by Brett Larner
Japan's ekiden season begins each year with the university men's Izumo Ekiden, a 44 km six-stage course pitting the Kanto-region Hakone Ekiden schools against the best the rest of the country has to offer and a team made up of Ivy League alumni. With individual stages ranging from 5.0 to 10.2 km Izumo is completely different in character from other university ekidens, with less emphasis on strategy and endurance and more on pure speed.
This was clear at last year's Izumo when Kenyan Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) made up a 1:29 deficit on leaders Komazawa university over the 10.2 km anchor stage to steal the win with a stage-record 28:28. Gitau returns to lead Nihon, but despite the graduation of top Japanese member Takuma Sasaya Nihon must be viewed as the favorite once again, particularly if it fields but Gitau and first-year Benjamin Gando. It is unusual for a Japanese race to allow a team to field two foreign runners, but at last year's Izumo 4th-placers Daiichi Kogyo University were the top non-Kanto school thanks largely to its Kenyans Kibet Kipngeno and Kiragu Njuguna. Should Nihon follow suit this year they will be tough to beat.
Last year's runner-up Komazawa University returns with almost the same squad as last year. 2009 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University, now led by ace Ryuji Kashiwabara, likewise retains the majority of its lineup, with the significant loss of team leader Tomoya Onishi to graduation. On a good day either school could be in contention. Likewise for Waseda University which despite the graduation of the superbly talented Kensuke Takezawa holds a major advantage in its group of four strong second-years, among them Takuya Nakayama, the son of former 10000 m and marathon national record holder Takeyuki Nakayama. If the quartet has continued to develop they could easily make up for Takezawa's loss. Look out also for first-timers Meiji University, who won June's National University Ekiden qualifying meet.
Apart from the emphasis on speed, the other interesting feature of Izumo is the presence of universities from outside Kanto, schools which rarely have a chance to battle the Hakone kings. Daiichi Kogyo University is a perpetual contender to become the first non-Kanto school to win Izumo, and Ritsumeikan University and Kyoto Sangyo University together hold some of the best runners who choose not to attend Kanto-area universities. The unfamiliar faces add an element of unpredictability to the race.
The Izumo Ekiden will be broadcast live nationwide on Fuji TV from 1:00 to 3:25 p.m. Japan time on Oct. 12. International viewers should be able to watch live online for free using the Keyhole TV software.
2009 Izumo Ekiden - Entered Schools
1. Nihon Univ. (Tokyo)
2. Komazawa Univ. (Tokyo)
3. Daiichi Kogyo Univ. (Kagoshima)
4. Hokkaido Select Team (Hokkaido)
5. Tohoku Select Team (Tohoku)
6. Toyo Univ. (Tokyo)
7. Waseda Univ. (Tokyo)
8. Daito Bunka Univ. (Saitama)
9. Chuo Gakuin Univ. (Chiba)
10. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. (Yamanashi)
11. Meiji Univ. (Tokyo)
12. Chuo Univ. (Tokyo)
13. Hokuriku Select Team (Hokuriku)
14. Aichi Kogyo Univ. (Aichi)
15. Ritsumeikan Univ. (Kyoto)
16. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. (Kyoto)
17. Hiroshima Univ. of Economics (Hiroshima)
18. Chugoku-Shikoku Select Team (Chugoku/Shikoku)
19. Nippon Bunri Univ. (Oita)
20. Kurume Univ. (Fukuoka)
21. Ivy League Alumni Select Team (U.S.A.)
(c) 2009 Brett Larner
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