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Gritty Japanese relay runner refuses to give up after losing her shoes

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. relay runner Hiromi Katagai, left, hands off a sash to a teammate after completing stage three of the 40th All Japan Industrial Teams Women's Ekiden in her socks, in Sendai on Nov. 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)
Japan Post Holdings Co. relay team anchor Hikari Onishi crosses the finish line of the 40th All Japan Industrial Teams Women's Ekiden in Sendai, on Nov. 22, 2020. (Mainichi/Daisuke Wada)

SENDAI -- A long-distance relay runner put on a display of true grit during a race in this northeastern Japanese city on Nov. 22, hoofing it to the end of her 10.9-kilometer segment in torn and bloody socks after losing her shoes along the course.

    "She gave us a really good effort despite going shoeless," Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance head coach Naoto Suzuki commented.

    Hiromi Katagai, a 29-year-old runner for the Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co. team, lost both her shoes at just past the 6-kilometer mark of her segment, the third leg of the 40th All Japan Industrial Teams Women's Ekiden in Miyagi Prefecture. Katagai's team was in ninth place when she took the sash, but had dropped to 14th by the time she handed off to the next runner. Katagai herself ranked 16th in the third stage, with a time of 36 minutes, 33 seconds.

    According to team head coach Suzuki, Katagai did not come into contact with other competitors on the course. He quoted the 29-year-old as saying, "My shoelaces started to loosen partway and it began to get uncomfortable. When I sped up, my shoes just came off."

    An examination at the event's medical station revealed no injuries more serious than abrasions inflicted by the road surface.

    The annual six-stage, 42.195-kilometer race, also called the Queen's Ekiden, was won by the Japan Post Holdings Co. in a record total time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, 34 seconds, with anchor Hikari Onishi crossing the finish line to secure the victory. It was the team's second win in the race in as many years, and the third overall. Sekisui Chemical Co. came in second, and Toyota Industries Corp.

    Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance finished out the competition in 13th place. The team has a stellar history, winning seven Queen's Ekiden titles since its founding in 1991 -- the most of any team. Illustrious former members include Yoko Shibui, who holds the second-best time in Japanese women's marathon history.

    The Queen's Ekiden is organized by the Japan Industrial Track & Field Association, and co-sponsored by The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., the Miyagi Prefectural Government, and other entities.

    (Japanese original by Akira Matsumoto and Yuta Kobayashi, Sports News Department)

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