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Waseda University Recruits Top Three High School Aces Including Son of Takeyuki Nakayama

by Brett Larner

The 2nd place finishers at this year's Hakone Ekiden have made a major advance toward returning to the winner's podium after a 15-year absence. On Jan. 4, Waseda University announced that the top three runners from this year's crop of high school graduates will enter Waseda this April.* The new recruits include Yuki Yagi of Nishiwaki Kogyo High School, Yusuke Mita of Toyokawa Kogyo High School, and Takuya Nakayama of Suma Gakuen High School.

Yagi, Mita and Nakayama finished 1-2-3 in the 2007 National High School 5000 m Championships and, along with fellow recruit Taro Inoue of Yawatahama High School, represent a major coup for Waseda. In the 2008 Hakone Ekiden Waseda suffered from weak performances by its injured star Kensuke Takezawa and several of its runners on the last few stages. Nevertheless, thanks in large part to outstanding mountain stage performances by Ryuta Komano and Sota Kota it won Day One and did not give up the lead to eventual winners Komazawa University until the penultimate 9th stage. While Komano will be graduating this March, his loss will be offset by the introduction of Waseda's new talent. On paper, with a healthy Takezawa and with these runners replacing this year's weaker members, several of whom are also graduating, Waseda looks unstoppable for the 2009 Hakone.

In an interview broadcast on Jan. 12, Komazawa head coach Hiroaki Oyagi acknowledged that Waseda will be Komazawa's main obstacle to a title defense next year. Komazawa will be losing six members of this year's winning team and will likely be looking at a rebuilding year. With most of Waseda's squad returning with star recruit reinforcements it will be very difficult for Komazawa to be in contention.

Nakayama's recruitment adds an element of historical irony to this story in that he is the son of the great marathoner Takeyuki Nakayama. The elder Nakayama was a bitter rival of Waseda's most legendary alumnus, Toshihiko Seko, feuding with Seko and at times publically denouncing his more famous adversary. A book has even been written about their rivalry. Throughout his career the senior Nakayama has spoken out against Japan's university and professional running systems and in particular against Rikuren, the governing body of the Japanese running world. In an interview with Japan Running News' Mika Tokairin, the elder Nakayama said that he has tried to discourage his son Takuya from running too hard in school, telling him just to watch and learn from others' mistakes and to save his own best efforts until he can make money. He did add that he realizes his son is his own person and free to make his own decision, but for the younger Nakayama to choose the alma mater of his father's strongest rival it seems less than a coincidence.

Profiles:
Yuki Yagi: 5000 m PB: 14:01.97 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. 5000 m champion
Yusuke Mita: 5000 m PB: 14:11.45 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. Ekiden 1st stage 3rd place (top Japanese)
Takuya Nakayama: 5000 m PB: 14:12.55 / 2007 Interprefectural Ekiden MVP (H.S.)
Taro Inoue: 5000 m PB: 14:37.44 / 2007 Nat'l H.S. 5000 m 7th place

*The Japanese academic year runs from April through March.

(c) 2008 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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