Toyokawa H.S. wins the 2012 National High School Boys Ekiden title in 2:02:55, the all-time #4 time. Click photo for video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK.
#1-ranked Toyokawa H.S. blew apart the 2012 National High School Boys Ekiden Championships in its national debut, taking the lead on the third stage and never looking back. With Third Stage runner Jeremiah Karemi missing the great Samuel Wanjiru's stage record of 22:40 by just 7 seconds and star members of Wanjiru's alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S. having transferred to Toyokawa in the spring the team took the national title in 2:02:55, the fourth-fastest time in Nationals history and the first time in 50 years that a school won in its first appearance. #2 seed Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. presented no challenge, down by more than two minutes before rallying for 2nd in a quality 2:04:46. #4-ranked Iga Hakuho H.S. anchor Takumi Kawato ran down defending champion Sera H.S. on the anchor stage before winning out in a thrilling sprint finish against Kurashiki H.S. anchor Kosei Nagahama for 3rd.
With their head coach Hideji Machino having passed away over the summer and the team dedicating its race to his memory Iga Hakuho's Yusuke Nishiyama provided one of the highlights of the day on the race's most competitive stage, the 10.0 km First Stage. In a tense series of turnovers between most of the country's best high school runners, Nishiyama went head-to-head with Toyokawa's sub-14 ace Hazuma Hattori in the final 500 m. Surprisingly, it was Nishiyama who pulled ahead to win the stage by one second in 29:38. Second Stage runner Shunya Kuroyanagi was even more surprising, opening another 7 seconds on Toyokawa, but on the third stage despite a solid performance there was nothing Iga Hakuho's Masatoshi Sakata could do to hold off Karemi or Sera's John Gathaiya and the team fell to 3rd.
Karemi started strong and at halfway through the 8.1075 km stage was 10 seconds off Wanjiru's record. Where Sera grads Charles Ndirangu and Bitan Karoki had missed Wanjiru's record by 1 and 8 seconds after starting fast and fading, Karemi continued to push harder through the hilly second half, outdoing Wanjiru's second half split by 3 seconds. In a post-race interview he said in Japanese that he hadn't felt right when he started and couldn't run 100% for the first two kilometers, regretting that he had missed the record by 7 seconds as a result but confident that he had done what he needed to do for Toyokawa to take the win.
Toyokawa's Tadashi Isshiki, one of its Sendai Ikuei transferees, opened the 8.0875 km Fourth Stage with a 2:35 km before calming down, running a stage best to remove any doubt of the team's win. Behind him Nishiwaki Kogyo took over the second position where it remained for the rest of the race. Four different teams occupied 3rd over the turbulent and exciting final four stages before Iga Hakuho claimed the position, anchor Kawato smiling in triumph after winning the sprint finish against Kurashiki's Nagahama and the honoring of his coach's memory. Defending champion Sera was 5th, while Hakuoh Prep Ashikaga H.S. came on strong late in the race to finish 6th, its first time ever making the podium. Unheralded Kobayashi H.S. and Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. came on late in the race to round out the eight-deep podium as Oita Tomei H.S., looking like a lock for 8th with a kilometer to go, fell to 11th.
Like the girls' race, overall it was a fast and deep edition of Nationals with seven teams breaking 2:06 and fourteen under 2:07. To give an idea what that means in terms of the quality of these high school teams, winner Toyokawa's average 7-man 5000 m best is 14:11.43 and runner-up Nishiwaki Kogyo's is 14:12.54. NCAA DI XC 3rd-place University of Colorado's 7-man average is 14:12.56. All of the top ten-placing high schools except Kobayashi and 9th-place Tosu Kogyo H.S. have faster 7-man averages than NCAA 4th-place Northern Arizona University. The best individuals will next meet up on their home prefectures' teams at the Jan. 20 National Men's Ekiden, always the place where graduating seniors make their biggest statements before heading on to college and Hakone.
2012 National High School Boys Ekiden Championships
47 teams, 7 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results
Stage Best Performances
First Stage (10.0 km) - Yusuke Nishiyama (Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 29:38
Second Stage (3.0 km) - Hideaki Ishii (Fujisawa Shoyo H.S.) - 8:17
Third Stage (8.1075 km) - Jeremiah Karemi (Kenya/Toyokawa H.S.) - 22:47
Fourth Stage (8.0875 km) - Tadashi Isshiki (Toyokawa H.S.) - 23:21
Fifth Stage (3.0 km) - Taisuke Hirose (Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 8:38
Sixth Stage (5.0 km) - Kenta Yaguchi (Hakuoh Prep Ashikaga H.S.) - 14:52
Seventh Stage 5.0 km) - Rei Nishiyama (Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.) - 14:29
1. Toyokawa H.S. (Aichi) - 2:02:55
2. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. (Hyogo) - 2:04:46
3. Iga Hakuho H.S. (Mie) - 2:05:33
4. Kurashiki H.S. (Okayama) - 2:05:33
5. Sera H.S. (Hiroshima) - 2:05:53
6. Hakuoh Prep Ashikaga H.S. (Tochigi) - 2:05:54
7. Kobayashi H.S. (Miyazaki) - 2:05:54
8. Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. (Yamanashi) - 2:06:07
9. Tosu Kogyo H.S. (Saga) - 2:06:22
10. Saku Chosei H.S. (Nagano) - 2:06:24
(c) 2012 Brett Larner
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