by Brett Larner
Just under two weeks after the Japanese IUAU's Nov. 4 Japanese National University Men's Ekiden Championships, the American NCAA held its National Cross-Country Championships on Nov. 17. Although different styles of racing and on different surfaces, the fall national championship events of the world's two leading university men's distance running systems focus on similar distances, the eight-man Japanese collegiate teams averaging 13.35 km and each of the seven men on the NCAA teams running 10 km. With the athletes in both systems peaking at almost the same time for races of almost the same distance it's worth a look at how the top five teams in each national championship event compare.
Given the overall emphasis on longer distances in the Japanese collegiate system and on shorter distances in the American system evident in the tables below, 5000 m, the only distance at which almost all athletes from all ten schools have posted PB marks, allows for the best comparison. The IAUA averages in the table below include seven of the eight starting members to give better equivalency to the seven-member NCAA teams. No average is listed if fewer than four starting members have known PBs at a given distance. Click to enlarge tables.
Despite the Japanese schools' Hakone Ekiden-driven primary focus on the half-marathon distance, including races such as the Nov. 18 Ageo City Half Marathon where over 150 Japanese collegiates ran sub-67, overall they possess better credentials over 5000 m than their U.S. counterparts in addition to their 10000 m and half-marathon credentials.
While all eight team members score at the National University Men's Ekiden Championships, only five of the seven members of NCAA teams score. Restricting both teams to their five best members as per the U.S. system corresponds better to the actual finishing orders at the two championships and gives a better idea of the teams' relative levels. Viewed this way it becomes evident that if these ten teams were to meet over a distance similar to that of their national championships with the same kind of peaking, the question would be how many NCAA teams would finish among the top five.
A more detailed breakdown of the individuals on each team is given below. Corrections and additions are welcome. In another difference between the two systems illustrated below, none of the top five teams at the Japanese National University Men's Ekiden Championships included any athletes over age 22 or any foreign-born athletes. Four out of the top five NCAA teams included athletes of age 23 or 24, and likewise four out of five included athletes of foreign origin. NCAA winner Oklahoma State University appeared to have had only one American team member out of seven and none among its best five on paper.
Where the NCAA season winds down before heading into indoor track, the top Japanese colleges now ramp up their distance for the peak of their season, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. More competitive and important than the National title, Hakone, with an average stage length of roughly a half-marathon, is the main event of the Japanese year.
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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