translated and edited by Brett Larner
With an eye toward strengthening Japanese men's marathoning and distance running in the buildup to the 2012 London Olympics, Rikuren announced on Jan. 19 that it will sponsor a series of national training camps for promising marathoners in New Zealand and other overseas locations. Among the first to be named for the camps are Hakone Ekiden stars Ryuji Kashiwabara, who earlier this month led Toyo University to its second-straight Hakone win, and first year Akinobu Murasawa of Tokai University, who won October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km in a strong 59:08.
Rikuren's Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee revealed that the first camp will take place in New Zealand in March and April. Following June's National Track and Field Championships the camp's athletes will head to the United States for road racing and high-alititude training in Colorado, after which they will train further afield in Kenya and Ethiopia. With regard to the critical condition of Japanese men's marathoning a Rikuren official commented, "We can't just sit back and do nothing. Just doing ekidens is not the answer."
A day prior to the Rikuren announcement, the Kanto Regional University Track and Field Association held its annual Hakone Ekiden Coaches' Conference in Tokyo on Jan. 18. Among the issues discussed were proposals to shorten the 23.4 km mountain climbing Fifth Stage, Hakone's longest, and to either eliminate the Kanto Regional University Select Team, made up of the top finishers in the Yosenkai qualifier who run for Kanto schools which do not qualify for Hakone, or make the Select Team open to universities nationwide.
At this year's Hakone Ekiden, Kashiwabara started the Fifth Stage 4:26 behind the leader but ended up overtaking first and building a 3:36 lead of his own. In 2006 the Kanto Association lengthened the Fifth Stage by 2.5 km to help make it into a proving ground for aspiring marathoners. In the five editions since then the Fifth Stage has been the critical element in determining Hakone's outcome. Some coaches have complained that the Fifth Stage now represents too great an advantage to schools that have an uphill specialist and requested that the stage be shortened again to minimize this advantage. The Kanto Association flatly dismissed the proposal. Director Yoshiyuki Aoba stated, "The idea that when a talented athlete comes along we should handicap them for being too good is ridiculous."