Sunday, October 9, 2011

Izumo Ekiden: Komazawa vs. Waseda vs.....U.S.A.?

by Brett Larner

The first of this season's Big Three university men's ekidens, the Izumo Ekiden, takes place on the Oct. 10 National Sports Day public holiday.  With six stages covering 44.6 km, the longest stage only 10.2 km, Izumo is the shortest and fastest of the Big Three, lending itself to a different kind of race from November's National University Ekiden Championships and January's Hakone Ekiden.

Last year Waseda University set an Izumo course record to kick off an unprecedented season of victory.  Waseda returns a tough squad this year, with seven men holding sub-14 and/or sub-29 PBs led by sophomore Suguru Osako, the Asian junior area half marathon record holder, World University Games 10000 m champion and 1500 m national university champion.  Waseda is missing two of its key players from last year, senior Yuki Yagi and sophomore Fuminori Shikata, but while there are few cracks in the armor Waseda doesn't come in as the favorite.

Komazawa University has built up an incredible team this year, with nine men on its Izumo roster holding sub-14 minute 5000 m PBs, six of them also having sub-29 10000 m marks including sophomore Ikuto Yufu's 28:02.46 and junior Hiromitsu Kakuage's 28:03.27 from the spring track season.  The longer late-season ekidens may favor Waseda, but with its short stages Izumo plays to Komazawa's strengths and with better depth of reserves and reportedly a healthier lineup Komazawa looks to have an excellent chance for its first Izumo win in 13 years.

Toyo University, who along with Waseda had ten men on its roster with sub-29 PBs last year, also brings a strong squad with five men in the sub-14/sub-29 bracket led by sophomore Keita Shitara and Hakone uphill star senior Ryuji Kashiwabara, but in its most successful seasons Toyo has not put in a strong early-season effort at Izumo and so it may not be in contention with Komazawa and Waseda for the win.  In its place comes a potential unexpected challenge from the U.S.A. University Select Team.

Izumo has long invited a team made up of Ivy League alumni but the teams have rarely been competitive.  This year the Select Team's roster draws heavily from outside the Ivy League and looks to be intriguingly strong on paper, having six men at the sub-14/sub-29 level including Landon Peacock (U of Wisc.), Jon Grey (William & Mary) and Scott Smith (UCSB).  With good performances the Select Team has a realistic shot at top three, something nobody on any of the other teams would be expecting based on history and the lack of PB information for the Select Team on the Izumo website.  If the Americans bring their race the surprise will add a completely new element to this year's Izumo.

Although their teams are not likely to make the top three, standout individuals to watch for include the top two Japanese collegiate 10000 m runners, senior Tetsuya Yoroizaka (27:44.30, Meiji Univ.) and junior Akinobu Murasawa (28:00.78, Tokai Univ.).  Takushoku University features two Kenyan sophomore with sub-28 bests, John Maina and Duncan Muthee, and southern Japan's Daiichi Kogyo University returns Kenyan senior Kiragu Njuguna.

The Izumo Ekiden will be broadcast live on Fuji TV beginning at 1:00 p.m. Japan time on Oct. 10.  Overseas viewers should be able to watch online for free via Keyhole TV.  JRN will be doing live English-language commentary via Twitter @JRNLive.

The top teams at the 2011 Izumo Ekiden. Click chart to enlarge.  Click here for complete entry lists.

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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