Atsushi Sato of Japan screams in joy at finishing the men's Marathon securing Japan the bronze medal in the Marathon World Cup at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Nissin Foods finally wins New Year Ekiden in Maebashi

Nissin Foods, who has finished second twice and third four times in the last 10 years, finally won the New Year Ekiden, All Japan Corporate team Ekiden Championships held on New Year Day. Last year Nissin Foods lost the 100Km race by one second in the final sprint against Fujitsu.  

The seven stage 100Km ekiden was contested on a course which starts and finishes in Maebashi, the site of 1999 World Indoor Championships. Konica Minolta, who won this race six times in the last decade, finished second, 28 seconds back, while defending champion Fujitsu finished third. 

The day was cold and windy, so it was very tough for the runners, especially the runners in seventh and final stage. Nissin Foods, who was second after the first stage, dropped down to fourth after the second, but Yuki Sato moved his team up to first in stage three. However, the next runner, Satoru Kitamura, was in trouble at times with strong wind, perhaps due to his light weight and relinquished his lead. In the fifth stage, team captain Kosaku Hoshina took back the lead which Kazuyoshi Tokumoto kept in the sixth stage. However, when the seventh and final stage started with Tomoo Tsubota of Konica Minolta just 11 seconds behind Hiroyuki Ono of Nissin Foods, the prevailing thought was that Konica Minolta would win, because Tsubota is a record holder for stage five, while Ono is a rookie, in his first year out of college.  However, not only Ono held on for the win, but he actually extended the lead over Tsubota. 

“I think I did what I needed to do as the lead off runner,” said Bene Zama, who ran the first stage for Nissin. “I am not satisfied with my run, but I am happy that team won,” said Sato who ran the third stage for Nissin. 

Three rookies recorded stage bests - Masato Kihara in stage one, Yuki Sato in stage three and Hiroyuki Ono in stage seven.

Looking back over the race, TV commentator and former marathon great Toshihiko Seko said: “It was a hard win for Nissin, but they prevailed because they were better team overall. But the race showed us how hard it is to win, even for a superior team.” 

How the race unfolded:

Stage 1 (12.3Km): 
The race started relatively fast with Masato Kihara in the lead, but soon the pace slackened. The first Km was passed in 2:52 but the huge pack passed 5Km in slow 14:38.  Just before 7.2Km, Kihara opened a gap on the pack but Yu Mitsuya, who will be making his marathon debut in Beppu-Oita, took over the lead after 8.2Km.  He opened a gap, but the pack caught up to him. After passing 10Km in 29:29, with 1Km to go the real racing started.

Wakamatsu of Tokyo Electric Power took the lead, but he was caught and passed by Kihara and then Bene Zama of Nissin Foods. At the end Kihara was fastest followed by Zama.  “Since the pace was slow, I thought it is better for me as well as for my team to take off,” Kihara said.

Stage 2 (8.3Km):
This is the stage reserved for foreign runners. At 3Km, Gideon Ngatuny of Kenya and Nissin Foods took over the lead from Nahom Mesfin of Ethiopia and Kanbo. However, one kilometre later Martin Mathathi of Kenya and Suzuki took over the lead from Ngatuny and started to run away.  At the end Mathathi was in the lead followed by Honda and Toyota.

Meanwhile Josphat Ndambiri of Kenya and Komori Corporation, passed 23 runners in just 8.3Km.  However, he did not record the fastest time on this stage. Paul Tanui of Kenya and Kyudenko was one second faster. 

Stage 3 (13.7Km):
Soon after the start of the stage, Suehiro Ishikawa of Honda, Yuki Sato of Nissin and Takeshi Hamano of Toyota formed the chase pack behind Suzuki. They caught and passed Suzuki 2.5Km into the stage. Soon after 10Km, Sato started to push the pace and left Ishikawa and Hamano behind.  At the end of the stage, Sato led the second place Toyota by 15 seconds with Honda another two seconds behind.  Konica Minolta was sixth and defending champion Fujitsu eighth. “I started to race with the determination of taking over the lead,” said Sato. “I was disappointed that I could not open a larger gap on second place.”

Stage 4 (22.3Km):
Around 6 Km, Yoshinori Oda of Toyota caught Satoru Kitamura of Nissin, and they ran together until 3Km to go into the stage. Masakazu Fujiwara of Honda, who was biding his time in third, passed Kitamura and then, at 20.3Km into the stage, he caught Oda. At the end, Honda was first with pre-race favorite Nissin Foods17 seconds behind. Meanwhile, Atsushi Sato, sixth in the marathon in Berlin, moved his team up to sixth. Chugoku Electric Power, who won in 2004 and 2007, was now 58 seconds behind the leader. “I wanted to move my team up as much as possible,” Atsushi Sato said. “I was not worrying about the time at all. I wish I had passed two more runners.”

Stage 5 (15.9Km): 
Takashi Horiguchi of Honda and Kensuke Takahashi of Toyota shared the lead in the early stage of the race, while Kosaku Hoshina of Nissin Foods was running third. Hiroshi Yamada of Konica Minolta, Atsushi Fujita of Fujitsu, and Naoki Okamoto of Chugoku Electric Power formed the chase group.  Fujita started to breakaway around 9Km, but both Okamoto and Yamada eventually made up the distance. Noticing that Nissin Foods was getting close, at 12.5Km into the race, Horiguchi surged away from Takahashi. Soon, Nissin passed Toyota, and 14Km into the stage, Yamada, Fujita and Okamoto also caught Toyota. Meanwhile Hoshina caught Honda at 14.7Km. At the end of the stage, Nissin was in the lead, followed by Honda and then Chugoku Electric Power. Six teams were within 22 seconds of each other. “Because traditionally whoever was in the lead after stage five usually won the whole thing, I wanted to take over the lead,” said Okamoto, who recorded the stage best.

Stage 6 (11.8Km):
Takayuki Matsumiya of Konica Minolta, former 30Km World record holder, started the stage fast and soon joined the chase group of three – Nissin Foods, Chugoku Electric and Honda, while Kazuyoshi Tokumoto of Nissin Foods was in front. Tokumoto kept Nissin Foods in the lead. Matsumiya took off with 1Km to go, but was 11 seconds behind Tokumoto at the end. Iwamizu was another 3 seconds behind. “I know Tsubota will do it for us,” said Matsumiya, who recorded the stage best. 

Stage 7 (15.7Km):
Hiroyuki Ono of Nissin Foods, a rookie, must have been running scared just ahead of Tomoo Tsubota, however, since stage seven runs near where he grew up, Ono had a big cheering section along the course. Tsubota cut Ono’s lead by one second after 5Km, but fell three seconds behind Ono at 10Km, despite being more than 30 seconds faster at 10,000m than Ono.  At the end Ono recorded the stage best and extended his lead over Tsubota. 

Ken Nakamura assisted by Akihiro Onishi for the IAAF

Weather at the start: Sunny; temperature: 2.7C; humidity: 49%; 
Results:
 1) Nissin Foods           4:50:07
 2) Konica Minolta         4:50:36
 3) Fujitsu                4:51:37
 4) Chugoku Electric       4:52:26
 5) Toyota                 4:52:55
 6) Honda                  4:54:12
 7) Otsuka Pharmaceutical  4:56:29
 8) Asahi Kasei            4:56:29
 9) Toyota Boshoku         4:56:31
10) Kyudenko               4:56:31
11) Kanebo                 4:56:32
12) JR East Japan          4:56:32

Stage Bests:
Stage 1 (12.3Km)
  35:28  Masato Kihara, Kanebo
  35:31  Bene Zama, Nissin Foods
  35:32  Yoshihiro Wakamatsu, Tokyo Electric Power
  35:32  Yuko Matsumiya, Konica Minolta

Stage 2 (8.3Km)
  22:02  Paul Tanui, Kyudenko
  22:03  Jospaht Ndambiri, Komori
  22:04  Martin Mathathi, Suzuki
  22:06  Yacob Jarso, Honda

Stage 3 (13.7Km)
  38:29  Yuki Sato, Nissin Foods
  38:48  Takeshi  Hamano, Toyota
  38:50  Suehiro Ishikawa, Honda
  38:52  Takashi Ota, Konica Minolta

Stage 4 (22.3Km)
  63:11  Atsushi Sato, Chugoku Electric Power
  63:26  Koichi Sakai, Fujitsu
  63:26  Masato Imai, Toyota Kyushu

Stage 5 (15.9Km)
  46:48  Naoki Okamoto, Chugoku
  46:58  Atsushi Fujita, Fujitsu
  47:06  Hiroshi Yamada, Konica Minolta
  47:19  Kosaku Hoshina, Nissin Foods

Stage 6 (11.8Km)
  34:23  Takayuki Matsumiya, Konica Minolta
  34:30  Kazuyoshi Tokumoto, Nissin Foods
  34:36  Yoshitaka Iwamizu, Fujitsu

Stage 7 (15.7Km)
  47:32  Hiroyuki Ono, Nissin
  47:50  Tomoo Tsubota, Konica Minolta
  48:48  Takayuki Ota, Fujitsu