Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jobu University Surprises With Hakone Ekiden Qualifier Win

by Brett Larner
photos by Daniel Seite




One of three current teams coached by members of Waseda University's record-setting mid-90's team, Jobu University pulled off a surprise win at this year's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier, a 20 km road race in and around Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park that determines the second tier of teams to join the ten already seeded for January's main event.  The youngest team in the field, under head coach Katsuhiko Hanada Jobu has developed a heavy emphasis on overall quality and team running rather than relying on individual aces, a trait that served has served it well in the past and was again the key to its success this year.  Ranked only 5th coming into the race Jobu ran consistently, outside the top ten for the first half, 5th at 15 km, and on top by the end.  It was one of only two schools to put two runners into the top ten, one of them courtesy of a very nice run from first-year Shun Sato.  By contrast, top-ranked Josai University, coached by another member of the legendary Waseda squad, Seiji Kushibe, was overly dependent upon the success of its top two men and, when they performed poorly after starting fast, finished 7th to barely sneak into the qualifying bracket.

For the first time in 20 years heavy rains drenched the field of nearly 500 during their warmup and the first 5 km of the race, but although temperatures were ideal even after the rains lifted runners had to slog through puddles that were ankle-deep in places.  Five runners broke into an early lead as the rain fell, Kenyans Cosmas Ondiba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and Benjamin Gandu (Nihon Univ.) leading Gandu's teammate Naohiro Domoto (Nihon Univ.), Kokushikan Univ. ace Masaki Ito, and talented minor-school man Aritaka Kajiwara (Shoin Univ.).  Through the middle section of the race Kajiwara and Domoto faded as Ondiba pushed the pace.  Gandu surprisingly fell away as well, and even more surprisingly Nihon's Yusuke Sato came up from behind to join Ito and run Gandu down.  Ondiba looked to have a winning margin over Sato and Ito, but by 15 km Sato had other ideas.

Coming onto the twisting hills in the final 5 km Sato surged, making contact with Ondiba at 16 km.  The pair traded surges on the hills over the next 3.5 km before Sato made a break for it with 400 m to go.  Ondiba was able to counter, breaking back into the lead in the last 100 m to win in 59:26 with Sato just behind in 59:28.  Sato was the only runner in the field to break 15 minutes for every 5 km split, faster than Ondiba from 5 km to the finish but losing out to Ondiba's quick 14:27 opening split and last kick.  Ito was over 30 seconds back in 3rd, easily beating Gandu who came to the line 4th a step ahead of Naoto Miyagawa (Asia Univ.) and Keisuke Fujii (Chuo Gakuin Univ.).

Pre-race worries about the injury rate on the Yamanashi Gakuin squad proved needless as Ondiba's win spurred the team on to take 2nd behind Jobu, but in Nihon's case the worries were on-point.  Despite being ranked 4th on paper going into the race, putting three men into the top ten, and having a time handicap of 3:40, the biggest in the field, Nihon finished only 11th in final scoring and even lower on pure time.  It was a shocking turnaround in fortunes for what has long been one of the best teams in Japan, only the 6th time in the Hakone Ekiden's 88-year history that Nihon has not qualified.  Nihon's failure to qualify means its top finishers will be eligible for nomination the Select Team, Hakone's 20th team made up of the top-placing individuals at the Qualifier from schools that do not make the cut.  It will be very interesting to see whether the university federation opts to include Kenyan junior Gandu, 4th overall, Nihon's 2nd finisher and a multiple university champion on the track, on the team or whether they will bypass him for Nihon's 3rd man, 7th placer Hirotaka Tamura.

While Josai and Nihon faltered, Kanagawa and Chuo Gakuin Universities joined Jobu on the list of surprise successes as both made the Hakone cut despite being ranked outside the top ten pre-race.  One-time powerhouse Juntendo University, headed by federation executive Keisuke Sawaki, returned to the fold with a 9th-place finish on the strength of its hefty 3:25 time handicap.  The time handicap, calculated on the basis of each university's overall results, including sprints and field events, at May's Kanto Regional T&F Championships, serves to reinforce the position of well-established, historic universities such as Juntendo and 10th and 11th place schools Hosei University and Daito Bunka University, while penalizing small schools without the resources to support an entire track program.

Getting screwed by the system this way this year was 12th-place Senshu University.  Senshu's distance squad ran 10:18:27, the 9th-fastest in the field, more than a minute faster than Juntendo's time and likewise faster than both Hosei and Daito Bunka, but as a distance-specialty school it had a time handicap of only 20 seconds and was thus ranked only 12th in the final scoring.  Senshu runners Shusei Ohashi and Shingo Ajima are likely to be named to the Select Team on the strength of their runs, but that's small consolation to the rest of the team who ran better than three of the schools ultimately ranked ahead of them but were not rewarded for their efforts.

2011 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Qualifying Road Race
Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 10/15/11

Top Individual Results
click here for complete individual results
1. Cosmas Ondiba (4th yr., Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 59:26
2. Yusuke Sato (3rd yr., Nihon Univ.) - 59:28
3. Masaki Ito (4th yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:00:04
4. Benjamin Gandu (3rd yr., Kenya/Nihon Univ.) - 1:00:15
5. Naoto Miyagawa (4th yr., Asia Univ.) - 1:00:16
6. Keisuke Fujii (3rd yr., Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:16
7. Hirotaka Tamura (2nd yr., Nihon Univ.) - 1:00:21
8. Toshikatsu Ebina (2nd yr., Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:26
9. Kensuke Ujihara (3rd yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:00:28
10. Shun Sato (1st yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:00:31

Top Team Results
click here for complete team results
top nine schools qualify for 2012 Hakone Ekiden
1. Jobu University - 10:12:08
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 10:12:43
3. Kokushikan Univ. - 10:13:38
4. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 10:13:58
5. Kanagawa Univ. - 10:14:03
6. Teikyo Univ. - 10:14:18
-----7th-9th include points from May's Kanto Regionals
7. Josai Univ. - 10:16:40 (-2:45)
8. Chuo Gakuin Univ. - 10:16:07 (-0:45)
9. Juntendo Univ. - 10:19:39 (-3:25)
-----did not qualify
10. Hosei Univ. - 10:19:53 (-3:10)
11. Nihon Univ. - 10:20.38 (-3:40)
12. Senshu Univ. - 10:18:27 (-0:20)

2012 Hakone Ekiden Field
1. Waseda Univ.
2. Toyo Univ.
3. Komazawa Univ.
4. Tokai Univ.
5. Meiji Univ.
6. Chuo Univ.
7. Takushoku Univ.
8. Nittai Univ.
9. Aoyama Gakuin Univ.
10. Koku Gakuin Univ.
11. Jobu Univ.
12. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.
13. Kokushikan Univ.
14. Tokyo Nogyo Univ.
15. Kanagawa Univ.
16. Teikyo Univ.
17. Josai Univ.
18. Chuo Gakuin Univ.
19. Juntendo Univ.
20. Kanto Regional Univ. Select Team

2012 Hakone Ekiden Kanto Regional Univ. Select Team Short List
Yusuke Sato (3rd yr., Nihon Univ.)
Benjamin Gandu (3rd yr., Kenya/Nihon Univ.)
Naoto Miyagawa (4th yr., Asia Univ.)
Hirotaka Tamura (2nd yr., Nihon Univ.)
Shusei Ohashi (3rd yr., Senshu Univ.)
Yuki Tago (2nd yr., Hosei Univ.)
Aritaka Kajiwara (4th yr., Shoin Univ.)
Taiki Yoshimura (1st yr., Ryutsu Keizai Univ.)
Yoshihiro Shinohara (3rd yr., Hosei Univ.)
Masashi Ota (3rd yr., Soka Univ.)
Yasunori Onuma (3rd yr., Asia Univ.)
Shingo Ajima (4th yr., Senshu Univ.)
Hiroki Kamada (3rd yr., Daito Bunka Univ.)
Kazuki Kojima (1st yr., Soka Univ.)
Shunsuke Mikata (4th yr., Asia Univ.)
Kota Hoshino (3rd yr., Senshu Univ.)
Toshiya Suzuki (2nd yr., Asia Univ.)
Ryo Kagitani (4th yr., Hosei Univ.)
Masato Enta (4th yr., Ryutsu Keizai Univ.)
Naohiro Domoto (4th yr., Nihon Univ.)

(c) 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
photos (c) 2011 Daniel Seite
all rights reserved

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