translated by Brett Larner
After a 7th-place finish at the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, Masato Kikuchi, captain of one of the pre-race favorites Meiji University, announced that following his graduation this spring he will join the top corporate team, 2013 New Year Ekiden national champion Konica Minolta, in pursuit of a place on the Japanese national team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. We talked to him about his burning ambition for the future.
At this year's Hakone Ekiden Meiji University finished 7th. As captain, what were your impressions of the team's performance?
Last year we were 3rd, so having been looking to improve on that and go for the overall win it was really disappointing. But given the problems on the Ninth Stage [where Tomoya Matsui experienced serious dehydration issues] the fact that we didn't drop out and were able to carry the tasuki the whole way and still make the seeded bracket was good. I think everyone on the team shares that feeling of having gotten through it.
You ran Hakone all four years at Meiji. Your first year you were 10th on the Seventh Stage, then 4th on the Third Stage your second year, and 5th on the ace Second Stage last year. This year you were also 5th on the Third Stage, a very solid performance.
Well, personally I was hoping to made up a little more ground before the handoff, but with the strong headwinds we were running into in the second half [up to 70 kph] both of my thighs were locking up. But since I had been injured in the fall and didn't make the starting teams for the Izumo Ekiden [in October] or the National University Ekiden [in November], I think that I got the minimum acceptable job done in my final Hakone.
What did the Hakone Ekiden mean to you?
It was the race that brought me up and made me strong. Being in an environment where I could try to stick with the upperclassmen after joining Meiji, then trying not to led the younger guys beat me when I became an upperclassman myself, that made me take root and grow. My goals for the future and my competitiveness were born there. The incredible crowds cheering at Hakone were also a major motivation.
On Jan. 20 you will run your final race as a university student, the National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.
I've run it every year since I was in 9th grade. With my run this time I want to pay back all the good people of Hokkaido who have cheered for me and supported me over the years. If I can I want to advance the Hokkaido team's position even just a little.
Beginning in April you'll be joining the Konica Minolta team, which took its seventh national title at this year's New Year Ekiden after not winning for five years. Tell us about your ambitions as a corporate league runner.
There's nothing but talent on that team. To start with I want to adapt to their training and become one of the seven starting members of their ekiden team so that I can experience what I never could as a college student, winning a national ekiden title. More long term, I want to become a marathoner. Like Konica's Takayuki Matsumiya, who ran in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I want to become an athlete good enough to earn the right to wear the Rising Sun. In terms of age I've got two good chances left at making the Olympics. I'm going to put everything I've got into making the national team for the next one, Rio.
What would you say to the younger athletes of Hokkaido who look to your example and dream of running the Hakone Ekiden and in the corporate leagues?
Training through the bitter cold of the Hokkaido winter is very hard, but if keep your dreams and goals high, believe in yourself and put in your training every day then the chance to succeed will definitely come your way.
Masato Kikuchi: Born Sept. 18, 1990 in Niseko, Hokkaido. 22 years old. 173 cm, 56 kg, blood type O. He began running in 4th grade. Finishing 3rd in the Hokkaido Prefecture Junior High School 1500 m and 3000 m while at Kutchan Toryo J.H.S., he went on to win the Hokkaido Prefecture High School 5000 m as a senior at Muroran Otani H.S. At Meiji University he studied science and technology. His best marks are 28:43.61 for 10000 m and 1:04:21 for the half-marathon. Along with his parents, his family includes an older sister and older brother.
Konica Minolta Men's Ekiden Team: Coached by Katsumi Sakai, the team was founded in 1970 as the Konica Track and Field Team and is currently made up of 14 athletes. It won three-straight New Year Ekiden national titles from 2001-2003 along with wins in 2005, 2006 and 2008. 2013 marked its seventh title, the second-most in New Year Ekiden history. Past team members have included 1996 Atlanta Olympics and 2000 Sydney Olympics double marathon medalist Erick Wainaina and current Hokuren women's team coach Takashi Ota.