For the second year in a row and the fifth time in the last six years, Konica-Minolta won the men’s All Japan Corporate Team Ekiden Championships, also known as the New Year’s Ekiden, which was contested over the seven stage 100Km course around Maebashi, Japan (1 Jan).
The race was expected to be a battle between Konica-Minolta and Chugoku Electric Power, and at the end of the fifth stage, with 27.5Km of running left, Konica-Minolta was leading while Chugoku Electric Power was in second place, 40 seconds behind. However, in the next two stages, Chugoku Electric Power was unable to close the gap and finished second for the second year in a row, 59 seconds behind the five-time champion Konica-Minolta. Fujitsu, who won in 2000, but only finished eighth last year finished third, 59 seconds behind Chugoku Electric Power.
“Thanks to cheering fans, we were able to win for the fifth time in the 50 years history of the New Year’s Ekiden,” said Katsumi Sakai, who coaches Konica-Minolta. Sakai is one of the greatest distance running coaches in Japan, for it was under his guidance Kenyan marathon runner Eric Wainaina of Kenya won a bronze medal in Atlanta Olympics and a silver medal in Sydney Olympics.
How the race developed…
Stage ONE - Konica-Minolta started the race auspiciously when Takashi Ohta covered the 12.3Km stage one in 34:25, only one second behind the leader Daniel Mwangi of Kenya and JAL-AGS. “I was able to execute my plan of staying with the Kenyans as long as I can,” said Ohta, who was the only Japanese in the lead pack of five Kenyans at 10Km (28:08). “With his first stage run, Ohta created a good atmosphere for the team,” said Katsumi Sakai. However, similar to last year, Chugoku Electric Power was not so fortunate. Last year Chugoku Electric Power was 27 seconds behind Konica-Minolta after the first stage, but this year they were even further, 40 seconds, behind Konica-Minolta.
Stage TWO - Konica-Minolta’s brilliant run continued in the 22Km second stage. “I was confident that Ohta will be close to the front after the first stage. I was feeling the pressure of running the most important stage, but we really wanted to win, so I was determined to run my own race,” said Takayuki Matsumiya of Konica-Minolta. Eight km into the second stage he broke away from the lead pack of three runners and at the end of the second stage, Matsumiya, the World 30km record holder, put his team a minute and 15 seconds ahead of the rival Chugoku Electric Power.
“Considering how far behind we were after the stage two, I think my runners run very well. After the second stage, I did not expect us to finish second,” said Yasushi Sakaguchi, a coach of Chugoku Electric Power. Meanwhile, Yu Mitsuya, who was 19th at 10,000m in Helsinki, moved his team Toyota-Kyushu up to fourth place, a minute and 11 seconds behind the leader Konica-Minolta.
The best runner on the team ought to run this longest stage, which means for Toyota-Kyushu, it should be Samuel Wanjiru. However, there is a rule that foreign runners are not allowed to run this 22Km stage two.
Stage THREE - Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya and Toyota Kyushu ran brilliantly. He took over the lead at 7.5Km into third stage, as his coach Koichi Morishita, an Olympic marathon silver medallist, had hoped for. Wanjiru, the World record holder for the half marathon, covered the 11.4Km stage in 31:18. However, Wanjiru fell short of his goal, which was to better the stage best (31:08 Daniel Njenga), and was only the second fastest in the stage. Martin Mathathi, fifth at 10,000m in Helsinki, covered the stage in 31:14. Meanwhile, Konica-Minolta dropped to third when Mwangi Murigi of Toyota passed Tomoo Tsubota of Konica-Minolta.
Stage FOUR - Toyota-Kyushu stayed in the front during the fourth stage, while Konica-Minolta recaptured second place, 5.5Km into the fourth stage.
Stage FIVE- Then at 2.9Km into the fifth stage, Yuko Matsumiya, twin brother of Takayuki Matsumiya, took over the lead for Konica-Minolta. Meanwhile, after 12Km, Shigeru Aburaya, who was fifth in the Athens Olympic Marathon, passed six runners to move his team Chugoku Electric Power into second place, and thus the expected showdown between Chugoku Electric Power and Konica-Minolta was on.
Stage SIX - While Konica-Minolta increased their lead over Chugoku Electric Power by seven seconds, Atsushi Fujita, who finished third in the Fukuoka Marathon four weeks ago, moved his team Fujitsu into third place by 7.3Km into the stage.
Stage SEVEN - In the early part of the seventh and final stage, Kurao Umeki of Chugoku Electric Power was closing the gap on Konica-Minolta, but at the end, Daisuke Isomatsu, the captain of Konica-Minolta, who has run in the last ten New Year’s Ekiden for Konica-Minolta, was able to pull ahead by another 12 seconds to finish in 4:44:54, six seconds short of their record run in 2003.
Toyota-Kyushu who led in third and fourth stage, held on for sixth place. “I am happy to accomplish our goal of finishing in top eight. Perhaps by next year or the following year, we would like to finish in top three,” said coach Koichi Morishita, who won a silver medal at the Marathon in the Barcelona Olympics. Yu Mitsuya, who ran the 22Km second stage for Toyota-Kyushu agreed.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
With assistance from Akihiro Onishi
(weather 30 minutes before the start: Cloudy, temperature -1.5C, humidity 53%, wind 3m/s)
1) Konica-Minolta 4:44:54
2) Chugoku Electric Power 4:45:53
3) Fujitsu 4:46:52
4) Yakult 4:47:45
5) Honda 4:47:47
6) Toyota-Kyushu 4:48:10
7) Toyota Boshoku 4:49:06
8) Asahi Kasei 4:49:18
9) Toyota 4:49:56
10) Nissin Foods 4:49:58
1 - 12.3Km
34:24 Daniel Mwangi
34:25 Willy Kirui
34:25 Takashi Ohta (Konica-Minolta)
2 - 22.0Km
1:02:18 Takayuki Matsumiya (Konica-Minolta)
1:02:49 Kazuhiro Maeda
1:02:49 Yu Mitsuya
1:02:53 Atsushi Sato (Chugoku Electric Power)
3 - 11.8Km
31:14 Martin Mathathi
31:18 Samuel Wanjiru
31:30 John Kariuki
4 - 10.5Km
29:30 Tomohiro Matsushita New stage record
29:35 Tsuyoshi Ogata (Chugoku Electric Power)
29:52 Samuel Muturi (Konica-Minolta)
5 - 15.9Km
45:46 Shigeru Aburaya (Chugoku Electric Power)
45:54 Yuko Matsumiya (Konica-Minolta)
46:08 Takashi Horiguchi
6 - 11.8Km
33:27 Atsushi Fujita
34:02 Julius Gitahi
7 - 15.7Km
45:06 Daisuke Isomatsu (Konica-Minolta)
45:18 Kurao Umeki (Chugoku Electric Power)
45:30 Satoshi Akiyama