Samuel Tsegay taking the win in the men's race (© Unai Sasuategui)
World half-marathon silver medallist Samuel Tsegay will face Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios at the Chiba International Cross Country, but for the domestic athletes competing at the IAAF Cross Country Permit meeting, the big goal is to gain selection for next month’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang.
Last year’s Chiba International Cross Country was cancelled due to heavy snow, but the forecast for this weekend’s meeting doesn’t look so severe.
There will be three senior races, four junior races and two high school races. Among those, the senior men’s 12km, senior women’s 8km, junior men’s 8km and junior women’s 5km all double up as Japan’s official selection races for the World Cross.
Tsegay and Barrios raced against each other as recently as last week at the Marugame Half Marathon. Barrios finished fifth in a PB of 1:00:46 while Tsegay was a distant 23rd in 1:02:47. It puts something of a question mark over the form of the Eritrean, who has been a bit erratic since taking the silver medal at last year’s IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.
The pair is closely matched. While Barrios has the better set of PBs on the track, Tsegay is superior on the roads. They have met just twice before with Barrios finishing comfortably ahead of Tsegay at the recent Marugame Half Marathon, and Tsegay placing 57 places ahead of his Mexican rival at the 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Championships.
Although Tsegay has the better record on cross country, if recent shape is anything to go by then Barrios should be considered the marginal favourite.
If Tsegay wins, he would become the first Eritrean athlete to win in Chiba. Meanwhile the last Mexican to win in Chiba was Arturo Barrios back in 1989.
Four domestic runners will also contest the senior men’s 12km race. Keisuke Nakatani finished seventh in the 10,000m at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships and has a PB of 28:30.52 for the distance. Yuta Shitara has a faster PB of 27:54.82, but he finished four places behind Tsegay at last week’s Marugame Half Marathon.
Steeplechasers Hiroyoshi Umegae and Minato Yamashita are the other Japanese men in the field. Umegae finished eighth in the steeplechase at the 2001 IAAF World Youth Championships, while Yamashita is a two-time national steeplechase champion.
Possibility of Japanese victory
There have been just five Japanese winners of the women’s race from the past 27 editions of the Chiba International Cross Country, but Miho Shimizu could become the latest addition to that exclusive club.
The 24-year-old’s PBs of 15:34.22 for 5000m and 32:14.44 for 10,000m, both set last year, make her the fastest woman in the field on paper. She will also have the added motivation of selection for the World Cross.
Australia’s Zoe Buckman will be making a rare cross-country outing. The 26-year-old finished seventh in the 1500m at the 2013 World Championships, but rarely competes in races above 5km.
European under-23 10,000m bronze medallist Viktoriya Khapilina will be racing in Asia for the first time in her career. The Ukrainian finished 18th in the under-23 race at last year’s European Cross Country Championships.
Latvian marathon record-holder Zivile Balciunaite is also in the field. The 35-year-old’s marathon PB of 2:25:15 was set on Japanese soil, but that was more than 10 years ago.
Hotly contested junior women’s race in store
For many, the most important race in Chiba will be the junior women’s 5km.
The junior Japanese women have won team bronze medals in seven of the past 11 editions of the World Cross Country Championships. After missing out on bronze in 2013, they will be keen to get back on the podium in Guiyang next month.
Of the 12 runners on the start list for the junior women’s race, two of them have previous international experience. At the 2013 World Cross, Azusa Sumi finished 18th at just 16 years old. Now in her last year as a junior, she will be keen to give herself the chance of improving on that.
Yuri Nozoe finished seventh in the 3000m at the 2013 World Youth Championships, setting a PB of 9:24.60.
Others in the field include Nana Kuraoka, who won the 1500m at the 2014 National Inter-High School Championships, and Harumi Okamoto, the fastest on stage one at the 2014 National Inter-High School Ekiden Championships.
The junior men’s 8km also featured 12 domestic runners. Among the favourites are Suguru Hirosue, who finished sixth in the 3000m at the 2013 World Youth Championships, Shota Onizuka, who was 16th in the 5000m at last year’s World Junior Championships, and Kazauya Shiojiri, who finished ninth in the steeplechase at the World Junior Championships.
The race will be webcast at Japanathletics.tv.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF