by Brett Larner
Click here for video of the 2009 Hakone Ekiden Qualifier.
Japan's Monday morning network news talk programs devoted lengthy segments to discussing the outstanding results from Saturday's university men's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier 20 km road race, which featured the 9th through 55th-ranked schools in the Kanto region. At the same time, American fan websites were buzzing with discussion of the results of Saturday's big university pre-National cross-country meets. How did the results compare between the top schools and runners in the two countries?
The first table below shows the top ten men, times and paces in the two 8 km NCAA Pre-National XC races, the 10 km Chile Pepper Invitational XC race, and the 20 km Kanto Regional Hakone Ekiden Qualifying Road Race. Click for full-sized version.
While the races in the U.S.A. were cross-country and thus suffered a disadvantage in terms of pace relative to a road race, the distance in the Hakone Qualifier was twice to 2.5 times as long with a hilly, twisting second half. The number of runners breaking 3:00/km pace in the American races ranged from five to nine, including Kenyan ringers in all three races. All ten runners in the top ten broke 3:00 pace in the Hakone Qualifier, and all ten were Japanese. Most notably, Tokai University freshman winner Akinobu Murasawa's pace over 20 km would have been good enough to win the NCAA Pre-National Blue Race and Chile Pepper Invitational outright and place 2nd in the Pre-National White Race. His time for his final 8 km, 23:26, would have taken the winner of the White Race, Stanford's Chris Derrick, by one second. All of this as a freshman in Murasawa's first-ever race longer than 10 km.
Turning to the team results, the second table shows the average pace per km of the top five men for the top ten teams in each of the four races. Teams are listed by time/pace rather than official place to negate differences in scoring. Click for full-sized version.
As mentioned above, the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier did not include the eight top-ranked schools in the Kanto region as they are already seeded for the Hakone Ekiden. Winners Komazawa University tied the winners of the NCAA Pre-National White Race, Stanford University, and Chile Pepper Invitational, Oklahoma State University, at 2:59/km. Pre-National Blue Race winners Oregon averaged only 3:01/km. While all the top ten teams in the Hakone Ekiden Qualifier averaged 3:02/km or better, a total of only nine teams between the three American races managed 3:02. Beyond the differences in terrain and distance mentioned above, it is also worth noting that while the American teams field seven runners with five scorers, the Japanese teams field squads of twelve with the top ten scoring in the team results.
Update: Running Times magazine published an interesting response to this article. Read it here.
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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