Skip to main content

Izumo Ekiden Preview - The Best Line Up for University Ekiden Season

by Brett Larner



University ekiden season kicks off in style Monday, October 14 as the world’s best collegiate teams take to the roads for the 25th running of the Izumo Ekiden. The first of the nationally-televised Big Three University Ekidens and a prelude to November’s National University Ekiden Championships, the six-stage Izumo is something of an anomaly with an average stage length of only 7.42 km, a race with an emphasis on speed over the kind of stamina required at the season-ending Hakone Ekiden.

Japanese university men’s distance running has seen an explosion in talent and performance over the last five years, something made clear by looking over the rosters of the top bracket of the twenty-two teams entered for this year’s Izumo. With only ten full-strength teams from the Kanto Region, six of them feature a six-man 5000 m average under 14:00 and five a six-man 10000 m average under 29:00. Two schools include under-23 Japanese men with 5000 m bests better than 13:30, two have sub-28 men, and three have men sub-62 for the half marathon. Meiji University boasts an incredible eleven men on its roster with sub-14 bests for 5000 m led by 20-year-old Genki Yagisawa’s 13:28.79. Where will it end?

The top tier of teams at the 25th Izumo Ekiden. Click to enlarge. How does your team stack up?

Along with Meiji, defending Izumo champion and course-record holder Aoyama Gakuin University is the only other school to field at least six sub-14 men for Izumo. Despite the loss of aces Takehiro Deki and Ryotaro Otani to graduation, AGU returns with a stronger Kazuma Kubota and an overall stronger team, its average 5000 m and 10000 m times both significantly better than last year. On aggregate they come to Izumo ranked only 7th behind unheralded minors Chuo Gakuin University, but with similar positioning last year they came out on top and, with less reliance on individual star runners and the extra motivation of defending their title, they should be a frontline contender.

Last year’s runner-up and 2011 champion Toyo University also returns stronger, down slightly on 5000 m speed from last year but with its 10000 m credentials getting a major boost from identical twins Keita and Yuta Shitara’s brilliant sub-28 clockings this spring. Yuta has struggled since then and is a large question mark coming in to Izumo, but Hakone course record-holders Toyo are one of the craftiest of ekiden teams and, ranked #2 overall this year, stand a good chance of taking the title.

2012’s surprise 3rd-placer Chuo University was a DNF at Hakone this year as its Fifth Stage man Yushi Nowaki suffered hypothermia in hurricane-force winds at the peak of the mountain stage, meaning that it must run both Izumo, where it was seeded, and next weekend’s Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier to rejoin the lucky few in the world’s greatest university race. As a result, Chuo’s A-squad will be headed to the Yosenkai in Tokyo’s Showa Kinen Park next Saturday, with its JV squad representing in Izumo. Ranked 13th in the field, anything in the top ten would be an outstanding day.

Outside last year’s top three, the clear favorite to compete with AGU and Toyo for the title is 2012 National Champion Komazawa University. Down slightly in strength over both 5000 m and 10000 m from last year, Komazawa is still the best team in Japan, with six-man averages of 13:50.57 and 28:23.78. The team features four men good enough to be the star of any school in Japan, or the U.S. for that matter, and if all arrive intact it will be a rough day for the rest of the field. One of them, 2013 National University Half Marathon champion Shogo Nakamura, has reportedly been dealing with injuries over the summer, something that may not be fatal but could hurt if Toyo is close to full strength.

2010 course record-setter Waseda University features Japan’s #1 collegiate, senior Suguru Osako who gives the team’s numbers a boost with bests of 13:27.43 and 27:38.31. Junior Shuhei Yamamoto is also up there in ability and sub-14 first-years Kazuma Taira and Rintaro Takeda show promise, but beyond that Waseda’s squad falls off rapidly. The absence of 28:38.46 senior Fuminori Shikata is also a major blow to its chances. Head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe has more often than not had trouble getting his team to the starting line in peak condition, so while Waseda looks good for top five its chances of winning seem slim.

As mentioned above, Meiji University has come on strong in 2013, with eleven men now on its roster holding 5000 m bests under 14 minutes. Nine of them are entered at Izumo, meaning that Meiji could easily enter a B-team that would beat just about every other school in the field even with the absence of 13:43.20/28:41.09 junior Yuki Arimura. Its six-man 5000 m average of 13:46.99 is the best in the field, but while its 10000 m average of 28:56.88 is only the fifth-best and knocks it down to a #4 seed overall, its momentum right now, fresh from Yagisawa’s 13:28.79 two weeks ago and three other of its runners running sub-14 bests in the same race, means that Meiji could be the favorite.

2013 Hakone Ekiden champion Nittai University rounds out the front group of contenders for the win, seeded 5th overall close behind Meiji. Captain Shota Hattori has been absent from the scene since July’s World University Games and 13:56.47/28:46.38 senior Takumi Honda is out with injury, a potential double blow to its chances, but with much of the team improving its track times two weeks ago at its home time trials meet Nittai should be tough at Izumo.

Worth a mention is this year’s Ivy League Select Team, which returns to a bona-fide all-Ivy lineup after a few years of recruiting among the commoners helped it get into the top ten. Led by Joe Stilin (Princeton), Dan Lowry (Brown), Mark Amirault (Princeton) and NCAA 1500 m record holder Kyle Merber (Columbia), the Ivy League team is ranked 3rd in the field on 5000 m average with a six-man mark of 13:51.62. Unfortunately the lineup is hamstrung by a relative lack of experience over longer distances, bumping it down to a #11 seed. A placing in the top ten would be a pretty major achievement for the Americans.

Also deserving a mention as the top-ranked school from outside Kanto, the Kansai region’s Kyoto Sangyo University. Seeded #12 just behind the Ivy League, Kyoto Sangyo’s comparative weakness over 5000 m is offset by good 10000 m credentials, meaning that it could spend much of the race working with the Ivies to chase down 7th-9th ranked Kanto teams Juntendo University, Teikyo University and Hosei University.

The Izumo Ekiden gets rolling at 1 p.m. Japan time on Monday, October 14. Overseas fans can try to catch Fuji TV's live nationwide broadcast via Keyhole TV or follow JRN’s live tweeting coverage @JRNLive.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

60-Year-Old Hiromi Nakata Wins Tottori Marathon Overall Women's Race

The Tottori Marathon held its 12th running on March 10. In light rain and 11˚C temperatures 3717 people ran Tottori's one-way course that passes local historic sites such as the Tottori Sand Dunes and the Tottori Castle ruins. Running 3:12:44 for the overall women's win was 60-year-old Hiromi Nakata.
"I was as surprised as anyone that I won," said Tanaka. "I had to stop at the toilets early on and lost some time, but I tried using the double inhale, double exhale breathing method that the actor Kankuro Nakamura uses on the Idaten TV show and got into a good rhythm. Thanks to that I could just keep going and going. I had no idea I was in 1st, and when they put up the finish tape as I was coming in I thought, 'No way!'""
Nakata is a resident of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. In 2017 she ran the fastest time of the year in Japan by a 58-year-old, 3:05:02. In the mornings she does housework and works in her garden for an hour, fitting in 30 to 60-minute run…

Japan's Oldest-Ever Olympic Marathoner Suehiro Ishikawa Retires at 39

At a press conference in Sayama, Saitama on Mar. 20, 2016 Rio Olympics marathoner Suehiro Ishikawa, 39, announced that he will retire from competition at the end of the month. At the time of the Rio Olympics Ishikawa was 36 years and 11 months old, surpassing 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathoner Hiromi Taniguchi's record of 36 years and 3 months to become Japan's oldest-ever Olympic marathoner. He finished 36th.

"Since I started running high school it's been 24 years," said Ishikawa at the press conference. "I've been with Honda for 17 years, and I made it all the way to the top, the Olympics. I'm glad that I've kept going this long. I thank you all."

Ishikawa ran the Mar. 10 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon but dropped out after only 10 km. It was to be the last race of his career. "It was the first time in my career that I'd ever DNFd, and I thought, 'OK, this is where it ends,'" said Ishikawa. Shortly after the race he made …

Yoshitomi Survives Four Marathons in Four Weeks to Win Saga Sakura Marathon

Arguably the highest-volume elite-level marathoner in the world, Hiroko Yoshitomi (Memolead) survived four straight weekends of marathons to win her hometown Saga Sakura Marathon yesterday.

Starting the month off at the Mar. 3 Tokyo Marathon Yoshitomi ran 2:32:30 for 13th. A week later at the Mar. 10 Nagoya Women's Marathon it was 2:34:49 for 31st. Last weekend she headed overseas in a bid to win the Mar. 17 New Taipei City Wan Jin Shi Marathon in Taiwan, but in a rare off day she finished 6th in only 2:48:45. Heading back home she rallied to win the Mar. 24 Saga Sakura Marathon in 2:42:02.

At an expo talk show appearance the Wan Jin Shi organizers billed Yoshitomi as "the female Kawauchi," but not even he has come close to the kind of volume of racing Yoshitomi has been turning out over the years while working at her parents' botanical farm. Expect to see more, and more, and more from her in the months to come.



photos courtesy of Wan Jin Shi Marathon organizers
text …