Courtney Atkinson and Mieko Carey XTERRA Japan Champions

Courtney Atkinson and Mieko Carey XTERRA Japan Champions

Courtney Atkinson and Mieko Carey captured the XTERRA Japan Championship at Lake Kanayama in Hokkaido today.

In the men’s race Atkinson, the reigning and three-time XTERRA Australia Champion and two-time Olympian, took a big lead out of the water, hung on during the bike, and used a blistering fast run to take the tape in 2:18:55, more than two-minutes ahead of Cedric Lassonde.

For Carey, who has now won the XTERRA Japan Championship five times, a fantastic bike leg gave her a big cushion to hold-off the speedy Kiwi Lizzie Orchard by nearly three minutes at the finish.

XTERRA Pro Charlie Epperson, who finished fourth overall on the day, took some time after the race to tell us about the day in this report…

Turned out to be a beautiful day on Lake Kanayama. The morning started cool and clear and once race officials determined the water temperature was 15 degrees celsius (just above the cut off to cancel the swim) participants began the daunting task of sliding into wetsuits.

With a 9am race start it was almost perfect for racers to enjoy a nice breakfast and take the short drive to the picturesque venue. As racers entered the water, it was evident the cold water temperature impacted a number of competitors. It’s no so common in the XTERRA Asia Pacific Tour series to encounter cool water that requires a wetsuit. As a result, a number of racers abandoned the shorter than normal 1200-meter swim due to the conditions today.

One athlete that made little work of the swim course was none other than Courtney Atkinson. Atkinson has probably swam in every water condition imaginable so it was just another day at the office. Exiting the water with a 2-3 minute lead over a chase group that included Cedric Lassonde of France and Takahiro Ogasawara (Oga) of Japan, it was evident Lassonde didn’t intend to let Atkinson have too easy of day in Hokkaido.

The bike course was in pristine conditions as a few days of rain didn’t seem to slow it down. Lassonde bridged the difference from the swim by T2, with Oga another minute back to ensure the podium would be decided by the run segment today.

As I heard from spectators, Atkinson set a blistering pace out of T2 across the sand that let Lassonde know real quickly that his ITU background means, if anything, he can run! Atkinson broke the tape in 2:18:55 and Lassonde was not too far off at 2:21:13. Oga held on for third place in 2:26:11.

I asked Atkinson on what the future may hold for him racing after 2016 and if he moves away from ITU racing. Atkinson responded, “Yeah, I only got into mountain biking after the 2012 Olympics and broke my wrist during the first couple of weeks of riding, but I stuck with it. My future (racing) may involve more adventuring races and off-road triathlons.” (paraphrased). If you haven’t met Courtney he’s certainly the type of athlete we want to see in the XTERRA community- a genuinely nice guy that can race with the best of them.

In the women’s race Mieko Carey of Japan (Guam based) and Lizzy Orchard of Auckland, New Zealand were separated by only a few seconds exiting T1. Carey laid a blistering bike split down that was mostly set by crushing each climb. I know this because she passed me on each and every one of them. Her coach, Josiah Middaugh, has made her a formable opponent on the bike. I came into T2 alongside Carey who didn’t believe her lead was great enough to hold off the gazelle-like speed that Orchard possesses. She was almost correct as Orchard closed the 6-7 minute gap from T2 to under 3 minutes by the end of the race. Carey claimed her 5th XTERRA Japan title with a 2:41:33 compared to Orchard’s 2:44:24.

Carey, who I train with on Guam, is equally impressive in her dominance at XTERRA Japan. I asked her post race if her plan was to race the bike course lights out. Carey smiled and offered “yeah, I was afraid of how fast Lizzy can run and I just wanted to push myself on the bike. My training has been focused on the mountain bike the last few months and I knew if was going to have a chance to win it would be with pushing the bike to my limit.” Carey got a moment to reflect on how important it is to come back home to race here, “I’ve raced this race for years, I know Taro and many others for over 10 years, and it’s special to come back and see them and be a part of this event.”

Men’s Elite Results:

Courtney Atkinson, Australia, 2:18:55

Cedric Lassonde, France, 2:21:13

Takahiro Ogasawara, Japan, 2:26:11

Charlie Epperson, USA (Guam), 2:35:44

Taro Shirato, Japan, 2:51:06

Cameron O’Neal, Guam, 2:55:30

Jason Hsieh, Hong Kong, 2:58:24

Cho Kaon, S. Korea, 3:00:18

Women’s Elite Results:

Mieko Carey, Japan (Guam), 2:41:33

Lizzy Orchard, New Zealand, 2:44:24

The amateur competition was just as heated with numerous XTERRA World Championships slots up for grabs. In the men’s race, Toshiyuki Furuya of Sait crossed the line in 2:46:07 or roughly 51 seconds ahead of Hirofumi Hayakawa of Fuku. In the women’s race, Kasumi Saito of Kana recorded a 3:26:53 effort while her closest competition, Aiko Hiroki of Ibar, crossed the tape in 3:56:36.