Skip to main content

Handing Off for 61 Years, Asahi Ekiden Ends Jan. 10 With 62nd Running

http://www.asahi.com/sports/spo/SEB201101080004.html

translated by Brett Larner

The ekiden that decides who is #1 in Japan. Once known by that phrase, the curtain is set to fall on the 60+ year history of the Asahi Ekiden. Many famous athletes' careers were born on the winding, hilly roads joining Fukuoka and Kita-Kyushu, but the sound of their footsteps on the seven-stage, 99.9 km course will be heard for the last time on Jan. 10.

Team Yawata Iron & Steel won the first running of the Asahi Ekiden in 1950. At the fourth running, Hakone Ekiden champion Chuo University took the win in its first appearance. It was the only time a university team ever won, but following Chuo's victory Hakone-winning teams were invited to do battle against professional teams to decide who was the best in Japan.

A Japanese creation, the 'ekiden' began in 1917 with the Tokaido Ekiden as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Tokyo becoming the national capital. The name of the race, chosen by Rikuren director Chiyosaburo Takeda, hinted at the memory of Japan's Edo-era messenger route. An anchor in that first ekiden, the 'father of Japanese marathoning' Shizo Kanaguri went on to found the Hakone Ekiden three years later, contributing to the spread in popularity of the ekiden.

Seven years after the Asahi Ekiden began, the National Jitsugyodan Ekiden was launched. Team Yawata Iron & Steel also won its first running, but the atmosphere of the new event was different. Looking back, a member of the team, Mexico Olympics marathon bronze medalist Kenji Kimihara, 69, said, "The Asahi Ekiden began as a local event, and it was the one we cared the most about." From the very first running, Team Asahi Kasei ran in every Asahi Ekiden but did not run in the 2nd-7th National Jitsugyodan Ekiden. Head coach Takeshi Soh commented, "Being from Kyushu, it was unthinkable that we wouldn't appear in this kind of local ekiden."

However, in 1988 the National Jitsugyodan Ekiden moved from mid-December to New Year's Day, and the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden took on every-increasing importance. Tokyo-based Team S&B winning four-straight years at the Asahi Ekiden showed that West Japan's claim to be the stronghold of Japanese distance running was slipping. In 1995 the Central Japan Ekiden, along with the Asahi Ekiden known as one of the 'Big Three Japanese Ekidens,' closed its doors. The 'Big Three' name likewise was extinguished. The Asahi Ekiden saw its role shift from being the battleground of the best to a testing ground for developmental athletes.

A two-time Asahi Ekiden stage winner and Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist, after becoming head coach of Team Toyota Kyushu Koichi Morishita used the Asahi Ekiden, "as a place for rookies to prove themselves. It was a historic race, and so if a young athlete ran well there it would do a great deal to build their self-confidence."

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Takushoku Teammates Lemeteki and Akasaki Sub-62 For 1-2 at Ageo City Half Marathon

Takushoku University teammates Joseph Razini Lemeteki and Akira Akasaki dominated the 2019 Ageo City Half Marathon, alternating the lead throughout almost the entire race to go 1-2 in school record times.

With invitations to the 2019 United Airlines NYC Half up for grabs to the top two Japanese collegiate finishers in the unofficial intramural tryout for Japan's most prestigious race, the 2020 Hakone Ekiden, things went out very conservatively by Ageo standards at just 3:00/km for the first 2 km. Not content with that, Akasaki, 3rd on his stage at both the Izumo Ekiden in October and the National University Ekiden earlier this month, picked up the race and carried it until 15 km. From 3 km to 8 km Akasaki split 14:33, pace for 1:01:24, condensing the pack behind him down to eight.


After the 10 km turnaround Akasaki's teammate Lemeteki made a bold move to gain contact with the lead group, and when he did it shaved things down to seven serious contenders. The front group stayed …

Japanese Amateur Yamaguchi and Ugandan Kusuro Break Kobe Course Records

Amateur Japanese club runner Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) and Ugandan Geoffrey Kusuro had dominant wins at the 9th running of the Kobe Marathon Sunday, both running PBs and winning by almost 4 minutes in course record time.

Yamaguchi, who ran a PB 2:33:06 in Sydney in September and dropped a surprise 31:58 at last weekend's East Japan Women's Ekiden, slipped away early, never challenged by the pack of invited African elites or by friend and rival club runner Shiho Kaneshige (GRlab Kanto). Going through halfway faster than her half marathon PB in 1:13:08. She slowed slightly in the second half, especially on the large bridge out to the island finish line, but her win was never in doubt as she broke the tape in 2:27:39. Previously, the fastest pure amateur Japanese women's marathon performance was Chihiro Tanaka's 2:29:30 in Nagoya in 2002. Breaking that by almost two minutes, Yamaguchi staked her claim as Japan's best-ever amateur.


2nd through 5th were close together…

800 m High School National Record Holder Clay to Attend Texas A&M

2019 men's 800 m national champion and Soyo H.S. 3rd-year Aaron Tatsunami Clay will enroll in America's Texas A&M University next September, it was learned on Nov. 14. Until then he plans to remain based at Soyo in preparation to go for the win at next year's National Championships and to clear the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifying standard.

The prestigious Texas A&M is where Donovan Brazier (U.S.A.), winner of the gold medal in the men's 800 m at this fall's Doha World Championships, is enrolled. Soyo H.S. head coach Mitsuru Zeniya, 53, who accompanied Clay on a visit to see the university, was supportive of Clay's decision and goals, saying, "He just barely missed the World Championships qualifying standard. If he trains with athletes who are stronger than him he'll grow more."

Last year at the October Niigata Autumn Time Trials meet Clay set a national high school record of 1:47.51 for 800 m. At the National Championships in June this yea…