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

Japan's London World Championships Marathon Squad Arrives Back Home

The six members of Japan's men's and women's marathon teams at the ongoing London World Championships returned to Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Aug. 9. Decked out in the official team suit, Japanese team captain and at 9th the top-placing Japanese marathoner in London Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) spoke to the media.

Having declared pre-race his intention to withdraw from consideration for future Japanese National Team positions, post-race Kawauchi showed no change in that intent. With regard to his future plans, his motivation as a competitor likewise remaining unchanged, Kawauchi indicated that he will run Decmeber's Fukuoka International Marathon,where his 3rd-place overall finish last year earned him his place in London. "In Fukuoka I want to break my PB and run 2:07," he said. "There are things I want to accomplish besides being on the National Team."

Kawauchi revealed that his next marathon will be September's Oslo Marathon, whe…

Silver and Bronze - Summary of Japanese Performances at 2017 London World Championships

Thanks to a last-minute rush Japan walked away from the London World Championships with a passable haul. The JAAF judges performance in terms of medals and top 8 finishes. Up to Saturday, only one Japanese athlete had met either, 18-year-old sprinter Abdul Hakim Sani Brown finishing 7th in the men's 200 m final as the first Japanese man to make a 200 m final at Worlds since 2003. Three other Japanese athletes had scored top 10 placings, Yuki Kawauchi and Kentaro Nakamoto in the men's marathon and Ayuko Suzuki in the women's 10000 m, but under the JAAF's criteria these were not viewed as success.


Saturday's men's 4x100 m final brought the first Japanese medal of the Championships, with Japan following up on its Rio Olympics silver with a bronze, its first-ever Worlds medal in the discipline. Sunday morning brought Japan's best-ever showing in the men's 50 km race walk, Rio bronze medalist Hirooki Arai moving up to silver, Kai Kobayashi taking bronze wit…

London World Championships - Day Nine Japanese Results

Following up on its silver medal at the Rio Olympics, the Japanese men's 4x100 m relay squad delivered the first Japanese medal of the London World Championships as it took bronze behind hosts Great Britain and U.S.A. Swapping in alternate Kenji Fujimitsu for ailing anchor Aska Cambridge in the final, the team featured only two starting members of the Rio lineup. Lead runner Shuhei Tada, a student at Kwansei Gakuin University who burst onto the scene in May, again proved himself the best new development in Japanese men's sprinting with a fast start. Rio members Shota Iizuka and Yoshihide Kiryu did their bits on second and third to keep Japan even with Jamaica in 3rd before Fujimitsu delivered the goods.

With bronze at the Beijing Olympics and silver in Rio last year it was Japan's first-ever World Championships men's 4x100 m relay medal. At age Fujimitsu may not make it to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but with Cambridge, 200 m finalist Abdul Hakim Sani Brown and Rio team …