Sunday, January 3, 2010

Toyo Wins Second-Straight Hakone Ekiden

This is Nihon TV's end-of-broadcast highlight video. Click here for a video recap of Day One.

by Brett Larner

Click here for JRNLive's detailed live commentary on Twitter.

Riding on the 3:36 lead singlehandly built by second year Ryuji Kashiwabara on the final stage of yesterday's Hakone Ekiden Day One, Toyo University not only held off all rivals but succeeded in extending the lead over the course of Day Two to take its second-straight and second-ever Hakone win. In a repeat of last year's winning pattern, Toyo lost ground on the downhill Sixth Stage, then widened its lead by taking the stage best title on the Seventh Stage and second-best on the Eighth stage, the latter thanks again to team member Yu Chiba. Ninth Stage runner Masaya Kudo had a weak showing, but the team's margin was safe enough for anchor Ryo Takami to bring the team in again to its second win as Toyo covered the 217.9 km course in 11:10:13. With only Kudo and Fourth Stage runner Hiroki Seko graduating this year Toyo should again be the top contender at the 2011 Hakone.

Komazawa University made a strong comeback after a near-disaster Day One, running the fastest time on Day Two to finish 2nd overall in 11:13:59 but missing making a dent on Toyo's start-of-the-day margin of 3:36. First year Kenta Chiba and fourth year Yusuke Takabayashi took two of the five stage best titles of the day to help put Komazawa back up front.

Starting the day with a margin of 43 seconds per stage Toyo could afford to play it safe and it was up to other schools to catch up. Toyo first-year Takanori Ichikawa nevertheless took it out hard, running the massive downhill on the Sixth stage at course record pace. Also running course record pace was Chuo University’s Takamori Yamashita, who briefly moved into 2nd before he slipped on the frost-coated white lines along the edge of the road and went down hard. Ichikawa was in tears by the end of the brutal stage and lost 47 seconds to Yamanashi Gakuin University’s Kyosuke Taguchi. Further back, Komazawa University first-year Kenta Chiba, a member of 2008 national high school champion Saku Chosei HS, built on fourth year Takuya Fukatsu’s strong uphill run the day before to pick up two places and the stage best.

Seventh Stage Toyo runner Takaaki Tanaka followed the school’s winning formula from last year, running the first ten kilometers at a comfortable pace before picking it up in the second half and rolling on to a stage best which crushed any hopes of catching the defending champions. Both Tanaka and Eighth Stage runner Yu Chiba succeed in widening Toyo’s lead with this strategy, and while Ninth and Tenth stage runners Masaya Kudo and Ryo Takami were only able to hold the pace rather than speed up in the second half their runs were more than enough to stay way out of reach.

Chasers Yamanashi Gakuin, Nittai and Chuo were unable to make any headway, and Nittai, which had stacked its three best runners on the first day, dropped all the way to 10th before rebounding to 9th in the final kilometer of the day. The remainder of the top ten saw no change in the lineup from the start to end of the day, only jostling for position led by Komazawa’s move up from 8th to 2nd. If Komazawa had the best run in the top ten, Waseda may have had the worst. Despite an outstanding lineup the team fell to 7th as once again head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe was unable to put together an intact, healthy team for the big day. Meiji University, missing injured ace Kodai Matsumoto and having put all its talent on Day One, fell to 10th but was safe within the seeded bracket for next year’s race, 2:55 ahead of 11th place Teikyo University.

Tokyo Nogyo, Josai and Aoyama Gakuin all made big news by making the top ten, ToNo for the first time in 14 years, Josai for the first time ever, and Aoyama Gakuin for the first time in 41 years, requalifying for Hakone last year after a 33-year absence and significantly improving on last year's last-place finish. Josai’s success was doubly sweet for new head coach Seiji Kushibe, a former star teammate of Waseda’s coach Watanabe, as Josai finished ahead of Waseda. The success held special meaning for Seventh Stage runner Ryo Ishita, who was 2nd fastest on the leg after DNF’ing on the Eighth Stage and eliminating Josai from last year’s Hakone. Ishita wept long and hard after his fantastic Seventh Stage run this year which advanced Josai from 10th to 7th.

Further down in the field, none of the schools which finished outside the top ten on Day One came close to breaking into the seeded spots on Day Two. 2009 Izumo Ekiden and National University Ekiden winner Nihon University was the biggest shock of the 2010 Hakone Ekiden, finishing 15th after running much of the first day in the top five. Tokai University was 12th, a decent placing in a rebuilding year given its 18th-place ranking going in but one which means first-year Akinobu Murasawa, the 2009 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km qualifier winner, will be lining up again at the 2010 Yosenkai. Murasawa will face Nihon University’s new Kenyan Benjamin Gando at the Yosenkai where a sub-59 may be in the works. For the second year in a row newcomer Jobu University could not live up to its strong showing at the Yosenkai, finishing only 14th with several very weak individual runs. The team’s coach Katsuhiko Hanada, another Waseda contemporary of Kushibe and Watanabe, has yet to put together a team which can run well in October but still peak in early January, but to be fair Jobu’s placing this year was a significant improvement over last year’s 21st-place debut, and anchor Hiromasa Fukushima took an unexpected stage best, the first in Jobu’s brief history.

Looking toward next year, Toyo loses only 4th and 9th stage runners Hiroki Seko and Masaya Kudo to graduation, two of the weakest on this year’s squad. All the key players will return. Komazawa, by contrast, loses its best three, Tsuyoshi Ugachi, Takuya Fukatsu and Yusuke Takabayashi. It may well face a season of rebuilding before being able to field a winning squad again. Yamanashi Gakuin, still dealing with the loss of the brilliant Mekubo Mogusu, will lose six runners from this year’s team and will be hard-pressed to repeat a top-three run next year. Waseda has brought in six star recruits in the last two years. For various reasons only three ran this year, so once again the team is in the position of being only hypothetically strong were all members running at 100%. Nihon University loses Kenyan Daniel Gitau, meaning Gando will need to step up to fill the gap. Other schools have the usual ebb and flow of talent, but at this point there is no question that Toyo looks like the favorite for a third-straight win in 2011.

Race broadcaster Nihon TV will air a one-hour program on Jan. 10 titled “One More Hakone Ekiden,” a series of race-day behind the scenes and post-race interviews with key players and graduating stars. It is an always-fascinating look inside the world’s most-watched road race, the Hakone Ekiden.

2010 Hakone Ekiden Results
click here for complete results
Stage Best Times
6th Stage - 20.8 km: Kenta Chiba (1st yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 59:44
7th Stage - 21.3 km: Takaaki Tanaka (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:56
8th Stage - 21.5 km: Shota Kinoshita (4th yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:06:55
9th Stage - 23.2 km: Yusuke Takabayashi (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:10:19
10th Stage - 23.1 km: Hiromasa Fukushima (4th yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:10:54

Final Team Results
1. Toyo Univ. - 11:10:13
2. Komazawa Univ. - 11:13:59 (Day Two winner - 5:34:41)
3. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 11:15:46
4. Chuo Univ. - 11:16:00
5. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 11:16:42
6. Josai Univ. - 11:17:53
7. Waseda Univ. - 11:20:04
8. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 11:21:25
9. Nittai Univ. - 11:21:45
10. Meiji Univ. - 11:21:57
-----top ten teams are seeded for 2011 Hakone Ekiden
11. Teikyo Univ. - 11:24:52
12. Tokai Univ. - 11:25:46
13. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 11:26:41
14. Jobu Univ. - 11:28:14
15. Nihon Univ. - 11:28:48
16. Kanto Region Select Team - 11:29:37
17. Senshu Univ. - 11:29:51
18. Daito Bunka Univ. - 11:32:53
19. Hosei Univ. - 11:33:22
20. Asia Univ. - 11:41:07

(c) 2010 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I noticed Toyo was wearing Nike uniforms while just about everyone else was Mizuno or Asics. Are Japanese Universities sponsored by shoe companies like US Universities? And if so, is it a big deal for the best running school to be sponsored by a non-Japanese company?

Brett Larner said...

Hi, yes, universities here generally have a shoe sponsor. Nike has a pretty big presence - at least Toyo, Komazawa, Waseda and Josai are sponsored by Nike. Toyo is doing an in-store at the Nike flagship store in Harajuku today.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog but white letters on red background is hell on the eyes.