Tuesday, December 31, 2013

San Silvestre Vallecana - Results

49th San Silvestre Vallecana - Top Results
Madrid, Spain, 12/31/13
click here for complete results

Men
1. Leonard Komon (Kenya) - 28:02
2. Ayad Lamdassem (Spain) - 29:05
3. Roberto Alaiz (Spain) - 29:08
4. Javier Guerra Polo (Spain) - 29:10
5. Arturo Casado (Spain) - 29:23
-----
13. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 29:52

Women
1. Linet Masai (Kenya) - 31:33
2. Malika Asahssah (Morocco) - 31:57
3. Rita Jeptoo (Kenya) - 31:59
4. Magdalane Masai (Kenya) - 32:36
5. Jessica Augusto (Portugal) - 32:58

Monday, December 30, 2013

'Kenyans Seek to Get Back to the Top in Madrid's San Silvestre Vallecana'

http://www.iaaf.org/news/preview/madrid-san-silvestre-vallecana-iaaf-silver-la

Note: Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is running the San Silvestre Vallecana with support from JRN.  Pre-race he told JRN, "I'm really looking forward to running a big race like this that the best college and corporate league runners couldn't run even if they wanted to.  I'm excited to run under 29 minutes for the first time and if I do there won't be any reason to ever run 10000 m on the track again."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Komazawa, Waseda and Toyo Go for Glory at 90th Hakone Ekiden - Preview

by Brett Larner



Japan’s distance year hits its peak Jan. 2 and 3 with the 90th running of the biggest sporting event in the country, the Hakone Ekiden. 23 teams of ten Kanto Region university men each, three more teams than usual in honor of the anniversary year face off over the course of two days and 217.9 km on ten stages of from 18.5 km to 23.4 km in front of a live TV audience in the tens of millions with millions more lining the course, and short of an Olympic medal there is nothing more prestigious in Japanese athletics than a Hakone title.

The level of Kanto Region men’s distance running has increased rapidly over the last three years, with multiple course records at Hakone and both of the other Big Three university ekidens, October’s Izumo Ekiden and November’s National University Ekiden, and this year alone has seen national collegiate records for 10000 m and 30 km and near-misses for 5000 m and half marathon. The sheer numbers of collegiate men running quality times is growing steadily; among the 23 schools at Hakone alone there are 64 men with 5000 m bests under 14 minutes, two of them under 13:30, 81 men with 10000 m times under 29 minutes including four under 28 minutes, and 34 men with half marathon times under 63 minutes with six under 62.

These numbers have grown steadily. Three years ago 15 men on the entry list had ace credentials, bests under 13:40, 28:30 and/or 1:03:00, 28:30. Two years ago it was 19 men. Last year the number rocketed to 32. This year it is 42 men, three with times under 13:25, 27:45 and/or 1:01:30.

And this growth is not just limited to the biggest schools. At least a half dozen other programs including small schools in Kanto and bigger universities further westward in Japan had men break 29 minutes this fall, something that just a few years ago would have been exceptional. There is momentum, athletes and young coaches looking at each other, at what is happening in the U.S., and saying, “If they can do that so can we. It’s not enough to settle for just the win. We can do better.” In this environment three schools bring strong chances of winning the 90th Hakone title, each with a compelling story line and all with a half dozen competitors close behind.



Komazawa University set the course record at this year’s Izumo Ekiden, powered in large part by a stage record by star junior Kenta Murayama and solid runs from 2013 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Shogo Nakamura and captain Shinobu Kubota.  Murayama again gave the team its drive at Nationals with another stage record, but despite winning by a wide margin a crack was evident in Komazawa’s armor. On paper Komazawa has an untouchable seven-man team with averages of 13:51.67, 28:29:37 and 1:02:35, but its next three men are one grade down in quality. With eight stages at Nationals Komazawa had exactly seven good runs and missed the overall course record. Hakone demands ten for the win, and despite Komazawa’s first seven strength the deficit in its next three makes it vulnerable to its two strongest rivals, particularly over the half marathon distance where its ten-man average drops from 1:02:35 to 1:03:01. The situation is even more critical if any of Komazawa’s top ten is a DNS as its alternates are another grade down. If things go its way, Komazawa will become just the fourth school to win all of the Big Three university ekidens in one season.  Worth watching for on the individual level is Murayama on the 23.2 km Second Stage, Hakone's most competitive, as he goes for sub-60 half marathon Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu's 1:06:04 course record.  It was Mogusu's record that Murayama broke at Nationals, and in pre-Hakone interviews Murayama has promised "to leave Mogusu far behind" again.  It he succeeds it will already be one of the most important Japanese results of 2014.

Three years ago Waseda University was the last school to win the triple crown, doing it in style as it became the first school to break course records in all three. Then first-year Suguru Osako was key to the team’s success, and now as a senior and the fastest Japanese collegiate ever over 10000 m it is his last chance to lead the team to one last slice of glory. It isn’t a one-man show, though. At November’s Ageo City Half Marathon four Waseda first- and second-years broke 1:03:00 for the first time, giving Waseda a superb ten-man half-marathon average of 1:02:55. With an average stage length of 21.79 km everything at Hakone depends on teams’ credentials over the half-marathon/20 km distance, and in past years Waseda would look like a lock for the win. But there are two problems. Like Komazawa, Waseda’s roster trails off sharply after its first ten. Its next-best man has not broken 1:04:00 for the half-marathon, a flaw that will have a big impact if any of its top ten are hurt. The second problem is bigger. Toyo University also has a ten-man average of 1:02:55.

Hakone course record holder Toyo dominated Hakone during the tenure of uphill specialist Ryuji Kashiwabara, its course record run two years ago a moment of soaring beauty as it became the first team ever to average under 3 minutes/km pace for the entire 217.9 km course including two mountain stages with nearly 900 m of elevation change. Since Kashiwabara’s graduation in 2012 Toyo has finished 2nd in every university ekiden, always right there but lacking that extra something to take the win without Kashiwabara’s help. This is its last chance. Identical twins Yuta and Keita Shitara, both with sub-28 10000 m and sub-62 half marathon bests, graduate in the spring along with 28:39.54 / 1:02:43 man Kento Otsu, severely knocking the team’s strength down next year. Without them Toyo only has one man under the ace category cutoff times, but with them it equals Waseda and surpasses Komazawa for half-marathon credentials and has what they lack: depth. Its three best alternates have all broken 1:04:00 for the half-marathon, giving Toyo the margin of safety it needs with an extra shot of speed: eight of its men have sub-29 bests for 10000 m including the 27-minute Shitaras. With the extra motivation of finally breaking free of Kashiwabara’s legacy in its last chance Toyo is the favorite for the 2014 Hakone Ekiden title.



But it’s a thin margin, and it could go any way among the top three. As in 2013 an upset could go down. Meiji University has had incredible growth over 5000 m this year, with eleven men running sub-14 bests for 5000 m led by junior Genki Yagisawa’s 13:28.79. Sub-14 and not good enough to make the starting roster of a ten-man college team. Six of its top eleven have broken 29 minutes for 10000 m, but over the half marathon the team’s credentials are softer, with a ten-man half-marathon average of only 1:03:30. Despite its success on the track Meiji had trouble putting together team performance at Izumo and Nationals, and facing longer distances at Hakone it will need a perfect two days to contend with Komazawa, Waseda and Toyo.

Defending champion Nittai University had those days last year with a flawless team performance in tough conditions, and with an almost identical team returning this year it is ranked #5 on paper. It was 3rd at Izumo, but its performance at Nationals, where it placed 8th, and its 1:03:36 ten-man half-marathon average are not encouraging.  Still, with head coach Kenji Beppu taking the long view of Hakone as the top priority Nittai is a danger to the rest of the top five.

Teikyo University, Yamanashi Gakuin University and Hosei University make up the next tier, shooting for a top ten finish to earn a seeded place at Hakone 2015. Among them, Teikyo, with injury problems among several of its best men including 2012 National University Half Marathon champion Toshikatsu Ebina, looks the most in danger of being run down by six schools chasing the last place or two in the seeded bracket. Aoyama Gakuin University, Chuo Gakuin University, Chuo University, Tokai University, Takushoku University and Tokyo Nogyo University all stand realistic chances of earning the honor of a secured place at Hakone in 2015, and the race among them will be as exciting as that up front.

Overseas fans’ options for watching the 90th Hakone Ekiden live are limited, with NTV’s broadcast sometimes up on sports TV streaming sites and the choppy Keyhole TV option available as a backup. JRN will cover the entire two-day race live on Twitter on the @JRNLive feed starting at 7:00 a.m. Japan on both Jan. 2 and 3, along with detailed coverage on the JRN website. Please post links to any other video streaming options in the comments section of this article.

On to the best race of the year.

90th Hakone Ekiden Entry List
Kanto Region University Men's Championships
Tokyo-Hakone, Jan.2-3, 2014
23 teams, 10 stages, 217.9 km
click here for complete entry and uniform list
click here for stage entry list

1. Nittai University (Kanagawa)
2. Toyo University (Saitama)
3. Komazawa University (Tokyo)
4. Teikyo University (Tokyo)
5. Waseda University (Tokyo)
6. Juntendo University (Chiba)
7. Meiji University (Tokyo)
8. Aoyama Gakuin University (Tokyo)
9. Hosei University (Tokyo)
10. Chuo Gakuin University (Chiba)
11. Tokyo Nogyo University (Tokyo)
12. Yamanashi Gakuin University (Yamanashi)
13. Tokai University (Kanagawa)
14. Kanagawa University (Kanagawa)
15. Koku Gakuin University (Tokyo)
16. Daito Bunka University (Saitama)
17. Senshu University (Kanagawa)
18. Nihon University (Tokyo)
19. Takushoku University (Tokyo)
20. Josai University (Saitama)
21. Jobu University (Gunma)
22. Chuo University (Tokyo)
23. Kokushikan University (Tokyo)

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

2014 New Year Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner



Jan.1 is the day for which Japan’s corporate men’s running league exists, the national championship New Year Ekiden. Seven-man teams from across the country square off over 100 km on stages ranging from 8.3 km for foreign runners to 22.0 km for the best pros, with all the action broadcast live nationwide on TBS starting at 8:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day.

Defending champion Konica Minolta comes back as the heavy favorite, having won the Nov. 3 East Japan regional qualifier in course-record time by a minute and a half over 2012 New Year Ekiden course record setter Nissin Shokuhin. Nissin Shokuhin was strong to be sure with a stage record from ace Yuki Sato but Konica Minolta was just that much stronger, winning four of East Japan’s seven stages including two individual stage records. Anchor Tomohiro Tanigawa was the team’s secret weapon, just off the anchor stage record as he continued his quiet rise to Japan’s top ranks. Team Fujitsu took the remaining two individual stage titles in East Japan and, just eight seconds behind Nissin at the finish line, looks like the only other East Japan team capable of challenging Konica.

East Japan’s toughest competition traditionally comes from the Kyushu region, and this year is no exception. Powered by Moscow World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui and Japan’s fastest marathoner of the year, Kazuhiro Maeda, the Kyudenko team broke the Kyushu region qualifier course record and defeated perpetual all-Japanese powerhouse Asahi Kasei by over a minute. Asahi Kasei did not run many of its big guns, including the year’s #4-ranked man Fumihiro Maruyama, at the regional race, so it may have the reserve it needs to challenge both Kyushu and the best of East Japan on Jan. 1. Likewise, last year’s New Year Ekiden runner-up Toyota Kyushu finished 4th at the Kyushu qualifier without its four best Japanese men, Masato Imai, Yuya Konishi, Yuki Oshikawa and Ryuji Watanabe, and if it has them fully operational it should have what it needs to contend for the win.

Of the teams from the other regions, only Kansai winner Sagawa Express looks like it may have a chance of being near the front of the action, winning its qualifier by over a minute and a half without #1 man Ryo Yamamoto. Chugoku region winner Chugoku Denryoku looks like a distant contender, with much of its chances depending upon whether star rookie Takehiro Deki is ready to run his pro debut. Of special note from Kansai is the New Year Ekiden debut of collegiate 5000 m record holder Kensuke Takezawa, who transferred to the new Sumitomo Denko team in his home prefecture of Hyogo this year after the rest of the former S&B Foods corporate team moved to game maker DeNA.

Overseas viewers may have the chance to catch the action via Keyhole TV or any of the online sports TV link aggregators out there. JRN will once again cover the race live via Twitter on our @JRNLive feed. Check back post-race for complete results and more coverage as 2014 kicks off.

58th New Year Ekiden Entry List
National Corporate Men's Ekiden Championships
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/14
37 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km
click here for complete entry and uniform list

East Japan Region
1. Konica Minolta
3. Honda
5. Subaru
8. Nissin Shokuhin Group
11. Fujitsu
12. Hitachi Butsuryu
15. JR Higashi Nihon
20. Komori Corporation
26. Yachiyo Kogyo
27. Press Kogyo
33. Yakult
34. DeNA
35. Nanyo City Hall

Chubu Region
6. Toyota Boshoku
7. Toyota
21. Aisan Kogyo
22. NTN
25. Aichi Seiko
30. Toenec

Hokuriku Region
13. YKK
36. Sekino Kosan

Kansai Region
14. SGH Group Sagawa
17. NTT Nishi Nihon
18. Otsuka Seiyaku
28. Sanyo Tokushu Seiko
37. Sumitomo Denko

Chugoku Region
4. Chugoku Denryoku
19. JFE Steel
24. Mazda
32. Chudenko

Kyushu Region
2. Toyota Kyushu
9. Asahi Kasei
10. Yasukawa Denki
16. Kyudenko
23. Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki
29. Kurosaki Harima
31. Nishitetsu

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Top Ten Japanese Men of 2013

by Brett Larner
click here for Japanese women's 2013 rankings

2013 continued Japanese men's upward trend, the fifth year in history that the country has produced at least ten sub-2:10 marathon performances and the all-time second-best average of its top ten fastest marathons, all-time top ten performances over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, new world records for depth at several races, just shy of a World Championships marathon medal, incredible growth among its collegiates, and a charismatic and independent star to drive the sport's popularity.

One of the most important things to happen this year was the nearing of parity between the collegiate and corporate systems.  In JRN's top ten rankings, scored using a system that takes into account quality, placing and competitiveness relative to other ranked athletes, only five of the overall top ten hailed from the corporate leagues, with four university men and one indy filling out the list.  Collegiates and said indy occupied places in the year's top three over 5000 m, 10000 m, half marathon and marathon.  This could be taken as a sign that the corporate team system is losing potency, but considering that the front edge of the wave of new talent coming up is just now hitting age 22 and graduation we could well see an entirely new level of Japanese men's distance running over the next seven to ten years, both in the corporate leagues and among the increasing number of independents. It's an exciting time to be watching what is happening here.  Look for more on the growth of Japanese university men's distance running in our preview of next week's Hakone Ekiden.



1. Suguru Osako (Waseda Univ.) - 229.5 pts.

5000 m: 13:20.80 - 5th, Nittai Univ. Time Trials, 11/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013, #6 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 27:38.31 - 2nd, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #4 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
2nd, Hakone Ekiden Third Stage (21.5 km), 1/2/13 - 1:04:44
1st, National Men's Ekiden Third Stage (8.5 km), 1/20/13 - 23:39
2nd, Fukuoka Int'l Cross Country Meet Senior Men's 10 km, 2/23/13 - 29:50
7th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Four, 5/11/13 - 13:43.05
2nd, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DI 5000 m, 5/26/13 - 13:34.30
2nd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:25.84
DNF, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 5000 m, 6/29/13
17th, KBC Nacht 5000 m, 7/13/13 - 13:27.54
21st, Moscow World Championships 10000 m, 8/10/13 - 28:19.50
2nd, National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/7/13 - 13:47.21
3rd, Izumo Ekiden Sixth Stage (10.2 km), 10/14/13 - 30:00
1st, National University Ekiden Championships Second Stage (13.2 km), 11/3/13 - 38:08
4th, International Chiba Ekiden First Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 13:48

Spending time with Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project on and off through the year, Waseda University senior Osako made it into the all-time Japanese top ten for both 5000 m and 10000 m in 2013, running a Japanese collegiate record 27:38.31 at Payton Jordan in April and popping up midway through fall ekiden season with the second-fastest 5000 m time ever by a Japanese collegiate, 13:20.80.  #2-ranked Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) had greater range and #3-ranked Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) was both faster for 5000 m and beat Osako for the 10000 m national title, but Osako's greater impact on the record books and his beating Ugachi at the National Championships and Sato at the Moscow World Championships was enough for him to earn JRN's top ranking for the year.

In 2013 Osako had trouble winning, finishing 2nd in five key races and scoring only one clear victory, a stage win at the Jan. 20 National Men's Ekiden, but his steady march forward in ability was clear and at just age 22 he is right on the cusp of moving into national record territory over a range of distances.  Following his graduation in March he will join Sato on the Nissin Shokuhin corporate team with plans to be based mostly in the U.S., but before that he will make his last appearance on the Big Three University Ekiden circuit as he tries to lead Waseda to Hakone Ekiden victory on Jan. 2 and 3.

2. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) - 217.8 pts.

5000 m: 13:30.77 - 4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet, 6/29/13, #4 Japanese, 2013
10000 m: 27:50.79 - 15th, Moscow World Championships, 8/10/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013
half-marathon: 1:01:16 - 3rd, Marugame Int'l Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
2nd, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:03:20
6th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 13:50.67
12th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m, 4/28/13 - 27:55.27
4th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 13:49.21
3rd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:27.00
2nd, East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage (15.3 km), 11/3/13 - 44:20 (CR)
2nd, International Chiba Ekiden Third Stage (10.0 km), 11/23/13 - 28:07 (CR)

Throughout 2013 Ugachi was slightly off his level from the last two years, but he still performed well enough to be ranked in the top four over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, with stronger performances as the distance increased, and to beat both Osako and Sato in the Moscow World Championships 10000 m.  Ekiden season saw him carry on strong with two 2nd-place stage finishes under the old stage records in the leadup to the New Year Ekiden national championships.  In February he paced the Tokyo Marathon through 30 km, and it's not a surprise that 2014 will see him make an early marathon debut in Dubai where he hopes to break 2:07.  It's a longshot that he'll make it in his first try in an overseas marathon, but there's no doubt that Ugachi is one of Japan's best prospects in the marathon over the next few years.

3. Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 168 pts.

5000 m: 13:13.60 - 8th, KBC Nacht, 7/13/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #3 Japanese all-time
10000 m: 27:39.50 - 3rd, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
10th, New Year Ekiden Sixth Stage (12.5 km), 1/1/13 - 38:24
31st, Tokyo Marathon, 2/24/13 - 2:16:31
1st, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:24.94
DNF, Moscow World Championships 10000 m, 8/10/13
11th, Moscow World Championships 5000 m Heat Two, 8/13/14 - 13:37.07
7th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/21/13 - 13:54.58
1st, East Japan Corporate Ekiden Second Stage (15.3 km), 11/3/13 - 44:18 - CR
7th, International Chiba Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 11/23/13 - 30:10

Sato was inconsistent and mostly off his game in 2013, following up a bad New Year Ekiden and weak marathon debut in Tokyo with a 27:39.50 at Payton Jordan in April, a 10000 m national title in June, and an all-time Japanese #3 13:13.60 for 5000 m in July before bombing out in the Moscow World Championships.  He popped back up with a new stage record at the East Japan Corporate Ekiden but three weeks later was back down the ranks at the International Chiba Ekiden. Sato, like Osako a graduate of Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S., is without a doubt one of the best track athletes Japan has produced, but after being in the same position in which Osako now finds himself Sato has had trouble breaking through to national record level.  Will 2014 be his year or another see-saw?

4. Fumihiro Maruyama (Team Asahi Kasei) - 120 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:15 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013, #8 Japanese all-time

Other major performances:
5th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 38:11
2nd, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:34
12th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 14:04.21
11th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Two, 5/11/13 - 14:03.71
7th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:46.34
17th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 29:15.23
13th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 29:43.43
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Two Third Stage (15.3 km), 10/28/13 - 45:51
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Seven Third Stage (13.0 km), 11/2/13 - 39:32

Then 22, Maruyama was a virtual unknown until the Feb. 17 Kumanichi 30 km Road Race where he dropped two of Japan's best under-22 athletes, Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota) and Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.), to go head-to-head with indy Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) for the win.  He finished 2nd in the last sprint, but his time of 1:29:34 was more than enough to put him on the radar.  Four weeks later he confirmed that it wasn't a fluke when he won the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships in 1:01:15, the best Japanese time of the year and all-time 8th-best by a Japanese man on a record-legal course.  The rest of the year was a bust as he never broke either 14:00 for 5000 m or 28:45 for 10000 m, but after turning 23 Maruyama returned with two stage wins in the final running of the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu ekiden.  Plenty of other Japanese men have turned in surprise breakthroughs at a young age only to never follow up, but Maruyama looks set to find himself on the right side of that equation in 2014.

5. Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.) - 93.6 pts.

5000 m: 13:28.79 - 2nd, Nittai Univ. Time Trials, 9/29/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
7th, Hakone Ekiden Fourth Stage (18.5 km), 1/2/13 - 58:21
1st, Izumo Ekiden Second Stage (5.8 km), 10/14/13 - 16:32
11th, National University Ekiden Championships Second Stage (13.2 km ), 11/3/13 - 39:47

Yagisawa was a high school star who has had trouble transitioning to the longer distance of the Japanese university circuit, but this fall he broke through without warning with one of the best times ever by a Japanese collegiate man, 13:28.79, to find himself ranked #3 for the year.  Two weeks later came a stage win at the Izumo Ekiden, but over a longer distance at the National University Ekiden Championships he struggled again and finished only 11th.  As the fastest of Meiji University's eleven sub-14 men Yagisawa plays a key role in the team's chances for success next week at the Hakone Ekiden, but without improved stamina over double-digit distances he'll be hard-pressed to live up to expectations. Beyond that awaits spring track season and the promise of better in Yagisawa's preferred distance.

6. Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) - 86.4 pts.

marathon: 2:08:35 - 2nd, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
9th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:04:32
26th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 39:10
10th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:59.14
5th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:10:50
12th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 29:27.10
4th, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fourth Stage (12.2 km), 11/23/13 - 35:26

Nakamoto is arguably Japan's best current marathoner, with PBs every year since his debut and not a single bad marathon performance yet in his career, staying out of the spotlight and quietly doing the work needed for complete reliability.  His weakness has long been his finish, and after coming 6th at the London Olympics he completely reworked his marathon training program to focus on more speed work and a faster finish.  It partially paid off at February's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon where he ran a PB of 2:08:35, but despite better finishing speed he fell victim to Kawauchi's strength after 40 km.  In Moscow he was even stronger, hanging with the lead pack until late in the race and almost catching 2013 World Marathon Majors champion Tsegaye Kebede (Ethiopia) for 4th.  He has said that he understands now what he needs to get to 2:07 next year, and if his past is any indication it is on the way.

7. Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) - 84 pts.

marathon: 2:08:00 - 4th, Tokyo Marathon, 2/24/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage (22.0 km), 1/1/13 - 1:04:55
12th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 14:07.46
12th, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 28:32.23
3rd, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat Two, 5/11/13 - 13:52.66
6th, Kyushu Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 28:45.37
17th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:15:25
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Four Fourth Stage (17.0 km), 10/30/13 - 51:16 - CR
1st, Grand Tour Kyushu Ekiden Day Eight Sixth Stage (14.5 km), 11/3/13 - 42:25
1st, Kyushu Corporate Ekiden Fourth Stage (12.2 km), 11/23/13 - 34:46

Maeda ran the fastest Japanese men's marathon of the year at Tokyo, 2:08:00, barely missing the Federation's sub-2:08 criterion for automatic World Championships team placement.  Post-race he had words for Kawauchi, speaking out against his rival's comments about Japan's corporate league system and its runners.  Maeda was picked for Moscow, but late spring he underwent ankle surgery and was not ready in time to run up to potential at the World Championships.  He ran only 2:15:25 for 17th but had the satisfaction of finishing 10 seconds and one place ahead of Kawauchi.

Since then Maeda has been undefeated on the roads, winning two stages, one a course record, at the Grand Tour Kyushu and taking another stage win three weeks later at the Kyushu Corporate Ekiden.  With two PBs in a row at Tokyo 2:07 is beckoning him back in February.

8. Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 77 pts.

10000 m: 27:51.54 - MR - 1st, Golden Games in Nobeoka, 5/11/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
3rd, Hakone Ekiden Second Stage (23.2 km), 1/2/13 - 1:10:29
4th, National Men's Ekiden Seventh Stage (13.0 km), 1/20/13 - 38:05
4th, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:55 - collegiate NR
9th, Kanaguri Memorial Meet 5000 m, 4/6/13 - 13:54.74
6th, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 28:23.95
1st, Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat Ten, 4/28/13 - 14:10.53
1st, Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials 5000 m Heat Twelve, 4/28/13 - 13:53.44
5th, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DI 10000 m, 5/19/13 - 28:40.44
11th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/8/13 - 28:50.24
4th, National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/7/13 - 14:00.58
2nd, Izumo Ekiden Sixth Stage (10.2 km), 10/14/13 - 29:59
5th, National University Ekiden Championships Eighth Stage (19.7 km), 11/3/13 - 59:06

One of Hakone Ekiden course record holder Toyo University's star Shitara twins, Keita was one of the few to put a serious challenge to Osako's position as Japan's #1 collegiate this year.  After strong runs at Hakone and the National Men's Ekiden he ran a collegiate national record 1:29:55 at February's Kumanichi 30 km Road Race before turning his focus along with his brother Yuta to breaking 28 minutes for 10000 m.  At the May 11 Golden Games in Nobeoka the pair achieved that goal, becoming just the second set of identical twins in world history to both break 28 as they went 1st and 3rd on either side of 2007 World Championship2 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) in 27:51.54 and 27:54.82, Keita's winning time a meet record.

Not many coaches would have runners in another 10000 m just eight days later, but on May 19 both twins lined up for Toyo in the 10000 m at the Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships, where Keita took 5th in 28:40.44.  Following that he went into something of a slump, not returning to normal quality until October's Izumo Ekiden where he took 2nd on the Izumo Ekiden's anchor stage.  With the Shitara twins set to graduate in March the 2014 Hakone Ekiden will be Toyo's last chance for several years to score its first Big Three win since the graduation of its uphill great Ryuji Kashiwabara (Team Fujitsu) two years ago, so look for big things next week.  Post-graduation the twins will split up, Keita going to 2013 national champion Konica Minolta and Yuta to Japan's #1 marathon team, Honda.  Look for an early marathon debut from Keita.

9. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 75.6 pts.

marathon: 2:08:14 - 4th, Seoul International Marathon, 3/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, Egyptian Marathon, 1/18/13 - 2:12:24 - ACR
1st, Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, 2/3/13 - 2:08:15 - CR
1st, Kumanichi 30 km Road Race, 2/17/13 - 1:29:31 - CR
2nd, Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, 3/3/13 - 1:03:12
1st, Nagano Marathon, 4/21/13 - 2:14:27
10th, Sendai International Half Marathon, 5/12/13 - 1:03:30
1st, Kurobe Meisui Half Marathon, 5/26/13 - 1:03:58 - CR
1st, Chitose International Marathon, 6/2/13 - 2:18:29 - CR
1st, Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon, 6/16/13 - 2:57:28
1st, Gold Coast Marathon, 7/7/13 - 2:10:01 - CR
1st, Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km Road Race, 728/13 - 1:33:27 - CR
18th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/17/13 - 2:15:35
8th, Great North Run Half Marathon, 9/15/13 - 1:04:08
2nd, Melbourne Marathon, 10/13/13 - 2:11:40
11th, New York City Marathon, 11/3/13 - 2:12:29
20th, Ageo City Half Marathon, 11/17/13 - 1:03:06
3rd, Fukuoka International Marathon, 12/1/13 - 2:09:05
2nd, Hofu Yomiuri Marathon, 12/15/13 - 2:09:15

Yuki Kawauchi was the face of Japanese distance running in 2013 as he tested the limits of what is possible at the elite level and won worldwide popularity.  The story of his 2013 season, which featured multiple world records for quantity and recovery, has already been told in a separate article.  JRN readers named Kawauchi's Fukuoka-Hofu double, a world record for the shortest time ever between sub-2:10 marathons, the Japanese men's distance performance of the year.  Despite his many achievements, Kawauchi came up short in many of his biggest races of the year, including the Moscow World Championships Marathon where he was the last finisher on the Japanese team, beaten when it most counted by others who ended up higher in the rankings.  For all of his accomplishments he still has work to do on being competitive overseas and against first-rate fields.  Look for him to run at least five overseas marathons again in 2014 and to take steps to improve the shortcomings exposed this year.

10. Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 67.2 pts.

half-marathon: 1:01:19 - 4th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
8th, Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage (23.4 km), 1/2/13 - 1:24:25
2nd, National Men's Ekiden Third Stage (8.5 km), 1/20/13 - 23:57
10th, New York City Half Marathon, 3/17/13 - 1:02:02
1st, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Asics Challenge, 4/20/13 - 28:18.11
6th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 10000 m, 5/11/13 - 28:21.53
8th, Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships DII 5000 m, 5/26/13 - 14:11.79
10th, World University Games 10000 m, 7/8/13 - 30:02.46
2nd, National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/6/13 - 28:43.89
1st, Izumo Ekiden Third Stage (7.9 km), 10/14/13 - 22:36 - CR
1st, National University Ekiden Championships Fourth Stage (14.0 km), 11/3/13 - 39:24 - CR
2nd, International Chiba Ekiden First Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 13:40

Sub-29 in high school and the first college first-year since marathon great Toshihiko Seko to win the National University Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 2013 marked the year that Murayama, another identical twin, stepped up to the front ranks of Japanese distance running.  After decent performances at Hakone and the National Men's Ekiden he tore up February's Marugame International Half Marathon, finishing 4th in 1:01:19 at age 19, at the time the all-time tenth-best time by a Japanese man.  Running March's New York City Half Marathon with support from JRN after winning the 2012 Ageo City Half Marathon, Murayama was the one who broke the race open after a slow first 5 km, eventually finishing 10th in a solid 1:02:02.  Post-race track great Bernard Lagat (U.S.A.) generously spent time talking with Murayama about training, motivation and longevity, and after returning to Japan and spending a few months putting Lagat's advice into action he hit fall ekiden season hard.  Very hard.

At October's Izumo Ekiden Murayama ran a 22:36 course record for the 7.9 km Third Stage, powering Komazawa University to an overall course record win.  Three weeks later he delivered JRN's pick for the best Japanese men's performance of 2013, a searing 39:24 course record for the 14.0 km Fourth Stage at the National University Ekiden Championships, breaking the existing record set by Kenyan Mekubo Mogusu who had run sub-60 half marathons three times by the time he set that record.  Extrapolate Murayama's time from 14 km out to 15 km and 10 miles and those national records are his the first time he tries for them.  Look toward the half marathon and who knows what is possible?  National record?  Sub-60?  If Murayama lives up to the potential he showed at Nationals then that run will someday be recognized for the historical significance it held.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Top Ten Japanese Women of 2013

by Brett Larner
click here for Japanese men's 2013 rankings

Where 2012 was largely negative, 2013 was a mixed year for Japanese women.  On the one hand a Japanese woman won a World Championships marathon medal, another placed 3rd in the even more competitive London Marathon, there was a new all-time Japanese #3 mark for 10000 m, and the state of Japanese women's half marathoning seemed to turn around from its recent slide with a sub-1:09 for the first time since 2009 and five women sub-1:10, the most since 2008.  On the other hand there were only three marathoners at the Moscow World Championships thanks to new tough love policies from the Federation with just two finishing, only seven women broke 2:27, none went under 15:20 for 5000 m, and the nominally elite Yokohama International Women's Marathon registered barely a blip of significance on the international radar.

Marathon national record holder and Athens Olympics gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) improbably made it back to the national team level for the Moscow World Championships after years of injury but then dropped out partway. Collegiate women regained a season-ending national championship ekiden with the new Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden, but another women-only race, the Matsue Women's Half Marathon, announced plans to move to a mixed format.  JADA announced a domestic biological passport system, but marathoner Kaori Yoshida (Puma RC) tested positive for EPO.  The Federation established a support service for athlete victims of sexual and power abuse, but revelations came out that national champion Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. ekiden team members, including girls, had been regularly beaten by their coach.  With the balance of good and bad there's no telling where things are headed, but there is telling where they have been.  Using a scoring system that takes into account quality, range and performance relative to rivals, JRN ranked the top ten individual Japanese women of the year.



1. Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) - 260.5 pts.

half marathon: 1:08:59 - 1st, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013
marathon: 2:24:43 - 3rd, London Marathon, 4/21/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - 1:11:31
6th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 33:17.13
9th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 16:18.68
1st, Gold Coast Marathon, 7/7/13 - 2:27:17 - CR
2nd, Hokkaido Marathon, 8/25/13 - 2:32:10
2nd, Lille International Half Marathon, 8/31/13 - 1:10:24
7th, Chicago Marathon, 10/13/13 - 2:27:49
4th, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (12.2 km), 11/3/13 - 40:00
2nd, East Japan Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 11/10/13 - 32:23
6th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 36:33
2nd, Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, 12/23/13 - 1:09:24

Akaba, one of Japan's best-ever over 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, had a busy year, with two of the fastest Japanese women's half marathons of 2013 and four marathons including three top-three finishes, one a course record win at July's Gold Coast Marathon. Her 2:24:43 3rd place finish at April's London Marathon was one of the best results of the year by a Japanese woman but fell through the cracks of the Federation's arcane selection system for the Moscow World Championships women's marathon.  Akaba stayed home in favor of empty seats despite delivering a better performance in a more competitive race than others who did make the team, an outcome that didn't generate the talk it should have about how a system that generated this situation came to be in place.

In London Akaba displayed the familiar race strategy that came into play countless other times in her busy 2013 schedule, ignoring the pack's motion and letting them go before turning it on late in the race and trying to run down as many people as possible.  It was a strategy that succeeded in netting her seven noteworthy podium finishes over the course of the year, but only two wins.  Having announced her retirement after January's Osaka International Women's Marathon hopefully she is planning to go on top and run for the win in her last major race.

2. Kasumi Nishihara (Team Yamada Denki) - 210 pts.

5000 m: 15:26.61 - 1st, Nittai University Time Trials, 11/30/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013
10000 m: 32:05.88 - 1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
20th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:50
1st, Hyogo Relay Carnival 5000 m Asics Challenge, 4/20/13 - 16:06.43
6th, Oda Memorial Meet 5000 m Grand Prix, 4/28/13 - 15:43.82
4th, Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m Heat A, 5/11/13 - 15:34.40
8th, East Japan Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/19/13 - 16:17.96
12th, National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 6/9/13 - 15:53.79
9th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13, 32:24.42
1st, Shizuoka Long Distance Time Trials 5000 m Heat Four, 10/12/13 - 15:45.29
3rd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.795 km), 11/3/13 - 21:55
12th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:10

A major college star who had a rough transition to the pro circuit, Nishihara weathered tough times at the Yamada Denki team this year as a large number of members including her former Bukkyo University teammate Hikari Yoshimoto quit in March.  Off more than on, she had four strong wins on the track including a win over top ten-ranked women Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) and Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) at the Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet in July that played a large role in her placement high up on the year-end rankings.  Strong throughout October and November with two 5000 m wins on the track and a 3rd-place finish on the East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage she looked set for a good run at December's National Corporate Women's Ekiden but faltered, finishing only 12th.  Here's hoping 2014 is a better year for her and Yamada Denki, which sports several talented younger runners in its post-shakeup lineup.

3. Ryoko Kizaki (Team Daihatsu) - 150 pts.

marathon: 2:23:34 - 1st, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/10/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
5th, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:27
4th, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13 - 2:31:28
1st, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.7 km), 10/27/13 - 21:19
1st, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 12/15/13 - 32:40

Kizaki didn't race much in 2013 but when she did was reliable and brought her best.  Her 2:23:34 win at March's Nagoya Women's Marathon, the fastest Japanese time of the year and just outside the all-time Japanese top ten, made her the only Japanese athlete, male or female, to meet the Federation's sub-2:08/sub-2:24 criteria for automatic nomination to the Moscow World Championships team, and in Moscow she lived up to that with a 4th-place finish.  After some down time she returned for ekiden season with stage wins at both the West Japan qualifier and Nationals in December.  Kizaki has had several good years in a row now and has proven herself capable in both hot and cold conditions.  Hopefully in 2014 she'll take another big chunk out of her marathon best ahead of the big races to come in 2015 and 2016.

3. Hitomi Niiya (Team Universal Entertainment) - 150 pts.

10000 m: 30:56.70 - 5th, Moscow World Championships, 8/11/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13  - 31:17
1st, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:00
82nd, World Cross-Country Championships Senior Women's 8 km, 3/24/13 - 27:20
1st, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 31:06.67 - MR

Tied with Kizaki for #3 of the year is 10000 m national champion Niiya, who like Kizaki raced sparsely but seriously.  After wins on the National Women's Ekiden's most competitive stage and at the Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet she had a disastrous run on the tough World Cross Country Championships course, finishing 82nd.  She came back in June for a 10000 m win at the National Championships, lapping the entire field in a meet record 31:06.67 despite running the first 3000 m in 9:32 with the lead pack.  Niiya's run in the 10000 m at the Moscow World Championships was a credit to Japanese distance running as a whole, taking the lead at PB pace and relentlessly pushing to burn off competition despite the inevitable outcome and despite having been so nervous pre-race that she started crying while walking to the starting line.

30:56.70 was a great time that improved her standing as the third-fastest Japanese woman ever, but 5th was not what she went to Moscow for.  "I feel like I shouldn't be here," she said in a painfully devastated and sincere interview immediately post-race.  "There's no reason to be Worlds if you can't medal."  A while later she tweeted, "I think that race might have killed my career." Niiya hasn't raced since Worlds, reportedly due to injuries, and has in the past had incidents where she has quit the sport and left her sponsoring team due to stress.  One of the most original and interesting runners in Japan today, hopefully she'll have things worked out and be back in action soon.

5. Hanae Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei) - 140.4 pts.

half-marathon: 1:09:18 - 2nd, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
13th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:35
3rd, Chiba International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 8 km, 2/10/13 - 26:53
4th, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:44
75th, World Cross-Country Championships Senior Women's 8 km, 3/24/13 - 26:56
12th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 10000 m Heat One, 4/28/13 - 32:25.05
5th, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 32:37.10
16th, National Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 6/9/13 - 15:58.72
1st, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13 - 15:45.57
3rd, Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, 9/15/13 - 1:10:02
2nd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Fourth Stage (3.8 km), 11/3/13 - 12:08

One of the legion of Team Daiichi Seimei runners to make big gains in the half marathon this year, Tanaka ran one of the fastest Japanese times in years to take 2nd behind Akaba at March's National Corporate Half Marathon in 1:09:18.  With a series of ups and downs throughout the spring and summer she seemed to get into a good rhythm in the fall with a 3rd-place finish at September's Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, a 2nd-place finish on her stage at November's East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden and tweets about ambitious half marathon goals in the winter, but following East Japan she disappeared and did not start for Daiichi Seimei at Nationals in December.  No doubt sidelined with injury, Tanaka doesn't seem likely to resurface at the half marathon distance before February at the earliest.

6. Mai Ito (Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 126 pts.

10000 m: 32:07.41 - 3rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #6 Japanese, 2013
half marathon: 1:10:00 - 3rd, Berlin Half Marathon, 4/7/13 - #6 Japanese, 2013
marathon: 2:28:37 - 7th, London Marathon, 4/21/13 - #10 Japanese, 2013


Other major performances:
11th, National Women's Ekiden Ninth Stage (10.0 km), 1/13/13 - 32:28
2nd, Kansai Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/17/13 - 16:02.98
3rd, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13 - 15:49.41
1st, Shibetsu Half Marathon, 7/21/13 - 1:12:27
3rd, Hokkaido Marathon, 8/25/13 - 2:32:54
4th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 9/20/13 - 32:09.16
7th, National Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 9/21/13 - 15:52.53
13th, National Sports Festival 5000 m, 10/4/13 - 15:54.32
2nd, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 32:34
4th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 36:29
8th, Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, 12/23/13 - 1:11:06

Daegu World Championships marathoner Ito was very busy in 2013 but never seemed to step into the spotlight, her best results being a 3rd-place 1:10:00 PB finish at the Berlin Half Marathon in April, a 32:07.41 track 10000 m PB in July and a 1:12:27 win at the hot Shibetsu Half Marathon two weeks later.  Even her two double-digit finishes this year, 11th on the 10.0 km Ninth Stage at January's National Women's Ekiden and 13th at the National Sports Festival 5000 m in October, were decent time-wise, 32:28 and 15:54.32 respectively.  She ran well in ekiden season, but finishing only 8th at the year-ending Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, one of the selection races for the Japanese 2014 World Half Marathon Championships team, it seems likely she'll turn up at the National Corporate Half Marathon in February to try to firm up her standing for the Copenhagen team.

7. Misaki Onishi (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 108 pts.

5000 m: 15:21.73 - 2nd, National Track and Field Championships, 6/9/13 - #1 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
14th, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:35
10th, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - 1:11:16
3rd, National Corporate Women's 10 km, 3/17/13 - 32:58
6th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational 5000 m Heat One, 4/28/13 - 15:27.84
9th, Moscow World Championships 5000 m Heat One, 8/14/13 - 16:16.52
1st, National Sports Festival 5000 m, 10/4/13 - 15:43.03
3rd, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Second Stage (3.1 km), 11/3/13 - 9:33
1st, Fukui Super Ladies Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 11/10/13 - 19:08
3rd, International Chiba Ekiden Fourth Stage (5.0 km), 11/23/13 - 15:53
2nd, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Second Stage (3.9 km), 12/15/13 - 12:22

Onishi has shown steady improvement over the last few years and ran well in the 5000 m at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in April but was still a surprise when she broke the Moscow World Championships 5000 m B-standard for the first time to win the national title at June's National Championships (behind Kenyan pacer Felista Wanjugu of Team Universal Entertainment) in the fastest Japanese time of the year.  Onishi was a bust at Worlds, finishing 9th in her heat, but since then has been rock-solid, winning the National Sports Festival 5000 m in October and placing in the top three in all four of her road performances during ekiden season.  With quality training partners including 2013 top ten placer Yuko Shimizu Onishi should have plenty of chances to keep building on an overall successful year.

8. Rei Ohara (Team Tenmaya) - 103.25 pts.

10000 m: 32:08.73 - 4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Kitami Meet, 7/6/13 - #8 Japanese, 2013
half-marathon: 1:09:45 - 3rd, National Corporate Championships, 3/17/13 - #4 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
2nd, National Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 1/13/13 - 19:11
2nd, Hyogo Relay Carnival 10000 m Grand Prix, 4/21/13 - 32:32.15
9th, Oda Memorial Meet 5000 m Grand Prix, 4/28/13 - 15:46.94
4th, Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 5000 m, 5/11/13 - 16:27.16
5th, Chugoku Corporate Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 5/18/13 - 34:42.92
DNF, Hokuren Distance Challenge Abashiri Meet 5000 m Heat One, 7/3/13
4th, Lille International Half Marathon, 8/31/13 - 1:11:24
5th, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.8 km), 10/27/13 - 36:20
6th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Fifth Stage (10.0 km), 12/15/13 - 33:56

Another in the line of top talent to come through the Tenmaya corporate team, Ohara placed in the top five in nearly every race she ran this year, whether on the track or on the road, domestically or abroad. Her 3rd place finish at the National Corporate Half Marathon in March in 1:09:45 was her best performance of the year, #4 among Japanese women for 2013.  Another possibility for the Copenhagen World Half Marathon team, the 23-year-old Ohara may also follow the Tenmaya trend toward an early marathon debut in the next year or so.

9. Yuko Shimizu (Team Sekisui Kagaku) - 103 pts.

10000 m: 32:07.70 - 8th, Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational, 4/28/13 - #7 Japanese, 2013
half marathon: 1:09:32 - 3rd, Marugame International Half Marathon, 2/3/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
10th, Fukuoka International Cross-Country Meet Senior Women's 6 km, 2/23/13 - 20:58
2nd, National Track and Field Championships 10000 m, 6/7/13 - 32:16.58
1st, East Asian Games 10000 m, 10/8/13 - 32:50.42 - MR
5th, East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (12.2 km), 11/3/13 - 40:03
3rd, East Japan Women's Ekiden First Stage (6.0 km), 11/10/13 - 19:45
1st, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 35:51

Ekiden specialist Shimizu ran big in the half marathon this year with a 1:09:32 for 3rd at the Marugame International Half, #3 for the year behind Akaba and Tanaka, before switching gears to the track with quality 10000 m runs at Payton Jordan and the National Championships.  In the fall she picked up East Asian Games 10000 m in a meet record 32:50.42, and in ekiden season she showed what she does best, going from 5th on her stage at the East Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden to 3rd on her stage a week later at the East Japan Women's Ekiden before ending her year with a win on the longest stage at the National Corporate Women's Ekiden.  Like others in the top ten this year, Shimizu's next move is likely to be the Copenhagen World Half Marathon Championships in March.

10. Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal) - 100.8 pts.

marathon: 2:24:21 - 2nd, Osaka International Women's Marathon, 1/27/13 - #3 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
4th, Hokuren Distance Challenge Fukagawa Meet 10000 m Heat One, 6/29/13 - 32:42.56
3rd, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13 - 2:27:45 (ACR)
7th, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 33:01
13th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:19

2013 marked the year that 3000 m, 5000 m and half marathon national record holder Fukushi made the move to being a full-time marathoner.  She did little else this year than take 2nd after leading most of the race at the cold Osaka International Women's Marathon in January and win bronze at the Moscow World Championships Marathon in a race served up on a burning hot primetime platter for Japanese TV audiences by broadcaster and official IAAF partner TBS, a run JRN readers picked as the Japanese women's distance performance of the year.  After the race Fukushi laughingly said that she'd had enough of marathons and would not run any more, and with a world level medal finally in her hands at age 31, who could blame her if that ended up being true?  Her ekiden season performances following Moscow were far below her usual standard of domination and it would not be at all surprising to see her bid farewell in the near future.  Or to continue like the woman who tied her for #10.

10. Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex) - 100.8 pts.

marathon: 2:24:05 - 3rd, Nagoya Women's Marathon, 3/10/13 - #2 Japanese, 2013

Other major performances:
1st, Sendai International Half Marathon, 5/12/13 - 1:10:36
DNF, Moscow World Championships Marathon, 8/10/13
3rd, West Japan Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.2 km), 10/27/13 - 32:37
16th, National Corporate Women's Ekiden Third Stage (10.9 km), 12/15/13 - 37:38

Marathon national record holder and Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist Noguchi's comeback after years and years of injury setbacks was one of the feel-good stories of 2012, and in 2013 she continued that with an aggressive and touching run in Nagoya in March that showed flashes of who she used to be, a run seemingly meant to inspire younger generations to work harder to be their best.  She faded to 3rd but still ran 2:24:05, the second-best Japanese time of the year behind winner Kizaki and against the odds made her first World Championships team since 2003.  Her follow-up win at the Sendai International Half marathon two months later seemed to spell big things for Moscow, but it was not to be as she faded in the heat and dropped out of a marathon for the first time in her career.  In ekiden season she was back, but with only mixed results.  For the third year in a row she is on the entry list for January's Osaka International Women's Marathon, but having pulled out the last two years it's a very big if as to whether she will really run there.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 as Seen by JRN Readers: Our Top Thirteen Stories of the Year

2013 was a big year for JRN, with total views since JRN's founding in 2007 crossing the one million mark in June and closing in on 1.5 million by year's end.  Needless to say, much of the readership revolved around the adventures of Japan's most popular indy runner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), who factored into eight of our thirteen most-read stories of the year including all of the top three.

1. Mathathi Makes Transition to Marathon in Fukuoka, Kawauchi 3rd in Third Sub-2:10 of 2013 - Dec. 1
2007 Osaka World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (Kenya/ Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) made a successful return to the marathon with the second-fastest-ever closing split on the Fukuoka course, while Kawauchi became the first Japanese man to break 2:10 three times in one year.  Click here for JRN's race preview.

2. Kawauchi Over Nakamoto in 2:08:15 Beppu-Oita Course Record - Feb. 3
Kawauchi and London Olympian Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) pushed each other to PBs in a one-on-one race that saw Kawauchi break the long-standing course record.  Race preview.

3. This One Goes Up to Eleven - Dec. 15
Yuki Kawauchi's record-setting 2013 in review.  Click here for a photo essay on Kawauchi by rival independent Arata Fujiwara (Miki House).

4. Chepyego 1:08:24 CR at Sanyo Women's Half Marathon - Dec. 23
Kyushu-based Kenyan Sally Chepyego (Team Kyudenko) outran two-time defending champion Yukiko Akaba (Team Hokuren) for the win at the Sanyo Women's Half Marathon, taking nearly a minute off Akaba's course record.  Chepyego's countrywoman Grace Kimanzi (Team Starts) won the 10 km in 32:24.

5. Kimetto Gets Tokyo Marathon CR - Feb. 24
Dennis Kimetto (Kenya) took his first World Marathon Majors title in a course record 2:06:50, with Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) making the Moscow World Championships team in 2:08:00.  Post-race Maeda criticized Kawauchi for talking too much. Race preview.

6. Ichida and Nishiike Lead Eighteen Under 63 Minutes in Ageo City Half Marathon Photo-Finish - Nov. 17
The 26th running of the world's deepest half marathon saw eighteen men run sub-63, seventeen of them collegiates, the most in the event's history.  Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) outkicked Kazuto Nishiike (Hosei Univ.) and three others in the final 100 m for the win in 1:02:36.  For the third year in a row, the top two Japanese collegiates in Ageo earned invites to run March's New York City Half Marathon.

7. Bat Ochir Wins Hofu in 2:09:00, Kawauchi Scores Second Sub-2:10 in 14 Days for New World Record - Dec. 15
The 2014 Asian Games became a lot more interesting as Mongolia's Serod Bat Ochir took over two minutes off his own national record, beating Kawauchi for the win in Hofu. Kawauchi scored his second sub-2:10 in two weeks to set a new world record for the least time ever between sub-2:10s and becoming the first man in history to break 2:10 four times in one year.

8. Komazawa University Smashes Izumo Ekiden CR With Near-Perfect Performance - Oct. 14
The start of university men's ekiden season saw ten-time national champion Komazawa University easily break the Izumo course record set last year by rival Aoyama Gakuin University led by a stage record from star junior Kenta Murayama.  An all-star Ivy League University Select Team could do no better than 14th out of 22 against the world's best collegiate distance runners.  Race preview.

9. Seven-Year-Old Japanese Girl Finishes Honolulu Marathon in 7:41:45, Saying "That Was Fun" - Dec. 9
Seven-year-old Haruka Masuda unexpectedly became one of JRN's stars of the year when she ran the Honolulu Marathon with her parents.

10. Kenya 2:03:59 CR at International Chiba Ekiden - Nov. 23
For the third year in a row, the Kenya team beat Japan for the International Chiba Ekiden title, breaking its own course record in the process.  New Zealand's Zane Robertson turned heads with a stage record on the 10.0 km Third Stage.  Race preview.

11. ING New York City Marathon - Japanese Results - Nov. 4
Masato Imai (Team Toyota Kyushu) and Kawauchi ran the two fastest times ever by Japanese men on the New York course, with Imai taking 6th in 2:10:45.  London Olympian Risa Shigetomo (Team Tenmaya) was a disappointing 11th in the women's race.  Race preview.

12. Seko Introduces New Rainbow-Colored DeNA Uniform, Praises Kawauchi - Apr. 4
Marathon great Toshihiko Seko introduced the incredibly gaudy new uniform of his corporate team, which in 2013 moved from its historic place at the S&B Foods company to game maker DeNA.  Background on S&B disbanding.

13. Kawauchi and Puchkova Win Freezing Wet Nagano Marathon - Apr. 21
Kawauchi was unfazed by overnight snow that made the 2013 Nagano Marathon a wet and slushy mess, running 2:14:27 for his third marathon win of the year.  Russian Natalia Puchkova won the women's race in 2:30:40.  Race preview.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ritsumeikan Closes Year With Win at New Mt. Fuji Women's Ekiden

by Brett Larner

Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University closed out Japan's last elite race of 2013 with a national title at the new Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden, a relaunch of the short-lived National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships previously held in Tsukuba, Ibaraki.  First-year Nanako Kanno got Ritsumeikan off to a good start on the 6.6 km First Stage and from there Ritsumeikan led the entire race, five of its seven women winning their stages.  Senior Akane Yabushita brought the team home on the challenging Seventh Stage, 7.7 km with 166 m elevation gain, the team covering the 43.4 km course in 2:21:48.

Ritsumeikan's nearest competitor, Kagoshima's Kanoya Taiiku University, was over two minutes behind, 2nd in 2:23:58.  Top-ranked Kanto Region school Daito Bunka University took 3rd in 2:24:44.  On the individual level only Minami Nakaarai (Osaka Gakugei Univ.) and Sairi Maeda (Bukkyo Univ.) were able to make dent in Ritsumeikan's armor, winning the Second and Fourth Stages.  With only two graduating seniors Ritsumeikan, the most successful university women's team in Japanese history, looks set for the start of another dynasty after a few rocky years.

2013 Mount Fuji Women's Ekiden
National University Women's Invitational Ekiden Championships
Fujinomiya, Shizuoka, 12/23/13
20 teams, 7 stages, 43.4 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Ritsumeikan University - 2:21:48
2. Kanoya Taiiku University - 2:23:58
3. Daito Bunka University - 2:24:44
4. Meijo University - 2:25:07
5. Osaka Gakugei University - 2:25:56
6. Matsuyama University - 2:26:57
7. Bukkyo University - 2:27:01
8. Josai University - 2:27:10
9. Tamagawa University - 2:28:15
10. West Japan University Select Team - 2:28:22

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (6.6 km) - Nanako Kanno (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 20:02
Second Stage (3.5 km) - Minami Nakaarai (Osaka Gakugei Univ.) - 10:43
Third Stage (4.4 km) - Shoko Sonoda (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 13:54
Fourth Stage (9.4 km) - Sairi Maeda (Bukkyo Univ.) - 30:57
Fifth Stage (5.0 km) - Natsuki Omori (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 15:29
Sixth Stage (6.8 km) - Ayako Mitsui (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 22:30
Seventh Stage (7.7 km) - Akane Yabushita (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 27:15

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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