Meseret Defar celebrates winning the 5000m Olympic gold (Getty Images) © Copyright

Defending champions Ethiopia vie again with Russia in the Yokohama Ekiden – PREVIEW

An outstanding squad of Ethiopian runners will battle it out with Russia in a bid to repeat last year’s success when the 2005 Yokohama International Women’s Ekiden (road relay contested over the marathon distance course, which is divided into 5Km, 10Km, 6Km, 6Km, 10Km and 5.195Km) takes place on Sunday 27 February. 

In total seven international teams and seven Japanese (geographical) district teams will be running the six-stage ekiden in Yokohama.

Distinguished elite field

Several major international stars are running in Yokohama including one current Olympic champion, Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, and one reigning World champion Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, and two former World Champions, Lidia Simon of Romania and Olga Yegorova of Russia. 

Ethiopia are the defending champions having defeated Russia last year reversing the finishing positions from 2003 when East Africans were runners-up to the Russians.


Although not be as strong as the squad they sent to last November’s Chiba Ekiden, Ethiopia is still fielding a formidable team. The reigning Olympic 5000m and the World Indoor 3000m champion Meseret Defar, who recorded the stage best in Chiba is returns to Japan. Defar is in good shape currently, having recorded 8:30.05 and 8:33.05 for the indoor 3000m in the Boston and Birmingham respectively. 

Joining Defar in Yokohama are Ayelech Worku (1996 World Junior Champion at 5000m; third at 5000m in 1999 and 2001 World Championships), Etalemenu Kidane (third at 3000m in the 2000 World Junior Championships), Mestawat Tufa (second at 3000m in the 2001 World Youth Championships) and Rehima Kedir (sixth at 5000m in the 2004 World Junior Championships).  More recently Kidane won the IAAF permit cross country race in Belfast and was fourth in the Edinburgh Cross too, while Worku was tenth in the San Sebastian Cross Country race and seventh in the Talayuela Cross Country race.  Last year Tufa recorded a stage record, 16:05, in the 5Km anchor leg in Yokohama.


The Russian side is also impressive. The luminaries include Olga Yegorova (2001 World 5000m champion), Galina Bogomolova (sixth at 10,000m in the 2003 World Championships), Lidia Grigoriyeva (eighth at the 10,000m in the 2004 Olympics), Gulnara Samitova (World Steeplechase record holder, and seventh and sixth at the 5000m in the 2003 World championships and 2004 Olympics respectively) and Lilia Shobukhova (13th at the 5000m in the 2004 Olympics).  All of the five aforementioned runners have either sub-15 minutes personal best at 5000m or sub-31 minutes personal best at 10000m.  More recently Yegorova was fourth in the European Club Cross Country championships.  Last year Samitova tied the stage record, 15:28, in the 5Km stage one.


Lidia Simon (2001 World Marathon champion & 2000 Olympic silver medalist) heads the Romanian line-up, and is joined by  Iulia Negura (eighth at 10,000m in the 1996 Olympics), Luminita Talpos (15th at the 2002 World Half Marathon championships) and Cristina Casandra (third at 5000m in the 2003 World University Games).  Recently Simon won the Miyazaki Half Marathon in 1:09:58 and was fifth in the 2005 Osaka Ladies Marathon in 2:27:01, while Casandra was third in the Talayuela Cross Country and sixth in the Vilamoura Cross Country.  Last year Casandra recorded the stage best, 19:14, in the 6Km stage four. 


Ethiopia’s arch rivals Kenya have sent a team that includes the 2003 World Marathon champion (& 2004 Olympic silver medallist) Catherine Ndereba, and the 2004 Milano Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo. Ndereba was second in San Silvestro 10Km in Madrid on the New Year Eve but only 13th in the Kenyan World Cross Country Trials. 

Strong domestic challenge  

Reiko Tosa and Naoko Sakamoto, who finished fifth and seventh respectively in the Athens Olympics Marathon, and Miwako Yamanaka, who was fourth at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships, will be running for the host team, who finished third in the last two years. More recently Sakamoto recorded the fifth fastest time for the anchor (32:30 for 10Km) stage, while Yamanaka recorded the second fastest time, 19:15 for uphill 6Km first stage, both in the 2005 Inter-Prefectural women’s ekiden championships in January. Yamanaka also won the Chiba Cross Country race last Sunday. 

As well as the Japanese national squad some of the seven district teams are also quite strong. Some of the elite runners in the district teams are Rie Ueno, 1999 World University Games champion at 5000m, Ikumi Watanabe, 2004 National Champion at 1500m, Hiromi Fujii, third at 5000m in 2003 Asian Championships and Minori Hayakari, second at 1500m in the 2004 National Champion. Last year the Kanto district team finished fourth, only three minutes 14 seconds behind the national team; overall four district teams finished in the top seven. Two years ago district team was even closer to the national team; Chugoku-Shikoku district team finished less than two minutes behind the national team. 

Glorious history

Historically, some of the best runners in the world have competed in Yokohama Ekiden. Former triple (5000m, 10,000m and marathon) World record breaker Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway ran in 1986, 1987 and 1988, while the World and Olympic Marathon champion (only runner to hold such distinction) Rosa Mota of Portugal ran in 1986 and 1987.  Furthermore Mary Decker-Slaney, the double 1983 World track champion, competed in 1987, and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon Champion, took part in 1992.  

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

International Teams and star names

CHN        No big names
ETH        Meseret Defar, Ayelech Worku, Etalemehu Kidane, Mestawat Tufa
KEN        Catherine Ndereba, Rita Jeptoo
MEX        No big name
ROM       Lidia Simon, Luminita Talpos, Iulia Negura, Christina Cassandra
RUS        Olga Yegorova, Galina Bogomolova, Lidia Grigorieva, Gulnara Samitova
JPN         Reiko Tosa, Naoko Sakamoto, Miwako Yamanaka, Kazue Ogoshi
And 7 other district teams