Tsega Gelaw of Ethiopia comes home in the 2008 Chiba Ekiden (Takefumi Tsutsui (AgenceSHOT)) © Copyright
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Ethiopia sweeps Chiba Ekiden

Ethiopia, who won the men’s race five times and women’s race three times, won the 2008 International Chiba Ekiden in 2:05:27. It was a course record for the mixed gender race, which was inaugurated last year.

13 teams from 11 countries contested the 20th edition of the Ekiden which was contested today, a national holiday. Since last year, the race which is contested over six stages totaling the marathon distance of 42.195Km, has been run as a mixed gender race. The first 5Km stage, third 10Km stage, and fifth 10Km stage are reserved as men’s stages, while 5Km second stage, 5Km fourth stage and 7.195Km sixth and final stage are reserved for women. 

Ali Abdosh of Ethiopia surged ahead half way into the first stage, but the team dropped to second during the last part of the second stage. However, Dejene Gebremeskel took over the lead for good half-way into the third stage and Ethiopians never looked back, thus bringing their first victory in the mixed gender format Ekiden.  The young (all under 22) Ethiopian team recorded the bests in four of the six stages. The host nation’s team, who briefly took the lead in the second stage with Yuriko Kobayashi, finished second, one minute and 12sec behind. The Russian squad finished third while the Japanese Collegiate team was fourth.  They were followed by Australia, Chiba, Great Britain and USA.

Mainly due to cold rain, weather condition was far from perfect. “It was not an easy race. My leg felt heavy because of cold rain,” said Sule Utura, who ran the second stage for Ethiopia. She is a bronze medallist at 3000m from the 2007 World Youth Championships and a gold medallist at 5000m from the 2008 World Junior Championships.

Cold rain also bothered Dejane Gebremeskel, who gave his team a 23 second lead at the end of stage three. “I could not run my best race partly because it was quite cold, but I felt my responsibility as a member of national team,” said Dejane, a World Junior bronze medalist at 5000m.

“It was my first Ekiden. I am very happy to win,” said Tsega Gelaw, who anchored the Ethiopian team.

The host nation’s team also consisted of up-and-coming promising runners. Yusei Nakao, who was fifth in last month’s World Half Marathon championships said, “I think I have learned a lot by running the World Half marathon championships. If I had not run in Rio, I would be scared to run against Ethiopians. But today I was able to challenge Ethiopians head on.” 

Yuriko Kobayashi, a medalist at both the World Youth as well as World Junior championships recorded a stage best in the second stage. “I found out that I was running against the World Junior gold medallist. Since she was just ahead of me when I took over, it was a great opportunity to challenge her. I am happy that I was able to run good last 1000m, which I think is very important.”

On the other hand Mizuno Nasukawa, who anchored the Japanese team said, “I could see the runner ahead of me, but I could not close the gap. We could not defend the title this year, but I hope we can win again next year.”

How the race unfolded: 

Stage 1
The race started under cloudy skies, but soon after the start of the race, the rain started as predicted. The first crucial moment of the race came soon after halfway into the first stage, when Ali Abdosh of Ethiopia started to push the pace. Only Yusei Nakao of Japan and Scott Overall of Great Britain tried to stay close. Abdosh was the fastest in the stage with 13:34, followed by Nakao seven seconds behind.  Incidentally Yusei’s father was the first Japanese to crack the 2:20 marathon barrier. 

Stage 2 
With Sule Utura running the second stage, Ethiopia stayed in the lead for most of the race. At 3.3Km into the stage, Japan’s Yuriko Kobayashi caught Utura. But Utura responded immediately and stayed ahead. Kobayashi caught Utura again with 400m to go, but Utura was determined to stay ahead. Finally with 200m to go, Kobayashi who started seven seconds behind Utura finally took over the lead. Kobayashi covered the 5Km second stage in 15:08, the stage best. “Today I saw that I can run 5000m under 15 minutes,” she said. Liliya Shobukhova of Russia, a former World indoor record holder at 3000m, was not in form.  She was only the seventh fastest of the stage.

Stage 3
After Dejene Gebremeskel of Ethiopia caught Naoki Okamoto of Japan one Km into the stage, the race developed into a two-man battle between the two. Okamoto was ahead first, but then Gebremeskel took over. After 6Km into the third stage, Gebremeskel surged ahead. He slowly built up the gap ahead of Okamoto, and was 23 seconds ahead of the Japanese by the end of the stage. Gebremeskel covered the 10Km in 28:20, a new stage record.  They were followed by Australia and Russia. 

Stage 4
With the stage best of 15:34 in the 5Km fourth stage, Belaynesh Fikadu increased Ethiopia’s lead to one minute and one second and were now in a commanding lead.

Stage 5
With Hunegnaw Mesfin running the 10Km fifth stage, Ethiopia extended its lead over Japan by another nine seconds. “I was hoping to close some gap on Ethiopia but instead I fell further behind,” Matsumiya said. At the end Mesfin, who was fourth at 10,000m in the World Junior championships, covered the stage in 28:54 and pulled further ahead of the hosts. Meanwhile four teams – Russia, Australia, Great Britain and the Japan Collegiate select team – were battling for third position.  First Great Britain, and then Australia fell off, thus leaving Tomoya Onishi of College team and Anatoly Rybakov of Russia in front. At the end Rybakov edged Onishi by four seconds.  Incidentally, both runners have twin brothers who also run.

Stage 6
The defending Olympic Marathon Champion Constantina Dita ran the final stage for Romania, but she was only tenth fastest in the 7.195Km final stage. “Perhaps because it was due to the rain, but I could not run well during the initial descent, Dita said. “I am not a good downhill runner. I like uphill better.” Meanwhile although Tsega Gelaw of Ethiopia was behind Maria Konovalova, Tesega won comfortably by one minute and twelve seconds.

Ken Nakamura for the IAAF

1)  ETH  2:05:27
2)  JPN  2:06:39
3)  RUS  2:08:04
4)  JPN Collegiate  2:08:47
5)  AUS  2:09:36 
6)  Chiba  2:10:00
7)  GBR  2:10:12
8)  USA  2:11:54
9)  CAN  2:11:56
10) CHN  2:12:11
11) SWE  2:12:16
12) BRA  2:14:15
13) ROU  2:15:37 

Stage Best
Stage – distance – time - Name
1 - 5Km - 13:34 - Ali Abdosh  (ETH)
2 - 5Km - 15:08 - Yuriko Kobayashi (JPN)
3 - 10Km - 28:20 - Dejen Gebremeskel (ETH)
4 - 5Km - 15:34 - Belaynesh Fikadu (ETH)
5 - 10Km - 28:54 - Hunegnaw Mesfin (ETH)
6 - 7.195Km - 23:31 - Maria Konovalova (RUS)
-- 24:55 - Constantina Dita (ROM)