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2012 Hakone Ekiden and 2011 NCAA Division I XC Top Five Teams Compared Over 5000 m

by Brett Larner

This week's 88th Hakone Ekiden, the Kanto region university men's ekiden championship, was a watershed event, with winner Toyo University taking over eight minutes off the record for the ten stage, 217.9 km event to become the first school to break an average 3:00/km pace for the entire race.  How do Toyo and the other top-placing schools at this year's Hakone Ekiden compare to the best in the world's other leading university men's distance program, the United States' NCAA Division I?

In the NCAA students usually focus on distances up to 5000 m through the winter indoor track season, up to 10000 m in the spring outdoor track season, and then up to 10 km cross-country in the fall.  With no indoor track season in Japan, after the New Year in Kanto students usually focus on training for a March half-marathon or the 10 km and 12 km selection races for Japan's World Cross-Country teams, then anything from 1500 m up to a half-marathon through the spring track season, and in the fall focus on distances around the half-marathon to prepare for the Hakone Ekiden, where stage lengths range from 18.5 km to 23.4 km with an average length of 21.79 km.  As JRN has previously shown, the Kanto region system has produced its best results over the half-marathon, while the NCAA has produced its best results over 5000 m.

In recent years the 5000 m has become more important to Kanto-region universities, both in the spring track season and in the fall through time trial series hosted by Nittai University and other schools.  It seems to be the best point of intersection through which to make a comparison between schools from the two systems.  Below are three comparisons of the average 5000 m PBs of the top five teams at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden and at the 2011 NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championships listed in order of average PB with team placings noted.  Click here for a breakdown of the teams' starting rosters.

Although teams at the Hakone Ekiden include ten scoring members, their average 5000 m PBs compare favorably with the best teams at the NCAA Division I XC Championships, where teams start seven runners, five of whom score.

Restricting Kanto teams to seven members to better match the numbers on the NCAA teams, the Japanese universities' numbers compare even more favorably.

Comparing the top five scorers from each Kanto team to the five scorers on each NCAA team allows for a clearer picture of the two systems' relative strength over 5000 m. It's worth noting that although redshirting, delaying competing with a university team to allow for increased growth and training time, is common in the NCAA, it is not practiced in Japan and none of the top five Hakone teams includes a single runner over age 22. Neither do any of the top five teams in Hakone include any foreign runners in their lineups.  Although the two fastest NCAA individuals, Oklahoma State University's German Fernandez (13:25.46) and Tom Farrell (13:26.59), are faster than the top Kanto man, Meiji University's Tetsuya Yoroizaka (13:29.11) and the NCAA teams include a larger number of athletes at the 13:30 level, Kanto region teams feature much greater depth at the 13:40 and 13:50 levels, depth that has increased dramatically in the last two years. With a shift away from the half-marathon distance as the primary focus of the year these numbers would surely improve further.

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


TokyoRacer said…
Thanks, Brett. Very interesting.
Bruce said…
Brett, Thanks for the vast and timely stream of data and commentary.
I would like to add that similar comparisons can be made between Japanese high school boys and the USA NCAA D-1 collegiates. Averages based on 2011 best marks:
--------------------------------Top7 / Top 5
Nishiwaki Kougyou - Hyogo ---14:11.28 / 14:08.58
Sendai Ikue - Miyaki------------14:13.57 / 14:09.23
Toyokawa Technical - Aichi----14:18.19 / 14:14.25
Kyushu Gakuin Lutheran------14:21.16 / 14:15.39
Sera High School - Hiroshima--14:23.38 / 14:14.74
Aomori Yamada High-----------14:48.50 / 14:17.58

Any of these 6 high school teams would have finished quite high in the NCAA D-1; a fact not likely to highlighted in the English-speaking media. btw -if we could make similar comparisons of female runners, I would expect the results to be even more dramatic.

Would the fact that these 6 teams are from outside the Kanto area suggest that there might even be stronger collegiate teams outside the Kanto region?

(source: Top 7 from NHK high school ekiden page; Top 5 from my tabulations on

Bruce Carrick
Brett Larner said…
Thanks, Bruce, that's a pretty interesting comparison. I don't think the strength of high schools outside Kanto extends to universities, though, as the Hakone Ekiden is limited to Kanto region schools. Virtually all the good high school boys will go to school somewhere in Kanto in order to have a chance to run Hakone.

Looking at the top five Hakone schools this year, of their ten starters Toyo only had three runners from Kanto high schools, Komazawa two, Meiji one, Waseda three and Aoyama Gakuin two. That's part of why you never see universities from outside Kanto make the seeded bracket at Izumo or Nationals. For women it's the opposite, though. Kanto is quite weak and most of the best university teams are in Kansai. I guess the budgets are too limited to support both competitive men's and women's teams for most schools.
Jason said…
How many universities with running programs are there in Japan? I was curious if we are looking at a trend where most runners are funneled into a few universities or if the numbers are comparable to the United States. If you look at XC teams finishing mid-pack or lower, they often have 13:30-40 runners but lack depth and rely on 14:20 guys to score in the 3,4, or 5 spots.
Brett Larner said…
I'm not sure of the total numbers but in the Kanto region there are 50-60 universities with competitive running programs. Of these about 25 are good enough to be in contention for a Hakone spot. I don't know what the numbers are like in the rest of the country but there are at least decently competitive schools throughout Japan, some with a runner or two at the sub-14 or sub-29 level. Being in Kanto you don't get to see schools from other areas very much apart from at the Izumo Ekiden and Nat'l Univ Ekiden Championships.
Bobby said…
One major issue affecting American schools is Title IX, where men's athletics (T&F) and cross-country programmes are eliminated or not even started because of such restrictions. The Southeastern Conference has one school that can't do men's XC because of the stupid rules. As more men's athletics programmes are eliminated, the Japanese advancement will continue while American participation shrinks as a result of the federal mandates.

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