Derartu Tulu approaches the finish line in World Cross Country (Getty Images) © Copyright

Tulu versus Johnson in Chiba - Preview

The 39th annual Chiba InternationalIAAF Permit - Cross Country, which doubles as one of the Japanese selection races for the 32nd IAAF World Cross Country Championships will take place on Sunday 15 February.

Johnson versus Tulu

The best entered runner is Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia, 2001 World and twice Olympic 10,000m champion and three-time World Cross Country Champion.  Earlier this year, Tulu was 5th in the Great North Cross Country, and came third at 5000m in the Boston Indoor Games.

Her main challenger is Benita Johnson of Australia who is the defending champion, who has finished 6th, 4th and 5th in the last three World Cross Country Championships. Johnson who finished 8th at 10,000m (30:37.68) at last summer’s track Worlds in Paris. This year, Johnson has raced three-times on the track (5000m 15:23.58; 3000m 8:55.08, 1500m 4:12.37) outdoors in Australia.

Also in the field, Casandra Cristina (ROM), a former World 3000m Steeplechase record holder and the 2003 World University Games 5000m bronze medallist, and Ines Monteiro (POR), who was 4th at 10,000m in those same Games.

Several top Japanese are invited. Yoshiko Ichikawa, a two-time Olympian at 5000m, who was second in Chiba Cross Country last year, Fujiko Takahashi, who was 5th at 5000m in the 2002 World Junior Championships (Half Mar PB 1:10:17).  Three marathon runners who finished well in the recent domestic marathons Hisae Yoshimatsu (6th in Tokyo), Kiyoko Shimahara (3rd in Tokyo) and Mizuho Nasukawa (4th in Osaka) are also running on Saturday.

Kemboi - surprising entrant

Turning attention to the men’s race, perhaps the most interesting entrant especially considering that today (Friday 13 February) the Kenyan championships are taking place is Nicholas Kemboi of Kenya, who last September finished a close second to Haile Gebrselassie at 10,000m in Brussels with 26:30.03. Some experts consider Kemboi as the best Kenyan hope to answer Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, the World 10,000m champion.

A few years ago, Paulo Guerra of Portugal was one of the top cross country runners in the world. Guerra finished 3rd in 1999 and 4th in the 2001 World Cross Country championships and is also a four-time European Cross Country Champion. He is the only European senior man to medal at the World XC in the 1990’s.

The top Japanese challengers are Yoshitaka Iwamizu, a national 3000m steeplechase recordholder who finished 11th in the 2003 World Championships; Takayuki Matsumiya, the World 30Km road record holder; and Masakazu Fujiwara, national marathon debut record holder .

Japanese selection for Brussels 

The Japanese team for the World Cross Country Championships will be selected from the top finishers in Chiba International Cross Country, Fukuoka Cross Country and Asian Cross Country Championships.  The runners earn points based on their finish (9 points for the first, 7 points for the second etc. in Chiba Cross Country, for example) in these three races, and those with the highest scores will be selected to represent Japan at the World Cross Country Championships in Brussels, Belgium on the third weekend in March.

Historically the Japanese juniors have done much better then the seniors at the World Cross Country Championships. The junior women’s team has won a team medal for ten consecutive years. Thus the selection of the junior team is quite important.  On the men’s side, two top runners in the fields are: Yuichiro Ueno, who recorded 28:27.39 for the 10,000m (national high school record), and Satoru Kitamura, who was 8th at 3000m in the 2003 World Youth Championships.  For the junior women, the best juniors in the race are: Yuko Nohara and Saori Makishima, who were 3rd and 5th respectively at 3000m in the 2003 World Youth Championships.
List of top invited runners

Men’s 12Km
Artur Osman (POL) 2:11:46, marathon
Rafal Wojcik (POL) 8:17.09, 3000mSC
Nicholas Kemboi (KEN) 26:30.03, 10,000m
Paulo Guerra (POR) 27:50.17, 10,000m 
Eduardo Henriques (POR) 28:06.71, 10,000m
Julius KIptoo (KEN) 13:06.12, 5000m
Yoshitaka Iwamizu (JPN) 8:18.93, 3000mSC
Yuki Nakamura (JPN)  28:18.43, 10,000m
Takayuki Matsumiya (JPN) 1:28:36, 30Km
Yasunori Uchitomi (JPN) 8:26:48, 3000mSC
Masakazu Fujiwara (JPN) 2:08:12, Marathon

Men’s 4Km
Kazuyoshi Tokumoto  (JPN) 13:26.19, 50000m

Women’s 6Km
Derartu Tulu (ETH) 30:17.49, 10,000m
Benita Johnson (AUS) 30:37.68, 10,000m
Catherine Chikwakwa  (KEN) 15:40.10, 5000m
Ines Monteiro (POR) 15:21.05, 5000m
Cristina Cassandra (ROM) 9:33.16, 3000mSC
Yoshiko Ichikawa (JPN) 15:20.53, 5000m
Hisae Yoshimatsu  (JPN) 2:28:49, Marathon
Miho Notagashira  (JPN) 15:32.3, 5000m
Kayo Sugihara  (JPN) 4:17.41, 1500m
Mizuho Nasukawa  (JPN) 2:29:49, Marathon
Kiyoko Shimahara  (JPN) 2:28:17, Marathon
Fujiko Takahashi  (JPN) 1:10:17, Half Marathon