For the seventh time in its 57-year history, Konica Minolta won the traditional New Year Ekiden, the Japan Corporate Men’s Ekiden. The race was contested over a seven stage 100km course around Maebashi.
Konica started from the 14th place after the first stage and moved up steadily, 12th after second stage, fourth after third stage and then moved into the lead 15km into the fourth stage. In the next three stages, Konica runners recorded the stage best as the team won comfortably in 4:51.32.
The battle for second was fierce as seven teams were together with 500m to go. At the end, Toyota Kyushu’s Takuya Sakai had best sprint and grabbed second place, his team’s best finish ever, as only eight seconds separated second from eighth.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1: 12.3km
Toyota’s Chihiro Miyawaki took off from the start and only Asahi Kasei’s’ Tomoya Onishi followed him closely. At 5km, passed in 14:10, they were 25 seconds ahead of the chasing pack but, at 7km, Miyawaki surged and left Onishi behind.
Miyawaki, ran the rest of the stage alone to finish the stage in 34:48. “I was planning to go after 2Km, but since nobody was willing to run fast, I decided to go from the start. I was concerned more about extending the lead than my own time,” said Miyawaki.
Stage 2: 8.3km
This is the only stage that foreign runners are allowed. Kenya’s John Thuo, running for Toyota, held off his compatriot Patrick Mutunga (KEN) of Toyota Boshoku, by two second to hold on to the lead.
Stage 3: 13.6km
Toyota Boshoku’ Yoshihiro Yamamoto of took over the lead at 3.5km. Behind him two past champions, Asahi Kasei and Konica, moved up to third and fourth, respectively by 9km into the stage. Just before the end of the stage Yasukawa’ Hisanori Kitajima and they handed over together.
Stage 4: 22km
Yasukawa’s Kentaro Nakamoto of Yasukawa, sixth at the London 2012 Olympic Games marathon, led for the first half of the the race with Toyota Boshoku’s Tomoya Shiiya in tow. Behind them, Konica’s Tsuyoshi Ugachi and Kanebo’s Masato Kihara moved into third and fourth, respectively at 6.3km. With 10km left in the stage, Ugachi picked up the pace and and caught the leaders before pulling away. Another km later, he pushed the pace again and pulled ahead into the lead. Behind him, Toyota Kyushu’s Masato Imai moved up to second by 20km into the stage and finished with the fastest stage time of 1:02:50.
Stage 5: 15.8km
Konica’s Masaki Ito, Toyota Mitsuya’s Yu Mitsuya and Toyota Boshoku’s Tomoya Shirayanagi ran together until the latter lost contact with his two rivals at 7.5km, Mitsuya was then left behind at 12km. By the end of the stage, Konica Minolta led by 26 seconds.
Stage 6: 12.5km
Konica’s Ryotaro Nitta extended his team’s lead over its pursuers and, at the end of the stage, Konica led by 2:10.
Stage 7: 15.5km
Konica’s Takayuki Matsumiya, the former world 30km record holder, extended his lead over his pursuers but, behind him, five teams – Toyota Kyushu, Honda, Chugoku Electric, Kanebo and Toyota Boshoku – battled for the second place. With just one km left, Toyota and Subaru also joined the fray. Kanebo’s Yuki Nakamura made the first move with 500m to go, but Toyota Kyushu’s Takuya Sakai had better sprint to bring his team home in second place.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1. Konica Minolta 4:51:32
2. Toyota Kyushu 4:55:24
3. Honda 4:55:25
4. Kanebo 4:55:25
5. Chugoku Electric 4:55:28
6. Subaru 4:55:30
7. Toyota Boshoku 4:55:31
8. Toyota 4:55:32
9. Nissin Foods 4:55:54
10. Asahi Kasei 4:56:10
11. Yasukawa Electric 4:56:26
12. Fujitsu 4:57:24
Best Stage Times:
1. 12.3km Chihiro Miyawaki Toyota 34:48
2. 8.3km Patrick Mutunga Toyota Boshoku 22:24
3. 13.6km Takuya Fukatsu Asahi Kasei 38:15
4. 22.0km Masato Imai Toyota Kyushu 1:02:50
5. 15.8km Masaki Ito Konica Minolta 46:33
6. 12.5km Ryotaro Nitta Konica Minolta 37:31
7. 15.5km Takayuki Matsumiya Konica Minolta 46:46
Progressive leaderboard (after stage, with distance from the start)
Stage 1. 12.3km Toyota 34:48
Asahi Kasei 35:16
Stage 2. 20.6km Toyota 57:45
Toyota Boshoku 57:47
Stage 3. 34.2km Toyota Boshoku 1:36:48
Yasukawa Electric 1:36:48
Stage 4. 56.2km Konica Minolta 2:40:42
Toyota Kyushu 2:40:43
Stage 5. 72.0km Konica Minolta 3:27.15
Toyota Kyushu 3:27:41
Stage 6. 84.5km Konica Minolta 4:04:46
Toyota Kyushu 4:06:56