National University Women’s Ekiden Preview – The Foreigners magazine In tokyo
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National University Women’s Ekiden Preview

Written by on October 30, 2021

Earlier this week after the Princess Ekiden my friend Becky asked a couple of good questions. “I’m always curious on why they don’t let women run Hakone, and why women-only ekidens are so much shorter,” she said. Japan is hopelessly behind on a lot of social issues, especially women’s equality. In March this year the World Economic Forum ranked Japan 120th out of 156 countries in gender equality, just over a month after Tokyo Olympics organizing committee head and former prime minister Yoshiro Mori was forced to, publicly at least, step down from his position after making comments derogatory of women. Which is not to say that that stopped him from turning up at the Olympic Stadium to catch Olympic athletics action and hang with his boys Thomas Bach and Seb Coe this past summer, of course.

On the other hand, things can also be oddly progressive at times. Japan was the first country in the world to put on an annual women-only marathon, way back in 1979 before it had any real elite-level female marathoners. Just over a decade later it had its first world-level women’s marathon medalist, and a year after that the first of four-straight Olympic women’s marathon medals. There are a lot of women-only races, and a lot of men-only races, and at one point there was an entire circuit of women-only half marathons with no parallel for men. It’s a different take on equality.

That’s kind of the answer to Becky’s first question. University women don’t run the Hakone Ekiden because it’s one of the men-only races. There are other university women-only ekidens that get full live TV broadcasts. Sunday’s Morinomiyako Ekiden, the National University Women’s Ekiden, is one of them. It’s pretty much the parallel to next weekend’s National University Men’s Ekiden, except a lot shorter both overall and in the individual stage lengths. There’s not really a charitable answer to Becky’s second question. See paragraph #1 for the most likely answer, I guess. There is, though, a pretty good case to be made that the lack of a half marathonish distance stage in any women-only ekiden, and the decline of the women-only half marathon circuit, has been one of the reasons for the stasis in Japanese women’s marathoning for the last 15 years.
So, Sunday’s Morinomiyako Ekiden. It’ll be broadcast live by NTV, the same broadcaster that handles the stellar Hakone production, starting at 11:45 a.m. local time. Exhibit B in how Japan leads the world in mainstream media coverage of women’s distance running. It’ll be streamed domestically on TVer starting at 12:01, and JRN will be covering it on @JRNLive.
Morinomiyako is 6 stages of between 3.9 and 9.2 km each totaling 38.1 km. In that regard it’s actually a closer parallel to the college men’s Izumo Ekiden earlier this month, 6 stages from 5.8 to 10.2 km adding up to 45.1 km, than it is to the men’s Nationals race, 8 stages of 9.5 to 19.7 km totaling 106.8 km. Short and fast.

Four-time defending champ Meijo University is the heavy hitter, and it’s hard to see anyone taking them down. 3rd-year Narumi Kobayashi has had a great year since Meijo’s last win, including a half marathon national title, a 5000 m PB of 15:33.69 to win June’s National University Individual Track and Field Championships, and a 10000 m PB of 31:22.34 in July inside the qualifying standard for next summer’s World Championships. 4th-years Yuna Wada and Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu have both run under 15:30, and with two others under 9:10 for 3000 m and four more under 16 minutes or 9:30 Meijo has the arsenal to deal with its competition.

Daito Bunka University has been 2nd every year of Meijo’s four-run streak. 2019 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Yuka Suzuki and steepler Reimi Yoshimura, the 2019 national champion and runner-up in 2020 and 2021, are its strongest runners, but with only one other team member under 16 minutes and two more under 9:30 it doesn’t have the depth to match Meijo at its best. 

Last year’s 3rd-placer Nittai University and 4th-placer Ritsumeikan University, 3rd each of the three years before that, are both in the same boat with only two women each under 16 minutes. With 4 others under 9:30 for 3000 m Nittai is the stronger of the two and could actually challenge Daito Bunka for 2nd if either Suzuki or Yoshimura have problems.

Takushoku University doesn’t have the people to be a factor as a team, but it does have the most exciting 1st-year on the college circuit, 18-year-old Seira Fuwa, 15:20.68 for 5000 m and who beat Meijo’s Kobayashi to win this season’s National University Track and Field Champioinships 5000 m. 26 teams total will be on the starting line in Sendai.

© 2021 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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