Kenya yesterday clocked 2:05:06 to successfully defend the Chiba Ekiden relay title ahead of hosts Japan. Japan's effort to topple Kenyans flopped after the defending champions pulled ahead in the final two kilometres, edging out the hosts narrowly to second place.
Russia, the Japanese University Select Team, Canada, New Zealand and Chiba Prefecture rounded off the top eight positions. All the three Kenyan women in the team won their stages with Gladys Cherono and anchor Joyce Chepkirui setting new records in their respectively stages.
Africa double champion (10,000m and 5,000m) Gladys Cherono set a new course record in the third 5km stage, where she posted 14:54. Africa senior cross country champion Joyce Chepkurui won the last 7km stage also in a new course record of 22:05.
World marathon silver medallist Prisca Jeptoo was timed at 15:40 in the fourth stage as the Kenyan athletes braved the chilly weather and intermittent rain to reign supreme.
Former Olympic bronze medallist Edwin Soi was quick off the blocks as he built a steady lead over the rest of the field, opening a 15-second lead. Japan's Shinobu Kubota chased after Soi and caught up with him at the 4.5km mark and took over the leadership.
Soi, however, responded but Kubota stayed locked to his side before surging on the corners for the remainder of the stage. Soi naturally had the kick to keep Kenya in the lead at the hand-over but Kubota marked himself as a name to watch in the future.
Jeptoo and the Japan team's Misaki Onishi started simultaneously in the lead on the 5km fourth stage, but after only 1.5-km Onishi began to slip back.
Jeptoo rolled away steadily, opening a 30 seconds gap to win the stage and handed over the baton while still in the lead. USA's Emma Kertesz was phenomenal, dropping Russian Svetlana Kireyeva and opening a sizeable gap before handing over to highly-anticipated London Olympics 10,000m silver medallist Galen Rupp in third.
At the start of the hilly 10-km fifth stage, sub-13 Kenyan Philip Mosima held a 30-second lead over past 1,500m and 5,000m Japanese national champion Yuichiro Ueno with USA's Rupp another 42 seconds back, a perfect setup for a classic stage.
Ueno, with pacing duties at next week's Fukuoka International Marathon, handled the distance well and caught Mosima at halfway mark even as Rupp, wearing a support on his left thigh, made up ground.
After a 13:59 split at 5km, it looked as though Rupp might make contact with the top two but going up the hills in the second half, Ueno attacked and dropped Mosima to put Japan ahead by 11 seconds at the handoff. Rupp was faster but too far away to catch up with the leaders, winning the stage in 28:20 but still 16 seconds from first overall.
The 7km anchor stage was the most tricky as it included four major hills but Japan's Hitomi Niiya and African cross-country champion Joyce Chepkirui hit it hard like a four wheel drive, clocking 5:52 for the first two kilometres. Chepkirui went on to run Niiya down at the end of it all to catapult Kenya to a successful title defence.
Athletics Kenya (AK) President Isaiah Kiplagat, Vice chairman Jack Tuwei and public relations officer Peter Angwenyi congratulated the team for a job well done.