The 24th Fukuoka International Cross Country, the second selection meet for the upcoming 38th World Cross Country Championships, will be held on Saturday 27 February. Eight races are scheduled on the course used for the 2006 World Cross Country Championships.
Among the races at this IAAF Cross Country Permit event, the men’s 10Km, women’s 6Km, junior men’s 8Km, and junior women’s 6Km, are selection races for the World Cross Country Championships. Incidentally, the Chiba Cross Country which was held two weeks ago was the first selection meet for the World Cross Country Championships team.
The defending Fukuoka Cross Country champion Joseph Birech of Kenya is back to defend his crown. Another runner from abroad is Australian Andrew Letherby, a 2:11 marathon runner, who won the bronze medal at the marathon in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Takezawa vs Sato in the men's race
Two best distance runners in Japan, Kensuke Takezawa and Yuki Sato, will be in the field. Takezawa with a best of 13:19.00 is the faster of the two at 5000m, while Sato with a best of 27:38.25 is the faster of the two at 10,000m. Sato was among the best, if not the best runner when he was in junior high school, in high school and in college. On the other hand Takezawa made a huge improvement in college, and ran both the 2007 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics while he was still a student. On the other hand, Sato failed to make the team for the Beijing Olympic team. In the 2010 Inter-Prefectural men’s Ekiden in mid-January, Sato was faster than Takezawa. However, in the Chiba Cross Country two weeks ago, Sato was a dismal 18th.
Tetsuya Yoroizaka, Takuya Noguchi and Kazuya Deguchi, who finished fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in Chiba, are back to run in Fukuoka. If they finish well, they are likely to be selected for the national team. Akinobu Murasawa, who won the junior race in the 2009 Chiba Cross Country and finished second in the junior race in the 2009 Fukuoka Cross Country, will run a senior race in Fukuoka. Murasawa is the best up and coming distance runner in Japan and he is in shape. In mid-January, in the Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden, Murasawa outdueled Ryuji Kashiwabara, another up- and-coming young runner.
Women’s race – a Chiba rerun?
In the women’s race, Freya Murray of Great Britain, who finished ninth in the 2009 European Cross Country Championships, and Emily Harrison, who finished 11th in the recent US championships, are invited from abroad. The best Japanese in the race are Hitomi Niiya, Risa Takenaka, Nanako Hayashi, Kazue Kojima and Hanae Tanaka, who finished second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, in Chiba. Good performances in Fukuoka will clinch team berths for them. Megumi Kinukawa, one of the most promising young runners in Japan will also be in the field. She is in the process of coming back from her persistent injury problem. However, she finished only 56th in Chiba. Among the entrants, Kinukawa has the best 10,000m time of 31:23.21.
The top finishers in the junior races in Chiba will be back to run in Fukuoka. Kazuto Nishiike and Suguru Osako, who finished first and second, respectively, in the men’s junior race, lead the field. Similarly in the women’s race, the top eight finishers from Chiba are also entered to fight it out for the team spots. Among them, Nanaka Izawa, the defending Fukuoka champion should be the favorite as she was in Chiba two weeks ago, which she won quite comfortably. Izawa is the best junior distance runner currently. She won the 3000m in the national inter-high school championships, and recorded the fastest stage in the national high school ekiden championships.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Joseph Kiptoo Birech (KEN)
Andrew Letherby (AUS)
Freya Murray (GBR)
Emily Harrison (USA)