Kenyans Charles Ndirangu and Jeremiah Thuku, both winners at the Chiba International Cross Country two weeks ago, were victorious again – this time at the 27th edition of the Fukuoka Cross Country, one of the qualifying races for the upcoming IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Held over the course that was used for the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, Ndirangu won the senior men’s 10km race, while Thuku dominated the junior men’s 8km event. The women’s 6km was won by Japanese Olympian Hitomi Niiya.
But perhaps the most important race from an international perspective was the junior women’s 6km, as the team will be hoping to get among the medals again at the World Cross. Miyuki Uehara, winner in Chiba, was only fifth here, while Azusa Sumi – who was only 11th in Chiba – won in Fukuoka.
Men’s 10km (five laps of 2km)
Led by Charles Ndirangu, the Kenyan covered the first kilometre in 2:50 and was followed by Suguru Osako and Kenta Murayama. That trio broke away from the pack four minutes into the race. By the end of the first lap (5:50) Murayama was left behind, leaving Ndiragu and Osako in front.
The same pair led throughout the second lap (11:36), and had built up a lead of 32 seconds over their pursuers. As they tackle the big hill on the third lap, it was then that Ndirangu started to break away. But Osako gritted his teeth and stayed close through the third and fourth lap.
At 7km the difference between the pair was just two seconds. Ndirangu was slowing a little – as he covered the fourth lap in 6:00, five seconds slower than his previous lap – but he still managed to double his lead to four seconds over Osako. Meanwhile, Yuki Matsuoka and Australia’s Ben St Lawrence were third and fourth but they were nearly 30 seconds behind.
At the end Ndirangu beat Osako, the defending champion, by three seconds, while Lawrence was third but more than 30 seconds behind with Matsuoka in fourth.
“It was not an easy race. I was not smooth,” said Ndirangu. “As for my goal, I want to be the best in Japan at both 5000m 10,000m.”
On the other hand, Osako said: “I wanted to see how long I can stay with the Kenyans. I was able to be persistent in the closing stage, so I am satisfied.”
Women’s 6km (three laps of 2km)
Two-time defending champion Hitomi Niiya took the lead from the outset and by 1km (3:06) four runners, led by Niiya, had broken away. Nearing the end of lap one (6:34), Niiya forged ahead of the other three and was three seconds ahead of Susan Wairimu of Kenya.
Niiya continued to extend her lead on the next lap, which she covered in 6:33, and by then the chase pack was 25 seconds behind. After the final big hill, three runners – Ayumi Hagiwara, Ayuko Suzuki and Mai Ishibashi – broke away from the chase pack, and they finished second, third, and fourth behind Niiya.
“I really enjoy the Fukuoka Cross Country because there was so much cheering for me,” said Niiya after the race. “I just went out fast from the start. That’s my style.”
Junior men’s 8km (four laps of 2km)
By the end of the first lap, recent Chiba Cross winner Jeremiah Thuku broke away from his competitors. He was followed by fellow Kenyan John Gathaia, who in turn was followed by the chase pack, led by Hideto Yamanaka.
Thuku passed the 3km check point in 8:40 and continued to lead at half way (11:52), but as Gatharia faded, Yamanaka and Kazuki Takahashi moved into second and third respectively.
Thuku won comfortably, 25 seconds ahead of Yamanaka, while Takahashi held off a fast-finishing Tatsuya Hayashi and Tadashi Isshiki. “This wasn’t a race; it was a training run for me,” said Thuku.
Junior women’s 6km (three laps of 2km)
Pauline Eyapan of Kenya took the lead right away, but she paid the price for her fast start. Less than two minutes into the race, defending champion and world junior 3000m finalist Miyuki Uehara had caught and passed her.
After one kilometre (3:10), three runners – Uehara, Eyapan and Azusa Sumi – broke away from the main group. By the end of the second lap, Eyapan had dropped back while Yui Fukuda, Saki Yoshimizu and Nami Aoki had joined Uehara and Sumi in the lead pack.
With less than a kilometre to go, Aoki started to lead over Sumi and Yoshimizu, while Uehara dropped off the pace. But with little more than 400m left in the race, Sumi began to break away but with Yoshimizu was closing fast. Sumi held on to win by just one second over Yoshimizu, followed by Fukuda.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1 Charles Ndirangu (KEN) 29:47
2 Suguru Osako (JPN) 29:50
3 Ben St Lawrence (AUS) 30:21
4 Yuki Matsuoka (JPN) 30:26
5 Wataru Ueno (JPN) 30:35
6 Keigo Yano (JPN) 30:35
7 Hiryuki Ono (JPN) 30:39
8 Minato Oishi (JPN) 30:42
1 Hitomi Niiya (JPN) 20:00
2 Ayumi Hagiwara (JPN) 20:37
3 Ayuko Suzuki (JPN) 20:38
4 Mai Ishibashi (JPN) 20:40
5 Hanae Tanaka (JPN) 20:44
6 Susan Wairimu (KEN) 20:45
7 Miho Ihara (JPN) 20:45
8 Kaho Tanaka (JPN) 20:48
Junior men’s 8km
1 Jeremiah Thuku (KEN) 24:02
2 Hideto Yamanaka (JPN) 24:27
3 Kazuki Takahashi (JPN) 24:40
4 Tatsuya Hayashi (JPN) 24:40
5 Tadashi Isshiki (JPN) 24:40
6 Koki Yoshimura (JPN) 24:44
Junior women’s 6km
1 Azusa Sumi 20:28
2 Saki Yoshimizu 20:29
3 Yui Fukuda 20:31
4 Nami Aoki 20:31
5 Miyuki Uehara 20:39
6 Maki Izumida 20:44