K.Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
22 January 2002 - On January 20, Fukuoka prefecture won the 7th Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden, a seven stage 48Km ekiden race in Hiroshima. It was the second victory for Fukuoka in the seven-year history of the event, having won the third edition of the race. In the previous six editions, a different team came out on top each year. Hence Fukuoka became the first team in the event’s history to win this ekiden twice.
Like its women’s counterpart, which took place earlier in the month, the men’s teams also consist of elite runners from different age groups. Two 3Km stages, stages two and six, are reserved for junior high school students, while stages one, four and five are reserved for high school students.
Tatsuo Terada, in his preview of this year’s event, argued for Fukuoka as the favorite, primarily because their high school members stand out. Their lead off runner Takashi Otsu is the third fastest high school runner at 5000m last year with 13:58.66 best. Their fourth stage runner Koichi Murakami was second at the 1500m in the last year’s national inter-high school championships, while their fifth stage runner Keita Dobashi was third at the 3000mSC in the national inter-high school championships.
Fukuoka started the ekiden auspiciously. Takashi Otsu, who was 14th in the junior division of the World Cross Country Championships last year, took the lead initially and kept it until 4.5Km. However, Naoto Kato of Gifu prefecture is a hot runner lately, having recorded the second fastest first stage at last December’s national high school ekiden championships. Not only did Kato catch Otsu, but he surged at 6.4Km to shake Otsu off. Kato who was only 121st in the World Cross Country Championships last year ran the fastest first stagewith 20:00, a new stage record, while Otsu was three seconds behind.
In the second stage, Gifu continued its lead while Nagasaki moved up to second.
In the third stage, several top runners in Japan competed.Tsuyoshi Ogata who was fourth in last year’s Berlin marathon was a last minute entry for Hiroshima prefecture. He recorded the fastest time, 23:53, for the 8.5Km third-stage. In the process Ogata passed 24 runners. Toshinari Takaoka, national 3000/5000/10,000m record holder who ran 2:09:41 in his debut marathon last month, was also a last minute entry. He recorded the second fastest stage, 16 seconds behind Ogata. Meanwhile Nagasaki prefecture took over the lead and Fukuoka dropped to fourth.
On the fourth stage, however, Fukuoka started to roll. Murakami took over the lead 0.4Km into the fourth stage and recorded the fastest time for the stage. Fukuoka kept the lead in the fifth and sixth stage.
Because the seventh and the final stage is 13Km long, dramatic come from behind victories were seen twice. In its inaugural year, Tomoaki Kunichika who was anchoring for Hiroshima team made up a massive 1 minute 10 seconds deficit to clinch victory for the home team. That made Kunichika a household name in Hiroshima. In the second edition, Toshinari Takaoka, future seventh place finisher at the Olympic 10,000m, made up a 36 seconds deficit in the seventh and final stage to bring victory to his native Kyoto.
This year, however, Makoto Otsu, an older brother of Takashi Otsu was not going to be caught. Otsu recorded 38:17 for the 13Km stage, only 10 seconds behind Katsuhiko Hanada who recorded the fastest seventh stage. Said Hanada after the race: “After a battle with an injured Achilles since last summer, I was finally able to put in solid training in early January. I am delighted that I am finally running well again. Despite running slower than last year (when he ran 37:55), I was able to win the stage. I passed 10 people along the way to bring my team to 16th place.” Hanada, who was 15th at the 10,000m in Sydney is planning to return to the track in the spring after running a few more road races this winter.
In the end Fukuoka won by 50 seconds over Kumamoto. Nagasaki finished third another nine seconds back, thus the team from the southern island of Kyushu dominated the inter-prefectural ekiden, showing once again the island to be a dominant power in the ekiden.
Results (Weather: temperature 12C, humidity 70%, wind NW 0.6m/s):
1) Fukuoka 2:19:54
2) Kumamoto 2:20:44
3) Nagasaki 2:20:53
4) Hyogo 2:21:15
5) Gifu 2:21:20
6) Saitama 2:21:29
7) Fukushima 2:21:35
8) Osaka 2:21:42
Stage Distance Name Time
1 7Km Naoto Kato 20:00
2 3Km Katsunobu Yokogi 8:32
3 8.5Km Tsuyoshi Ogata 23:53
4 5Km Koichi Murakami 14:15
5 8.5Km Masato Imai 24:34
6 3Km Masayoshi Morii 8:45
7 13Km Katsuhiko Hanada 38:07