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Hakone Ekiden's Top Coaches Share Plans and Predictions for January's Main Event

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/20121210/ath12121017570005-n1.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner
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On Dec. 16 the sixteen-man rosters were released for the twenty university teams competing at the 89th running of the two-day, ten-stage, 217.9 km Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2 and 3.  The same evening, the head coaches appeared at a public event in Ebisu, Tokyo to discuss their teams' conditions, plans and their expectations for what looks to be an intensely competitive edition of the historic event.  Comments from the coaches of the top tier of teams:

Yasuyuki Watanabe, Waseda University
3rd, 2012 National University Ekiden Championships
6th, 2012 Izumo Ekiden
4th, 2012 Hakone Ekiden
Course record wins at 2010 Izumo Ekiden, 2010 National University Ekiden Championships and 2011 Hakone Ekiden
I want to put together a running order that forces our opponents to fight when they don't want to.  The mountain will be the key.  That monster Kashiwabara [Toyo's Fifth Stage uphill superstar Ryuji Kashiwabara, who graduated last spring] is gone now, but while we'll all miss what he brought I'm hoping to let loose a little monster of our own this time.  If our Fifth Stage man Shuhei Yamamoto runs like normal it's going to be pretty interesting. Kashiwabara borrowed about two minutes a year from us, so I'm expecting about a seven-minute repayment from Toyo.

Toshiyuki Sakai, Toyo University
2nd, 2012 National University Ekiden Championships 
2nd, 2012 Izumo Ekiden
Course record win, 2012 Hakone Ekiden
Even though the Kashiwabara era is finished, our overall depth has improved dramatically.  We've matured as a team.  This year it wasn't a question of who to put in, it was a question of who we had to cut.  That was a tough decision and I'm not free of doubt about it.  We don't have our monster anymore, so it's going to be critical that we don't make any missteps on the Second, Fifth and Sixth stages.  Relying on the strength of our upperclassmen, I can imagine a lot of potential running orders.  

Hiroaki Oyagi, Komazawa University
Course record win, 2012 National University Ekiden Championships; 10th national title
5th, 2012 Izumo Ekiden
2nd, 2012 Hakone Ekiden
This is the greatest team I've ever had.  We've fallen away from winning Hakone the last few years, but this time we are going for the overall win.  Our ace Shinobu Kubota is unstoppably reliable.  I want him to lead the team by example.  We are much stronger than last time, and everyone on the team believes that there is no question of not winning.  

Susumu Hara, Aoyama Gakuin University
Course record win, 2012 Izumo Ekiden
5th, 2012 Hakone Ekiden
We're a great unknown, a longshot bet.  If we pull it off it's going to represent a major power shift.  But you know, I've been having this dream lately.  I had it today too.  A dream where our super-rookie Kazuma Kubota and our ace Takehiro Deki make up a gap of five minutes on the 9th and 10th stages.  I want to take a different approach from the way everyone stacks their teams on the first day and I think that would be a pretty interesting running order.  Are you all surprised?  Well, guess what, our other athletes are all in great shape too.  This is one dream that's going to come true.

Aoyama Gakuin has never been in a position to even think about winning. Now that it's there before us all I can think is, "Wow....."  Above all, though, let's keep in mind that we're talking about college sports and that the bottom line is that they should be having fun.

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