Yoko Shibui at the Yokohama Women's Ekiden (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
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Japan wins final edition of Yokohama International Women’s Ekiden

The Japanese national team won the 27th and the final edition of the Yokohama International Women’s Ekiden on Sunday.  It was their tenth victory in this international ekiden, breaking a tie of nine victories each they held with Russia (including USSR before 1992). 

With superb running in the first stage by Yuriko Kobayashi, a silver medalist at the World Youth Championships and bronze medalist at the World Junior Championships, the Japanese squad took the lead one kilometre into the race, one they never relinquished. Kobayashi gave her team a 14 second lead over Russia after the 5Km first stage.  Yuri Kano, the second stage runner for Japan extended the lead to over 40 seconds after the second 10Km stage.  Although the next three runners for Japan did not record stage bests,  Yuko Shimizu, Kazue Kojima and Ryoko Kizaki, all recorded the second fastest stage in three, four and five, respectively, and thus with 5.195Km left the squad was 58 seconds ahead of Kenya, with Russia more than three minutes behind. 

Yoko Shibui, the national 10,000m record holder, was also superb.  She extended the team’s lead to nearly two minutes over Kenya to give Japan a comfortable victory. Kenya finished second, while two district teams, Kanto-Tokyo and Kyushu, finished third and fourth, respectively, ahead of Russia.  Kanto-Tokyo tied the best finish by a district team. 

“Most of all, I am happy with my team’s victory, especially because it is the final edition of the race,” said Kobayashi, who kept saying that she has yet to be on the winning team in this ekiden although she has run in Yokohama three times.

This is the final edition of the Yokohama International Women’s Ekiden. With the Tokyo Women’s Marathon moving its venue to Yokohama, the Yokohama Women’s Ekiden will be discontinued. 

How the race unfolded:

Stage 1 - 5Km -
A few hundred metres after the lead pack passed the first Km in 3:04, Yuriko Kobayashi took over the lead, and only Lidia Mathathi Njeri of Kenya tried to stay with Kobayashi.  Kobayashi passed 2Km in 6:05, by which time the gap opened between Kobayashi and Njeri.   With each stride Kobayashi continued to pull ahead of her pursuers; she passed 4Km in 12:15, and covered the 5Km section in 15:21.  “The weather was good for running today. The only problem was with the wind,” said Kobayashi, who was 14 seconds ahead of Olesya Syreva of Russia, who in turn was two seconds ahead of Njeri at the end of the stage.  The Olympic Marathon gold medalist, Constantina Dita, was the 13th fastest in the stage. She was a minute 13 seconds behind Kobayashi. 

Stage 2 - 10Km -
While Yuri Kano was running alone in front, Kenyan Magdalene Mukunzi passed Inga Abitova of Russia to move into second.   Although the gap between Mukunzi and Kano shrank to eight seconds by 2Km, after 4Km, Kano started to extend her lead over Munkunzi.  The European 10,000m champion Abitova was not running well, and at 5.3Km into the stage, Abitova was caught by Aya Nagata of Kanto-Tokyo, and Natsumi Tomonaga of Kyushu.  The threesome ran together and at 8.5Km into the stage they caught Mukunzi.  A few hundred metres later it was Abitova who pulled ahead to chase Kano.  Fifteen Km into the race, Japan lead with 47:26, and Russia in second, was 40 seconds behind.   It looks as if the race, as expected, was turning into a duel between Japan and Russia.  “I knew Kobayashi would run well,” said Kano, who covered the 10Km stage in 32:05, a stage best. 

Stage 3 - 6Km -
Yuko Shimizu of Japan, who said “I was bit nervous until yesterday,” ran well and kept Japan in front, while Caroline Cheptanui Kilel of Kenya was running even better.  Three Km into the stage Cheptanui passed Russian Maria Konovalova to take over second.  After 21Km into the race, Japan still led but Kenya moved up, 43 seconds behind.  With Konovalova running poorly, Russia is now a minute and five seconds behind the leaders.  Cheptanui, who covered the 6Km stage in 19:11, was the fastest in the stage. Shimizu covered the same distance in 19:30, while Konovalova took 19:55 for the stage. 

Stage 4 - 6Km  -
Kazue Kojima, who said “I was bit scared, because I thought someone was closing on me,” pushed hard to keep Japan in front.   Behind them, Natalia Medvedeva of Russia was closing on Kenyan Caroline Chepkorir and 5.4Km into the stage Medvedeva passed Chepkorir.  At the end of the stage, twenty-seven Km into the Ekiden, Japan was still in the lead, with Russia a minute and three seconds behind. The Kenyan team was another three seconds behind Russia at the end of the stage. 

Stage 5 - 10Km -
Only a few hundred metres into the stage Kenyan Ruth Wanjiru took over the second place.  By 5Km into the stage, Wanjiru, who covered the first 5Km of the stage in 15:52, cut Japan’s lead to 48 seconds.  However, she could not get any closer to the leader. Behind them, six Km into the stage, Shoko Mori of Kanto-Tokyo passed Tatiana Aryasova of Russia to move into third. Then 8.6Km into the stage Mariko Nakao of Kyushu also passed Aryasova.  Although Wanjiru ran well, so did Ryoko Kizaki and thus at the end of the stage, Japan was 58 seconds ahead of Kenya. 

Stage 6  -
Although Yoko Shibui, who won the Osaka Ladies Marathon four weeks ago, may be little short on training, she did not show it.  Shibui, covered the final 5.195Km stage in 16:29, fastest in the final stage, and extended her lead over Kenyan Jane Wamucci Murage to a minute and 53 seconds.  “I hope to win the best medal in Berlin,” said Shibui after the race. 

Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi

Weather Sunny; temperature 8.9C; humidity 50%

Results:
 1. JPN              2:15:05
 2. KEN              2:16:58
 3. Kanto-Tokyo      2:17:45
 4. Kyushu           2:18:43
 5. RUS              2:19:23
 6. Kinki            2:20:00
 7. USA              2:20:27
 8. Hokkaido-Tohoku  2:21:06
 9. Chugoku-Shikoku  2:21:10
10. CHN              2:22:42
11. Kanagawa         2:23:42
12. Tokai-Hokuriku   2:24:34
13. ROU              2:26:03


Stage Bests -
Stage, distance, time, name, team
1 - 5Km - 15:21 - Yuriko Kobaashi, JPN
          15:35 - Olesya Syreva, RUS
2 - 10Km - 32:05 - Yuri Kano, JPN
           32:09 - Aya Nagata, Kanto-Tokyo
           32:22 - Natsumi Tomonaga, Kyushu
           32:31 - Inga Abitova, RUS
3 - 6Km -  19:19 - Caroline Cheptanui, KEN
           19:30 - Yuko Shimizu, JPN
           19:55 - Maria Konovalova, RUS
4 - 6Km -  18:59 - Natalia Medvedeva, RUS
           19:01 - Kazue Kojima, JPN
5 - 10Km - 32:31 - Ruth Wanjiru, KEN
           32:39 - Ryoko Kizaki, JPN
6 - 5.195Km - 16:29 - Yoko Shibui, JPN
              16:34 - Mizuho Nasukawa, Kanto-Tokyo

After Stage 1 - 5Km
1. JPN 15:21
2. RUS 15:35
3. KEN 15:37

After Stage 2 - 15Km
1. JPN 47:26
2. RUS 48:06
3. Kanto-Tokyo 48:09

After Stage 3 - 21Km
1. JPN 1:06:56
2. KEN 1:07:39
3. RUS 1:08:01

After Stage 4 - 27Km
1. JPN 1:25:57
2. RUS 1:27:00
3. KEN 1:27:03

After Stage 5 - 37Km
1. JPN 1:58:36 
2. KEN 1:59:34
3. Kanto-Tokyo 2:01:11