Taking the lead in the next to the last stage, the team from Mitsui-Sumitomo Kaijyo won its seventh Women’s Corporate Team Ekiden Championships in the last ten years on Sunday (13) in Gifu, Japan, the hometown of Naoko Takahashi, 2000 Olympic Marathon Champion.
Tenmaya, who move up to second in third stage thanks to the second fastest stage by Yurika Nakamura, 7th at 10000m in Berlin World Championships, started the sixth and the final stage 25 seconds behind the leader Mitsui-Sumitomo. They did cut the gap to Mitsui in the sixth stage, but fell short by 11 seconds.
Dai-ichi Life, the team coached by Sachiko Yamashita, 1991 World Championships marathon silver medalist finished third. Shiseido, who won in 2006 and Wacoal, five time champion, finished fourth and fifth respectively.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1 (6.6Km)
The race started faster than usual, passing 1Km in around 3:17. A few runners started to fall off the pace at the incline on the bridge over the Nagara river, but the first big surprise of the day was that after 4Km, major contenders like Toyota Industries and Tenmaya also started to fall off the pace. By 5Km four teams – Shiseido, Dai-ichi Life, Mitsui-Sumitomo, and Starts – broke away from the rest of the field with Denso staying closest.
Nearing the end of the stage, Ikuyo Yamashita of Mitsui was the first to make her move, but Aya Isomine of Shiseido not only stayed close but made her own move to record the fastest stage in the opening stage. She was followed by Yamashita of Mitsui, Yoishimi Ozaki of Dai-ichi life and Hiromi Koga of Denso. Tenmaya was ninth while the defending champion Toyota Industries was way back in 15th.
Stage 2 (3.3Km)
This is the only stage where non-Japanese runners are allowed to run, and thus eight Africans, mostly Kenyans ran this stage. Thus all kinds of position changes have taken place in this short stage. The lead change also took place, as 1.7Km into the stage Betleham Moges of Denso and Ethiopia caught and passed the leader Yumi Sato of Shiseido. Ongori Philes of Kenya and Hokuren moved her team up from 19th to 10th while Flomena Cheyech of Kenya and Uniqlo moved her team up from 24th to 14th. Denso was the leader after the stage 2, followed by Shiseido and Mitsui Sumitomo.
Stage 3 (10Km)
This is where many members of the World Championships team in Berlin ran. For example, Yoshiko Fujinaga ran for Shiseido, Yoko Shibui ran for Mitsui-Sumitomo, and Yurika Nakamura ran for Tenmaya.
Nakamura, who started the stage in seventh place, caught Yoko Shibui, who started the stage 18 seconds ahead, with 3.5Km into the stage. Nakamura continued to push the pace and Shibui stayed with her. Together they caught Yoshiko Fujinaga of Shiseido and then 4.3Km into the race they caught the leader Denso. Among the leaders, Fujinaga was the first to lose contact with the leaders. Meanwhile Kayoko Fukushi, national record holder at 3000m, 5000m and half marathon was superb. Fukushi who passed 5Km in 15:14 passed Fujinaga at 5.7Km and was closing on the leaders.
At front Shibui led with Nakamura and Misaki Katsumata of Dai-ichi life followed closely. Fukushi continued to close the gap and 6.1Km into the race she moved into fourth. Two hundred metres later Fukushi not only caught the leader, but she immediately went into the lead.
Nobody was able to keep up with Fukushi who passed 12 runners and was running completely alone. She was followed by Nakamura in second and Shibui in third.
The defending champion Toyota Industries were in trouble as their big gun Hitomi Niiya was unable to close the gap on the leaders. After the race when Fukushi was elated when told that she had broken the stage record of 31:10 established by Esther Wanjiru eleven years ago.
Stage 4 (4.1Km)
Wacoal continued to lead the race, and by the end of fourth stage, they led Tenmaya by 16 seconds, while the defending champion Toyota industries was still more than two minutes behind.
Stage 5 (11.6Km)
In the early stage of the race, Noriko Higuchi Wacoal continued to lead the race followed by Azusa Nojiri of Dai-ichi Life and Risa Shigetomo of Tenmaya. A lead change looked imminent and by 6.9Km into the race Tenmaya caught Wacoal, while Miki Ohira of Mitsui was also closing the gap.
Then 7.9Km into the race Ohira passed Shigetomo of Tenmaya to take the lead. Shigetomo tried to stay with Ohira but she is unable to do so. Meanwhile Akane Wakita of defending champion Toyota industries was running well, steadily passing runners in front of her. However, Yukiko Akaba of Hokuren was running even faster. Akaba, who ran the marathon in Berlin, passed 5Km check point in 15:39. Then 9.3Km into the race Akaba slipped passed Wakita and Remi Nakazato of Daihatsu to move into seventh. She passed eight runners and moving her team up from 15th to 7th. Meanwhile Ohira of Mitsui continued to extend her lead over Tenmaya. By the end of the stage, Mitsui led Tenmaya by 25 seconds.
Stage 6 (6.595Km)
Chisato Osaki, the anchor for Mitsui, has been struggling with injury problems earlier in the year, but according to her coach Osaki was in good shape. Thus although Kaori Urata of Tenmaya started to close the gap on Osaki in the last few Km, she fell short by 11 seconds.
What they said
“Ideally I would like to have my team taken the lead in the third stage, but I thought move into the lead in the fifth stage is more realistic,” said Shigeharu Watanabe who coaches Mitsui since last year.
“It was my fault that we finished second last year,” said Mira Ohira who ran the fifth stage for Mitsui this year again. Last year, she was nearly a minute behind the winner Toyota Industries in the fifth stage. Today Ohira was second fastest in the longest stage. “When I started the fifth stage, I did not think I can take over the lead, but when I saw that I was getting steadily closer to the leader, I thought `It may be possible.”
“I think the difference was in their experience. Mitsui knows how to win, because they have done it many times before. But my team ran well also,” said Yutaka Taketomi, the long time coach of Tenmaya ekiden team.
Ozaki aims at London Marathon
“I feel I can run better in the pack than all by myself,” said Yoshimi Ozaki of Dai-ichi Life, who won the marathon silver medal in Berlin, was 3rd fastest in the 6.6Km first stage. This means she is better suited for the first stage, where she can run with other runners, while she might be forced to run alone for most of the race in other stages. Ozaki is planning to work on her speed at Inter-Prefectural Ekiden in January and JPN Corporate team half marathon championships in March, before running London Marathon.
The London will be her first marathon since Berlin. “I have a time goal in London. At minimum I want to improve my personal best, but most of all I would like to see how far I can run at 2:20 marathon pace,” explained Ozaki.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: sunny; temperature: 12.5C, humidity: 31%; wind: 3.6m/s NNW
1. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijyo 2:15:27
2. Tenmaya 2:15:38
3. Dai-ichi Life 2:16:27
4. Shiseido 2:16:43
5. Wacoal 2:16:58
6. Denso 2:17:16
7. Daihatsu 2:17:35
8. Hokuren 2:17:37
20:35 Aya Isomine Shiseido
20:39 Ikuyo Yamashita Mitsui-Sumitomo
20:44 Yoshimi Ozaki Dai-ichi Life
10:02 Obare Dorica (KEN) Hitachi
10:03 Ongori Philes (KEN) Hokuren
10:03 Betleham Moges (ETH) Denso
10:06 Flomena Cheyech (KEN) Uniqlo
31:02 Kayoko Fukushi Wacoal New Stage Record
31:39 Yurika Nakamura Tenmaya
32:11 Misaki Katsumata Dai-ichi Life
12:46 Yuka Kakimi Dai-ichi Life
12:55 Ikuko Mizuguchi Denso
12:57 Rui Aoyama Toyota
37:00 Yukiko Akaba Hokuren
37:49 Miki Ohira Mitsui-Sumitomo
37:53 Akane Wakita Toyota Industries
21:01 Kaori Urata Tenmaya
21:15 Chisato Osaki Mitsui-Sumitomo
21:25 Atsuko Muraoka Shiseido
21:29 Miyuki Ando Dai-ichi Life
Positions after Stages:
1:16;16 Dai-ichi Life
1:54:12 Mitsui Sumitomo