translated and edited by Brett Larner
Tokai University held an event Sept. 29 at its Shonan Campus in Kanagawa prefecture to formally launch the restructured ekiden team division of its middle and long distance block and to mark the opening of the campus' new cross-country course. In April the man at the helm of Saku Chosei High School's rise to power on the high school ekiden circuit, Hayashi Moroizumi, took over as head coach at Tokai and quickly got to work. After half a year leading the team Morozumi spoke positively of them, saying, "The athletes on this team are looking forward and upward. Winning the Hakone Ekiden is the number one task at hand, so I will do my best to get us there. With Murasawa and [Tsubasa] Hayakawa as our axis I think we will be able to run a very interesting race. Through the ekidens unique to Japan we can build athletes who are strong enough to compete internationally on the track and in the marathon."
With regard to junior Murasawa, who comes back under Morozumi's guidance as Tokai's ace after running under him at Saku Chosei, Morozumi said, "It's a question of how to optimize his ability within the [ekiden] team. He himself is persistent in saying that the ekiden is just a checkpoint toward next year's Olympics." His words were enough to raise hopes all around him, but coach Morozumi raised them even further when he added, "I'm sure he can run well on uphills as well," a suggestion that we may see Murasawa on the Hakone Ekiden's brutal uphill Fifth Stage in January.
Coach Morozumi has long been an active proponent of cross-country training, educating a large number of athletes on its benefits. To continue this crucial element of his success in his new environment he oversaw the design and construction of a cross-country course at Tokai. "In order to improve the training threshold we've made the running more difficult," Morozumi said of the new course, its challenging surface geared to improve strength.
Having finished 4th at the 2011 Hakone Ekiden Tokai University already had its share of strengths and accomplishments. Under Coach Morozumi's guidance and restructuring of the program what kind of running will we see from the team in the 2011-12 season? The first glimpse of the answer will come at the Oct. 10 Izumo Ekiden. Looking at the season, Morozumi answered a series of questions.
How does it feel to have become head coach at Tokai?
Morozumi: I had been at Saku Chosei H.S. for a long time, so the decision to come [to Tokai] was very difficult. It's nice to be back after 23 years, but I know that winning the Hakone Ekiden is the number one priority so I am focused on that goal with a great deal of energy. I will do everything I can to make it a reality.
What have you done so far in your first six months of leadership?
The students are looking to the future very intently, and they are an exceptional collection of people with a positive attitude toward working to improve themselves. I expected university students to be much lazier than this. I can feel the reaction to my leadership style being one of forward momentum. More than just their hopes for success, I am grateful for the support and advice I have received from a wide range of people during this transition period.
At May's Kanto Regional Championships the results were extremely good and we achieved every one of our goals. However, at Nationals we failed to meet even a single goal. At the same time, our ace Murasawa ran a 13:34 PB in Europe. Working from this base as we head into ekiden season, I think that with Murasawa and our vice-ace Hayakawa as our axis we have a lot to be excited about.
What do you consider the most important elements of the training methodology and philosophy you bring to Tokai?
Now that the course is ready we can make cross-country running the staple of our day-to-day practice, so that will be the key new element. As part of my leadership I also seek to reinforce in my student athletes the importance of fulfilling their duties as students first and foremost and of being people of the highest character in their daily lives and in their representation of Tokai University.
How would you describe this season's goals in four words?
One moment, one chance. We have the chance to be here with these opportunities through a string of coincidences, through the support of many people as a result of chance encounters. I want us to go ahead placing great importance on the value of human encounters and connections.
What are your goals for the first of the big three university ekidens, the Izumo Ekiden?
Our goal this season is to finish in the top three at all three major student ekidens [Izumo, the National University Ekiden Championships, and the Hakone Ekiden].
What are your feelings about the Hakone Ekiden at this point?
[Among the big three university ekidens] The Hakone Ekiden is the only one we have never won, so I give my full support to the runners' hopes that we can achieve this. It is especially important to us because the Hiratsuka exchange zone is located near our campus and all of our local supporters and locally-raised students would love to see us win. Thus I feel that we must be completely focused on going for victory at the Hakone Ekiden.
Are you seriously considering the possibility of putting your ace Murasawa on the Fifth Stage?
Murasawa's position is that he will put his complete soul into running whatever stage he is assigned. It goes without saying that he will run well on uphills. That is a fact. The Fifth Stage is the longest, toughest leg, so it is safe to say the chance is not zero. Late in the season when we are in a position to look at other athletes' conditions and our rival schools' strategies we will consider how best to utilize Murasawa's abilities to help realize our goal, and in that way we will decide where he will run.
What are you thinking with regard to international competition?
The students I coach are in an excellent position to make that a target. There are some athletes whose goal is to compete in domestic ekidens and some whose goal is to wear the Rising Sun in international competition. There is no World Championships for the ekiden, so I think the best approach is to use the ekiden to cultivate our best talent and then to send these athletes overseas. Lately there has been criticism that ekidens have become an abuse of our athlete's abilities, but I think we should be thinking of it as Japan's unique stairway to becoming stronger on the track and in the marathon.
Murasawa in particular wants an international career on the track and in the marathon, and there are admittedly difficulties in both pursuing that and fulfilling the demands of the ekiden. But as an individual he looks at the ekiden season as a step along the way to his goal of running in next year's Olympics.
Can you describe the special features of the new cross-country course that has just been completed?
I think it was the best they could do within the constraints of the campus property. The first part of the course we have just opened is 600 m long with an elevation difference of 2.5 m. I believe the second phase [scheduled for completion in Nov.] will have more elevation difference. The height of the woodchips on the course is 10 cm, twice the normal depth. Because we couldn't secure enough elevation difference we made the chip layer thicker to make it more difficult to run on so that it increases its effectiveness with regard to building strength. Nevertheless, it is a very comfortable course to run for the students. My record of accomplishments includes national high school records in six different categories, all achieved off a base of cross-country training, so I asked the university to create this course. Today, that has become a reality.
How will you utilize the cross-country course?
The level of university athletics is improving dramatically right now. Part of that is an increase in the volume of training at this age, and along with that is an increase in the injury rate. Looking at this, my goal is not to build our base on the roads but rather on the cross-country course. By so doing I can reduce the stress to my athletes' legs while increasing the quantity and distance of our training. However, there is a limit to the speed with which you can run on this course, so I intend to do our speed work on the track. In spite of this, ekidens is held on the road, and so I plan to use a 2 km road loop within the campus to prepare for that. So altogether we have an excellent training environment that no other university can match.
What is your opinion of some of the other runners you coached at Saku Chosei, such as Waseda University's Suguru Osaka and Komazawa University's Kenta Chiba?
I'm very happy to see that they are doing so well, but I don't give them any advice anymore. I just say hello if I see them. They are enemies now. [laughs]