On 11 March this year strong earthquakes hit the Tohoku Region of north east Japan triggering several metres high tsunami waves that caused massive destruction and loss of human lives. Nine months on Sendai, the largest metropolis in Tohoku has recovered enough to stage the 31st edition of the All-Japan Corporate team Women’s Ekiden Championships, which took place today, Sunday 18 December.
The race which was held in Gifu until last year was moved to the north, and for the first time in its history was held over a six-stage marathon distance course from Matsushima to Sendai. The team who won was from Dai-ichi Life but the real winners were the people of the Tohoku Region whose resilience and spirit after such an enormous human tragedy continues to be inspirational.
It was second victory, nine years after their first, for Dai-ichi Life. It was also the first time in 17 years (since 1994) that the team led from the start to the finish. Panasonic finished second, their best finish in this ekiden, while Sekisui Chemical was third. The defending champions Tenmaya was only fourth.
“I was surprised to see the team run this well,” said Sachiko Yamashita, silver medalist at 1991 World Championships marathon and the first woman coach of the Corporate Ekiden team. “I was determined to win the stage, so I am happy,” said Dai-ichi Life’s lead off runner Yoshimi Ozaki, 2009 World Championships marathon silver medalist.
How the race unfolded:
Stage1: Just passed 2Km (6:27 led by Yoshimi Ozaki) Mizuho Nasukawa of Universal Entertainment and Ai Igarashi of Sysmex tangled up and fell. Although Igarashi had no trouble staying with the lead pack, Nasukawa started to fell off the lead pack, causing the Universal Entertainment, one of the favorites to fall out of contention. After 5Km (16:06), Yurie Doi of Starts started to push the pace and only Yoshimi Ozaki was able to stay with her. Then with 1Km to go (6Km into the stage) Ozaki took over the lead to push the pace. Although Doi stayed with Ozaki for a while, at the end Ozaki’s final sprint was too much for Doi. Ozaki took the stage followed by Doi, Hitomi Nakamura of Panasonic and Rei Ohara of Tenmaya, the defending champion. “It was windy out on the course, but I am happy to have done what was expected (fastest in the stage) of me,” said Ozaki after the race.
Stage 2: Although Chiaki Takagi of Starts caught up to Eina Yokozawa of Dai-ichi Life soon after the start of the stage, soon Yokozawa started to pull away from Takagi, and she was all alone by the end of the stage. Meanwhile Yuriko Kobayashi, silver medalist at 1500m in 2005 World Youth Championships, was passing the runners in front of her. At the end of the stage Kobayashi moved her team up from 13th to 4th. However, she was not the fastest in the stage. Kobayashi explained after the race: “Around half way my leg started to cramp up so I was bit worried.”
Stage 3: This is the stage where many of the team’s big guns took part. Misaki Katsumata of Dai-ichi Life continued to lead the race, but Kayako Fukushi of Wacoal, the national record holder at 3000m, 5000m and half marathon, moved up to join the chase pack. Later in the stage, Katsumata continued to lead while the chase pack disintegrated when Mika Yoshikawa, five-time national champion at 1500m moved into lone second, while Fukushi fell behind unexpectedly. Akemi Masuda, 1984 Olympian and TV commentator speculated that “perhaps because Fukushi is in the middle of heavy marathon training (for preparation for Olympic qualifying race), she is not sharp right now.” Yoko Shibui, national 10000m record holder did not run well either.
Stage 4: Betlehem Moges (ETH) of Denso started very fast (first Km under 3minutes) and closed the gap on Dai-ichi Life. At one time, the gap was only 10 seconds. However, Moges paid for the fast start and Miharu Shimokado of Dai-ichi Life pulled away in the closing stage.
Stage 5: Azusa Nojiri, former cross country skier who was 19th in 2011 World Championships marathon, continued to lead for Dai-ichi Life. The chase pack consisted of four teams - Denso, Sekisui, Starts and Panasonic. Behind them, Risa Shigetomo of the defending champion Tenmaya steadily moved up to sixth, but she could not get any closer to the leaders. Nearing the end of the stage Yuka Takashima of Denso broke away from the four-women chase pack to move her team up to second.
Stage 6: Dai-ichi Life with Tomomi Tanaka running the anchor leg, continue to lead the race, while chase pack consists of Denso, Panasonic and Sekisui Chemical was reassembled. Behind them Naoko Sakamoto, seventh at 2004 Olympic marathon is steadily gaining on the leaders and moved her team up to fourth at the end. Tanaka’s lead was never threatened and Dai-ichi Life won comfortably.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1) Dai-ichi Life 2:17:17
2) Panasonic 2:18:15
3) Sekisui Chemical 2:18:25
4) Tenmaya 2:18:32
5) Denso 2:18:40
6) Wacoal 2:18:44
7) Daihatsu 2:18:55
8) Kyocera 2:19:15
9) Staarts 2:19:40
10) Universal Entertainment 2:19:41
11) Mitsui Sumitomo 2:19:50
12) Toyota Industries 2:20:26
1 7Km 22:17 Yoshimi Ozaki Dai-ichi Life
22:19 Yurie Doi Starts
22:23 Hitomi Nakamura Panasonic
22:30 Rei Ohara Tenmaya
2 3.9Km 12:17 Ruiko Matsuzaki Sekisui Chemical
12:18 Eina Yokozawa Dai-ichi Life
12:20 Rie Mizutake Mitsui-Sumitomo
12:23 Yuriko Kobayashi Toyota Industries
3 10.9Km 35:43 Kayo Sugihara Denso
35:49 Yuko Shimizu Sekisui Chemical
36:00 Kayoko Fukushi Wacoal
36:01 Mika Yoshikawa Panasonic
36:12 Misaki Katsumata Dai-ichi Life
4 3.6Km 11:29 Felista Wanjuku Universal Entertainment
11:32 Grace Kimandi Starts
11:33 Obare Doricah Hitachi
11:37 Selly Chepyego Kyudenko
11:39 Ann Karindi Toyota Industries
11:47 Betlehem Moges Denso
5 10Km 32:51 Risa Shigetomo Tenmaya
32:52 Hiroko Miyauchi Kyocera
32:57 Ryoko Kizaki Daihatsu
33:25 Asami Kato Panasonic
33:27 Mai Ito Otsuka Pharmaceutical
33:29 Azusa Nojiri Dai-ichi Life
6 6.795Km 21:06 Tomomi Tanaka Dai-ichi Life
21:26 Naoko Sakamoto Tenmaya
21:29 Rina Yamazaki Panasonic
21:36 Sayuri Baba Sekisui Chemical
21:41 Chihiro Takato Wacoal
1 7Km 22:17 Dai-ichi Life
2 10.9Km 34:35 Dai-chi Life
35:11 Toyota Industries
3 21.8Km 1:10:47 Dai-ichi Life
1:11:21 Sekisui Chemical
4 25.4Km 1:22:42 Dai-ichi Life
1:23:13 Sekisui Chemical
5 35.4Km 1:56:11 Dai-ichi Life
1:56:49 Sekisui Chemical
Finish 42.195Km 2:17:17 Dai-ichi Life
2:18:25 Sekisui Chemical