.  The biggest race of the weekend is the National High School Ekiden Championships, lovingly broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free for 4 and 1/2 hours this Sunday from Kyoto on NHK starting at 10:05 a.m.  JRN will cover both the girls' and boys' races live on @JRNLive.

The top 12-ranked teams at Sunday's National High School Girls Ekiden Championships.  Click to enlarge.


In its 26th running the girls' race covers 21.0975 km in five stages, with 47 teams representing each of Japan's prefectures.  Defending champion Toyokawa H.S. of Aichi returns ranked #1 with a 5-runner 3000 m average of 9:13 led by senior Azusa Sumi in 9:00.89.  But it's going to be a very closely-matched race, with 4 other teams averaging within 4 seconds of Toyokawa.  Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. is the media favorite with 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu and a 9:14.70 average ranking it #2.  Junior Harumi Okamoto leads #3-ranked Tokiwa H.S. from Gunma with her 9:00.91 best, and, while they lack the star runners of the top 3 Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. and 2012 winner Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. of Kyoto are close behind with averages of 9:16 and 9:17.  Both Osaka Kunei and Ritsumeikan Uji have 7 girls with bests under 9:30, giving them an advantage on depth that will come into play if any of Toyokawa's 4 main runners is not fit.

Beyond the sub-9:20 top 5, 3 more schools average under 9:30 and another 3 at 9:31.  With 2014 NCAA D1 Cross Country champion Michigan State University having a 5-runner 3000 m average of 9:22.71 it's safe to say that any of the top 5 teams at the National H.S. Girls Ekiden could take a pretty mean swing at an NCAA D1 XC title.

The top 12 individuals in the National High School Girls Ekiden Championships.  Look for most to run the First Stage.


Altogether 11 girls from 8 schools have bests under 9:12 led by Kenyan senior Monica Margaret of Samuel Wanjiru's alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S. in 8:59.60, just of Toyokawa's Sumi, Okamoto of Tokiwa and Youth Olympics gold medalist Takamatsu of Osaka Kunei.  As at the team level, any of the top 11 girls would be star runners at the university level in the NCAA.  Watch out for the best racing and the inevitable falls on the track on the First Stage and for a close finish back on the track on the anchor Fifth Stage.

The top 12-ranked teams at Sunday's National High School Boys Ekiden Championships.  Click to enlarge.


The boys' race, celebrating its 65th running, features an expanded field of 61 schools competing with 7-member teams over a total of 42.195 km.  Most of last year's champion Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. has graduated and moved on to form the core of this year's Yamanashi Gakuin University team.  In its absence, 2011 winner Sera H.S. of Hiroshima, alma mater of sub-27 Kenyan Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) and recent 27:38 runner Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei), is the heavy favorite, its 7-runner 5000 m average of 14:08 putting it way ahead of the competition if not quite in range of the 2:01:32 course record set in 2004 by the Wanjiru-led Sendai Ikuei H.S. or 2014 NCAA D1 XC winner University of Colorado.

Beloved by fans for having run the fastest time ever by an all-Japanese team, 2:02:18, Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S. comes in ranked #2 with an average of 14:19.72, but that's where things get interesting.  The next 9 teams, including 2012 winner Toyokawa H.S. of Aichi ranked at #3, all average within 6 seconds of Saku Chosei, all but guaranteeing a chaotic and complicated race behind Sera.

The top 12 individuals in the National High School Boys Ekiden Championships. Look for the Japanese athletes to run the First Stage with the Kenyans restricted to the shorter Third Stage.


11 boys, 7 Japanese and 4 Kenyan, from 10 schools come into this year's race with sub-14 bests over 5000 m led by senior Charles Ndungu of Hokkaido's Sapporo Yamanote H.S. in 13:35.54.  Junior Takuya Hanyu, 1 of 2 sub-14 high schoolers from Chiba's Yachiyo Shoin H.S., is the fastest Japanese runner at 13:52.98, while 2014 World Junior Championships team member Shota Onizuka leads Fukuoka's Omuta H.S. in 13:58.43 just ahead of a brand-new headline-making sub-14 addition, 16-year-old Hyuga Endo of Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. in 13:58.93.

With the mass popularity of the Hakone Ekiden ahead of them in university there is almost no chance any of the top ranks of this year's field would ever consider the NCAA, but imagine what an impact they could make if some lucky American school could somehow pull off a recruiting coup.  Regardless, the National High School Ekiden offers the chance to see future stars like Wanjiru and Karoki along with many of the contenders for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics team for the first time.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ritsumeikan Uji Girls Confident of Ride to Top at National High School Ekiden Championships

http://www.kyoto-np.co.jp/top/article/20141217000034

translated by Brett Larner

Broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free on NHK, the 65th National High School Boys Ekiden Championships and 26th National High School Girls Ekiden Championships take place this Sunday, Dec. 21 in Kyoto with the boys running a seven-stage, 42.195 km course and the girls a five-stage, 21.0975 km course, both starting and finishing at Nishi Kyogoku Field.  Having represented Kyoto every time since the first National Championships, the Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. girls are set to run again.

Four members of last year's 4th-place Ritsumeikan Uji girls squad return, forming the core of this year's team.  Looking to return to the top after winning its 3rd National title in 2012, head coach Yoshinobu Ogino showed confidence int he team's chances as he commented, "Our athletes have become strong."

The top five girls on the team have an average 3000 m PB of 9:20, ranking them fifth in the nation.  Four of them ran in the National High School Track and Field Championships.  At the Nov. 16 Kinki Region High School Ekiden they ran 1:38 faster than at the Kyoto area qualifier for Nationals, winning an 18th Kinki Region title after an off year last year and gaining confidence by beating the #1-ranked high school in the country by average 3000 m best, Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.

Senior Kureha Seki is the team's star runner.  In this year's National High School Track and Field Championships 3000 m she was the top Japanese finisher, 2nd overall.  "My speed is coming," she says of the growth she has achieved.  At last year's National High School Girls Ekiden Championships she fell during the First Stage, a memory that leaves her with bitter tears.  "This year," she declares, "my running is going to help us get the win."

The team's captain is junior Fumiko Ando.  In June she suffered a stress fracture in her left leg, but she recovered quickly to set a 3000 m PB in September.  At the Kinki Region High School Ekiden she showed her strength by running down 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) for the win.  "I'm going to start fast and hang on," she said spiritedly of her plans for Sunday's race.

Along with Kinki Region High School Ekiden Third Stage winner Maako Konishi and First Stage runner Aki Manabe, last year's Nationals team member Saki Hashimoto is fit and healthy.  At a time trial meet earlier this month several first-years ran PBs, adding momentum to the team's drive for the win.  Having guided the Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. girls since they ran the first Nationals, head coach Ogino said, "They've got more experience than any other team.  I want them to run on the edge."

Entry Roster
Kureha Seki (3rd year)
Saki Hashimoto (3rd year)
Nagisa Hasegawa (3rd year)
Fukiko Ando (2nd year)
Aki Manabe (2nd year)
Maako Konishi (2nd year)
Chisa Isuji (1st year)
Honoka Yamamoto (1st year)

Isahaya Boys and Girls Vow to Give It All at National High School Ekiden

http://www.nagasaki-np.co.jp/news/kennaitopix/2014/12/17090524015995.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

With a student body of 833 led by Principal Kenji Tamashima, Nagasaki's Isahaya H.S. held a pep rally at the school Dec. 16 for its boys' and girls' ekiden teams who will be competing in Sunday's National High School Ekiden Championships in Kyoto.  The entire student body turned out to show its support for the school's athletes.

The pep rally was held in the school gymnasium.  Special guest Mayor Akio Miyamoto told the teams, "There are a lot of returning members from last year's [National Championships] team, so our hopes for you are high.  Please give it your best."

Boys' captain Hiroyuki Sakaguchi, 17, told the assembled students, "We will run with the feeling that you are all sharing here today within our hearts."  Girls' captain Sakura Kawakami, 18, added, "With our running we want to show our thanks for the support of every person here."  Pep rally committee chairman Hidehiro Funakoshi said, "We want you to run with confidence and give it all that you have!"  After Funakoshi's comments the school cheerleaders took the stage to lead the school's support for its athletes.

Translator's note: The Isahaya H.S. boys finished 14th last year, while its girls were 22nd.  Isahaya H.S. alumni include London Olympian and 2:07:48 marathoner Arata Fujiwara and 1999 World XC junior bronze medalist Yoshiko Fujinaga.  The National High School Ekiden Championships will be broadcast live nationwide commercial for 4 1/2 hours this Sunday on NHK starting at 10:05 a.m. Japan time.  Follow @JRNLive for live coverage.

Hieizan Girls Looking to Use Natural Competitiveness at National High School Ekiden

http://www.kyoto-np.co.jp/top/article/20141217000036

translated by Brett Larner

Representing Shiga Prefecture for the second year in a row and fourth time in school history at Sunday's five-stage, 21.0975 km National High School Girls Ekiden Championships is Hieizan H.S.  Hieizan's young team is made up entirely of first- and second-years, but with each member of the team calmly attending to the business of getting the tasuki across the line it won the Shiga Prefecture qualifier to make this year's Nationals.

Targeting the school's 1:12-level record at the upcoming Nationals, head coach Katsuhiro Yoshii commented, "If they relax and use their natural competitiveness then the results will follow."  First-years Mao Sawamura and Saori Fukubayashi are in good shape.  Highly likely to be put on the First Stage, Sawamura said, "I'm good on the uphills.  I want to hang on and try to get the tasuki to the next runner as quickly as I can."  Veterans of last year's race, Moe Kawaharada and Yui Marutani are likely to be used in the middle stages.  The team captain, the second-year Marutani was firm as she commented, "I want us to run with aggression.  Every runner on the team needs to clear their target time for the stage they're responsible for."

Entry Roster
Hana Oki (2nd year)
Chika Osaki (2nd year)
Moe Kawaharada (2nd year)
Yui Marutani (2nd year)
Natsume Yamaguchi (2nd year)
Rina Kobayashi (1st year)
Mao Sawamura (1st year)
Saori Fukubayashi (1st year)

Translator's note: Last year the Hieizan H.S. girls finished 51st of 58 teams. The National High School Ekiden Championships will be broadcast live nationwide commercial for 4 1/2 hours this Sunday on NHK starting at 10:05 a.m. Japan time.  Follow @JRNLive for live coverage.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Suzuki and Harada Take Top Japanese Spots at Honolulu Marathon

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20141215-1409335.html
http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20141215-1409308.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner
click here for complete results

Eri Suzuki ran a PB 2:47:00 for 9th as the top woman among the 13,000 Japanese finishers at the 42nd JAL Honolulu Marathon on Dec. 14, her second year in a row taking top Japanese honors in Honolulu.  Exhausted just after finishing, she managed to say, "The crowd support along the course was wonderful and kept me going."  Having run well again in Honolulu she was satisfied with her results, saying, "I met both of my goals of being the first Japanese woman and breaking my PB."

Joyce Chepkirui (Kenya) won the women's race in 2:30:23.  In the men's race, Wilson Chebet (Kenya) took the top spot in 2:15:35, with Taku Harada the fastest Japanese man at 7th overall in 2:27:26.  In the wheelchair race, Wakako Tsuchida won her third-straight women's title in 1:57:35 with Masazumi Soejima picking up a second-straight men's win in 1:41:49.

photos (c) 2014 Dr. Helmut Winter
all rights reserved

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Denso Sets Course Record for Second-Straight National Corporate Women's Ekiden Title (updated)

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20141214-1409007.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

26 teams ran the 34th edition of the 6-stage, 42.195 km National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships in cold and windy conditions Dec. 14 in Sendai, Miyagi.  The Denso team dominated, breaking its own course record in 2:16:12 to score its second-straight win, the first time that a team has defending its national title since Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo completed a hat trick in 2005.

Denso started off slow, 29 seconds down from the lead in 12th after the First Stage.  Second Stage runner Naoko Koizumi celebrated her 22nd birthday by running the second-best time on the stage to move Denso up to 3rd.  Up against each team's best Japanese athlete on the Third Stage, Yuka Takashima, 26, ran down leaders Toyota Jidoshokki and Yamada Denki in stage record time to put Denso into the lead.  Takashima ran 34:40 for the 10.9 km stage to beat multiple national record holder Kayoko Fukushi's stage record by 24 seconds, with Daihatsu rookie Sairi Maeda and Uniqlo's Ayumi Hagiwara also breaking Fukushi's record.  Shaking off the challenge from the Daihatsu team, Denso maintained the lead the rest of the way to the win and the record.

Daihatsu was 2nd, its best-ever placing at Nationals, in 2:16:48.  Yamada Denki was 3rd in 2:17:29, anchor Sakiho Tsutsui running the fastest time on the final stage to overtake 1500 m national record holder Yuriko Kobayashi of Toyota Jidoshokki.  2014 Copenhagen World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego of 6th-placers Kyudenko delivered the day's other stage record, running 11:13 for the 3.6 km Fourth Stage.

In a rare occurrence, the Sysmex team was disqualified after its Fifth Stage runner Mami Onuki stepped across the handoff line to take the tasuki after incoming Fourth Stage runner Misato Okubo fell just before the exchange.

For the first time, the top eight teams received seeded places at next year's National Championships.  As of next year the current East Japan, Central Japan and West Japan regional qualifier ekidens will be discontinued, with other teams qualifying in a new joint qualification race.

34th National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships
Sendai, Miyagi, 12/14/14
26 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results - top 8 qualify for 2015
1. Denso - 2:16:12 - CR
2. Daihatsu - 2:16:48
3. Yamada Denki - 2:17:29
4. Toyota Jidoshokki - 2:17:50
5. Daiichi Seimei - 2:17:54
6. Kyudenko - 2:18:02
7. Uniqlo - 2:18:13
8. Shimamura - 2:18:21
9. Hokuren - 2:18:33
10. Otsuka Seiyaku - 2:18:44
DQ - Sysmex

Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage (7.0 km)
1. Yuika Mori (Team Yamada Denki) - 22:14
2. Ayumi Sakaida (Team Daihatsu) - 22:25
3. Miyuki Uehara (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 22:29

Second Stage (3.9 km)
1. Yui Fukuda (Team Toyota Jidoshokki) - 12:13
2. Naoko Koizumi (Team Denso) - 12:19
3. Ai Inoue (Team Noritz) - 12:26

Third Stage (10.9 km)
1. Yuka Takashima (Team Denso) - 34:40 - CR
2. Sairi Maeda (Team Daihatsu) - 34:45 (CR)
3. Ayumi Hagiwara (Team Uniqlo) - 34:59 (CR)

Fourth Stage (3.6 km)
1. Sally Chepyego (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - 11:13 - CR
2. Rosemary Monica Wanjiru (Kenya/Team Starts) - 11:31
3. Felista Wanjugu (Kenya/Team Univ. Ent.) - 11:35

Fifth Stage (10.0 km)
1. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 32:47
2. Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 32:49
3. Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) - 32:58

Sixth Stage (6.795 km)
1. Sakiho Tsutsui (Team Yamada Denki) - 21:08
2. Mai Ishibashi (Team Denso) - 21:19
3. Ayaka Inoue (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 21:25

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fukushi Out of National Corporate Women's Ekiden With Stress Fracture

http://mainichi.jp/sports/news/20141214k0000m050169000c.html

translated by Brett Larner

2013 Moscow World Championships women's marathon bronze medalist Kayoko Fukushi will not be a starting member at for the Wacoal team at tomorrow's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships.  According to head coach Tadayuki Nagayama, Fukushi is not at full fitness after suffering a stress fracture in one of the toes on her right foot in early October. 

Nagayama also announced that Fukushi will not run in either of the remaining two selection races for the 2015 Beijing World Championships teams, January's Osaka International Women's Marathon and March's Nagoya Women's Marathon.  With an eye toward the Japanese Federation's sub-2:22:30 qualifying time for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic team Nagayama commented, "In the short term the goal is not to focus on competing but to improve her time and running ability." 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Sera H.S. Looking to Fight the Good Fight at National High School Ekiden Championships

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/local/hiroshima/news/20141205-OYTNT50181.html

translated by Brett Larner

Boys team targets "taking home the victory pennant"

Girls team "aiming for the podium"


Set to represent Hiroshima Prefecture again at the Dec. 21 National High School Ekiden Championships in Kyoto, the Sera H.S. boys and girls teams appeared at a sendoff ceremony at Sera Town Hall.  Mayor Masakazu Okuda and fifty other town officials attended, encouraging both teams to put up a good fight at Nationals.

Both Sera teams won November's Hiroshima Prefecture High School Ekiden.  Boys' captain Takahiro Kasai, 18, told the local dignitaries, "All of us want to deliver the strengths that each of us brings to the team so that we can bring the victory pennant home to our town."  Girls' captain Tomoka Nakahata, 18, said, "We want to make the podium, and all of us stand united in making that happen."

Mayor Okuda told them, "I hope that you will shine on the national stage."  Head coach Masaya Iwamoto, 49, commented, "If they run up to their usual ability then the results will follow."  Clenching his fist in the air, to the athletes and team staff he said, "Let's go get that win in Kyoto!  Oi Oi Oi!"

Translator's note: Sera H.S. is the alma mater of several of the best current runners in Japan including Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA RC), Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei) and Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel).