Ryoji Matsushita of Fujitsu kicks to a narrow victory at the 2009 New Year Ekiden in Maebashi (Kazutaka Eguchi/Agence SHOT) © Copyright
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Toyota takes first New Year Ekiden title

Toyota Motors won the 55th Edition of  the New Year Ekiden, held over the seven section (12.3Km, 8.3Km, 13.6Km, 22.0Km, 15.8Km, 12.5Km, 15.5Km) 100Km loop course which starts and finishes in the front of Gunma Prefectural office building on New Year’s Day (1). It was the first victory for Toyota at the New Year Ekiden, the men’s Ekiden championships for corporate sponsored track teams. 

The race came down to the final few steps as three teams were still in contention with less than 100m to go.  At the end Toyota won by one second over Fujitsu with 4:51.56.

“I am very happy to have such good runners in my team,” said Toshinobu Sato, who has been coaching the team for only three years. Within these three years Sato turned the team which finished 24th in 2008 to the top team on the podium.

“My plan was to wait until the very end. I did not think about any other option,” said Takeshi Kumamoto, whose well timed sprint brought Toyota a thrilling victory.  It was the second time the race came down to three teams in contention in the last 100m. In 2009 Fujtsu, Nissin Foods and Asahi Kasei were in contention with 100m to go in the race and Fujitsu prevailed over Nissin by one second at the end.  This time the protagonists were Fujitsu, Nissin Foods and Toyota and unlike two years ago, Fujitsu did not come out on top. 

Toyota was near the lead from the start.  Three second behind the leader after stage 1, Toyota dropped to 45 seconds behind the leader Honda after stage 2. But thanks to fabulous run by Yusuke Takabayashi, a 23-year-old rookie, Toyota took the lead during stage 3. Yuki Sato, the best distance runner in Japan, came from behind to threaten Toyota’s lead, but Yoshinori Oda of Toyota met his challenge well and stayed in front after stage 4. Although Toyota fell to third after stage 5, and was 20 seconds behind the leader before the anchor leg, the anchorman Takeshi Kumamoto made up the deficit before 5Km into the stage and then with timely sprint in the final 100m, brought Toyota long awaited victory.  

The defending champion Nissin Foods finished third in 4:52.05, followed by Yasukawa Electric, Asahi Kasei and Chugoku Electric Power. Honda who won East JPN regional finished disappointing seventh.

How the race unfolded:

Stage 1 - 12.3Km
Different runners took turn in front, but the pace stayed slow with a 5Km split of 14:50 and 10Km split of 30:01. The wild sprint started with less than 1Km to go, and 14 teams finished the stage within 10 seconds.

Stage 2 – 8.3Km
The second stage, the shortest of the race, is where the team’s African runners are allowed to run.  Ibrahim Jeylan of Ethiopia and Honda covered 3Km in 7:52, 5Km in 13:16 and finished the 8.3Km stage in 22:14. Only Clement Langat of Subaru and Kenya, second in the junior division at 2010 World Cross Country Championships, stayed close to Jeylan, the 2006 World junior champion at 10,000m. At the end Honda was in lead, followed by Subaru.

Stage 3 – 13.6Km
Two Km into the stage, Subaru took the lead from Honda.  Yasukawa and Toyota also passed Honda and then caught Subaru to form the three team lead pack. Takabayashi of Toyota covered the first10K of the stage in fast 27:39. After Subaru was dropped with 1Km to go, Takabayashi surged to finish the stage 9 seconds ahead of Yasukawa. Takabayashi, who set new stage best said, “I was in good position at the start of the stage because I was able to see the runners in front.  I was not thinking about the time. I just wanted to take over the lead. I was relieved to do so.”

Stage 4 – 22.0Km
Yuki Sato of Nissin Foods passed 5Km in 13:53 and 10Km in 27:47. Ten kilometres into the stage, Toyota lead Yasukawa by 30 seconds, who in turn was eight seconds ahead of the defending champion Nissin Foods. Two kilometres later Sato caught second place Yasukawa, and then by 15Km into the stage Sato moved into lone second. Several times in the next few kilometres, Sato almost caught Oda of Toyota, but each time Oda gritted his teeth to stay ahead of Sato. With 700m to go, Oda started his long sprint to pull away from Sato.  Nakamoto also passed Sato in the final metres. At the end Toyota was 10 seconds ahead of Yasukawa, who in turn was two seconds ahead of Nissin Foods. “I am disappointed that I could not take the lead,” said Sato after the race. 

Stage 5 – 15.8Km
This is the tough stage, because of the uphill incline and prevailing head wind. Three kilometres into the stage, Yasukawa and Nissin caught the leader Toyota.  Three teams took turn surging and at the end of the stage, Nissin and Yasukawa were together with Toyota only three seconds behind.

Stage 6 – 12.5Km
Kenta Matsumoto of Toyota caught Nissin and Yasukawa by 3Km into the stage and they ran together until Itayama of Nissin started to lose contact a kilometre later. Then Obata of Yasukawa pulled away from 19-year-old Matsumoto of Toyota. 10Km into the stage Akutsu of Fujitu passed Nissin and then Toyota to move up to second.  However, Toyota and Nissin were not finished. At the end of the stage, all four teams were within 23 seconds. 

Stage 7 – 15.5Km
Less than one kilometre into the stage, Fukui of Fujitsu caught the leader, Tobimatsu of Yasukawa.  Behind them Nissin caught Toyota and they worked together and caught Fujitsu and Yasukawa 4.2Km into the stage. It became the four team race.  Less than a kilometre later, Tobimatsu fell off the pace and thus it became the three team race. Ono surged at 12.2Km, but Fukui and Kumamoto wouldn’t let him go. With the goal in their sight, Ono surged again, but Kumamoto and Fukui stayed with him.  In the final 100m Kumamoto started his sprint but Fukui was able to stay close.  At the end Fukui tried to make one final move, but Kumamoto held him off and won by one second.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

Results -
Weather: Sunny; temperature: 5.4C, humidity: 35%
Teams -
1) Toyota Motors  4:51:56
2) Fujitsu   4:51:57
3) Nissin Foods  4:52:05
4) Yasukawa Electrci 4:52:49
5) Asahi Kasei  4:54:15
6) Chugoku Electric 4:54:31
7) Honda   4:54:38
8) Toyota Kyushu 4:54:39
9) Konica Minolta 4:54:44

Best Stage
1 12.3Km - 36:01 Tomoya Onishi (Asahi Kasei)
   36:01 Yoshihiro Wakamatsu  (Tokyo Electric)
2 8.3Km - 22:14 Ibrahim Jeylan (Honda/ETH)
   22:17   Clement Langat (Subaru/KEN)
   22:30 Gideon Ngatuny (Nissin/KEN)
3 13.6Km - 38:02 Yusuke Takabayashi (Toyota)
   38:31 Toshinori Kitajima (Yasukawa)
4 22.0Km - 63:25 Yuki Sato (Nissin)
   63:30 Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu)
5 15.8Km - 46:41 Keita Akiba (Komori)
   46:46 Ken-ichi Jiromaru (Nissin)
6 12.5Km - 36:45 Shoji Akutsu (Fujitsu)
   36:56 Rui Yonezawa (Chugogu )
7 15.5Km - 45:55 Takeshi Kumamoto (Toyota)
   46:01 Hiroyuki Ono (Nissin)
   46:12 Makoto Fukui (Fujitsu)