by Brett Larner
videos by Mika Tokairin
Komazawa University fulfilled predictions to win the 2008 Hakone Ekiden. Komazawa reeled in Day One winner Waseda University over the course of Day Two, taking the lead on the 9th stage and running on to its 1st win in three years. Waseda was content with its 2nd-place finish, something of a return to form for the old-time powerhouse after a weak decade. Tiny Chuo Gakuin University had its best performance ever, coming 3rd on the strength of an unexpected stage record performance by captain Jun Shinoto, and the East Japan Select Team, made up of top runners from schools which failed to qualify for Hakone, surprised all by coming 4th. Japan`s top university runner Yuki Sato of pre-race favorite Tokai University set a new stage record, but Tokai was eliminated from competition when its anchor collapsed with 2.5 km to go. Daito Bunka University was also eliminated on the 9th stage.
Day Two was filled with even more unexpected upsets than Day One. Toyo University`s Kazuki Onishi slowed to a walk with 400 m to go on the 800 m elevation loss downhill 6th stage, almost falling just meters before the finish. On the 8th stage, Akira Kimizu of defending champion Juntendo University also slowed to a walk with several km to go before rallying to beat the stage`s cutoff time by 19 seconds. Juntendo had been eliminated on Day One when its 5th stage runner Hiroyuki Ono collapsed from dehydration less than 500 m from the goal, but the school was allowed to symbolically run Day Two out of competition. On the 9th stage, Naoki Sumida of Daito Bunka suffered from dehydration and repeatedly stopped, each time starting to run again just as officials were about to pull him from the race. He was finally withdrawn at 21.75 km after both of his legs tightened with cramps. Daito Bunka`s anchor Daisuke Mizukoshi had already started with a white sash after Sumida failed to reach the handoff zone before the cutoff time. Mizukoshi ran the 10th stage not realizing that Daito Bunka had already been eliminated.
The most shocking upset came when Tokai`s anchor, captain Takehiro Arakawa, abruptly stopped and fell at the 20.9 km point of the 23.1 km stage, quickly withdrawn from the race by medical staff. Arakawa, running in 7th place, had been repeatedly looking back at closely trailing Chuo University when he went by the 19.9 km point but otherwise showed no signs of trouble. After the race it was announced that Arakawa had caught one of his feet in a railroad crossing at the 6 km point and done some ligament damage. He had continued running but his body gave out from the pain. When Tokai was eliminated it became the 1st time in the Hakone Ekiden`s 84 runnings that three teams failed to finish. Only once in the race`s history had even two teams failed to finish.
Tokai`s Yuki Sato, potentially Japan`s greatest distance runner ever, lived up to expectations. He overcame a mediocre 2007 in which he failed to make the national team for the Osaka World Championships to break the oldest standing stage record in the Hakone Ekiden, running 1:02:35 on the 21.3 km 7th stage to take away Ryuji Takei`s 1993 title by 18 seconds. This was Sato`s 3rd stage record in his three Hakone Ekidens to date. He now holds the record on the 1st, 3rd and 7th stages. Like last year when he set the 1st stage record, Sato was running over 40 seconds ahead of stage record pace before suffering cramps in both legs. This aggressive pushing of the pace from the beginning combined with Sato`s natural ability gives him great potential on the international level.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day occured when captain Jun Shinoto of Chuo Gakuin University ran a 37 second stage record on the 23.2 km 9th leg. Like Juntendo`s Genta Matsuse on the anchor leg of last year`s Hakone, Shinoto had run Hakone each year of his university career without ever achieving particularly noteworthy results. In his final Hakone, Shinoto started strong but gradually accelerated. He did not move ahead of stage record pace until the 14.7 km checkpoint, where he was 1 second ahead. At 20 km he was 7 seconds ahead. He made up the remaining 30 seconds over the final 3.2 km, an incredible run which eclipsed the other stage records set by star runners Mekubo Mogusu and Yuki Sato and unanimously earned Shinoto the 2008 Hakone Ekiden MVP award. Shinoto`s average pace was equivalent to a 1:01:51 half marathon, just 1 second slower than the all-time Japanese university student #2 record held by Shinoto`s teammate Masato Kihara. The fact that Shinoto ran a negative split means his final 21.0975 km were likely even faster. It was a superb conclusion to his student running career and perhaps the most scintillating moment of a Hakone Ekiden filled with the unexpected.
A detailed, stage-by-stage report on Day Two is to be found either in the next article below or here.
Overall Results -- Click each team for video of its anchor runner.
1. Komazawa: 11:05:00
2. Waseda: 11:07:29
3. Chuo Gakuin: 11:11:05 (new stage record: Jun Shinoto, 9th stage (23.2 km): 1:08:01)
4. East Japan Select Team: 11:12:25
5. Asia: 11:14:10
6. Yamanashi Gakuin: 11:15:00 (new stage record: Mekubo Mogusu, 2nd stage (23.2 km): 1:06:23)
7. Chuo: 11:16:32
8. Teikyo: 11:16:48
9. Nihon: 11:16:52
10. Toyo: 11:17:12
Note: The top 10 teams are seeded for the 2009 Hakone Ekiden. Remaining teams must requalify at the 2008 Yosenkai 20 km road race in October.
11. Josai: 11:20:19
12. Nittai: 11:20:30
13. Kokushikan: 11:23:43
14. Senshu: 11:25:37
15. Kanagawa: 11:27:22
16. Hosei: 11:28:06
17. Tokyo Nogyo: 11:30:58
Tokai: DNF, 10th stage (new stage record: Yuki Sato, 7th stage (21.3 km): 1:02:35)
Daito Bunka: DNF, 9th stage
Juntendo: DNF, 5th stage
(c) 2008 Brett Larner
videos (c) 2008 Mika Tokairin
all rights reserved