The Chiba International Ekiden, the first edition of which was held in 1988, will this year be contested on Thursday 23 November, which is a national holiday in Japan.
The Ekiden will be contested on the standard six stage course (5Km, 10Km, 5Km, 10Km, 5Km, 7.195Km) over the marathon distance. The distances for each section in the Ekiden race fell in with the recognized standard for the record purpose last year, and witnessed the Kenyan men’s team win in a World Road Relay record of 1:57:06.
Thirteen teams (KEN, USA, AUS, GBR, RUS, AUT, POL, SWE, BEL, CHN, JPN, Japan Collegiate and Chiba prefecture) from eleven countries will contest the men’s race, while fourteen teams (KEN, USA, AUS, GBR, RUS, ROM, UKR, POL, BLR, CHN, KOR, JPN, Japan Collegiate and Chiba prefecture) from twelve countries will contest the women’s race.
MEN’s Relay – Kenya the hot favourites
Four of the six team members from the last year’s World record setting Kenyan team will be running in Chiba, and thus Kenya is the outstanding favourite. Last year their second stage runner, Martin Mathathi, established a huge stage best. He covered the 10Km stage in 27:12, 40 seconds ahead of the second place runner – Yuki Sato. In April of this year, Mathathi was third at the long course in the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, only four seconds behind Ethiopian cross maestro Kenenisa Bekele. Mathathi was also fifth at the 10,000m in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki. Mekubo Mogusu, who set the stage best in the 10Km fourth stage last year, is also back. On 5 November at the Japan College Ekiden Championships, Mogusu recorded a new stage best, 56:31 for the 19.7Km anchor leg. Josephat Ndambiri, the lead off runner for Kenya last year, ran 27:04.79, a Japanese all-comers record, on 30 September. One of the new runners on the Kenyan team, Sammy Korir, also possesses great credentials. He has the second fastest marathon of all-time, 2:04:56, to his credit.
Jon Brown of Great Britain, who will be running the Fukuoka Marathon in a week and a half will tune-up in the Chiba Ekiden. Brown, of course, was fourth at the marathon in both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Games. A few young Japanese runners also deserve some attention: Kensuke Takezawa recorded the third fastest 5000m time by Japanese, 13:22.36, on 30 August; Yuki Sato, who has the fastest 10,000m and second fastest 5000m time of the year in Japan, was fourth at 10,000m in the 2005 World University Games, and recorded the second fastest time for the 10Km second stage last year.
The focus of the race will be whether the Kenyan team can improve their World record? Their chances of victory are huge, and are likely either to run away from the competitions from the stage one, or perhaps Martin Mathathi will break away from the competition in the second stage like he did last year.
The women’s race should be more competitive with Kenya and Russia the most favoured teams in the pre-race predictions. Four of the six runners from the last year’s winning Kenyan team are back to run in Chiba. This year’s Kenyan team includes Catherine Ndereba, her sister Anastasia Ndereba, Lucy Wangui, Evelyne Kimwei, Philes Ongori and Jane Wanjiku. Catherine Ndereba, of course, is the 2003 World Marathon champion and the silver medallist at both the 2004 Olympics and 2005 World Championships. Lucy Wangui, a Kenyan who runs for Suzuki, is the 2006 Commonwealth Games champion at 10,000m. She was also fourth at the 5000m at those games in Melbourne. Evelyne Kimwei, who runs for Sunix, ran 31:16.50 10,000m on 21 October and a 1:08:41 Half marathon on 19 November, while Ongori Philes, a lead-off runner for Kenya last year, recorded 31:18.85 for the 10,000m on 30 September.
The Russian team is quite formidable. Four of the six runners on the last year’s team, who finished third last year, are back. This year’s team includes Inga Abitova, Lidia Grigoryeva, Galina Bogomolova, who finished first, third and fourth respectively at 10,000m in the 2006 European Championships. Liliya Shobukhova, silver medallist at both the 2006 World Indoor Championships and 2006 European Championships, and the World indoor record holder for 3000m is also on the team.
On paper, the Russian team with three sub-31 minutes 10,000m runners, maybe the slight favourites. However, four runners on the Kenyan team compete for Japanese Corporate Ekiden team, and thus are more familiar with running the Ekiden.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Some of the elite runners and the highlights of their careers
Seventh at the Marathon in the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Marathon PR 2:09:49; 10000m PR 27:51.27
10,000m PR 27:54.93
Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Fourth at the Marathon in the 2000 & 2004 Olympics
Josephat Muchiri Ndambiri:
10,000m PR 27:04.79 - JPN All comers record
Marathon PR 2:04:56 – Second in the all-time list
Martin Irungu Mathathi:
Third at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, Fifth at 10000m in the 2005 World Championships
Tenth at Marathon in the 2003 World Championships
5000m PR 13:22.36;Yuki Sato Fourth at 2005 World University Games
2003 World Marathon Champion, Second at marathon in the 2004 Olympics & 2005 World Championships
2006 Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion, Third at 5000m in the 20006 CWG
10,000m PR 31:16.50
10,000m PR 31:18.85
Marathon PR 2:28:17; 10,000 PR 31:48.28
2006 European Champion at 10,000m, 10,000m PR 30:31.42
Silver medallist at 3000m in the 2006 World Indoor Championships, Silver medalist at 5000m in the 2006 European Championships
Fourth at 10,000m in the 2006 European Championships, 10,000m PR 30:35.90
Silver medallist at 10000m in the 2006 European Championships, 10,000m PR 30:32.72
First at the 10,000m in the 2005 World University Games
Second at half marathon at the 2005 World University Games
Twelfth at 3000mSC in the 2005 World Championships
Asian Record Holder at 3000mSC