by Brett Larner
Click here for JRNLive's detailed live race commentary.
For the second straight year, Toyo University sophomore Ryuji Kashiwabara was the key figure on the first day of the Hakone Ekiden. Starting the fifth and final stage of the day in 7th place 4:26 behind leader Kimiya Hisakuni of Meiji University, Kashiwabara blew by the competition as he attacked the 874 m climb stage, taking the lead with ease after just 12.7 km. Where last year Kashiwabara had rival Masayuki Miwa of Waseda University to battle until the last 2 km, this year he had only his own record to race over the last 10.7 km. Kashiwabara finished in a stunning new record of 1:17:08, but even more impressively went from a 4:26 deficit to a 3:36 lead. As Toyo begins the second day tomorrow morning it is in an excellent position to defend its 2009 Hakone title.
Where last year's Hakone Day One was a complex, turbulent mix of four stage records, surprise meltdowns and the last runs by three of the most talented runners ever to appear in the race, this year was comparatively lean, tight, straightforward and tense. Most teams stacked the day with their best runners in an effort to make up a probable repeat of the 5 minute 20 second advantage Kashiwabara picked up last year to give Toyo the win. After last year's extravaganza stage records were scarce, but several stages saw runs close to their best marks.
On the often-lazy First Stage, Kanto Select Team runner Takuji Morimoto (Kanagawa Univ.) made sure it was going to be an honest race, taking the field through the first of 21.4 km in 2:53. Morimoto repeatedly traded the lead with last year's stage winner Yo Yazawa (Waseda Univ.) and Koji Gokaya (Senshu Univ.), ensuring the pace stayed quick, but when Takashi Hojo (Meiji Univ.) dropped a 2:46 km on the uphill onto the large bridge marking 4 km to go he erased all contenders. Hojo handed off to Second Stage ace Takuya Ishikawa, giving Meiji its first win on the First Stage in 49 years and clocking 1:02:27, the 6th-best ever on the stage.
In his stage win interview Hojo said he hoped that Meiji would keep the lead through the 4th stage, and that is exactly what happened. Ishikawa and the next two Meiji runners Tetsuya Yoroizaka and Masamichi Yasuda were overpowering, progressively widening Meiji's lead and putting it in first at the start of the Fifth Stage for the first time in 61 years. Behind them, Toyo went from 5th on the First Stage to 7th on the Second Stage and dropping further to 9th on the Third Stage. Fourth Stage runner Hiroki Seko finally turned things around, bringing Toyo back up to 7th with a margin of 4:26 behind the leader, an improvement on last year's Fifth Stage starting position of 4:58 behind in 9th.
Along the way there was a good deal of action. Kenyan fourth-year Daniel Gitau (Nihon Univ.) started slow on the 23.2 km Second Stage, not really taking off until the 10 km mark but still taking the stage best in 1:07:37. First-year Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.) was 2nd on the same stage in 1:08:08, passing ten teams along the way and just missing cracking the all-time top ten on the stage. Several big names were lackluster, including fourth-years Yuta Takahashi (Josai Univ.) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Komazawa Univ.). The undisputed star of the 21.5 km Third Stage was third-year Takuya Noguchi (Nittai Univ.), who ran 1:02:46, the all-time 3rd-best on the leg, to put Nittai into 4th, losing out to 2009 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Shota Hiraga (Waseda Univ.) in a sprint finish but beating Kenyan Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) on time by a wide margin. Yusuke Hasegawa (Jobu Univ.), holder of the fastest 10000 m PB in the field after Gitau, was a notable breakdown on Day One, finishing 17th on the Third Stage.
After teammate Seko's strong Fourth Stage showing Kashiwabara started the Fifth Stage in a better position than last year and made quick work of it. Within 4 km, still on relatively flat ground, he had passed three of the six runners ahead of him, neutralizing a challenge from same-aged HS champion Yuki Yagi (Waseda Univ.), running down the remaining runners including leader Hisakuni of Meiji at 12.7 km and blazing on to a 10-second course record. Hisakuni was not up to the uphill challenge as he finished 18th on the stage and fell to 6th. Fourth-year Kota Otani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) had an outstanding showing in his first and last Hakone, running the best time after Kashiwabara, 1:21:16, to put Yamanashi into 2nd. Chuo University's Minato Oishi was the next fastest but couldn't catch Nittai's Masaki Nagao and ended up in 4th. Next to Meiji's Hisakuni, Shinichi Sasazaki (Nihon Univ.) was the breakdown of the day, last on the stage on time and dropping from 4th to 13th.
Day Two Preview
Looking toward tomorrow's return run, Kashiwabara's performance has two important ramifications. First, last year Kashiwabara's 22-second lead over Waseda was enough for Toyo to win with good performances from all five runners on the second day. This year with a 3:36 lead they can afford to play it safe and run conservatively to avoid any accidents. Barring a breakdown there is no chance of another team making up such a margin, over 2 sec/km for the entire day, considering that most have already used up their best runners. Second, since Day One runners must finish within 10 minutes of the leader to avoid a time handicapped mass start on Day Two, Kashiwabara's commanding lead means that almost half the field will be in the mass start at 8:10 a.m. Besides being something of an embarrassment, the mass start and time handicap complicate the issue of making the top ten seeded spots for next year's Hakone.
Toyo is thus in a solid position for the win, but as with Juntendo Univ. at the 2006 Hakone Ekiden it isn't impossible for them to lose a lead of over a kilometer. Toyo and Yamanashi Gakuin are the only schools currently in the top ten which have no cracks in their 2009-10 season, and Toyo has the superior record of the two. If any team is going to pick up the lead should Toyo break it will be either Yamanashi Gakuin, Chuo or Tokyo Nogyo. Nittai, Meiji and Jobu have all used their best runners and will probably lose places on Day Two. Waseda has likewise used all its best men but Sixth Stage downhill specialist Sota Kato and first-year Hiroyuki Sasaki and, currently 7th, will at best break the top five. Komazawa Univ. had another poor showing, with only senior Takuya Fukatsu clawing his way into the seeded bracket on the Fifth Stage. With only strong runners Yusuke Takabayashi and Wataru Ueno left it will be trying to hang on to a seeded position against Aoyama Gakuin, Josai, the Kanto Select Team and Nihon.
Day Two begins at 8:00 a.m. Japan time on Jan. 3 with a one-hour preview at 7:00 a.m. Click here to watch Nihon TV's broadcast online via Keyhole TV. Click here for live English commentary on JRNLive. Click here for JRN's 2010 Hakone preview.
2010 Hakone Ekiden Day One Results
click here for complete results
Stage Best Times
First Stage - 21.4 km: Takashi Hojo (4th yr., Meiji Univ.) - 1:02:27
Second Stage - 23.2 km: Daniel Gitau (4th yr., Nihon Univ.) - 1:07:37
Third Stage - 21.5 km: Takuya Noguchi (3rd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:02:46
Fourth Stage - 18.5 km: Masamichi Yasuda (4th yr., Meiji Univ.) - 55:57
Fifth Stage - 23.5 km: Ryuji Kashiwabara (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:17:08 - new stage record
1. Toyo Univ. - 5:32:02
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 5:35:38
3. Nittai Univ. - 5:36:15
4. Chuo Univ. - 5:36:26
5. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 5:36:59
6. Meiji Univ. - 5:37:45
7. Waseda Univ. - 5:38:07
8. Komazawa Univ. - 5:39:18
9. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 5:39:19
10. Josai Univ. - 5:39:25
11. Kanto Regional Select Team - 5:41:37
-----teams more than 10 minutes behind leader start Day Two ten minutes behind with a time penalty added to their Day Two running time
12. Tokai Univ. - 5:42:47
13. Nihon Univ. - 5:43:25
14. Jobu Univ. - 5:44:12
15. Teikyo Univ. - 5:44:48
16. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 5:45:24
17. Senshu Univ. - 5:45:36
18. Hosei Univ. - 5:47:22
19. Asia Univ. - 5:50:20
20. Daito Bunka Univ. - 5:51:01
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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