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Jobu University's Five-Year Road From Zero to Hakone Began With a Single Email Message

http://mainichi.jp/area/gunma/news/20081113ddlk10050045000c.html

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

"I want to nurture athletes who can compete on the national level." --Jobu University Head Coach Katsuhiko Hanada
In qualifying for the ultimate stage in university distance running, the Hakone Ekiden, Jobu University's ekiden team, the first from Gunma Prefecture to make Hakone, has become an inspiration for high school and junior high school distance runners who hope to make it to the national level. This incredible achievement, coming less than five years since the team's establishment in 2004, is due to the leadership provided by head coach Katsuhiko Hanada (37) and to the dedication of Jobu's athletes. "I want to nurture athletes who can compete in the top class of national races," says Hanada. His team shares this dream.

"Would you coach us?"

In 2004, Daisuke Ono (24), the first captain of Jobu's ekiden team, send an email to Hanada, a message which was the beginning point for everything to come. Coach Hanada had been a member of Waseda University's Hakone Ekiden winning team during his student days, afterwards going on to the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics in the long-distance track events. He retired in 2004 and began looking for a way to become a coach. Around this time, he received a simple, honest, email message from Ono, saying, "I want to run the Hakone Ekiden. Would you coach us?"

Although Hanada initially said no, his mentor, legendary marathoner Toshihiko Seko, pushed him to accept, telling Hanada, "Nothing is impossible if your students want it, you are motivated, and there is support from the school." Hanada listened to Seko's advice and accepted the position at Jobu.

Initially Hanada had problems gathering enough good runners. "Even if runners didn't have great achievements at the national level in high school, if I felt that they had the right enthusiasm I took them on," he recalls. "By treating their first two years as a base-building period, we can nurture runners who will be very strong in their third and fourth years."

At the Oct. 18 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai [qualifying road race], Jobu finished 3rd, defeating two of the top teams in the country, Nittai University and 2007 Hakone winners Juntendo University. In their first Hakone Ekiden, Jobu's runners intend to run at or beyond their potential. Team captain Yoshiki Otsuka says, "Our main goal in Hakone is to make the seeded positions [top 10]. We want to show our gratitude to everyone who supported us in getting there."

Its first appearance in Hakone has not even happened yet, but the simple fact of its qualifying has made the school instantly famous throughout Japan. Coach Hanada says, "In the future we hope to be the place the best high school runners in the prefecture will come to move up in the distance running world." Some Jobu runners have already been hired by professional jitsugyodan teams. Senior Yuichi Goto secured a position with Team Komori Corp. in Ibaraki Prefecture, and fellow senior Takahiro Yanagi is going on to Team Sekino Kosan of Toyama Prefecture. Coach Hanada hopes, "These runners will go on from Jobu to the jitsugyodan world, then return to Gunma in the New Year Ekiden."

The 85th Hakone Ekiden takes place Jan. 2-3, starting in Tokyo's Otemachi district, travelling to Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture, then returning to Otemachi. For the first time, Gunma's runners will share the Hakone Ekiden's legendary roads.

Translator's note: Jobu's qualification for Hakone and the incredible depth it showed at the Yosenkai, where its top ten runners finished the 20 km race within 40 seconds of each other with another two runners just seconds behind, are one of the most fascinating developments in recent Hakone Ekiden history. A finish within the top ten seeded positions would make the school worthy of portrayal in a classic American sports team movie.

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