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Hakone Ekiden Winner Toyo University's Kento Otsu and Yuta Shitara to Run NYC Half Marathon

by Brett Larner

The New York Road Runners announced on Feb. 14 that Kento Otsu and Yuta Shitara of 2012 Hakone Ekiden course record setters Toyo University will run the Mar. 18 NYC Half Marathon as part of this year's elite field.  Sophomores Shitara and Otsu, both of whom turned 20 in December, went 2-3 at last November's Ageo City Half Marathon, Shitara in a PB of 1:02:35 and Otsu in a PB of 1:02:43.  Both excelled at January's Hakone Ekiden, Shitara running 1:02:32 for 21.3 km, equivalent to a 1:01:56 half marathon, to break the Seventh Stage record and Otsu missing the Eighth Stage record, Hakone's oldest, by only 7 seconds as he ran 1:04:12 for a hilly 21.5 km.

Their invitation to New York is a first for Japan's top university men.  NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg said, "All of us at NYRR are excited to see Kento and Yuta come to New York to run against some of the best in the world in this important step ahead in their careers.  We look forward to watching the pair race as they follow in the hallowed history and legacy of great Japanese long distance runners."

The NYC Half Marathon will be the first overseas race for both runners.  Otsu told JRN, "I've never had the chance to mix it up in an international race, so the opportunity to run in an event like the NYC Half that brings together a lot of high-level, highly motivated athletes will be a great chance for me to see how far I can push myself.  I have no idea how people overseas train or live, or what the atmosphere at their races is like, so this will be an important experience for my future career as an athlete."

At Hakone, Shitara's identical twin brother Keita Shitara ran a time equivalent to a 1:01:54 half marathon.  He followed up two weeks ago with a 1:01:45 at the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon.  In New York Yuta will be aiming to at least equal his brother's best. "This invitation to the NYC Half isn't something that I will just do and be done with," he commented.  "It's a chance to feel how competitive I can be, to search deep inside and find out how I measure up.  I want to be able to come back with good news."

Joining Otsu and Shitara in New York will be Toyo University head coach Toshiyuki Sakai, at 35 already one of the most successful university coaches in Japan, with support from Japan Running News.  "This is a really valuable opportunity for both of them," said Sakai.  "I want them both to run an aggressive race."

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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