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Komazawa University Looking for 10th National Title This Sunday

by Brett Larner

The men's and women's East Japan Corporate Ekiden Championships, toughest of the regional corporate qualifying ekidens for the upcoming national championships, take place this Saturday, and the eight-day Grand Tour Kyushu 2012 ekiden wraps up Sunday, but there's no question that the biggest domestic Japanese race of the weekend is Sunday's National University Men's Ekiden Championships.  The second of the Big Three university ekidens following last month's Izumo Ekiden, the eight-stage, 106.8 km National University Championships in Nagoya are the next stop in a season culminating in the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden.  TV Asahi's 5 1/2 hour live broadcast will cover the action in all its glory and should be viewable overseas via Keyhole TV starting at 8:00 a.m. Japan time.  JRN will be doing live English commentary as usual via Twitter @JRNLive.

With Izumo's average stage length of 7.4 km favoring schools with solid 5000 m credentials, Nationals's average length of 13.3 km is the next step along the way to Hakone's half marathon-length stages, a building up of endurance as the season progresses.  Twelve schools from within the Kanto region, home of Hakone, face off against fourteen more universities and regional select teams from around the country, but in reality only the upper echelon of Kanto really factors into the equation; it would be an achievement for any team from anywhere else in the country to break into the top ten let alone the 2013-seeded top six.  The qualifying races for the unseeded teams take place in June, a span of time that this year has resulted in several irregularities including the absence of Izumo Ekiden course record-setters Aoyama Gakuin University, whose aces Takehiro Deki and Ryotaro Otani were both injured for the qualifiers in June, and the presence of Tokai University, who failed to qualify for Hakone two weeks ago due to a serious Achilles injury to top-ranked collegiate Akinobu Murasawa.

Irregularities aside, defending champion Komazawa University is the clear favorite on paper, the top ten men on its Nationals entry list having an average 10000 m PB of 28:35.41, but despite its unrivalled roster the team was a shambles at Izumo as it finished only 5th.  Last year Komazawa returned from a failed Izumo to claim its 9th Nationals win, but where the problems at Izumo last year fell on a rocky debut by first-year national 5000 m collegiate champion Kenta Murayama, this year the team as a whole was off its game.  It will have taken a serious realignment in the four weeks since Izumo for Komazawa to be ready for a bid for a 10th national title.  Likewise for Waseda University, which despite a ten-man average of 28:54.63 over 10000 m was 6th in Izumo.

The favorite in reality, then, looks to be defending Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University, led by identical twins Keita and Yuta Shitara.  2nd in Izumo and runner-up behind Komazawa at Nationals last year, with an average 10000 m best of 29:01.32 and a history of ekiden performances better than would be expected from its track times Toyo should be able to deal with all but a fully-functional Komazawa and Waseda.  Izumo 3rd and 4th-placers Chuo University and Yamanashi Gakuin University were less than 40 seconds behind Toyo last month, but with weaker distance credentials they should be hard-pressed to contend against the Toyo squad.  Other possibilities for the seeded top six include Nittai University and Teikyo University, who went 1-2 at last month's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km qualifying road race.

2012 National University Men's Ekiden Championships Team Entries
Nagoya-Ise, 11/4/12
click here for a complete listing of school uniform and sash colors

1. Komazawa University (Kanto)
2. Toyo University (Kanto)
3. Waseda University (Kanto)
4. Nihon University (Kanto)
5. Chuo University (Kanto)
6. Jobu University (Kanto)
7. Sapporo Gakuin University (Hokkaido)
8. Tohoku Fukushi University (Tohoku)
9. Meiji University (Kanto)
10. Yamanashi Gakuin University (Kanto)
11. Nittai University (Kanto)
12. Teikyo University (Kanto)
13. Kanagawa University (Kanto)
14. Tokai University (Kanto)
15. Shinshu University (Hokuriku)
16. Niigata University (Hokuriku)
17. Chukyo University (Tokai)
18. Nagoya University (Tokai)
19. Ritsumeikan University (Kansai)
20. Kansai Gakuin University (Kansai)
21. Osaka Keizai University (Kansai)
22. Hiroshima University (Chugoku/Shikoku)
23. Daiichi Kogyo University (Kyushu)
24. Nippon Bunri University (Kyushu)
25. Fukuoka University (Kyushu)
26. Tokai Region University Select Team (Tokai)

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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