translated and edited by Brett Larner
On April 30 the Kanto Region University Athletics Federation (KGRR), administrators of the world's most competitive university men's long-distance circuit and organizers of its premier race, the Hakone Ekiden, announced that they plan to cut back the Hakone Ekiden's Kanto Region University Select Team, made up of the top individual runners from schools that fail to qualify as a team at October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier road race, from its current annual presence to once every five years on the occasion of Hakone's five-year anniversary editions.
The Select Team was introduced in 2003 at Hakone's 79th running, and the KGRR already plans not to include it at the 90th anniversary edition in 2014. The KGRR has discussed whether to bring it back in 2015 or beyond, but at an executive board meeting on April 26 a proposal to include the Select Team only in five-year anniversary editions of Hakone was introduced. If the plan is adopted at the KGRR's June board meeting, the Kanto Region Select Team will not be seen again until the 95th Hakone Ekiden in 2019.
The Select Team was originally introduced with the intent of giving talented runners at universities not strong enough to make the Hakone Ekiden as a team the chance to run the prestigious event. Two of the five members of the last World Championships men's marathon team, Yoshinori Oda (Team Toyota) and Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't), ran Hakone as members of the Select Team, Kawauchi running the downhill Sixth Stage twice while a student at Gakushuin University.
However, the KGRR raised problems including the fact that some athletes made the Select Team all four years of their university careers, saying, "There are more demerits to having a Select Team than merits." If the Select Team is cut, one more university will have the opportunity to qualify for Hakone in its place. There is an argument to be made in that rather than a "miscellaneous" collection of individuals with different goals like the Kanto Region Select Team, the decision would give the chance for Hakone Ekiden glory to one more university team whose members had shared a dream and worked together to achieve it.
Nevertheless, having gained his first big step toward the world-class level via the Kanto Region Select Team, Kawauchi remains adamant in his public calls for the Select Team to be preserved for the benefit of younger athletes still to come. "If it becomes only once every five years it means that there will be athletes who cannot aim for Hakone without doing a fifth year in school," Kawauchi said. "If the KGRR's stance is that the demerits outweigh the merits, what possible reason could they have for bringing it back once every five years? I can't understand what they're thinking at all."