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Deki Leads Aoyama Gakuin to National University Ekiden Kanto Qualifier Win

by Brett Larner



Aoyama Gakuin University cleaned up at the June 25 National University Ekiden Kanto Regional Qualifier meet, its runners taking three of the four 10000 m heats to put the school into the winner's circle for Aoyama Gakuin's first-ever Nationals appearance. Combined with Aoyama Gakuin's seeded finish at January's Hakone Ekiden to qualify for both the 2011 Izumo Ekiden and the 2012 Hakone Ekiden, this season will be the school's first time making all three major university men's ekidens.

With four heats of 10000 m and twenty schools fielding two runners apiece in each heat, the final team standings at the meet are determined by the combined times of all eight runners from each school, an unusual format in the Japanese distance running world. Aoyama Gakuin was already in the lead after a win by junior Takuya Yokoyama in heat two, and junior Ryotaro Otani's breakaway win in heat three helped to extend the school's slim lead over rival Teikyo University.

Most assumed that Takushoku University sophomore Duncan Muthee, one of only two men in the Kanto university region with a 10000 m PB under 28 minutes, would run away with the race, and with a 2:46 first kilometer it certainly looked that way. Aoyama Gakuin's star runner, junior Takehiro Deki, started more conservatively in the chase pack but very shortly took off in pursuit of Muthee and Chuo Gakuin University junior Keisuke Fujii, the only runner to try to stay with Muthee. When Deki made contact the pace slowed, allowing other to catch up and changing the race into something more tactical.

Fast-forward to 9000 m, when Deki surged to try to break Muthee and the other competition with a long push to the finish. The pair dropped all rivals and it looked like a predictable outcome, one where Muthee with his sub-28 speed would tail 29:04 man Deki until the final 200 m before dropping him with ease, but the pair was not expecting company. Up from nowhere came Josai University first-year Kota Murayama, the identical twin of the far more well-known Komazawa University first-year Kenta Murayama. Kota was never in the race but dropped a 57-second last lap to overtake Muthee and Deki going around the last curve just as Muthee was moving away from Deki. It must have been a shock. Muthee couldn't answer Murayama's finishing speed, but an even bigger shock came when Deki could. Summoning up a last kick from nowhere, Deki retook the lead from Murayama and crossed the line in first with a slim new PB of 29:02.10.

The team results contained quite a few surprises, with Aoyama Gakuin qualifying for the first time and relatively young schools Teikyo, Josai and Jobu all making the cut while powerhouse Yamanashi Gakuin University's 25-year streak of qualifying for Nationals was broken, the first time it has not qualified since it became the first university to recruit Kenyans. Other traditional top distance schools Chuo University and Nittai University barely limped into the qualifying bracket, while multiple past national champion Juntendo University and several other older schools joined Yamanashi Gakuin on the bench. Taken all together it's more evidence of a shift in the power balance in Kanto, a move among second-tier high school talent away from older, more established schools toward smaller, newer schools with young coaches willing to try new approaches.



2011 National University Ekiden Kanto Regional Qualifier
National Stadium, Tokyo, 6/25/11
Team Results
top six teams qualify for the National University Ekiden
1. Aoyama Gakuin Univ. - 3:58:24.19
2. Teikyo Univ. - 3:58:29.85
3. Josai Univ. - 3:58:59.11
4. Chuo Univ. - 3:59:05.72
5. Nittai Univ. - 3:59:48.92
6. Jobu Univ. - 3:59:49.52
-----
7. Koku Gakuin Univ. - 3:59:54.28

Men's 10000 m Heat 4
1. Takehiro Deki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:02.10 - PB
2. Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 29:03.22
3. Duncan Muthee (Kenya/Takushoku Univ.) - 29:06.62
4. Ryota Matoba (Juntendo Univ.) - 29:08.51
5. Shota Shinjo (Chuo Univ.) - 29:09.38
6. Shun Sato (Jobu Univ.) - 29:09.79
7. Toshikatsu Ebina (Teikyo Univ.l) - 29:10.11
8. Takumi Honda (Nittai Univ.) - 29:12.02
9. Takamitsu Hashimoto (Josai Univ.) - 29:13.33
10. Masaru Aoki (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 29:13.77

Men's 10000 m Heat 3
1. Ryotaro Otani (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:48.87
2. Shota Kimura (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 29:52.72
3. Mitsunori Asaoka (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 29:53.28
4. Jo Fukuda (Kokushikan Univ.) - 29:53.43
5. Yuki Tago (Hosei Univ.) - 29:54.53

Men's 10000 m Heat 2
1. Takuya Yokoyama (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:42.01
2. Kiyotaka Miyazawa (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 29:46.92
3. Hironori Ono (Kokushikan Univ.) - 29:47.51

Men's 10000 m Heat 1
1. Ryuichi Kagawa (Teikyo Univ.) - 29:48.29
2. Ryota Matono (Juntendo Univ.) - 29:49.21
3. Tatsuya Oike (Juntendo Univ.) - 29:49.32

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
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