Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Twelve Universities Confirmed for Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden

http://www.fuji-news.net/data/report/sports/201410/0000003415.html

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 27 twelve of the twenty university teams to compete in the Dec. 23 Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden national invitational were announced.  The top twelve placing teams at last weekend's National University Women's Ekiden in Sendai received invitations to race the Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden:
  1. Ritsumeikan University
  2. Daito Bunka University
  3. Osaka Gakuin University
  4. Matsuyama University
  5. Kanoya Taiiku University
  6. Kyoto Sangyo University
  7. Meijo University
  8. Fukuoka University
  9. Tokyo Nogyo University
  10. Saitama University
  11. Hakuoh University
  12. Bukkyo University
Six of the remaining spots will go to other schools with the fastest average official 5000 m times and will be determined by Dec. 1.  On Dec. 5 two select teams will also be announced, one from East Japan featuring members of other universities from the Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto and Hoku-Shinetsu regions and one from West Japan featuring members of schools in the Tokai, Kansai, Chugoku-Shikoku and Kyushu regions.  According to the city sports department, the final list of schools and entered athletes will be published shortly before the race and will be available in newspapers and fliers in the towns of Fuji and Fujinomiya.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Makau, Mathathi, Gitau and Nakamoto Headline Fukuoka International Marathon

by Brett Larner

For its first running following the launch of the new mass-participation Fukuoka Marathon on Nov. 9, the hallowed Fukuoka International Marathon has pulled in former world record holder Patrick Makau (Kenya) to make a go at a comeback against 2013 winner Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and surprise 2012 winner Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) in its 68th edition on Dec. 7.  Until this summer Makau hadn't run at quality over any distance since 2012, but a sub-28 road 10k in the U.S.A. in August suggests he has been getting back toward full fitness, something he'll need to bring to compete against Mathathi and Gitau.  2:06:24 Ethiopian Raji Assefa is a potential darkhorse, #2 on paper but without a good marathon to his name since running his PB in 2012.

Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki), 6th in the London Olympics and 5th in the Moscow World Championships, leads the domestic hopes alongside 2:08 Moscow teammate Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda), track and half marathon star Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) making his domestic debut after running 2:13 and 2:12 overseas earlier this year, and former 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) and college indy Hideyuki Ikegami (Kyoto Kyoiku Univ.) in their marathon debuts.

A solid overseas second pack is also in place to boost Japanese chances.  The aging internationals include 2005 Fukuoka winner Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine), perpetual pacemaker Isaac Macharia (Kenya) and national record holders Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) and Henryk Szost (Poland).  Fresher blood includes Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN), Cuthbert Nyasango (Zimbabwe), Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A,), Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza).

Fukuoka is one of the four races used to set up the three-person team for the 2015 Beijing World Championships, with Federation bigwigs calling for Japan's corporate runners to step up and run sub-2:06:30 to get there.  Considering that only one Japanese man has ever done that it seems like they might as well call for a 2:05 or 2:04, but the sub-2:08 standard for the Moscow World Championships team was at least partially responsible for all five team members clearing 2:09 and the fastest getting down to 2:08:00 and Fukuoka has seen a sub-2:07 by a Japanese man in older times, so who knows?  With a decent pack of overseas competition staging things at mid-2:06 pace maybe fans will be treated to something special.

68th Fukuoka International Marathon
Elite Field and Open Division Highlights
Fukuoka, Dec. 7, 2014
complete field listing coming shortly

Patrick Makau (Kenya) - 2:03:38 (Berlin 2011)
Raji Assefa (Ethiopia) - 2:06:24 (Paris 2012)
Joseph Gitau (Kenya/Team JFE Steel) - 2:06:58 (Fukuoka 2012)
Dmytro Baranovskyy (Ukraine) - 2:07:15 (Fukuoka 2006)
Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:07:16 (Fukuoka 2013)
Isaac Macharia (Kenya) - 2:07:16 (Dubai 2008)
Yared Asmerom (Eritrea) - 2:07:27 (Chuncheon 2011)
Henryk Szost (Poland) - 2:07:39 (Lake Biwa 2012)
Masakazu Fujiwara (Team Honda) - 2:08:12 (Lake Biwa 2003)
Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 2:08:35 (Beppu-Oita 2013)
Ser-Od Bat-Ochir (Mongolia/Team NTN) - 2:09:00 (Hofu Yomiuri 2013)
Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) - 2:09:03 (Tokyo 2011)
Cuthbert Nyasango (Zimbabwe) - 2:09:52 (Prague 2014)
Tomoya Adachi (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:10:22 (Lake Biwa 2013)
Chiharu Takada (Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 2:10:39 (Fukuoka 2013)
Jeffrey Eggleston (U.S.A,) - 2:10:52 (Gold Coast 2014)
Mekubo Mogusu (Kenya/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 2:11:02 (Tokyo 2013)
Takaaki Koda (Team Asahi Kasei) - 2:11:08 (Tokyo 2011)
Taiga Ito (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 2:11:15 (Tokyo 2013)
Noriaki Takahashi (DeNA RC) - 2:12:04 (Lake Biwa 2014)
Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 2:12:18 (Sydney 2014)
Makoto Fukui (Team Fujitsu) - 2:13:57 (Muenster 2012)
Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza) - 1:01:06 (Marugame 2012)
Hideyuki Ikegami (Kyoto Kyoiku Univ.) - debut - 1:03:09 (Tanigawa Mari 2014)
Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) - debut - 28:01.71 for 10000 m (Kobe 2014)

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 27, 2014

Unstoppable Ritsumeikan University Wins Fourth-Straight National University Women's Ekiden Title - Weekend Road Review

by Brett Larner

With ekiden season in full swing it was the busiest weekend so far this fall as high schools across Japan competed in regional qualifiers for December's National High School Ekiden.  At the university level, the dynastic Ritsumeikan University women led start to finish to win their fourth-straight National University Women's Ekiden, bringing the school's total record to nine national titles.  With the last team to have beaten them, crosstown Kyoto rival Bukkyo University, having faded away following the departure of head coach Kenichi Morikawa for the Yamada Denki corporate women's team and Kanto Region rivals Tsukuba University likewise a ghost of their former selves with the decline of twin stars Haruka and Moe Kyuma, it fell to last year's runner-up Daito Bunka University to give Ritsumeikan a go for the title.

DBU's leading runner Rina Koeda was only a second behind Ritsumeikan's Natsuki Omori to get things off to a promising start, but on the 5.6 km Second Stage the combination of a new stage record of 17:29 from Ritsumeikan's Kotona Ota and a breakdown by DBU's Eri Tayama put DBU over a minute behind, a margin it spend the rest of the race trying to close.  Osaka Gakuin University got into the mix with a Fifth Stage record of 29:40 for 9.2 km by Saori Noda to get into 2nd, but DBU anchor Chikako Mori ran another stage record 17:06 for 5.2 km to retake 2nd and come within 21 seconds of Ritsumeikan's Ayaka Kikuchi.  Despite the big performance Mori couldn't carry the race entirely by herself as Ritsumeikan won in 2:04:36 to DBU's 2:04:57, Osaka Gakuin just 3 second back in 2:05:00 for 3rd.  Although Kanto is the dominant region in university men's distance running thanks to the legendary Hakone Ekiden, DBU was the only Kanto region women's program to make the top 8 and get seeded for 2015.

At the corporate level, West Japan's regional qualifier for December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden was also packed with new records.  Team Kyudenko led the entire way, Yuka Miyazaki leading off strongly just 2 seconds from the First Stage record and 2014 World Half Marathon bronze medalist Sally Chepyego taking 4 seconds off the record for the 3.5 km Second Stage in 10:26 to put Kyudenko into a relatively safe position against its toughest rival, Team Daihatsu led by Asian Games marathon silver medalist Ryoko Kizaki.  Daihatsu fought back with a Third Stage win by star rookie Sairi Maeda and a new record of 20:27 for the 6.495 km anchor stage by Kizaki, but Kyudenko was too far ahead and took the win in 2:17:08, a new record for the six-stage, 42.195 km course.  The entire field of twelve teams cleared the 2:23:00 qualifying time for Nationals, last-place Team Juhachi Ginko cutting it close in 2:22:29.

Marathons were also on the menu, with the Osaka Marathon approaching the Tokyo Marathon in scale with over 28,000 finishers.  Last year's men's winner Jackson Limo (Kenya) became the first man in Osaka's short history to repeat as he set a new course record of 2:11:43.  2008 World Half Marathon 5th-placer Yusei Nakao (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) outran independent Sho Matsumoto (Nikkei Business) for 2nd in a PB 2:14:02, Matsumoto also just clearing 2:15.  Maryna Damantsevich (Belarus) won the women's race in 2:33:04 over Japanese amateur Hisae Yoshimatsu (Shunan City Hall), a distant 2nd in 2:39:33.

The fastest Japanese men's marathon of the weekend came at the Frankfurt Marathon where 2013 Hokkaido Marathon winner Koji Gokaya (Team JR Higashi Nihon) got under 2:12 for the first time, running 2:11:43 for 12th to beat favorite Vincent Kipruto by 26 seconds.  Gokaya previously showed aptitude for racing overseas with a 2:12:15 for 7th at the 2011 Chicago Marathon, and a promising performance in one of the deepest marathons so far this year is reason for optimism in a season that has seen mostly amateuristic international performances from Japan's best corporate men.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Plans Announced to Move Yokohama International Women's Marathon to Saitama With Mass-Participation Race

http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/etc/20141024-OHT1T50300.html

translated by Brett Larner

On Oct. 24 it was announced that plans are in their final stages for a successor event to the Yokohama International Women's Marathon, facing its final running on Nov. 16, to be held in Saitama beginning next year.  The new event is planned as a joint operation between the Saitama metropolitan and Saitama prefectural governments with a course beginning and ending at Saitama Super Arena.  With a cherished history as a selection race for Olympic and World Championships teams, the women's marathon will be born again in Saitama.

According to a Saitama metropolitan government official, the new event's first running is planned for mid-November, 2015.  The proposal for the race to begin and end at Saitama Super Arena is the current favorite, with the course passing Saitama Stadium, the Saitama Prefectural Government offices and Saitama City Hall.  The JAAF has also weighed in, saying, "We would like to see a course conducive to fast times."  The 2015 running will be restricted to elite athletes as usual, but with its second running in 2016 it will switch formats to include a mass-participation race.  Full details will be announced next month.

The JAAF had previously announced on Oct. 23 that the Yokohama International Women's Marathon would be cancelled due to financial problems following its sixth running on Nov. 16.  Established in 1979 in its previous incarnation as the Tokyo International Women's Marathon, it was the world's first IAAF-certified women's only marathon and came to serve as a selection race for Olympic and World Championships teams.  However, with the launch of the Tokyo Marathon in 2007 it experienced problems with the Tokyo police and was reincarnated Yokohama following its 30th running in 2008.

The JAAF approached the Saitama Prefectural Government in April this year.  A joint operation by the Saitama metropolitan and prefectural governments would allow costs to be split between the two, and discussions are underway with the Saitama Police Department with regard to road closures and providing security.  Saitama city was already looking at expanding the Saitama City Half Marathon held every February or March to a full marathon format, but both the city and prefectural governments have long hoped to work under JAAF leadership in organizing a major marathon event.  That dream looks set to come true by taking the reins of an international women's marathon with 36 years of history in two of the country's biggest metropolises.

Translator's note: The Saitama Police Department is very strict with regard to road closure permits and was largely responsible for the demise of the 1990s-era Saitama Marathon along with other races in the prefecture after it began stopping runners on the course to let cars pass.  In that regard the move to Saitama could spell trouble for another long-standing mixed elite and mass-participation event, the Ageo City Half Marathon, traditionally held the same day as Yokohama/Tokyo International in the town of Ageo, Saitama neighboring the Saitama metropolitan area.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yokohama International Women's Marathon to be Discontinued After November's Sixth Running

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/20141022/ath14102221220003-n1.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Oct. 22 the organizers of the Nov. 16 Yokohama International Women's Marathon revealed that the event, jointly operated by the JAAF and the Asahi Newspaper group, will be discontinued after this year's sixth running due to ongoing financial difficulties with the race.  As a continuation of the former Tokyo International Women's Marathon it played an important role in establishing the prosperity of Japanese women's distance running over its 36-year history, a history on which the curtain is now set to fall after this year's race.

Established in 1979 to encourage the participation and development of female athletes, the Tokyo International Women's Marathon was the first women-only marathon in the world to be officially certified by the IAAF and led directly to the introduction of a women's marathon to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  It laid the foundations for Japanese women to win marathon medals at four straight Olympics from Barcelona in 1992 through Athens in 2004.  In 2009 the event was relocated from Tokyo to Yokohama.

In recent years the JAAF has changed its direction, focusing on supporting the launch of new marathons in cities across the country.  As mass-participation marathons like the Tokyo Marathon continue to gain popularity they have sought to continue to support elite women-only races, but the weakening performances of Japanese women in recent years has led to declining interest from sponsors.

Translator's note: Sad but unsurprising news.  The Yokohama International Women's Marathon's move from Tokyo to Yokohama was a direct result of the expansion of the Tokyo Marathon from an elite men's race to a mass-participation format and was due in large part to issues with obtaining road closure permits from the Tokyo police.  The move to Yokohama itself killed off the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden, another long-standing event, in favor of the marathon.  

This article does not mention that Yokohama will also begin to host a mass-participation marathon, the Yokohama Marathon, in March 2015, but that is surely also related to the discontinuation of Yokohama International.  With Fukuoka launching a mass-participation marathon next month there have to be concerns about the future of the Asahi Newspaper-organized Fukuoka International Marathon, an historic elite men's race just four weeks later which has struggled in recent years to attract top Japanese men due to the increasing importance of the New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships and has already examined moving from its traditional date at the beginning of December to February.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Comparing the Incomparable: The Wisconsin adidas Invitational Cross-Country Meet and the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Road Race

by Brett Larner
videos by sk002000 and naoki620



The world's two leading university men's distance running systems each held some of their fall seasons' major events this weekend.  In the U.S.A.'s NCAA, 36 university teams lined up at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational 8 km cross-country meet, with other top teams competing at the Pre-Nats meet later in the weekend.  In Japan's KGRR, the 11th through 58th ranked university teams in the Kanto Region were at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km road race, with the top 10 teams in the region scattered elsewhere on the track and road.



It's not really fair to compare cross-country to road racing and even less so to compare 8 km to 20 km, but how do the results from Wisconsin and the Yosenkai look in relation to each other despite the inequalities?  Click to enlarge the tables below to find out.


In NCAA cross-country, teams run 7 men with the top 5 placers scoring. Team scores are based on placing instead of time, creating some irregularities where teams with a faster average finishing time can place lower than slower teams.  Winner Syracuse's 5 scorers averaged 3:00.6/km for the 8 km course, with 7th-place UCLA averaging 3:02.3/km and 10th-place Florida State averaging 3:02.9/km.

Teams at the Yosenkai run from 10 to 12 men with their top 10 scoring.  Team scores are determined by total time of all 10 men, meaning the finish order mirrors how fast they actually ran.  Winner Kanagawa's top 10 averaged 3:02.2/km for the 20 km course, 5th-place Chuo Gakuin averaging 3:02.8/km and 10th-place Soka averaging 3:04.2/km.

In other words, although NCAA teams were at a relative disadvantage in running on a cross-country course, the average pace of Kanagawa's top 10 men over 20 km was faster than UCLA's top 5 men over 8 km, while the top 5 schools at the Yosenkai all averaged faster than 10th-place Florida State with teams twice as big running 2.5 times as far.  Reducing the variables by one and looking at just the top 5 scorers on the Yosenkai teams and reordering both races' results by average pace produces a better, if still not perfect, comparison.


Yamanashi Gakuin's 5 fastest men averaged nearly a second per km faster than Wisconsin Invitational winner Syracuse's 5 scorers.  The second-fastest Yosenkai team, Koku Gakuin, was also faster than Wisconsin Invitational runner-up Iona, and likewise all the way down the top 10 each of the KGRR teams' top 5 scorers averaged faster over 20 km on the roads than the equivalent NCAA team's 5 scorers did over 8 km cross-country.


At the individual level, 124 men in the Wisconsin Invitational averaged 3:05/km or better for the 8 km cross-country course, while at the Yosenkai 138 men did the same for 20 km on the roads. The top 3 finishers in Wisconsin averaged 2:57/km, 2:58/km and 2:58/km for 8 km, while the top 3 at the Yosenkai averaged 2:55/km, 2:55/km and 2:57/km for 20 km.  While only the top 3 in Wisconsin ran under 2:59/km, all of the top 10 at the Yosenkai were 2:58/km or better.  40 Wisconsin finishers ran 3:01/km or better to only 37 at the Yosenkai, but by 3:02/km Yosenkai numbers were again greater.  While more schools did run the Yosenkai the lower end of the field there performed at a lower level than the bottom schools in Wisconsin, and the number of teams represented in the totals above was similar.

The main objection here is bound to be that cross-country is far tougher than road racing.  The Wisconsin 8 km course features at least 10 sharp turns and a series of hills with a maximum elevation difference of roughly 30 m and a net climb of around 5 m, all run on soft surfaces.  The Yosenkai 20 km road course does feature a large proportion of flat and straight sections but also includes at least 19 sharp turns and 2 more 180-degree turns, with small hills over the final 5 km and a net climb of around 10 m.  The Wisconsin course was no doubt harder, but the key question is whether the difficulty of the course was enough of an issue to offset the fact that Yosenkai competitors had to run 2.5x farther than their U.S. counterparts.

This doesn't seem likely as a sole explanation for the consistent pattern of slower performances at Wisconsin seen in the second table above, especially considering the unseasonably hot and sunny conditions at this year's Yosenkai.  To put it differently, if the Yosenkai teams were to run 8 km cross-country in a week or two, could they perform similarly to how they did over 20 km on the roads?  That seems reasonable.  If the Wisconsin Invitational teams ran 20 km on the roads in a week or two, could they replicate their performances over the much longer distance?  That seems much less achievable.  Taken together with the fastest-ever winning time by a Japanese man at this year's Yosenkai and its world record-setting depth both this year and last, overall the results seem to point to increasing success in long-distance development in the KGRR relative to the NCAA where, as Race Results Weekly's David Monti documented last year, considerable success has come in middle distances.

The question of whether what's happening in the KGRR is too much too young is a good one that will see its definitive answer 6 years from now in Tokyo.  In the meantime, the question could be better put this way: if you are a high schooler looking at colleges and dreaming of being internationally competitive as a miler, which system is more likely to get you there?  If your dream is to be internationally competitive as a marathoner which system will give you a better chance?

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ngandu Repeats at Takashimadaira 20 km

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20141019-1384249.html

translated by Brett Larner

1229 people ran in the 39th edition of the Takashimadaira Nikkan Sports Road Race Oct. 19 on a 5 km loop course in Takashimadaira, Tokyo.  In the men's open division, last year's winner Benjamin Ngandu (23, Team Monteroza) ran solo from the first lap to defend his title in 1:00:01.  His next race is the Dec. 7 Fukuoka Marathon, where he made an unsuccessful debut last year.  "This year I want to break 2:10," he said with conviction.

39th Takashimadaira Nikkan Sports Road Race
Takashimadaira, Tokyo, 10/19/14

Men's 20 km
1. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza) - 1:00:01
2. Shohei Hayakawa (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:14
3. Yuta Takahashi (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:21
4. Yusei Tsutsumi (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:22
5. Takayuki Tsuchiya (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:29
6. Hiroki Takemoto (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:30
7. Kenta Ando (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:38
8. Kodai Matsushita (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:49
9. Nanami Arai (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:53
10. Hidetoshi Yamashita (Tokai Univ.) - 1:01:05

Women's 20 km
1. Eri Okubo (Miki House) - 1:13:18

Men's 10 km
1. Kinya Hashira (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:44
2. Tatsunori Sato (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:47
3. Yuji Sezaki (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:48
4. Sho Tsuisawa (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:49
5. Masatomi Tsutsui (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:53

Women's 10 km
1. Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) - 35:39

Men's 5 km
1. Yuto Hashimoto (Daito Bunka Univ. Alumni Club) - 15:05

Women's 5 km
1. Miyuki Hara (Kinjo Gakuen H.S.) - 17:06

Feeling Free Despite Hate Mail Burying Him at Work, Kawauchi Wins Chiba Aqualine Half

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20141019-00000091-spnannex-spo

translated by Brett Larner

Enough with the hate mail.  Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (27, Saitama Pref. Gov't) returned to the Chiba Aqualine Marathon, where he is the course record holder, to run its half marathon on Oct. 19, winning in 1:04:22 and beating 2nd place by more than 5 minutes.  "I had fun today!  I was grinning the whole time I was running," he said with a smile.  "I held my pace steadily and even picked it up at the end."

His shot for a gold medal in the Asian Games marathon ending in bronze, Kawauchi has excused himself from running any of the domestic selection races for the Japanese team for next summer's World Championships marathon in Beijing, China.  Taking himself out of contention for the national team for the time being has lightened Kawauchi's load and left him feeling free.  "Up to now I've always had to worry about my time and place when I ran," he said with honesty.  "Now's it's like, 'Enough of that!  It's got nothing to do with me!'"

After the Asian Games Kawauchi received hate mail at work addressed to the "civil shithead" and saying things like, "Never run the marathon again!"  Nobody has felt the responsibility of wearing the Rising Sun more than Kawauchi, but this time was different.  "I've removed myself from national team contention, so I don't deserve to be told things like that," he said.  "Until I'm good enough to be selected [for the national team] why don't you say them to the people who are on the Japanese national team instead?"  It was clear that the pleasant sea breeze wasn't enough to cool down the heat boiling up inside the civil servant runner.  He next races at the Nov. 2 New York City Marathon.