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Hyogo Defends National Men's Ekiden Title With Perfect Team Performance

by Brett Larner

Click photo for video highlights via race broadcaster NHK.

Hyogo Prefecture took its second-straight National Men's Ekiden title Jan. 20 in Hiroshima with a perfect team performance that held off rivals Tokyo and Aichi Prefecture. With anchor Satoru Kitamura (Team Nissin Shokuhin) ailing after potentially career-ending injuries last year and a disastrous performance three weeks ago at the New Year Ekiden the rest of the Hyogo team knew that they needed a margin of at least a minute by the start of the anchor stage to have a chance at holding off  Tokyo and Aichi anchors Yuichiro Ueno (Team S&B) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), and, aided by ideal conditions, they timed it perfectly.

Last year's First Stage winner Keisuke Nakatani (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) took it out fast and accelerated each km on the 7.0 km leg, just missing the course record but giving Hyogo a 2-second lead.  3.0 km Second Stage runner Chikashi Ikeda (Hyogo/Kakogawa Yamate J.H.S.) stretched that out to 13 seconds, just missing the course record which local Shiki Shinsako (Hiroshima/Shiwa J.H.S.) managed to clip in 8:29 further back in the pack.  8.5 km Third Stage runner Keisuke Fujii (Hyogo/Chuo Gakuin Univ.) fell afoul of Nike Oregon Project-bound Suguru Osako (Tokyo/Waseda Univ.), ran just off the course record to put Tokyo ahead for the only point in the race, while Osako's former Waseda teammate Yusuke Mita (Aichi/Team JR Higashi Nihon) advanced to 3rd to set up the expected race between the three pre-race favorites.

8 seconds down from Tokyo at the start of the 5.0 km Fourth Stage, Yuhi Akiyama (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) tied his track 5000 m PB to set a new course record of 14:07 and give Hyogo a lead of exactly 1 minute, with Aichi just 8 seconds back from Tokyo in 3rd.  Tokyo's Rintaro Takeda (Waseda Jitsugyo H.S.) ran a stage best to close 10 seconds on the 8.5 km Fifth Stage, but on the 3.0 km Sixth Stage Hyogo's Haruki Nishimura (Miki J.H.S.) made what ended up being crucial move of the race for his team's chances, reopening the lead to its greatest margin of the day, 1:15 over Tokyo.  Aichi, with the strongest anchor in the field, was another 14 seconds back.

Hyogo anchor Kitamura started off well and did what he could, holding a steady pace near 3:00/km for the 13.0 km Seventh Stage.  Behind him, New Year Ekiden First Stage winner Miyawaki of Aichi ran down past 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Ueno of Tokyo in just over 1 km, but after initially running relaxed and letting Miyawaki go Ueno went to work at 3 km and caught back up.  For the first half of the stage they alternated running ahead of each other, not so much working together as trying to shake each other off. In what may have been the smartest race Ueno has ever run at a distance over 5 km, he pushed the pace just before halfway to inch away from Miyawaki and start to close the gap to leader Kitamura.  At 9 km the gap was down to 47 seconds, 28 seconds by 11 km.  Kitamura began to show signs of pain as he came into the final straightaway to the finish in front of Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Museum but mustered up a last push with 1 km to go.  He looked home free, but behind him Ueno threw in a last kick befitting a 1500 m national champ, eating up the distance but too late as Kitamura crossed the line just 5 seconds ahead.  Hyogo beat Tokyo 2:19:51 to 2:19:56 for the full 48.0 km course in what may have been the first time two teams have broken 2:20 in the event's 18-year history.  "Yeah, that was pretty stressful," Kitamura laughed in post-race interviews.  Precisely judged and executed, Hyogo's performance was a masterpiece of team running.

Miyawaki, coming off injuries in the fall and reportedly experiencing some pain again since his New Year Ekiden stage win, underperformed but still brought Aichi across the line in 3rd in 2:20:35, just holding off Saitama Prefecture anchor Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) who ran down Chiba Prefecture anchor Yusuke Sato (Nihon Univ.) for an unexpected 4th in 2:20:55.  27:44 local Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Hiroshima/Team Asahi Kasei) looked as though he would catch Shitara and Sato but ran out of steam in the final 3 km.  Coming down the last straight he was caught by 2013 Hakone Ekiden winner Nittai University ace Keigo Yano (Nagano) but responded with a final surge to repass Yano one step from the finish.  Yoroizaka got the home crowd ovation, but to the surprise of all Yano took the anchor stage win on time, running 4 seconds faster than Ueno.  Akita Prefecture rounded out the eight-deep podium.

Further back, London Olympics marathoners Kentaro Nakamoto (Yamaguchi/Team Yasukawa Denki) and Ryo Yamamoto (Kyoto/Team Sagawa Express) crossed the line just 4 second apart in 16th and 17th.  The National Men's Ekiden marks the end of the national-level ekiden season, with just a few large regional events left over the next few weeks.  For most runners the next two months will include cross-country, half marathons and marathons before the spring track season begins in April.  Nakamoto, 6th in London, will line up next in two weeks at the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in a bid to shore up his position on the roster of candidates for Augusts's Moscow World Championships marathon team.

2013 National Men's Ekiden Top Results
Hiroshima, 1/20/13
47 teams, 7 stages, 48.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Hyogo - 2:19:51
2. Tokyo - 2:19:56
3. Aichi - 2:20:35
4. Saitama - 2:20:55
5. Chiba - 2:21:06
6. Hiroshima - 2:21:20
7. Nagano - 2:21:20
8. Akita - 2:21:33
9. Oita - 2:21:37
10. Nagasaki - 2:21:40

Stage Best Performances
First Stage - 7.0 km
1. Keisuke Nakatani (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 19:56
2. Soma Ishikawa (Tochigi/Sano Nihon Prep H.S.) - 19:58
3. Yusuke Nishiyama (Mie/Iga Hakuo H.S.) - 20:00

Second Stage - 3.0 km
1. Shiki Shinsako (Hiroshima/Shiwa J.H.S.) - 8:29 - CR
2. Tomoki Ota (Shizuoka/Hamano J.H.S.) - 8:32
3. Hayato Seki (Nagano/Chino Tobu J.H.S.) - 8:33

Third Stage - 8.5 km
1. Suguru Osako (Tokyo/Waseda Univ.) - 23:39
2. Kenta Murayama (Miyagi/Komazawa Univ.) - 23:57
3. Yuki Matsuoka (Kyoto/Team Otsuka Seiyaku) - 23:58
4. Naoki Okamoto (Hiroshima/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 23:59
5. Minato Oishi (Shizuoka/Team Toyota) - 24:01
6. Yusuke Mita (Aichi/Team JR Higashi Nihon) - 24:04
7. Keisuke Fujii (Hyogo/Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 24:08
8. Ikuto Yufu (Oita/Komazawa Univ.) - 24:11
9. Tatsuya Oike (Gifu/Juntendo Univ.) - 24:15
10. Hiroyuki Ono (Gunma/Team Nissin Shokuhin) - 24:17

Fourth Stage - 5.0 km
1. Yuhi Akiyama (Hyogo/Suma Gakuen H.S.) - 14:07 - CR
2. Nanami Arai (Chiba/Yachiyo Shoin H.S.) - 14:29
2. Jinnosuke Matsumura (Yamaguchi/Saikyo H.S.) - 14:29

Fifth Stage - 8.5 km
1. Rintaro Takeda (Tokyo/Waseda Jitsugyo H.S.) - 24:50
2. Yuki Hirota (Hyogo/Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 25:00
2. Kazuki Takahashi (Akita/Omagari Kogyo H.S.) - 25:00

Sixth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Masahide Saito (Saitama/Otone J.H.S.) - 8:52
2. Shun Ando (Akita/Kamikoani J.H.S.) - 8:55
3. Akihiro Gunji (Tochigi/Nishi Nasuno J.H.S.) - 8:57

Seventh Stage - 13.0 km
1. Keigo Yano (Nagano/Nittai Univ.) - 37:54
2. Yuichiro Ueno (Tokyo/Team S&B) - 37:58
3. Rui Yonezawa (Fukui/Team Chugoku Denryoku) - 38:04
4. Keita Shitara (Saitama/Toyo Univ.) - 38:05
5. Fumihiro Maruyama (Oita/Team Asahi Kasei) - 38:11
5. Tomoya Onishi (Gifu/Team Asahi Kasei) - 38:11
7. Yusei Nakao (Shizuoka/Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 38:21
8. Chihiro Miyawaki (Aichi/Team Toyota) - 38:23
9. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Hiroshima/Team Asahi Kasei) - 38:26
10. Ryo Yamamoto (Kyoto/Team Sagawa Express) - 38:27

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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