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Ugachi Anchors Tochigi's First National Men's Ekiden Win - Video Highlights

by Brett Larner

Click photo for video highlights courtesy of NHK.

First-year pro Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta), 12th at last fall's World Half Marathon in a sub-62 minute PB, brought his native Tochigi Prefecture home for its first-ever win Jan. 23 at the National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden Championships in Hiroshima. Buoyed by strong performances from high schooler teammates Genki Yagisawa (Nasu Takuyo H.S.) and Keita Shioya (Nasu Takuyo H.S.) Tochigi took an early lead and, even when passed, was never out of the top three. Ugachi started the 13.0 km anchor stage just 2 seconds behind leader Kosaku Hoshina (Miyagi/Team Nissin Shokuhin) and swiftly took the lead, ultimately opening a gap of 31 seconds to take the win.

Defending champion Hyogo Prefecture struggled, dropping from among the leaders to the 20's in the middle stages, returning to the forefront, then dropping again to 10th after a weak anchor leg by Hoshina's teammate Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin). Pre-race favorite Kagoshima Prefecture, which featured three members of 2010 National High School Ekiden champion Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S. in its lineup, likewise floundered, its hopes of a late-stage comeback sunk by a weak showing by veteran anchor Satoshi Irifune (Team Kanebo). In their places, 2009 champion Nagano Prefecture, host Hiroshima Prefecture and unheralded Kyoto Prefecture all had good days to take 2nd through 4th. Mie Prefecture rounded out the top 5 in its best-ever finish thanks in large part to anchor Yusuke Takabayashi of 2011 New Year Ekiden national champion Team Toyota. Takabayashi took the fastest time on the star-studded anchor stage, clocking individual kilometer splits as fast as 2:37 on the 13.0 km leg.

In terms of individual action, the biggest draw of the Interprefectural Ekiden for the second year in a row was Nagano's Akinobu Murasawa (Tokai Univ.). The 19 year-old Murasawa, who passed 17 people in a field of 20 earlier this month on the Hakone Ekiden's most competitive stage just a hair from the fastest time ever by a Japanese runner on that leg, had another stage-winning run, this time passing 24 people and the finishing as the only runner to break 24 minutes. Prior to running Murasawa said he was confident of picking up 20-30 seconds, but despite starting 43 seconds back from leader Yuki Yagi (Hyogo/Waseda Univ.) Murasawa made it all the way to the front, briefly taking the lead before being outkicked by Yagi, who cruised the stage and recorded only the 16th-fastest time.

Twin high school seniors Kenta Murayama and Kota Murayama (Miyagi/Meisei H.S.) both gained attention with excellent runs. Kenta, who made news in the fall with a 28:23.18 clocking for 10000 m, took the lead from Murasawa's Nagano Prefecture team and won the 8.5 km Fifth Stage in 24:33 despite apparent sideache difficulties over the final 3 km of the stage. His lesser-known twin Kota ran a patient First Stage, staying in the pack and ignoring the surges thrown in by leader Kazuto Nishiike (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.). With 400 m to go Kota launched an incredible all-out kick, obviously not sustainable all the way but good enough to take second after he tied up in the final meters of the 7 km leg. Stage winner Yagisawa of Tochigi told reporters afterward, "Coach told me that that last stretch is longer than it looks, so I was careful to time my kick. I was pretty shocked by Murayama's kick, though." Kenta Murayama will head to 2011 Hakone Ekiden 3rd placers Komazawa Univ. following his graduation in March, while Kota Murayama will join Josai Univ., which finished a heartbreaking 11th in Hakone's now-famous wrong-turn final kick incident.

2011 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden
Jan. 23, Hiroshima
7 stages, 48.0 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
click stage headers for video highlights
First Stage - 7.0 km (H.S.)
1. Genki Yagisawa (Tochigi/Nasu Takuyo H.S.) - 20:07
2. Kota Murayama (Miyagi/Meisei H.S.) - 20:08
3. Ryota Matono (Nagasaki/Isahaya H.S.) - 20:08

Second Stage - 3.0 km (J.H.S.)
1. Kengo Takamori (Chiba/Abiko J.H.S.) - 8:31
2. Taishi Sakamoto (Kagoshima/Akune J.H.S.) - 8:35
3. Yoshiki Minami (Shizuoka/Maisaka J.H.S.) - 8:47

Third Stage - 8.5 km (univ/pro)
1. Akinobu Murasawa (Nagano/Tokai Univ.) - 23:48
2. Yo Yazawa (Kanagawa/Waseda Univ.) - 24:02
3. Yusuke Hasegawa (Niigata/Jobu Univ.) - 24:07
4. Keiji Akutsu (Gunma/Team Subaru) - 24:09
5. Sota Hoshi (Fukushima/Team Fujitsu) - 24:11

Fourth Stage - 5.0 km (H.S.)
1. Keita Shioya (Tochigi/Nasu Takuyo H.S.) - 14:25
2. Hikaru Kato (Miyagi/Tohoku H.S.) - 14:30
2. Kazuma Watanabe (Kumamoto/Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 14:30

Fifth Stage - 8.5 km (H.S.)
1. Kenta Murayama (Miyagi/Meisei H.S.) - 24:33
2. Yuki Arimura (Kagoshima/Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S.) - 24:37
3. Shota Shinjo (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 24:40

Sixth Stage - 3.0 km (J.H.S.)
1. Yuichi Yasui (Chiba/Tokiwadaira J.H.S.) - 8:40
2. Makoto Mitsunobu (Fukuoka/Kasuga Nishi J.H.S.) - 8:41
3. Junpei Kanisawa (Nagano/Komagane Higashi J.H.S.) - 8:48

Seventh Stage - 13.0 km (pro/univ)
1. Yusuke Takabayashi (Mie/Team Toyota) - 37:25
2. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Hiroshima/Meiji Univ.) - 37:29
3. Yuichiro Ueno (Nagano/Team S&B) - 37:36
4. Takuya Ishikawa (Yamaguchi/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 37:37
5. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Tochigi/Team Konica Minolta) - 37:39
6. Chihiro Miyawaki (Gifu/Team Toyota) - 37:49
7. Rui Yonezawa (Fukui/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 37:53
8. Satoru Sasaki (Akita/Team Asahi Kasei) - 37:54
9. Hiroyuki Ono (Gunma/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 37:55
9. Fumihiro Maruyama (Oita/Team Asahi Kasei) - 37:55

Top Team Performances - 48.0 km
1. Tochigi - 2:19:31
2. Nagano - 2:20:02
3. Hiroshima - 2:20:37
4. Kyoto - 2:20:39
5. Mie - 2:20:40
6. Nagasaki - 2:20:42
7. Hyogo - 2:20:43
8. Miyagi - 2:20:43
9. Kumamoto - 2:20:45
10. Chiba - 2:20:58

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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