by Brett Larner
Click here for an explanation of scoring for the Hakone Ekiden qualifying race.
Aided by ideally cool, cloudy and windless conditions, Tokai University first-year Akinobu Murasawa, the star runner of 2008 national high school champion Saku Chosei H.S., served notice to the big guns at the Oct. 17 Hakone Ekiden-qualifying Yosenkai 20 km road race with a 59:08 win, just 28 seconds shy of the best mark ever recorded at the race by a Japanese athlete. Running in his first university road race and his first-ever longer than 10 km, Murasawa took down defending champ Kazuki Tomaru (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) and two other ace seniors, Yuta Takahashi (Josai Univ.) and Takuya Fukatsu (Komazawa Univ.), over the final five kilometers to seal his win. In a race which rarely sees more than one or two runners break the hour mark, eleven athletes succeeded this year with another two just a second off from joining them. It may well have been the most competitive race in Yosenkai history. Beyond the fast times up front, 311 men ran the equivalent of a sub-70 minute half marathon.
The large lead pack remained together through 14 kilometers, clocking 5 km splits of 14:50 and 14:55 along the way. Tomaru did most of the leading work before attempting to make a break just before 15 km, running another 14:50 split, but Murasawa and Takahashi were not to be shaken and remained one second behind. Murasawa, the lone first-year in the crowd of senior aces, then blew the race apart with a 14:32 over the hilly final 5 km, simply out of the others' league. Murasawa's time for the final 8 km was 23:26. Takahashi ran a solid 14:47 last 5 km for 2nd with Komazawa ace Takuya Fukatsu biding his time in the chase pack before closing in 14:48 for 3rd. Tomaru didn't have the gas to keep up his breakaway and faded to 4th with a 14:54 split but still came in ahead of his winning time from last year.
Komazawa took the overall team win thanks not only to Fukatsu's solid run but also to seniors Yusuke Takabayashi and Tsuyoshi Ugachi, both of whom ran in Monday's Izumo Ekiden but remarkably were among the sub-hour men today. Komazawa's fourth man was first-year Wataru Ueno, a graduate of Sendai Ikuei H.S. and Murasawa's arch-rival.
Jobu Univ. head coach and Olympian Katsuhiko Hanada talks to the press while fellow Waseda graduates Yasuyuki Watanabe and Toshihiko Seko wait to talk to him.
2nd through 4th place were a repeat of last year's finishing order. Tokyo Nogyo University took 2nd, with sophomore Kenta Matsubara following Tomaru under the hour and junior Hideaki Tamura finishing 12th in 1:00:01. Jobu University repeated its stunning 3rd place finish last year when it was in only its 5th year of existence, but this time with a difference. Last year Jobu's top finisher ran 1:01:11, far from the leaders, but its tenth scoring member was 39 seconds behind in 1:01:50. This year Jobu's tenth scorer ran 1:01:51, but junior Yusuke Hasegawa was 5th in 59:30 and three others broke 61. The team and its coach Katsuhiko Hanada seem to have taken the jump they needed to continue up the ladder. The ten fastest finishers from schools which did not qualify for Hakone, who will be chosen to make up the Kanto Region Select Team, had an aggregate time of 10:05:56, close behind Tokyo Nogyo and well ahead of Jobu. Nittai University, which was stripped of the seeding it earned with a 3rd place finish at the 2009 Hakone Ekiden following a scandal involving alleged drug use by a pole vaulter at the school, was 4th despite none of its runners breaking an hour. The team's ace senior Takahiro Mori was only 23rd in 1:00:20.
Aoyama Gakuin University poses for photographers after the race.
The biggest surprise of the day came in Aoyama Gakuin University taking 8th to seal the final purely time-based Hakone slot. Last year Aoyama made Hakone for the first time in 30 years but only through the grace of three extra spots being added in honor of the Hakone Ekiden's 85th anniversary. This year they did it fair and square, the 8th-fastest team in the field led by senior Tasuku Arai's surprise 11th place finish in 59:58.
Tokai University, Asia University and Hosei University picked up the bottom three Hakone spots through the point system which takes into account the performances of the schools' entire track and field teams at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. Tokai and Asia were the 9th and 10th fastest teams on time alone and thus would have qualified even without the unfair handicap. Hosei, which fell victim to the point system last year, was 12th on time but will return to Hakone thanks to its handicap. Getting the shaft this year is Takushoku University, which was 11th on time but as a small school without a strong overall track and field program had a miniscule handicap and was bumped down to 14th when points were factored in.
Juntendo University runners in shock.
The biggest loser of the day, however, was 2007 Hakone Ekiden winner Juntendo University. Like Aoyama Gakuin, last year Juntendo barely made the cut thanks to three extra spots being available. This year it was not to be. The team finished 15th overall on time, and despite having the largest handicap advantage in the field advanced only to 13th place following the handicapping. The result broke Juntendo's 52-year Hakone streak. Juntendo assistant coach Yoshiki Otsuka told JRN, "We're stunned. The men just didn't bring it to the race today. Based on practice we thought they had progressed from last year, but they didn't run this like it was an important race. We've had problems with influenza this season but the main problem was just weakness. The best we can hope for is that one or two guys will make the select team." For the rest of the team, having failed to qualify for either next month's National University Ekiden Championships or the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, their season is now over.
Rikuren director and former Juntendo University head coach Keisuke Sawaki somberly answers questions.
2009 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Road Race - Top Finishers
click here for complete results
1. Akinobu Murasawa (1st yr, Tokai Univ.) - 59:08
2. Yuta Takahashi (4th yr, Josai Univ.) - 59:23
3. Takuya Fukatsu (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:27
4. Kazuki Tomaru (4th yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:29
5. Yusuke Hasegawa (3rd yr, Jobu Univ.) - 59:30
6. Koji Gokaya (4th yr, Senshu Univ.) - 59:31
7. Nobuyuki Yamanaka (4th yr, Asia Univ.) - 59:35
8. Yusuke Takabayashi (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:36
9. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (4th yr, Komazawa Univ.) - 59:37
10. Kenta Matsubara (2nd yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:50
11. Tasuku Arai (4th yr, Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 59:58
12. Hideyuki Tamura (3rd yr, Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:00:01
13. Ryota Nakamura (3rd yr, Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:01
14. Masaki Ito (2nd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:04
15. Yasuo Ishida (4th yr, Jobu Univ.) - 1:00:07
Top Team Results
top eleven teams qualify for 2010 Hakone Ekiden
9th place and higher receive a time handicap indicated in parentheses
click here for complete results
1. Komazawa Univ. - 10:03:39
2. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 10:05:02
-- Kanto Regional Select Team - 10:05:56
3. Jobu Univ. - 10:08:55
4. Nittai Univ. - 10:11:01
5. Teikyo Univ. - 10:11:20
6. Josai Univ. - 10:11:36
7. Senshu Univ. - 10:11:42
8. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 10:12:32
9. Tokai Univ. - 10:13:06 (10:09:21)
10. Asia Univ. - 10:15:40 (10:14:35)
11. Hosei Univ. - 10:18:08 (10:14:58)
12. Kokushikan Univ. - 10:20:01 (10:16:31)
13. Juntendo Univ. - 10:20:35 (10:16:45)
14. Takushoku Univ. - 10:17:52 (10:17:32)
Keio University's captain apologizes to the team after they miss the Hakone cut.
2009 Hakone Ekiden Field and Rankings
1. Toyo Univ.
2. Waseda Univ.
3. Daito Bunka Univ.
4. Chuo Gakuin Univ.
5. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.
6. Nihon Univ.
7. Meiji Univ.
8. Chuo Univ.
9. Komazawa Univ.
10. Tokyo Nogyo Univ.
11. Kanto Regional Select Team
12. Jobu Univ.
13. Nittai Univ.
14. Teikyo Univ.
15. Josai Univ.
16. Senshu Univ.
17. Aoyama Gakuin Univ.
18. Tokai Univ.
19. Asia Univ.
20. Hosei Univ.
2009 Kanto Regional Select Team
preliminary roster including alternates
14. Masaki Ito (2nd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:04
19. Takuji Morimoto (4th yr, Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:00:12
30. Makoto Ozeki (4th yr, Soka Univ.) - 1:00:24
35. Aritaka Kajiwara (2nd yr, Shoin Univ.) - 1:00:34
37. Shota Yamada (4th yr, Juntendo Univ.) - 1:00:39
39. Kenta Iinuma (4th yr, Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 1:00:44
43. Hiroaki Sano (4th yr, Reitaku Univ.) - 1:00:47
46. Yohei Nishiyama (3rd yr, Takushoku Univ.) - 1:00:48
47. Kohei Ogino (2nd yr, Kokugakuin Univ.) - 1:00:49
57. Tatsuki Sakuma (4th yr, Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 1:00:55
58. Masahiro Sunaga (4th yr, Soka Univ.) - 1:00:56
69. Norimasa Nishina (3rd yr, Kokugakuin Univ.) - 1:01:05
73. Jo Fukuda (1st yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:08
74. Takahiro Kitawara (4th yr, Kanto Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:08
81. Kazunori Someya (4th yr, Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:01:14
82. Reo Hirakawa (3rd yr, Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:15
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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