The 25th annual Fukuoka International Cross Country, the race which doubles as one of two qualifying races for the upcoming IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Punta Umbria, Spain is scheduled to be held on Saturday 26 February.
The Fukuoka International Cross Country is an IAAF XC Permit meeting.
Four foreign runners have been invited: John Beattie of Great Britain and Eduard Mbengani of Portugal in the men’s race, and Lara Tamsett of Australia and Rafaela Almeida of Portugal in the women’s race.
However, Japanese runners will be at the centre of attention as the race will determine qualification for the 2011 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Tetsuya Yoroizaka and Yuki Sato, who were first and second Japanese, respectively, at the Chiba Cross Country are back to solidify their claims to make the World Cross Country team, but four other runners – Yusuke Takabayashi, Akinobu Murasawa, Takayuki Matsumiya and Ryuji Kashiwabara – could make the race quite interesting.
Murasawa, who was second to Yoroizaka in the last year’s Fukuoka Cross Country, is the hottest runner in the Ekiden scenes this season. He recorded the fastest time in the 8.5km stage 3 of Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden as well as at the longest stage of Hakone Ekiden (Collegiate Ekiden). Yusuke Takabayashi is also in great form this season. He recorded the fastest time in 13km stage 7 of Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden as well as in the 13.6km stage 3 of the New Year Ekiden.
Kashiwabara is the other star of Hakone Ekiden, having won the 23.4km uphill stage 5 for the last three years, and finally Matsumiya, the former 30km World record holder.
Two of this quartet ran in last year’s World Cross Country Championships. Yoroizaka was 45th in the senior race, while Murasawa was 28th and the best Japanese in the junior race.
In the women’s race to make the World Cross Country team, Hitomi Niiya, Nanae Kuwashiro, Korei Omata and Ayaka Mori, who were first, third, fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Chiba Cross Country, the other qualifying race for the World Cross Country, will also run the Fukuoka Cross Country.
In addition, Kazue Kojima, who won the last year’s Fukuoka race, as well as Yuko Shimizu, who was fifth in the same race, are back to run on the course used for the 2006 World Cross Country Championships. In last year’s World Cross Country Championships, Niiya was 31st while Kojima was 46th and Shimizu 49th.
In the junior men’s race, the first seven place finishers – Genki Yagisawa, Yuma Hattori, Takashi Ichida, Yuki Arimura, Kazumasa Kubota and Kota Murayama and Ken Yokote – at the Chiba Cross Country will all run in Fukuoka. The best junior runner, Kazuto Nishiike, however, did not compete in the Chiba Cross Country. But he will compete in Fukuoka Cross Country, the race which Nishiike was second in the last year. Among the junior runners competing in Fukuoka, two runners ran in last year’s World Cross Country Championships: Nishiike was 38th while Ichida was 40th.
in the junior women's race, the first six place finishers of Chiba Cross Country – Katsuki Suga, Yuriko Kosaki, Tomoka Kimura, Risa Shibuya, Minori Suzuki, Momoko Akiyama - will also run in Fukuoka. Among them, only Suzuki ran the World Cross Country Championships last year, finishing 95th, she was the third Japanese in the junior race. Since the junior women’s team was fourth at the World Cross last year, this could be the most important qualifying race of them all.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
List of Invited Runners:
John Beattie (GBR)
Eduard Mbengani (POR)
Lara Tamsett (AUS)
Rafaela Almeida (POR)