Yurika Nakamura seals the victory for Japan at the 1999 Chiba Ekiden (Yohei Kamiyama/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
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Japan takes Chiba Ekiden title, with favourite Kenya well-beaten third

In the absence of the defending champion Ethiopia, Japan won the 2009 International Chiba Ekiden on Monday, a national holiday. Taking the lead in the second stage thanks to a near record run by Yuriko Kobayashi, the Japanese never relinquished their advantage.

In fact, the host team extended their lead in each of the subsequent stages, except for the final one. Team members recorded stage bests in four out of six stages, but the winning time, 2:05:58, was still 31 seconds behind the record Ethiopia set in 2008, when they too recorded stage bests in four out of six stages.

The Japanese Collegiate team finished second in 2:07:47, a minute and 49 seconds behind, while the pre-race favorites Kenya finished third in 2:08:34, despite the run by two World Marathon champions – Abel Kirui and Catherine Ndereba.  Kirui won the Marathon at this year’s World Championships in Berlin, while Ndereba won the world title in 2003 and 2007. 
 
The Beijing Olympic Marathon champion Constantina Dita ran the 5Km second stage for Romania, but her time, 16:07, was only the sixth fastest. The Athens Olympic Marathon champion Stefano Baldini of Italy fared even worse.  His 10Km (stage 5) time was only 30:28. 

How the race unfolded:

Stage 1 – 5Km (men):
Ryuji Kashiwabara of the Japanese Collegiate team took off from the start and covered the first 800m in blazing 2:10.  Yuichiro Ueno of Japan tried to stay close, but a gap of more than 30m opened up by the time the runners left the stadium for the streets of Chiba.  Ueno, Australian Craig Mottram and Nicholas Kamakya of Kenya worked together to close the gap on Kashiwabara and caught him 1.5Km into the race.  The leader, Kamakya passed 2.5Km in 6:35, followed by Mottram and Ueno.  At 3.5Km into the first stage, Mottram took the lead and passed 4Km in 10:40. He was the fastest in the end of the 5Km stage covering the distance in 13:23, 9 seconds ahead of Ueno, who in turn was one second ahead of Kamakya of Kenya.

“It was my slowest run in the Chiba Ekiden, but since I was only several seconds behind the leader, I think I did my job,” Ueno said. “I knew Kashiwabara was going out fast, but I was bit surprised, because he ran faster than my expectations.” 

Stage 2 – 5Km (women):
Three Km into the 5Km second stage, Japanese Yuriko Kobayashi caught and passed Nikki Chappel of Australia to take the lead.  Kobayashi covered the 5Km stage in 15:09, one second short of her record set last year. At the end of the stage JPN led AUS by 9 seconds.  “I was in better shape than last year, so I was disappointed that I could not run faster,” said Kobayashi, a medallist at both World Youth and World Junior Championships.

Stage 3 – 10Km (men):
The JPN Collegiate team passed AUS to move into second place 8.7Km into the stage, while with the fastest stage by Kensuke Takezawa, JPN extended their lead over the second place JPN Collegiate team to a minute and 10 seconds. “I felt bit sluggish but I was able to run as planned – start fast and then hold on to the pace,” said Takezawa. 

Stage 4 – 5Km (women):
Japan further increased their lead over second place with a record tying run by Yukiko Akaba. Akaba covered the first Km in 3:05, second in 3:05 and third in 3:03 before covering the 5Km stage in 15:34. In this stage, KEN finally started to make their move.  With the second fastest stage by Iness Chenonge, 2002 Commonwealth Games’ bronze medallist, KEN moved up from sixth to third, but they were still a minute and 58 seconds behind the leader JPN at the end of the stage. “I was able to push the pace from the start, so I felt very good,” Akaba said.

Stage 5 – 10Km (men):
Kenya was expected to close the gap with Abel Kirui, the World Marathon champion.  However, although Kurui passed JPN Collegiate team 5Km into the stage, Atsushi Sato of JPN, who was sixth in the marathon in Berlin recorded the faster time, 28:57 to Kirui’s 29:10i, and KEN fell further behind JPN in the penultimate stage.  With the final stage of 7.195Km left in the race, JPN lead KEN by two minutes and 11 seconds.  The race was essentially over.  “Since my teammates ran well, I was able to run comfortably,” said Sato, who covered the first 5Km in 14:17. 

Stage 6 -  7.195Km (women):
Catherine Ndereba ran for KEN, but not only did she fall further behind JPN, but Hikari Yoshimoto of the JPN Collegiate team passed Ndereba 1.9Km into the race to move into second.  Japan won by a minute and 49 seconds.  The winning margin was larger than last year. “I like to thank my teammates, because it was the first time I crossed the finish line first (in Ekiden),” said Yurika Nakamura of the JPN team. 

Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF

Weather: Sunny; temperature: 12C; humidity: 50%; wind: 0.1m/s NNE
Results:
1) JPN    2:05:58
2) JPN Collegiate 2:07:47
3) KEN   2:08:34
4) Chiba   2:09:26
5) USA   2:09:42
6) RUS   2:11:19
7) AUS   2:11:35
8) CAN   2:12:24
9) ITA     2:13:13 
 

Best Stage -
Stage Distance Time Name
1 5Km  13:23 Craig Mottram (AUS)
   13:32 Yuichiro Ueno (JPN)
2 5Km  15:09 Yuriko Kobayashi (JPN)
   15:27  Nikki Chapple (AUS)
   15:48 Kazue Kojima (JPN Collegiate)
   15:54 Mizuho Nasukawa (Chiba)
   16:07 Constantina Dita (ROU) 
3 10Km  29:07 Kensuke Takezawa (JPN)
   29:14 Ian Burrell (USA)
4 5Km  15:34 Yukiko Akaba (JPN)
   15:46  Iness Chenonge (KEN)
5 10Km  28:57 Atsushi Sato (JPN)
   29:10 Abel Kirui (KEN)
..
   30:28 Stefano Baldini (ITA)
6   23:12 Hikari Yoshimoto (JPN Collegiate)
   23:39 Yurika Nakamura (JPN)
   23:41 Hitomi Niiya (Chiba)
   24:04 Catherine Ndereba (KEN)