Universal Entertainment wins Japan Corporate Women’s Ekiden
Universal Entertainment won the 32nd edition of Japan Corporate Women’s Ekiden, also known as “Queen’s Ekiden’, from Matsushima to Sendai on Sunday (16).
The race, as the name implies, crowns the best women’s ekiden team in the country and a total of 29 teams, who qualified through regional qualifying rounds, contested the six-stage race over the marathon distance (42.195km).
It was the first victory for Universal Entertainment, a nine-year-old team headed by the famous coach Yoshio Koide, the former mentor of Olympic medallists Yuko Arimori and Naoko Takahashi; although arguably the most impressive individual run of the day came on the third leg from Kayoko Fukushi, Japan's national record holder at both 5000m and half marathon.
In the lead from the first handover
Universal Entertainment took the lead towards the end of the first stage, when Rui Aoyama surged to front. Over the next five stages, totalling over 35km, their lead was never realistically threatened.
The gap of four seconds after stage 1 was extended to 35 seconds at the end of stage 3 and 1:34 at the final exchange although Denso and defending champions Dai-Ichi Life closed well on the final stage.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1: 7km
The lead pack stretched out when Tomomi Tanaka of Dai-Ichi Life, eighth in 2012 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, started to push the pace on the mid-stage uphill stretch. After 5km, Aoyama, Akari Ota of 2010 champions Tenmaya,and Starts’ Yurie Doi took turns in the lead before Aoyama made a strong move to finish first in 22:12, new stage record. “It was windy but I concentrated on running my own race,” said Aoyama.
Stage 2: 3.9km
Universal’s Moeno Nakamura extended her team’s lead over Dai-Ichi Life’s Ena Yokozawa to 11 seconds while Denso’s Naoko Koizumi passed 11 runners to handover in third place.
Stage 3: 10.9km
Wacoal's Fukushi moved her team up from 11th to second by the halfway point on this stage after passing 5km in a swift 15:34. However, Universal’s Hitomi Niiya was still 52 seconds ahead of Fukushi at 5km but the latter, with Sekisui Chemical’s Yuko Shimizu in tow, started to cut into Niiya’s lead.
By the end, Fukushi had reduced Universal’s lead to 35 seconds with a leg of 35:04. “It was quite tough but cheers from the fans kept me going,” said Niiya. Fukushi reflected, “I wish I had run sub 35 min. But I was not able to do so because of the wind.”
Stage 4: 3.6km
Designated as the only international stage, which meant that overseas athletes could run, Kenyan runners featured prominently. Universal’s Felista Wanjuku had a good run and extended her team’s lead by almost a minute to 1:31, with Toyota’s Wainaina Murugi moving her team up from fourth to second as Wacoal drifted back to third.
Stage 5: 10km
Universal’s Mizuho Nasukawa, second in last month’s Yokohama Women’s Marathon, extended her lead over second-placed Wacoal by another three seconds to 1:34 seconds with Toyota slipping back to third, another three seconds further back while the defending champion Dai-Ichi Life was now more than two minutes behind Universal.
Stage 6: 6.795km
Wacoal’s Noriko Higuchi and Toyota’s Sayuri Sendo steadily gained on leader Kaoru Nagao, of Universal, during the first half of the stage. At 3km, Nagao’s lead had been reduced to 1:12. However, Higuchi and Sendo weakened in the final kilometres and Denso’s Mai Ishibashi of Denso came from behind strongly to move through to second by the finish, and was followed home by Dai-Ichi Life’s Yuka Kakimi.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1) Universal Entertainment 2:17:35
2) Denso 2:18:27
3) Dai-Ichi Life 2:18:29
4) Wacoal 2:18:32
5) Toyota 2:18:41
6) Tenmaya 2:19:15
Stage 1: 7km Rui Aoyama (Universal Entertainment) 22:12
Stage 2: 3.9km Moeno Nakamura (Universal Entertainment) 12:04
Stage 3: 10.9Km Kayoko Fukushi (Wacoal) 35:04
Stage 4: 3.6km Felista Wanjuku (Universal Entertainment) 11:29
Stage 5: 10km Risa Shigetomo (Tenmaya) 33:23
Stage 6: 6.795km Mai Ishibashi (Denso) 20:48
Progressive leaderboard (after stage, with distance from the start)
Stage 1: 7km Universal Entertainment 22:12
Dai-Ichi Life 22:21
Stage 2: 10.9km Universal Entertainment 34:16
Dai-Ichi Life 34:27
Stage 3: 21.8km Universal Entertainment 1:09:47
Sekisui Chemical 1:10:25
Stage 4: 25.4km Universal Entertainment 1:21:16
Stage 5: 35.4Km Universal Entertainment 1:55:04