JPN wins the final edition of the Yokohama International
By Ken Nakamura
The JPN national team won the 27th and the final edition of the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden, six stage (5Km, 10Km, 6Km, 6Km, 10Km, 5.195Km) ekiden contested over the marathon distance of 42.195Km. Fourteen teams, including six teams from abroad contested the Ekiden. For JPN national team, it was their first victory in four years. However, it was tenth victory in this international ekiden, breaking a tie of nine victories each they held with RUS (including USSR before 1992). With a superb running in the first stage by Yuriko Kobayashi, a silver medalist at World Youth Championships and bronze medalist at the World Junior Championships, JPN took the lead 1Km into the ekiden, and they never relinquished it. Kobayashi gave her team 14 seconds lead over RUS after 5Km stage one. Yuri Kano, the second stage runner for JPN extended the lead over RUS to 40 seconds after 10Km second stage. Although, the next three runners for JPN did not record stage bests, Yuko Shimizu, Kazue Kojima and Ryoko Kizaki, all recorded the second fastest stage in three, four and five, respectively and thus with 5.195Km left in the Ekiden, JPN was 58 seconds ahead of KEN, with RUS more than 3 minutes behind. Yoko Shibui, national 10000m record holder, was also superb. She extended the team's lead to nearly two minutes over KEN and thus JPN national team won the Ekiden comfortably. KEN finished second, while two district teams, Kanto-Tokyo and Kyushu, finished third and fourth, respectively, ahead of RUS. Kanto-Tokyo tied the best finish by the district team. "Most of all, I am happy with my team's victory, especially because it is the final edition of the race," said Kobayashi, who kept saying that she has yet to be on the winning team in this ekiden although she has run in Yokohama three times.
This is the final edition of the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden. With the Tokyo Women's Marathon move its venue to Yokohama, the Yokohama Women's Ekiden will be discontinued.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1 5Km
A few hundred meters after the lead pack passed the first Km in 3:04, Yuriko Kobayashi took over the lead, and only Lidia Mathathi Njeri of KEN tried to stay with Kobayashi. Kobayashi passed 2Km in 6:05, by which time the gap opened between Kobayashi and Njeri. With each stride Kobayashi continue to pull ahead of her pursuers; she passed 4Km in 12:15, and covered the 5Km section in 15:21. "The weather was good for running today. Only problem was with the wind," said Kobayashi, who was 14 seconds ahead of Olesya Syreva of RUS, who in turn was 2 seconds ahead of Njeri of KEN at the end of the stage. The Olympic marathon gold medalist, Constantina Dita, was 13th fastest in the stage. She was a minute 13 seconds behind Kobayashi.
Stage 2 10Km
While Yuri Kano was running alone in front, Magdalene Mukunzi of KEN passed Inga Abitova of RUS to move into second. Although the gap between Mukunzi and Kano shrank to 8 seconds by 2Km, after 4Km, Kano started to extend her lead over Munkunzi. The European 10000m champion Abitova was not running well, and at 5.3Km into the stage, Abitova was caught by Aya Nagata of Kanto-Tokyo, and Natsumi Tomonaga of Kyushu. A threesome run together and at 8.5Km into the stage they caught Mukunzi. A few hundred meters later it was Abitova who pulled ahead to chase Kano. Fifteen Km into the stage, JPN lead with 47:26, and RUS in second, was 40 seconds behind. It looks as if the race, as expected, is turning into a duel between JPN and RUS. "I knew Kobayashi will run well," said Kano, who covered the 10Km stage in 32:05, a stage best.
Stage 3 6Km
Yuko Shimizu of JPN, who said "I was bit nervous until yesterday," run well and kept JPN in front, while Caroline Cheptanui Kilel of KEN was running even better. Three Km into the stage Cheptanui passed Maria Konovalova of RUS to take over second. After 21Km into the stage, JPN is still ahead but KEN is now 43 seconds behind. With Konovalova running poorly, RUS is now a minute and five seconds behind JPN. Cheptanui, who covered the 6Km stage in 19:11, was the fastest in the stage. Shimizu, who said, "I was bit concerned with the effect of Chiba Ekiden last week (where she won), but I was moving well," covered the same distance in 19:30, while Konovalova took 19:55 for the stage.
Stage 4 6Km
Kazue Kojima, who said "I was bit scared, because I thought someone was closing on me," pushed hard to kept JPN in front. Behind them, Natalia Medvedeva of RUS was closing on Caroline Chepkorir of KEN and 5.4Km into the stage Medvedeva passed Chepkorir. At the end of the stage, twenty-seven Km into the Ekiden, JPN was still in the lead, with RUS a minute and three seconds behind. The KEN team was another 3 seconds behind RUS at the end of the stage.
Stage 5 10Km
Only a few hundred meters into the stage Ruth Wanjiru of KEN took over the second place. By 5Km into the stage, Wanjiru, who covered the first 5Km of the stage in 15:52, cut the JPN's lead to 48 seconds. However, she could not get any closer to the leader. Behind them, six Km into the stage, Shoko Mori of Kanto-Tokyo passed Tatiana Aryasova of RUS to moved into third. Then 8.6Km into the stage Mariko Nakao of Kyushu also passed Aryasova. Although Wanjiru ran well, so did Ryoko Kizaki and thus at the end of the stage, JPN was 58 seconds ahead of KEN.
Although Yoko Shibui, who won Osaka Ladies Marathon four weeks ago, may be little short on training, she did not show it. "I resumed training only week ago," said Shibui, who covered 5.195Km stage in 16:29, fastest in the final stage. She extended her lead over Jane Wamucci Murage of KEN to a minute and 53 seconds. "I hope to win a best medal in Berlin," said Shibui after the race.