by Brett Larner
Waseda University head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe has finally got it together. Weeks after Waseda's course record win at the Izumo Ekiden, the team came out fighting again and scored a stunning course record win to take the 2010 National University Ekiden Championships, its first national title in 15 years. In so doing Waseda took a big step toward Watanabe's stated goal of a triple crown this season: Izumo, Nationals and Hakone.
Two-time defending Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University got things started with an outstanding run by frosh Keita Shitara, who took down a raft of older runners to win the 14.6 km First Stage by 12 seconds. Waseda's Yo Yazawa, highly impressive on Izumo's First Stage, only managed 9th in 43:28.
Star Waseda frosh Suguru Osako brought things back into place on the 13.2 km Second Stage, outrunning Toyo ace Ryuji Kashiwabara by 20 seconds to put Waseda into 2nd. Further back, Meiji University star Tetsuya Yoroizaka set a new stage record of 37:38 while Komazawa University's Wataru Ueno moved his squad into 3rd, 1 second ahead of Meiji.
Komazawa frosh Ikuto Yufu likewise set a new record on the 9.5 km Third Stage, passing Waseda's Yuki Yagi to put Komazawa into 2nd just 23 seconds behind leader Toyo. Impressively, Yufu's time broke Kenyan great Stephen Mayaka's 17 year-old stage record. The big change came on the 14.0 km Fourth Stage, where Waseda's Hiroyuki Sasaki ran a 32 second stage best, overtaking Toyo's Ryohei Kawakami at the line to put Waseda into the lead by 1 second.
The 11.6 km Fifth Stage, a showcase for top frosh, saw the best pure racing of the ekiden as Waseda's Fuminori Shikata battled Toyo's Yuta Shitara, the identical twin of First Stage runner Keita Shitara, to maintain the lead. The pair pushed each other past the standing stage record, Shikata coming out ahead in 33:47 to Shitara's 33:56. Komazawa fell to a distant 3rd, 1:40 behind Toyo and 1:50 from leader Waseda.
Komazawa's Shinobu Kubota made up ground on Toyo with the best time on the 12.3 km Sixth Stage, but nothing changed in the overall standings. Komazawa's Akinori Iida likewise took the best time on the 11.9 km Seventh Stage, and thanks to a disastrous run by Toyo's Koshi Watanabe, who finished 13th on the stage, moved Komazawa into 2nd.
At the start of the 19.7 km anchor stage Waseda was 1:12 up on Komazawa, Toyo another 47 seconds back. It was a surmountable lead from Komazawa's point of view, but Waseda anchor Shota Hiraga, the 2009 Ageo City Half Marathon winner, delivered a big 58:24 to outdo Komazawa anchor Shota Inoue, who nevertheless turned in a fine 59:22 just ahead of Toyo anchor Shogo Otsu's 59:34. Stage best honors went to defending national champion Nihon University's Benjamin Gando, who clocked an outstanding 56:42. The biggest news on the anchor stage, however, was Tokai University sophomore Akinobu Murasawa's return from a severe ankle sprain at September's National University T&F Championships. Murasawa took the 2nd-best time on the stage, 57:47, which when prorated out to 20 km equals 58:40, the second-fastest ever by a Japanese university student.
Waseda came home in a new course record of 5:13:02, Komazawa over two minutes back in 5:15:22. Toyo was just under a minute behind in 5:16:21 for 3rd. Nihon, Tokai and Meiji joined the top three in the seeded bracket for next year's Nationals, with Nittai University missing out on making the seed by just 8 seconds.
Waseda's performance stakes a claim to favorite status for January's Hakone Ekiden, particularly considering that one of its aces, Yusuke Mita, sat Nationals out. But with two course record wins to its name this season the question arises whether coach Watanabe has the team peaking too soon, whether the team can maintain its current form or peak again 8 weeks from now in Hakone. Rival Komazawa and two-time defending champion Toyo will be on notice.
2010 National University Ekiden Championships
click here for complete results
Stage Best Performances
First Stage (14.6 km) - Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 42:42
Second Stage (13.2 km) - Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Meiji Univ.) - 37:38 - CR
Third Stage (9.5 km) - Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 27:02 - CR
Fourth Stage (14.0 km) - Hiroyuki Sasaki (Waseda Univ.) - 40:23
Fifth Stage (11.6 km) - Fuminori Shikata (Waseda Univ.) - 33:47 - CR
Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 33:56 - also under old CR
Sixth Stage (12.3 km) - Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa Univ.) - 36:03
Seventh Stage (11.9 km) - Akinori Iida (Komazawa Univ.) - 35:09
Eighth Stage (19.7 km) - Benjamin Gando (Nihon Univ.) - 56:42
Top Team Performances
top six seeded for 2011
1. Waseda Univ. - 5:13:02 - CR
2. Komazawa Univ. - 5:15:22
3. Toyo Univ. - 5:16:21
4. Nihon Univ. - 5:19:18
5. Tokai Univ. - 5:19:45
6. Meiji Univ. - 5:19:52
7. Nittai Univ. - 5:20:00
8. Chuo Univ. - 5:20:32
9. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 5:21:05
10. Teikyo Univ. - 5:22:04
(c) 2010 Brett Larner
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