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Takezawa Anchors Hyogo to National Men's Ekiden Championship Title

by Brett Larner

Kensuke Takezawa runs down the win for Hyogo Prefecture at the 2012 National Men's Ekiden Championships. Click photo for video highlights via race broadcaster NHK.

Pre-race favorite and 2010 champion Hyogo Prefecture lived up to expectations, taking the 2012 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden Championships title on the strength of stage wins by opening man Keisuke Nakatani and anchor Kensuke Takezawa.  High schooler Nakatani made a bold surge with 2 km to go on the 7 km opening stage to put Hyogo ahead by 10 seconds.  Hyogo's Chikashi Ikeda maintained the lead through the 3 km Second Stage, but Third Stage runner Fuminori Shikata fell victim to a 2:37 opening km by Tokyo's runner Yuta Takahashi and dropped to 7th.  Hyogo spent the rest of the race playing catchup, not regaining the lead until 8 km into the 13 km Seventh Stage, where anchor Takezawa caught up to and then dropped Aichi Prefecture's Yuta Ito to take the win by 22 seconds.  Takezawa also took the stage best by 3 seconds over Olympic A-standard 10000 m men Chihiro Miyawaki (Gifu/Team Toyota) and Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Tochigi/Team Konica Minolta), who both broke their stage record at the New Year Ekiden three weeks ago.

Tokyo rode the momentum of Takahashi's bold Third Stage run to stay near the front of the race, with anchor Yoshihiro Wakamatsu putting the team into 2nd for its best-ever finish after dropping Ugachi in the final 2 km.  Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University's Eighth Stage winner Kento Otsu (Kumamoto) had another good run, starting off in 2nd on the anchor stage and staying with Wakamatsu and Ugachi after they caught him and working together to catch Ito.  In the final stretch he outkicked Ugachi and Ito to give Kumamoto a 3rd-place finish, 8th on the mostly-pro stage on time.  Ugachi hoped to run down the lead for defending champion Tochigi Prefecture but could do no better then 4th after he was outrun by Takezawa and dropped by both Wakamatsu and Otsu.  Ito ran well despite inevitably losing the lead on the anchor stage, keeping a steady pace against better competitors and hanging on to 5th.

The return of the talented and injury-prone Takezawa, with university marks of 13:19.00, 27:45.59 and 1:00:31 and a string of stress fractures Japan's equivalent of American Dathan Ritzenhein, was one of the biggest stories of this year's ekiden. Outrunning both Miyawaki and Ugachi suggests he may be capable of picking up an Olympic A-standard time this season to throw his hat in as the fourth Japanese man in contention for the London Olympics 10000 m.  His First Stage teammate Nakatani also deserves credit for aggressively frontrunning his way to the win.  In other noteworthy individual performances, rookie Kazuya Deguchi (Ibaraki) and little-known Kenta Murozuka (Ishikawa) had strong runs back in the Third Stage pack to tie for the stage win, outrunning a large number of star runners from the 2012 Hakone Ekiden. Although Takezawa's run was the most significant, sub-14 high schooler Kazuma Kubota (Kumamoto) was no doubt the most impressive of the day with the fastest time on the 8.5 km Fifth Stage by 30 seconds and moving up from 13th to take the lead.  Kubota actually clocked 1 second faster than either Deguchi or Murozaka ran for the same distance in the opposite direction.  The last runner he caught, Aichi's Daichi Kamino, also deserves credit for frontrunning the stage before being caught and for hanging on to Kubota once he made contact.  On the anchor stage three 2012 Hakone Ekiden stage winners made the top ten in a mostly-pro field, with Komazawa University's Shinobu Kubota (Fukui) taking 6th and Toyo University sophomores Otsu and Yuta Shitara (Saitama) going 8th and 9th.  Shitara tied marathoner Masato Imai (Fukushima), who will run March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon in a last bid to make the London Olympic team.

2012 National Interprefectural Men's Ekiden Championships
Hiroshima, 1/22/12
47 teams, 7 stages, 48.0 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage - 7.0 km (H.S.)
1. Keisuke Nakatani (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 20:12
2. Ken Yokote (Tochigi/Sakushin Gakuin H.S.) - 20:22
3. Shogo Higashijima (Saga/Torisu Kogyo H.S.) - 20:23

Second Stage - 3.0 km (J.H.S.)
1. Tatsuya Yamaguchi (Hiroshima/Mukogaoka J.H.S.) - 8:37
2. Hiroki Nagayama (Kagoshima/Kurino J.H.S.) - 8:40
3. Hiroyuki Sakaguchi (Nagasaki/ Hiu J.H.S.) - 8:42

Third Stage - 8.5 km (univ/pro)
1. Kazuya Deguchi (Ibaraki/Team Asahi Kasei) - 24:14
1. Kenta Murozuka (Ishikawa/SDF Academy) - 24:14
3. Yusuke Mita (Aichi/Waseda Univ.) - 24:19
4. Tatsunori Hamazaki (Okinawa/Team Komori Corp.) - 24:21
5. Kazuharu Takai (Fukuoka/Team Kyudenko) - 24:24

Fourth Stage - 5.0 km (H.S.)
1. Yugo Muroi (Oita/Nihon Bunri Prep. H.S.) - 14:30
2. Makoto Mitsunobu (Saga/Torisu Kogyo H.S.) - 14:32
2. Yuki Hirota (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 14:32

Fifth Stage - 8.5 km (H.S.)
1. Kazuma Kubota (Kumamoto/Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 24:13
2. Shohei Otsuka (Oita/Oita Tomei H.S.) - 24:43
3. Shota Baba (Okayama/Kurashiki H.S.) - 24:47

Sixth Stage - 3.0 km (J.H.S.)
1. Takuma Nagai (Ibaraki/Izumigaoka J.H.S.) - 8:42
2. Daigo Kamura (Saga/Johoku J.H.S.) - 8:50
2. Shiki Shinsako (Hiroshima/Shiwa J.H.S.) - 8:50

Seventh Stage - 13.0 km (pro/univ)
1. Kensuke Takezawa (Hyogo/Team S&B) - 37:32
2. Chihiro Miyawaki (Gifu/Team Toyota) - 37:35
3. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Tochigi/Team Konica Minolta) - 37:47
4. Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Tokyo/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 37:57
5. Hisanori Kitajima (Fukuoka/Team Yasukawa Denki) - 38:14
6. Shinobu Kubota (Fukui/Komazawa Univ.) - 38:17
7. Tomoya Adachi (Oita/Team Asahi Kasei) - 38:19
8. Kento Otsu (Kumamoto/Toyo Univ.) - 38:23
9. Yuta Shitara (Saitama/Toyo Univ.) - 38:25
9. Masato Imai (Fukushima/Team Toyota Kyushu) - 38:25

Top Team Performances - 48.0 km
1. Hyogo - 2:20:19
2. Tokyo - 2:20:41
3. Kumamoto - 2:20:50
4. Tochigi - 2:20:53
5. Aichi - 2:20:54
6. Ibaraki - 2:21:17
7. Oita - 2:21:18
8. Saga - 2:21:36
9. Fukui - 2:21:52
10. Saitama - 2:22:02

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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