by Brett Larner
1st Stage: 21.4 km
The 1st stage began with a slow pace of 3:06 per km. 5 km passed in 15:21, 10 km in 31:06 and 15 km in 46:16 with all twenty runners still together. As the 16th km escalated to 2:53, rookie *** of defending champions Juntendo University was the first to drop off with leg pains which almost caused him to stop around 17.5 km. Toyo University`s Tomoya Onishi launched the first attack at 16.5 km, dropping four teams besides Juntendo. Over the next 4 km attacks by East Japan Select Team member *** of *** University, Naoki Sato of Josai University and *** of Komazawa University whittled the pack down to 10. Onishi made his final move with 700 m to go, but Sato was able to respond, taking 1st with 200 m left. (Koma) and *** of Waseda University took the exhausted Onishi just before the handoff zone.
1. Josai: 1:04:37 (Naoki Sato, 2nd yr.)
2. Komazawa: 1:04:40 (***)
3. Waseda: 1:04:41 (***)
4. Toyo: 1:04:41 (Tomoya Onishi, 3rd yr.)
5. Chuo: 1:04:42 (***)
2nd Stage: 23.2 km
Along with most of schools’ best runners, including Hideaki Date of Tokai University, Daniel Gitau of Nihon University, Satoru Kitamura of Nittai University, Hirokatsu Kurosaki of Toyo University, Satoru Sasaki of Daito Bunka University and Masato Kihara of Chuo Gakuin University, the 2nd stage featured one of the most anticipated runs of this year`s ekiden, Mekubo Mogusu`s 3rd attempt at a new stage record on the most competitive leg in Hakone. The Yamanashi Gakuin University runner had gone out in the mid 27`s in his 1st two years running Hakone, both times setting himself up for a colossal stage record before disintegrating in the final uphill kms. A fantastic 2007 including three solo sub-one hour half marathons and course records in the Yosenkai 20 km road race and the anchor stage of the All-Japan University Ekiden suggested that Mogusu had developed a sense of pacing and would be ready to tackle the Hakone record.
Mogusu started at a sensible pace, followed closely by Kihara. The two took the lead at 2.5 km, running together until Mogusu shook free at 4 km. Tsuyoshi Ugachi of Komazawa tailed Kihara, while behind them Date, Kitamura and Sasaki had joined forces, moving ahead as a pack. Far toward the rear, Gitau moved ahead from 19th place at a steady and relaxed 2:54 pace.
At 8.5 km Mogusu had the fastest time on the stage, with Kihara 26 seconds and Date 29 seconds slower. Mogusu went through 10 km in 28:05, 48 seconds ahead of stage record pace but still 30 seconds slower than his pace in the previous two Hakones. Kihara hit 10 km in 28:35 thanks to his 4 km run with Mogusu, while Ugachi was next in 28:40, both runners ahead of stage record pace. Kihara accelerated and dropped Ugachi, while Kurosaki joined the trio led by Date. Like Kihara, Gitau sped up after 10 km. Mogusu passed 15 km 42 seconds up on the course record in 42:50, with Kihara just off course record pace in 43:40 and Gitau moving up to the 3rd fastest split with a 43:42.
Just after the 15 km mark runners hit a steep hill, climbing nearly 60 m in a short distance. Kitamura attacked on the hill, dropping Sasaki from the small pack. Date counterattacked just after the hill, breaking free of both Kitamura and Kurosaki. Just over a km later he caught Ugachi, making for 13 runners passed, the all-time 2nd best passing record in Hakone. Ugachi tried to stay with him until Date made a decisive break at 21 km.
Gitau continued to accelerate and advance, catching Sasaki at 18 km, Kitamura at 18.8 km, Kurosaki at 19.6 km, and Ugachi at 22 km. In passing Ugachi, Gitau tied the all-time Hakone passing record of 15. He almost caught Date as well but was slightly too far back.
Mogusu again slowed in the final few km but held on strong enough to break the stage record by 23 seconds. In his victory interview he said that the ‘slow’ early pace had helped him in the later stages, and that with the 2nd stage record under his belt he wanted to tackle the uphill 5th stage next year in his final Hakone Ekiden.
Gitau ended with the 2nd fastest time on the stage. The underrated Kihara held on to finish with the 3rd fastest time as the fastest Japanese runner, beating the far more respected Date’s time by eight seconds in the latter`s last time running Hakone.
1. Yamanashi Gakuin: 2:11:07 (Mekubo Mogusu, 3rd yr.: 1:06:23 new stage record)
2. Chuo Gakuin: 2:12:33 (Masato Kihara, 3rd yr.: 1:07:42)
3. Tokai: 2:13:11 (Hideaki Date, 4th yr.: 1:07:50)
4. Nihon: 2:13:22 (Daniel Gitau, 2nd yr.: 1:07:27)
5. Komazawa: 2:13:28 (Tsuyoshi Ugachi, 2nd yr.: ???)
3rd Stage: 21.5 km
The 3rd stage featured two of the three Japanese male university students who possess Olympic qualifying times in distance events, Kensuke Takezawa of Waseda and Yuichiro Ueno of Chuo University. Unfortunately, neither was in prime condition. Takezawa’s presence was a surprise as it had been reported that he would not run due to a severe flare-up of a nerve problem in his legs which has bothered him since high school. The simple fact of his placement on the 3rd stage rather than the 2nd stage indicated that he was not fit. Ueno was in excellent shape but had come down with a bad cold and repeatedly blew his nose while running. Nevertheless, both ran reasonably well.
Takezawa caught Nittai`s Takahiro Mori after 3.5 km, while further ahead Ueno simultaneously passed Toyo`s Yoshihiro Wakamatsu. Takezawa took Tokyo Nogyo University`s Yuki Yokoyama just before 5 km with Mori following along. Ueno went through 5 km in 14:15, then went by a trio of Tokai, Komazawa and Nihon to move into 3rd.
At 9.4 km one of Chuo’s coaches got out of the staff van to run alongside Ueno and give him water, usually a sign that a runner is in trouble. Two km later Ueno caught up to Chuo Gakuin’s Hirokazu Hori but was unable to get past. Behind them, a pack of six containing Nittai, Komazawa, Waseda, Toyo, Nihon and Tokai assembled in 4th place. Takezawa applied pressure at 13 km, dropping Toyo and Nihon. At the 2/3 mark Takezawa had the fastest split, with Ueno 1 second behind and Mori 5 seconds slower.
While all this action was going on, up front Ryo Tanaka of Yamanashi Gakuin was running a solid solo performance. The 4th yr. student was making his 1st appearance in the Hakone Ekiden, and, with no plans to become a professional runner after graduating this spring, was also running his last race. He ran well, gradually but steadily widening his lead over Chuo Gakuin despite some visible strain after 17 km.
Just before 17 km, Toyo`s Wakamatsu rejoined the pack led by Takezawa, who was starting to look weak and occasionally gripped his legs in pain. At 18 km Nittai`s Mori fell off the pack, while ahead Hori dropped the struggling Ueno to deal an undistinguished finale to Ueno`s Hakone career. Wakamatsu charged at 19 km, dropping Komazawa, then Tokai, and finally Takezawa with just 500 m to go. Takezawa was in visible pain but still managed to keep it together for the stage best title. In his post-run interview he said that the downhills were very hard on his legs and that he would be taking a long break from training now that Hakone was out of the way.
1. Yamanashi Gakuin: 3:15:57 (Ryo Tanaka, 4th yr.: 1:04:50)
2. Chuo Gakuin: 3:17:47 (Hirokazu Hori, 3rd yr.: 1:05:14)
3. Chuo: 3:18:00 (Yuichiro Ueno, 4th yr.: 1:03:52)
4. Toyo: 3:18:18 (Yoshihiro Wakamatsu, 3rd yr.: 1:04:34)
5. Waseda: 3:18:23 (Kensuke Takezawa, 3rd yr.: 1:03:32 stage best)
4th Stage: 18.5 km
Komazawa's Mamoru Hirano and Tokai's Tatsunari Hirayama overtook Waseda's Kenji Nakajima just after the 3 km mark, the three schools forming a pack. At about the same time, Chuo's Tomonori Mori caught Chuo Gakuin's Koji Kobayashi and the two likewise ran together. At 12 km Hirayama dropped back from the trio pack, came back 800 m later, but dropped off again at 13.3 km, this time for good. Hirano pushed the pace relentlessly and finally dropped Nakajima at 16.5 km.
In the final two km the gaps separating the leading five teams rapidly compressed. Mori and Kobayashi gained on Yamanashi Gakuin's Takashi Goto, Toyo's captain Shoji Imabori advanced on Mori and Kobayashi, and Hirano approached Imabori, but the only position change occured when Mori outkicked Kobayashi to move into 2nd.
Further back in the field, two performances deserve mention. Masahiro Kuno, captain of the Takushoku University team and running for the East Japan Select Team, ran 55:54 to finish 2nd on the 4th stage and 10th on the all-time 4th stage record list. Last year at the Hakone-qualifying Yosenkai 20 km road race Takushoku missed out by one second. This year Kuno as captain was determined to lead his team to its first Hakone in three years, but the team performed poorly at Yosenkai and finished far down the field. His strong turn on the 4th leg was an admirable finale to his university running career.
The other remarkable performance was by Takahiro Asou, captain of the perennially weak Kokushikan University. Like Kuno running his final Hakone, Asou was far back in last place when he started. Running without competition or even camera coveage, he turned in a remarkable 55:24 for the stage best honors. His time was just four seconds slower than the stage record, but in his interview after the run Asou said he had no idea about the stage record and was just running to pick up as many places as he could. His stage win was the first for Kokushikan in over 30 years.
1. Yamanashi Gakuin: 4:13:29 (Takashi Goto, 2nd yr.: 57:33)
2. Chuo: 4:14:30 (Tomonori Mori, 3rd yr.: 56:30)
3. Chuo Gakuin: 4:14:34 (Koji Kobayashi, 1st yr.: 56:47)
4. Toyo: 4:14:42 (Shoji Imabori, 4th yr.: 56:24)
5. Komazawa: 4:14:44 (Mamoru Hirano, 4th yr.: ???)
stage best: Takahiro Asou, 4th yr., Kokushikan: 55:24
5th Stage: 23.4 km
The Hakone Ekiden 5th stage is something legendary in Japan, starting at sea level, entering the mountains after 5 km, peaking at 874 m before the 20 km mark, then dropping over 100 m on the way to the finish. In the last three years it has been dominated by Masato Imai of Juntendo, who set astounding stage records in each of his three attempts. With Imai's graduation last spring the way was cleared for either a new uphill specialist or for the stage to be significantly less dramatic.
Chuo's Takafumi Nakase went out for a rocket start. Komazawa's captain Hideyuki Anzai followed suit, passing Toyo's Keita Kamaishi and Chuo Gakuin's Satoshi Ito within the 1st km. He caught Nakase at 2.7 km, running together until attacking at the start of the ascent at 5 km. Behind him, Waseda`s 5th stage specialist Ryuta Komano, in his last Hakone, also overtook Kamaishi and Ito near the 4 km point. Further back, East Japan Select Team runner Mao Fukuyama of Jobu University passed Tokai's Harotomo Kawano and Nittai's Satoshi Kubooka.
Once runners entered the mountains fortunes began to change rapidly. Komano flew by Nakase at 7 km and caught Anzai at 8.4 km, the two runners then continuing on together. Ito retook the failing Nakase at 8.9 km. At the dramatic Ohiradai hairpin curve at 9.5 km, race commentators including special guest Masato Imai gave the surprising news that Komano was one second ahead of Imai's stage record pace, a mark widely thought unlikely to be broken for years. Komano and Anzai caught up to leader Muryo Takase of Yamanashi Gakuin at 10.5 km and continued as a trio until the Miyanoshita intersection at 11.8 km. This area features the loudest, densest crowds of the ekiden and some of the steepest hills, and Anzai took advantage of the extra energy to attack. Komano quickly responded, but Takase could not react and began to fall back.
When Komano dropped Anzai at 12.8 km, commentators confirmed that he was still on stage record pace. Some distance behind, Toyoyuki Abe of Nihon went by Kubooka at the 12.6 km point. Commentators announced that Abe was also running at stage record pace. At 14.2 km, Komano was one second off. Fukuyama passed this checkpoint in a superb 5th place position. Much further back, one of Juntendo's two aces, Hiroyuki Ono, looked to be making up for the amazingly weak performances of the rest of the team, moving from 18th to 12th and potentially saving the team the embarrassment of becoming the first defending champions not to make the seeded positions the year after winning. At the 14.2 km checkpoint Ono had the 3rd fastest time on the stage.
After 16 km Kumano began to show signs of strain and slight slowing. At 18.3 km he was eight seconds behind stage record pace. Imai graciously commented that he hadn't run well on the downhill final 3 km and that Kumano had a good chance for the stage record if he attacked on the descent. In 2nd place, Komazawa's coach *** Oyagi was riding in a van behind Anzai shouting at him over a loudspeaker to work harder or he wouldn't break the school record for the 5th stage, *** Murakami's outstanding 1:19:30.
Asia's 5th stage specialist Makoto Ozawa was working his way through the field far behind, picking up a large number of runners in his final Hakone. He passed Nakase and the withering Abe near the 17.5 km mark, then caught Kamaishi at 19.4 near the peak of the ascent. Abe came back shortly before the finish to retake Nakase and Ozawa, but Ozawa still turned in a commendable final run.
At 21.6 km Kuwano was twelve seconds behind the stage record. At this point the steep downhill ended and the course became a rolling, snaking shot to the finish. Kuwano managed to rally, bringing Waseda its 1st Day One victory in twelve years with an astonishing 1:18:12, seven seconds off Imai's record and far beyond his expectations. In the post-race interview, Waseda coach *** Watanabe said that they had thought it would be possible for Kumano to become the 3rd person to break 1:20 on the 5th stage, but had not even thought about a stage record-level time.
Anzai came in 2nd with an excellent 1:19:38, missing the Komazawa record but still a rare sub-1:20. Rookie Takase ran well, holding on for 3rd. Fukuyama had a fantastic day, surprising all with his 1:20:47 to put the East Japan Select Team into 4th. Ito did not have the farewell he hoped in his 4th run over the 5th stage, but still managed to land Chuo Gakuin in 5th position.
Despite so many unexpected results, the biggest shock of the day was still to come. As teams came in to the finish one by one, it became clear that something had happened to Juntendo's Ono. Cameras went back on the course and found him in 18th place standing and trying to walk unsteadily at the 22.9 km point. He fell and tried unsuccessfully to get up several times before making it back onto his feet and starting to run again just before Juntendo coach *** Nakamura and a race warden carrying a red flag could catch up to him. He ran a short distance and then with no warning fell flat on his face with 460 m to go. The race warden reached Ono, looked him over briefly without touching him, then, despite Ono's efforts to get back on his feet, waved the red flag to withdraw Ono and defending champions Juntendo from the Hakone Ekiden. Ono managed to get back up and tried to get away from both the official and his coach so he could continue, but they held his arms until he collapsed for the last time. He was quickly carried to a nearby staff van and taken away for emergency medical treatment.
It is very rare for a team to fail to finish Hakone and it has never before happened to defending champions. Ono's collapse means that the Juntendo team, including one of Japan's best university runners, 4th yr. student Yuki Matsuoka, cannot run Day Two of the ekiden and will have to requalify at next fall's Yosenkai 20 km road race. At the nearby finish area the Juntendo team were weeping openly in shock and disbelief, and even guest announcer and Juntendo alumnus Masato Imai was briefly speechless. It was an unforeseen ending to a dramatic day of racing and adds to the complexity of tomorrow's Day Two.
1. Waseda: 5:33:08 (Ryuta Komano, 4th yr.: 1:18:12 stage best)
2. Komazawa: 5:34:22 (Hideyuki Anzai, 4th yr.: 1:19:38)
3. Yamanashi Gakuin: 5:35:07 (Muryo Takase, 1st yr.: 1:21:38)
4. East Japan Select Team: 5:36:25 (Mao Fukuyama, 2nd yr., Jobu Univ.: 1:20:47)
5. Chuo Gakuin: 5:37:16 (Satoshi Ito, 4th yr.: 1:22:41)
DNF: Hiroyuki Ono, 3rd yr., Juntendo
Final times on Day One for all schools listed here.
© 2008 Brett Larner
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