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Can Nagano Win? A Preview of the Jan. 20 Men's Interprefectural Ekiden (updated)

translated by Brett Larner

The All-Japan Men's Interprefectural Ekiden takes places in Hiroshima this Sunday, Jan. 20. The course starts from Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and covers 48 km in 7 stages. Last year's winner Hyogo Prefecture took the victory with a 1 minute 33 second margin over runner-up Nagano Prefecture, but this year with a strong group of university and high school students Nagano will be looking for its first victory in 2 years.

World-class student runners who will be trying to help bring Nagano the victory include Yuichiro Ueno (Chuo University, Saku Chosei High School) and Yuki Sato (Tokai University, Saku Chosei High School). Sato, who set a new stage record on the 7th stage of this year's Hakone Ekiden, will be running the 8.5 km 3rd stage, while Ueno will be running the 13 km anchor stage for the 1st time in 3 years.

The high school student stages will be dominated by members of the 2007 All-Japan High School Ekiden 2nd place finishers Saku Chosei High School. Kenta Sasaki won the stage best time honors on the 6th stage of the All-Japan High School Ekiden and will be confidently running the 7 km 1st stage on Sunday. Kenta Chiba will run the 5 km 4th stage, while ace runner Akinobu Murasawa will tackle the 8.5 km 5th stage.

The junior high school student 2nd and 6th stages will be a cause for worry. Runners will be trying to find cracks in their rivals through which to open wide gaps.

Nagano's chief rivals will be last year's victors Hyogo Prefecture, who ended Nagano's streak of 4 successive victories. The Hyogo team was scheduled to include Osaka World Championships 10000 m participant Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda University), but Takezawa has been forced to sit out due to injury. It will be up to Satoru Kitamura (Nittai University), Takuya Nakayama (Suma Gakuen High School), Yuki Yagi (Nishiwaki Kogyo High School) and 8-minute range junior high school students to make up the victory.*

Osaka World Championships 5000 m participant Yu Mitsuya (Team Toyota Jidosha Kyushu) and 10000 m participant Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko) will be representing Fukuoka Prefecture, while 2005 Helsinki World Championships marathon bronze medalist Tsuyoshi Ogata (Team Chugoku Denryoku) will be helping to make Hiroshima Prefecture a contender.

The Nagano team hopes to take the lead when Sato runs the 3rd stage. If Nagano is able to maintain the lead on the 4th and 5th stages, anchor Ueno will be in a strong position to bring the team home to victory. Nagano coach Tamio Nishizawa commented, "I want each runner to do what they can to run as fast as possible." With high-level ambitions, the course record of 2:19:06 set by Fukuoka in 2003 is well within the team's reach.

*Translator's note: This article, written by a local Nagano news organization, omits mention that Masato Kihara of Chuo Gakuin University, the top Japanese runner on the showcase 2nd stage of this year's Hakone Ekiden where he defeated Kitamura along with Hideaki Date (Tokai University) and many other aces, will also be running for the Hyogo team.

UPDATE: Yuichiro Ueno has dropped out of the Interprefectural Ekiden due to illness. He had a cold at the time of the Hakone Ekiden two weeks ago.


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