translated and edited by Brett Larner
With nine boys' and girls' National High School Ekiden Championships titles to its name, Sendai Ikuei H.S. (Miyagi Pref.) announced on Feb. 20 that ten members of its ekiden team will be leaving together and transferring to three-time girls' national champion Toyokawa H.S. (Aichi Pref.) for the new school year. Sendai Ikuei's graduates include Beijing Olympics men's marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya) and 5000 m national champion Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno). The school's training facilities were seriously damaged in last year's natural disasters, and the announcement of the resignation of head coach Junichi Seino (27) following the boys' team's 12th-place finish at last year's National High School Ekiden Championships spread discontent and agitation throughout the team.
A Toyokawa H.S. spokesperson said that the school had offered to take in the students as part of an effort to provide relief to those in the disaster-stricken areas. "We decided that this was what we could do to support students from the affected region," explained the spokesperson. "We will do everything we can to help them, including providing mental care for those students who have experienced profound hardship." The ten students involved in the transfer, all first and second-years, include seven boys and three girls. Excluding foreign students, all three first and second-year boys and two girls who ran in last year's National High School Ekiden Championships are part of the transfer. All took Toyokawa's entrance exam and were approved for admission on Feb. 18. The transfer to Toyokawa's ekiden team is expected to be effective Mar. 1.
The Sendai Ikuei H.S. girls' team finished 3rd at Nationals but the boys' team was only 12th, leading to discussion of head coach Seino's departure. According to the involved source, in addition to Seino's impending resignation, the damage and effects of last March's earthquake and tsunami and the necessity of being in an environment in which student athletes can train and focus properly given the high level of competition in Japan were the primary reasons for the students' request for the transfer. With regard to the unusual situation of a large number of top-level athletes seeking to transfer between national champion high schools together, the national high school federation commented, "There is no precedent. We ask the local high school federations in both prefectures to investigate and confirm the facts of this case."
Athletes are restricted from competing in national events such as the National High School Track & Field Championships and National High School Ekiden Championships for six months after a transfer, but given the special circumstances of the natural disasters and other factors the athletes have not yet been sanctioned in this instance. A spokesperson for the national high school federation commented, "It will be necessary to make a final decision before the [National H.S. T&F Championships] Aichi Prefecture qualifiers in May." The Aichi prefecture high school federation said, "This action was undertaken out of a desire to provide relief to victims of the disasters. We will have to consider it carefully."
When Sendai Ikuei H.S. disbanded its table tennis program in 2008, eight members of the team including students from the school's related junior high school transferred to a private high school in Yamaguchi prefecture. A Sendai Ikuei spokesperson said, "We respect the personal decisions of all the students involved. Our track and field program will have to rebuild from zero."