Samuel Wanjiru wins the 2005 Chiba Cross Country (Kazutaka Eguchi) © Copyright
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Niiya, Yamanaka, Sato and Wanjiru excel in Chiba Cross Country

The 40th Chiba Cross Country, one of the competitions used to select the Japanese team for the upcoming IAAF World Cross Country Championships, was held in Showa no Mori on Sunday under the cloudy sky with temperature of 13 degress Centigrade and little wind. 

Although it rained the day before and part of the course was swamped, there were relatively good conditions for this time of the year in Chiba considering that this race is often plagued with cold rain or snow.

The Japanese stars, who were expected to make the World Cross team ran well.  Yuki and Hidekazu Sato battled it out at the junior men’s 8km as expected, while Hitomi Niiya and Miwako Yamanaka convincingly won the women’s junior and senior races respectively. 

Junior races

As expected, the junior men’s 8km race was a battle between two high school record holders, Yuki Sato (10,000m record holder) and Hidekazu Sato (5000m record holder). 

Immediately after the start of the race Yuki and Hidekazu broke away from the main pack. They ran together almost to the end, however, with 700m to go just before the final hill Yuki started his kick.  Yuki opened the gap on his rival Hidekazu, but Hidekazu was able to stay close and tried to work his way back.  However, Yuki was able to hold off Hidekazu and won by two seconds. 

“Hidekazu and I were talking about going to the World Cross together. Since I have yet to run well in the global championships, I would like do well this time, especially because this will be my last World Cross as a junior,” said the winner Yuki Sato. 
The defending champion Hitomi Niiya convincingly won the junior women’s 5km as expected.  However it was not easy for Niiya, who said, “It was hard from the start. I didn’t feel comfortable at the start, so I am happy to run persistently to the end.” 

Niiya led the huge pack from the start and passed the 1km checkpoint in 3:08. By 3km, the lead pack with Niiya still in the lead was down to seven runners – Niiya, Yuriko Kobayashi, Yuki Ohta, Ayumi Takada, Akane Wakita, Maya Iino and Yuri Suzuki. With Takada losing contact with the leaders just before 4km, by then (13:22), only three runners – Niiya, Suzuki and Wakita – were left in front. 

Finally with 700m to go, just before the hill Niiya made her move.  “I could not decide where to make my move, but since I am not very good with a long sprint at the end, I wanted to try that,” said Niiya, who successfully broke away from Suzuki and Wakita.  She was never threatened and ran the rest of the race alone to win by seven seconds.   

Senior races

The defending champion Samuel Wanjiru, a Kenyan attending Sendai Ikue High School in Japan, completely dominated the men’s 12km race.  Wanjiru, a teammate of Hidekazu Sato strung out the field early.  Wanjiru, who said, “I was in a good shape,” passed 1km in 2:43, and by 2km the lead pack was down to only four runners – Samuel Wanjiru, Gudisa Shentama of Ethiopia, Terukazu Omori and Yuki Nakamura. 

Wanjiru continued to push the pace and by 3km he was completely alone.  “I was only thinking about winning.” 

By 4km Wanjiru led the chase pack by 11 seconds. Although he slowed down near the end, Wanjiru won convincingly in 34:54. “I also won last year but I am happier with this year’s victory,” said Wanjiru in Japanese. 

He was followed by Gudisa Shentama of Ethiopia. Yuki Nakamura in third place was the first Japanese in the race. “I was not worried too much about Wanjiru because I was aiming at being the first Japanese. So I was mostly watching Omori. I ran this race many times before hoping to make the World Cross team.  I would like to run well again in the Fukuoka Cross Country so I can be selected for the World Cross team,” said Nakamura.  

The women’s 6km saw the return of Miwako Yamanaka to the top of the podium at the cross country, the surface on which she excels. The lead pack passed 1km in 3:12. “Because nobody wanted to lead the race and the 1km split was slower than junior’s race, I decided to push the pace,” said Yamanaka.

By 2km, Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland was already 10 seconds behind the lead pack which consisted of Miwako Yamanaka, Yoshiko Ichikawa, Eri Kotake, Miki Ohira, Shiori Ishiyama, Julia Mombi, Kayo Sugihara, Natsumi Fujita, followed by Cristina Casandra of Romania. 

By 3km, the lead pack was down to just four runners – Yamanaka, Ohira, Ishiyama and Fujita.  Yamanaka continued to push the pace hard and by 4km (13:00), she was completely alone in front, while Fujita started to lose contact even with the chase pack.

Yamanaka won by eight seconds. “It was my first cross country race in two years, so I was bit afraid of jumping a log,” said Yamanaka. “Since I did not make the world cross team last year, I want to make the team this year.  Also I see the cross country race as the good preparation for making the World Championships team in track,” concluded Yamanaka who was fourth in the World Cross Country Championships in 2002. 

Ken Nakamura with the assistance from Akihiro Onishi 

Men’s 12km

1) Samuel Wanjiru (KEN)  34:54
2) Gudisa Shentama (ETH)  35:57
3) Yuki Nakamura  36:07
4) Terukazu Omori  36:27
5) Yuki Matsuoka  36:35
6) Kensuke Takahashi 36:37

Women’s 6km
1) Miwako Yamanaka  20:01
2) Miki Ohira  20:09
3) Kayo Sugihara  20:09
4) Shiori Ishiyama 20:11
5) Yoshiko Ichikawa 20:13
6) Cristina Casandra (ROM)  20:15

Junior men’s 8km
1) Yuki Sato  24:28
2) Hidekazu Sato   24:30
3) Harutomo Kawano  24:49
4) Hiroyuki Ono  24:49
5) Takahiro Mori  24:57 
6) Satoru Kitamura  24:59 

Junior women’s 5km
1) Hitomi Niiya  16:35
2) Yuri Suzuki  16:42
3) Maya Iino  16:44
4) Akane Wakita  16:48
5) Yuki Ota  16:53
6) Ayumi Takada  16:53