The 20th annual Fukuoka International Cross Country (IAAF Permit), one of the selection races for the Japanese team for the 34th World Cross Country Championships, is set for Sunday (5 March) on the course that will be used in the upcoming World Cross Country Championships. For the prospective World Cross Country Championships team members, the Fukuoka race is an opportunity to experience the World Cross course. For the organisers of the Championships, it is a dress rehearsal for the 1-2 April event.
Three runners - David Galvan of Mexico, John Henwood of New Zealand and Catherine Ndereba of Kenya - are invited from abroad. Ndereba is the 2003 World Marathon champion, and a silver medallist in the Marathon at both the 2004 Olympic Games and 2005 World Championships. Galvan and Henwood both competed in the 10,000m at the 2004 Olympics. However, the most important race in the Fukuoka Cross Country is the race to make the Japanese team for the World Cross.
Some of Japan’s best to toe the line
Naturally some of the best distance runners in Japan will be competing in the Fukuoka International Cross Country. In the senior men’s 10Km race, six runners who have competed at the World Championships or Olympic Games are entered. In Helsinki, Yu Mitsuya and Terukazu Omori ran the 10,000m, while Michitaka Hosokawa ran the Marathon. In Athens, Toshinari Suwa ran the marathon, while Ryuji Ohno ran the 10,000m. Yoshitaka Iwamizu, the national record holder at the 3000m SC, competed in his specialty in Helsinki, Athens and Paris, setting a national record in the latter.
The focus may be on two rising stars, however. They are Hidekazu Sato, who holds a high school 5000m record, and Yuki Sato, who holds a high school 10,000m record. Of the two, Yuki is the hot runner currently, for as a college freshman Yuki won the national inter-collegiate championships at 10,000m and recorded a new stage best in the January’s Hakone Ekiden (ekiden for the colleges in the Kanto district).
Three runners who competed in the last year’s World Cross Country Championships, Tsuyoshi Ugachi, Harutomo Kawano, Takehiro Mori will be running in the junior men’s race. Kodai Matsumoto and Yusuke Mita may also excel in the race. Ugachi set the stage best in the first stage of the inter-prefectural men’s ekiden, while Mori and Kawano were fourth and fifth fastest in the most prestigious stage one in the Inter-high school ekiden championships. Only Kenyans attending a Japanese high school finished ahead of them. Matsumoto also recorded a stage best in the fifth stage in the inter-prefectural ekiden, while Yusuke Mita became the first high school freshman in 13 years to record the stage best in the inter-high school ekiden championships.
Fukushi tops the bill - women's race
Turning our attention to the women’s race, best runners in the senior women’s 6Km race are Kayoko Fukushi, Megumi Oshima and Minori Hayakari. They all competed at the global championships. Fukushi, a national record holder at 3000m, 5000m and half marathon, contested the 5000m and 10,000m at the World Championships and Olympic Games. She won a silver medal at both the 5000m and 10000m in the 2002 Asian Games. Oshima ran the marathon in Helsinki, 10,000m in Athens and Paris, and 5000m in Sydney and Seville. She was tenth at 5000m in Seville and also tenth at the marathon in Helsinki. A former middle distance runner, Hayakari is now a national record holder in the 3000m SC, and ran the same event in Helsinki where she finished 12th. Hayakari, who won the 800m and 1500m in the 1996 National Championships, has the 5000m personal best of 15:11.42. Hayakari has competed in the World Cross Country Championships; her best finishes are 9th in 1990 and 8th in 1991 in the junior race.
The most intriguing race is the women’s junior race, where two super stars - Hitomi Niiya and Yuriko Kobayashi – will be contesting for the supremacy on the course where they are expected to chase the Kenyans and Ethiopians in four weeks time. Niiya was 13th at the 2005 World Cross Country Championships and has been hot on the Ekiden scene this winter. She recorded stage bests at both high school ekiden championships and more importantly in the inter-prefectural ekiden championships where she beat many of the best runners in Japan. Kobayashi, the 2005 World Youth silver medallist at 1500m, has been hot in the Ekiden scene this winter also. She set the stage records at both the inter-high school ekiden championships and inter-prefectural ekiden championships. The main challengers to Niiya and Kobayashi is Akane Wakita, the highest Japanese finisher at the last years’ World Cross Country Championships; she was 10th in France. In addition to Niiya and Wakita, three other members of the bronze medal winning World Cross team, Kazue Kojima, Maya Iino, Yuri Suzuki are also entered in their attempt to make the team again.
David Galvan (MEX)
John Henwood (NZL)
Catherine Ndereba (KEN)
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF