Daniel Gitau in another stage-record win. Click photo for full-sized version.
Running in his final Izumo Ekiden on Oct. 12, Kenyan senior Daniel Gitau delivered Nihon University the win for the second year in a row. Last year Gitau started the 10.2 km anchor stage 1:29 behind the lead and won by a margin of 14 seconds. The only sub-28 minute 10000 m runner in the field, this year he confidently predicted before the race that if he was within two minutes of the leader at the start of the anchor stage he would again take first. He was clearly thinking of his Japanese rivals and not of another Kenyan.
Nihon University first-year Kenyan Benjamin Gando made his ekiden debut on the first stage, putting Nihon into 3rd. The rest of the Nihon team kept the school toward the front of the field, with only fifth stage runner Kentaro Ikeya slipping back to 5th. Things looked set for an easy ride for Gitau except that Yamanashi Gakuin University's Kota Otani delivered a stage-best run to put Kenyan anchor Cosmas Ondiba out front on the final leg 41 seconds ahead of Gitau, a formidable margin.
Gitau worked hard in the first half of the stage, passing three teams to move into 2nd but making little headway against the younger Ondiba. He inched forward between 5 and 7 km, then abruptly began to eat up Ondiba's margin. Suddenly, there he was. Ondiba repeatedly surged to try to break the tired Gitau but couldn't do it. Gitau pulled away with just under two kilometers to go to break his own stage record by 11 seconds, completing the 10.2 km stage in 28:17 and giving Nihon University a 2:10:07 win for the 44 km distance. Ondiba held on to 2nd, bringing Yamanashi Gakuin in in 2:10:26. 2009 Hakone Ekiden winners Toyo University fought off a strong Waseda University squad for 3rd in 2:11:19.
Among the noteworthy points of this year's Izumo Ekiden:
- Kyushu-based Daiichi Kogyo University's Kiragu Njuguna stepped up to the A-Kenyan spot on the team following the graduation of the talented Kibet Kipngegon by running a 20-second record on the first stage. Izumo is one of the few ekidens without restrictions on foreigners and Daiichi Kogyo makes full use of its advantage by having two Kenyans on the squad, the main reason it finishes in the top four most years. New first-year Wanjohi Karuiru was only 5th on the fourth stage, meaning Daiichi Kogyo had to settle for 7th overall.
- The sensational Ryuji Kashiwabara, a second-year at 2009 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University, was 2nd again this year on the first stage, beating Nihon University's Benjamin Gando and tying the old course record held by 2009 double 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno. Ueno set the old record as a senior, and considering the pressure Kashiwabara is under after the best first year in recent memory it looks as though he is more than capable of delivering in his second year. Kashiwabara has taken some criticism for talking like a foreigner, avoiding the usual platitudes in interviews about helping the team and being glad to be the top Japanese finisher. He was clearly not glad to have been beaten by Njuguna and did not smile in his interview as he said he and his coach had set a goal of at least 22:49, one second better than Ueno's stage record, and that missing it by a second meant his run was not good enough. This kind of attitude is a missing ingredient among most Japanese runners and combined with Kashiwabara's growing abilities marks him again as the man to watch in coming years.
- Fielding a squad of mostly newcomers, Toyo rolled on with Kashiwabara's momentum, fourth leg runner Ryohei Kawakami taking the stage best, fifth stage runner Hirotoshi Sato taking 2nd on his leg, and anchor Ryo Takami, who brought the Hakone squad in to the win, outkicking Waseda' University's formidable first-year Shota Hiraga for 3rd. Toyo looks in good shape this early in the season to be in position for a Hakone defense in January.
- Waseda surprised by debuting a squad featuring two members of last year's high school national champions Saku Chosei. For the second year in a row Waseda has pulled off a recruiting coup. All of its squad were within the top five on their stages with the exception of Takuya Nakayama, son of former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama, who was making his university debut after not making Waseda's A-team last year. Nakayama began the fifth stage with a 24 second lead and widened it to nearly a minute, looking smooth and powerful. He never seemed to struggle or fade, but it became apparent that he was losing ground to Yamanashi Gakuin's Kato Otani and Toyo's Hirotoshi Sato, and he eventually surrendered to both and dropped Waseda down to 3rd. Waseda still seems to have work to do to regain its status as a legendary winner, but with two years of solid recruiting work in hand it looks as though it will weather the loss of its ace Kensuke Takezawa to graduation and be a power at least in the 2010-2011 season.
- If you're a talented high school boy in Japan you want to go to a university in the Kanto region in order to have a chance to run the Hakone Ekiden. Universities in other parts of the country are markedly weaker, their best runners relatively unknown compared to those at Waseda, Toyo and Komazawa. Izumo represents one of the only chances for these guys to take a shot at the Hakone schools. Daiichi Kogyo University is always a factor thanks to its pair of Kenyan ringers, but Kyoto Sangyo University turned a lot of heads for most of this year's Izumo after second stage runner Kazuki Hayashi set a new stage record and clipped Hakone winner Toyo's Kenji Yamamoto to put Kyoto Sangyo into the lead, surely the sweetest moment in his career to date. Kyoto Sangyo's squad was solid throughout, only anchor Masashi Okuno slipping as he finished 14th on the final stage. Kyoto-based Ritsumeikan University followed the opposite trajectory, 13th on the first stage but working its way up to 6th by race's end to finish as the top non-Kanto school.
- How the mighty have fallen. In the last two years there has been a dramatic upheaval among the Kanto schools, with 2005-2008 Izumo winners Tokai University and old-time powerhouse Juntendo University not even making this year's race. The fearsome Komazawa University, which nearly won Izumo last year and went on to take the national title in November before disintegrating in January while attempting to defend its 2008 Hakone title, was simply atrocious. Third leg ace Tsuyoshi Ugachi took the stage best, but no other runner on the team finished better than 9th as the school stumped in to a lowly 10th. By contrast, schools considered outside the usual power bases, such as Toyo, Daito Bunka, and Chuo Gakuin, continue to improve and threaten the old order.
2009 Izumo Ekiden - Top Stage Results
Click here for a complete breakdown of stage and overall results.
1st Stage - 8.0 km
1. Kiragu Njuguna (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 22:30 - New Stage Record
2. Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ.) - 22:50 - New Stage Record
3. Benjamin Gando (Nihon Univ.) - 23:02
2nd Stage - 5.8 km
1. Kazuki Hayashi (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 16:19 - New Stage Record
2. Takatoshi Miura (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 16:23
3. Aoi Matsumoto (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 16:24
3rd Stage - 7.9 km
1. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.) - 22:48
2. Takahiro Ozaki (Waseda Univ.) - 23:07
3. Takahito Watanabe (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 23:09
4th Stage - 6.2 km
1. Ryohei Kawakami (Toyo Univ.) - 18:33
2. Hiroaki Sasaki (Waseda Univ.) - 18:34
3. Kosuke Tsuji (Chuo Univ.) - 18:39
5th Stage - 6.4 km
1. Kota Otani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 18:59
2. Hirotoshi Sato (Toyo Univ.) - 19:05
2. Yasushi Takahashi (Chuo Univ.) - 19:05
6th Stage - 10.2 km
1. Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) - 28:17 - New Stage Record
2. Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:17
3. Takuya Ishikawa (Meiji Univ.) - 29:47
2009 Izumo Ekiden - Team Results
1. Nihon Univ. - 2:10:07
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 2:10:26
3. Toyo Univ. - 2:11:19
4. Waseda Univ. - 2:11:22
5. Chuo Univ. - 2:12:24
6. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 2:12:35
7. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:12:50
8. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 2:13:26
9. Daito Bunka Univ. - 2:13:46
10. Komazawa Univ. - 2:13:51
11. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 2:13:54
12. Meiji Univ. - 2:14:25
13. Ivy League Alumni Select Team - 2:15:10
14. Nippon Bunri Univ. - 2:16:24
15. Aichi Kogyo Univ. - 2:18:17
16. Hokuriku Select Team - 2:21:33
17. Chugoku/Shikoku Select Team - 2:21:41
18. Kurume Univ. - 2:22:09
19. Hokkaido Select Team - 2:22:21
20. Tohoku Select Team - 2:22:57
21. Hiroshima Univ. of Economics - 2:25:52
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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