Joseph Kiptoo Birech of Kenya and Russian Kseniya Agafanova collected victories at the 23rd edition of the Fukuoka Cross Country, the final IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting prior to World Championships in Amman, Jordan, on 28 March.
Kiptoo Birech took the men’s 10km race after a hard fought battle with Japan’s Atsushi Sato in a race which also featured Japan's Takayuki Matsumiya, the 30Km World record holder, while Agafanova pulled away from Tomoka Inadomi over the last lap to win the women’s race.
The races, which doubled as the selection contests for the upcoming World Cross Country Championships, were held on a slightly modified version of the course which hosted the 2006 global championships.
Strong battle between Kiptoo Birech and Atsushi Sato – men’s race
Kiptoo Birech took the lead nearing the end of the first kilometre and began to push the pace. Just behind, Sato and Yu Mitsuya followed closely while Matsumiya stayed back in the middle of the pack. In the month leading up to the race, Matsumiya trained in Kenya and was hoping to see the positive effects of altitude training. After passing 4Km in 11:39, Suehiro Ishikawa, who finished fifth in the Chiba Cross Country, passed Sato and moved closer to the front.
By 5Km (14:42), the lead pack led by Kiptoo Birech was stretching out, and a kilometre later eight runners remained in contention. Approaching 7Km Yuki Sato, the national high school 10,000m record holder, and Makoto Fukui, who finished third in the Chiba Cross Country, were struggling to stay with the leaders. The real racing began as soon as the runners enter the final two kilometre lap.
Over the final uphill section Atsushi Sato took the lead, with only Kiptoo Birech keeping up. They passed 9Km side-by-side in around 26:26, followed by Mitsuya and Ikegami some five seconds behind. Sato attacked in the final series of hills but Kiptoo Birech stayed with him and then in the final downhill portion of the course, Birech opened a gap and won by one second.
“The race was very competitive,” said Kiptoo Birech.
“I am disappointed that I could not win the race,” said Sato, who finished dead last in the Beijing Olympic Marathon and was trying to recover his confidence during the Cross Country season. “It was a race I could have one. I should have won. I need to work on the final part of my race.”
Agafonova cruises – women’s race
Agafonova and Yurika Nakamura, who was 13th in the Beijing Olympic Marathon, exchanged the lead early on while behind them the lead pack quickly thinned to nine runners, among them Japanese Tomoka Inadomi.
Then on the three consecutive humps nearing the fourth kilometre (13:04), Agafonova began to pull away. Inadomi tried to maintain contact but when the bell sounded the final lap, Agafonova began to pull away for good en route to a 17 second victory.
“My goal was to stay with the leader all the way,” Inadomi said. “But I was not able to in the last lap. At least I wasn’t slowing down near the end.”
Kenyan Bitan Karoki, who attends Sera high school in Hiroshima, took off from the start in the men’s 8km race and beat Chiba winner Akinobu Murasawa convincingly.
Conversely, the women’s junior 6km contest remained close nearly to the end. Nanaka Izawa, who was second in the Chiba Cross Country, outsprinted Emi Kameyama, who was third in Chiba, to win by two seconds.
The Japanese team for the World Cross Country Championships will be selected from the top finishers from both Chiba Cross Country and Fukuoka Cross Country races.
Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF
Weather: temperature: 11C, humidity: 45%
Men’s 10Km -
1. Joseph Kiptoo Birech (KEN) 29:15
2. Atsushi Sato 29:16
3. Yu Mitsuya 29:26
4. Seigo Ikegami 29;27
5. Suehiro Ishikawa 29:33
6. Hiroyoshi Umegae 29:39
7. Makoto Fukui 29:41
8. Takayuki Matsumiya 29:47
9. Yuki Sato 29:54
10. Masayuki Obata 29:57
Women’s 6Km -
1. Kseniya Agafonova (RUS) 19:33
2. Tomoka Inadomi 19:50
3. Yuki Numata 19:59
4. Kazue Kojima 20:03
5. Korei Omata 20:05
6. Chisa Nishio 20:11
7. Yurika Nakamura 20:17
8. Yoshika Tatsumi 20:18
9. Shoko Mori 20:24
10. Rie Matsumoto 20:28
Junior men’s 8Km -
1. Bitan Karoki (KEN) 23:11
2. Akinobu Murasawa 23:24
3. Wataru Ueno 23:37
Junior women’s 6Km -
1. Nakaka Izawa 20:06
2. Emi Kameyama 20:08
3. Erika Ikeda 20:11