Harumi Hiroyama winning the 2006 Nagoya Women's Marathon (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright

Solid domestic fields to line up in Chiba - Chiba Cross Country preview

The 44th Chiba Cross Country, the Japanese selection meet for the 37th World Cross Country Championships, is scheduled to be held on Sunday Feb 15, 2009 over the cross country course in Showa woods in Chiba. In addition to four qualifying races - men’s 12Km, women’s 6Km, junior men’s 8Km and junior women’s 5Km - men’s 4Km, junior men’s 4Km, and junior high school student’s 3Km races are also scheduled.

Two runners – Jon Brown and Gregory Graves – are invited from abroad to the men’s 12Km race. Brown, of course, has finished fourth twice in the Olympic Marathon, in 2000 and 2004. The best Japanese in the field are Yoshitaka Iwamizu, national record holder at 3000mSC, Hidekazu Sato, national high school record holder at 5000m, Yuichiro Ueno, former national high school record holder at 10,000m and Hiroyoshi Umegae. All four have run in the World Cross Country Championships; Iwamizu’s 54th place finish in Mombasa, Sato’s 17th place finish in junior race in Bruxelles, Ueno’s 36th place finish in junior race in Bruxelles and Umegae’s 123rd place in Edinburgh are their best finishes.  Umegae was also eighth at 2001 World Youth Championships, while Iwamizu was 11th in the 2003 World Championships, both at in 3000m steeplechase. Other invited runners for 12Km are Masatoshi Kikuchi, a steeple chaser and Kazuya Watanabe, a miler.

Yuriko Kobayashi, a medalist at both the World Youth and World Junior Championships, was originally entered the women’s 6Km, but she withdrew four days before the race. That left Kiyoko Shimahara, Harumi Hiroyama and Yoshika Tatsumi to battle it out for the top spot on the podium. All have international championships experience.

Shimahara is a silver medalist at the Asian Games and finished sixth in the 2007 World Championships, both at the Marathon. Forty-year-old Hiroyama may be the most versatile runner in Japanese track and field history. Former national record holder at 1500m, 3000m and 5000m, Hiroyama was fourth at 10,000m in the 1999 World Championships in Sevilla. She has been concentrating on the Marathon recently, recording a best of 2:22:56 in 2000. Tatsumi ran the 3000m Steeplechase in the 2007 World Championships. The lone entrant from abroad is Irina Segeyeva, who won a silver medal at 2007 European under 23 Championships.

Strong junior races on the programme

The Japanese junior teams, especially junior women’s team, have historically performed well in the World Cross Country Championships. The junior women’s team has won a team bronze last year, and three of the last year’s members - Yukino Ninomiya, Atsuko Matsumura, and Ayaka Mori, who finished 10th, 14th and 18th, respectively in Edinburgh - have entered Chiba Cross Country.  Mori also finished fifth at 3000m in the 2007 World Youth Championships. Her team mate at the 2007 World Youth Championships, Saki Nakamichi, who finished fourth at 3000m, will also be running the junior race in Chiba. Other invited athletes in the junior women’s race are Rei Ohara, Aya Ito, Erika Ikeda, Ikui Natsuhara, and Ai Kuboki.

The Japanese men’s junior team finished fourth in the 2008 World Cross Country Championships and one of its team members, Hirotaka Tamura, who was 20th in Edinburgh, is scheduled to run the junior race. One other runner has international experience. He is Yuya Konishi, who was eighth at 1500m in the 2007 World Youth Championships. Other elite runners in the junior race are Yutaro Fukushi and Wataru Ueno, who finished first and second in the junior high school race of Chiba Cross Country two years ago.  Ueno also set a stage best in the last December’s national high school ekiden championships. One of the best high school steeple chasers, 2007 inter-high school champion Yuki Maeda, is also invited to the junior race.  

The team for the upcoming World Cross Country Championships will be selected from the top finishers from Chiba Cross Country as well as Fukuoka Cross Country in March.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Invited Runners:

Men 12Km
Jon Brown (CAN)
Gregory Graves (AUS) 

Yoshitaka Iwamizu
Hidekazu Sato
Hiroyoshi Umegae
Yuichiro Ueno
Masatoshi Kikuchi
Kazuya Watanabe

Women 6Km
Irina Sergeeva (RUS)

Kiyoko Shimahara
Harumi Hiroyama
Yoshika Tatsumi
Aya Isomine

Junior Men 8Km
Yutaro Fukushi
Hirotaka Yamazaki
Wataru Ueno
Dai Nakahara 
Yuki Maeda
Yuya Konishi

Junior Women's 5Km
Ayaka Mori
Rei Ohara
Aya Ito
Atsuko Matsumura
Erika Ikeda
Yukino Ninomiya
Ikumi Natsuhara
Saki Nakamichi
Ai Kuboki