by Brett Larner
Japan's biggest sporting event of the year is the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, a ten-stage university men's road relay which each runner covering roughly a half marathon distance in front of a live nationwide TV audience of 40 million and millions more cheering courseside. Each year the top ten of the twenty teams in the Hakone field are seeded to run again the next year, also running October's Izumo Ekiden. The remaining schools are sent back to run the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai, a 20 km road race qualifier in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park, along with dozens of other schools from around the Kanto Region hopeful of earning the honor of a place on the starting line at Hakone come Jan. 2.
Monday's Izumo Ekiden saw an overall course record for the third time in the last four years, with individual stage records on three of its six legs. In a sign of the continued explosively rapid rate of growth in Japanese men's collegiate athletics, Saturday's Yosenkai set new records for depth and quality, with eighteen men under 60 minutes, well beyond the Yosenkai's previous record of twelve, and the fastest times ever recorded in any 20 km in the world for places 35 and beyond. 34 men broke 1:00:30, tying the existing world record from the 2006 World Road Racing Championships, with 71 sub-1:01:00, 104 sub-1:01:30, 139 sub-1:02:00 and 173 sub-1:02:30, all new world records. For comparison, at the recent U.S. 20 km Championships three athletes ran sub-1:00:30 and sub-1:01:00, six sub-1:01:30, seven sub-1:02:00 and ten sub-1:02:30. The Japanese public responded to the excitement of the day's results, with the Yosenkai occupying the top two and four of the top ten nationwide trending topics on Twitter during and after the race's live national broadcast.
A relatively slow first 5 km of 14:48 saw the four Africans in the field, Enock Omwamba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.), Leul Gebreselassie (Ethiopia/Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) and Duncan Muthee (Kenya/Takushoku Univ.) go to the front accompanied only by Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), identical twin brother of Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) who took 12 seconds off the Third Stage record at Izumo earlier in the week. The massive chase pack followed 6 seconds back, led by identical twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.). As the pack slowed to 15:03 for the next 5 km the lead quintet got it in gear, running 14:29 to hit halfway in a quality 29:17.
Going into the back half Kitonyi, the 2013 national collegiate 5000 m and 10000 m champion, attacked, throwing down a 14:09 split through 15 km. Omwamba, the 2013 Kanto Region and 2012 national collegiate 5000 m and 10000 m champion, was the only one to follow, with first Muthee, then Murayama, then Gebreselassie dropping off. In the chase pack almost a minute back, Natsuki Terada (Koku Gakuin Univ.), infamous for taking a wrong turn in the last 200 m of the 2011 Hakone Ekiden, made the first move to break things up, putting on a surge that carried along Omwamba's teammate Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), the Ichida twins, and Kanagawa university aces Masaya Kakihara and Kazuma Ganaha.
Back up front, Kitonyi did all he could to shake off Omwamba, but in the last straight it wasn't enough. Omwamba kicked away to take the win in 57:57, the fastest time in the world this year for a 20 km race and only the fourth man to break 58 since the Yosenkai became a 20 km in 1964. Kitonyi narrowly missed making this the first time two men broke 58, stopping the clock 3 seconds back in 58:00. Gebreselassie, running alone over the second half of the race, rounded out the top three in 58:30.
Murayama, 10 seconds faster than the chase pack between 10 and 15 km despite dropping off the leaders, was in agony over the last quarter of the race, almost staggering as he split 15:16. Behind him, chasers Inoue and Kakihara turned it on as the struggling Murayama came into view. With a 14:32 closing split, only 1 second slower than winner Omwamba, the pair closed to within 8 seconds but ran out of ground as Murayama crossed the line in 59:17, the fourth-fastest ever by a Japanese man at the Yosenkai, to take top Japanese honors. Inoue took 5th in a photo finish, both he and Kakihara clocking 59:25. All told eighteen men cleared the hour mark, a new record added to the Yosenkai's illustrious history.
With three additional places available at the 2014 Hakone Ekiden to commemorate its 90th running, team results at this year's Yosenkai took on special meaning as it meant that smaller schools without a prayer of making it in a regular year might have the chance of achieving their dreams of Hakone glory. Thanks to the elimination of an arcane scoring rule, team results this year was simple and straightforward: a team's score was the combined time of the top ten of its twelve men at the Yosenkai, with the best thirteen-placing teams going on to Hakone. Tokyo Nogyo University took the top position in 10:04:35, Omwamba and Inoue leading Yamanashi Gakuin University to a close 2nd in 10:05:33. Favorite Tokai University took a hit when star first-year Takayuki Tsuchiya ran into trouble in the last quarter of the race, stopping and hunching over in pain before dragging himself in to a 1:01:01 finish as Tokai's tenth scorer to give it 3rd place overall.
Kanagawa University and Senshu University had strong showings, both making the top seven, while Kitonyi's Nihon University and Murayama's Josai University underperformed, finishing only 8th and 10th. The shocker of the day was Chuo University, one of the favorites for the win and an A-list school only running the Yosenkai due to one of its runners DNFing at the last Hakone. Despite its JV team running well at Izumo on Monday, Chuo's varsity turned in a ramshackle run at the Yosenkai, barely squeezing in as it finished 12th out of the thirteen qualifiers. Kokushikan University breathed a collective sigh of relief as it took the final qualifying position well ahead of 2006 Hakone champion Asia University.
With record-setting performances in the first two big races of the season, Japanese university men's ekiden season continues Nov. 3 with the National University Ekiden Championships. Two weeks later the Hakone-qualified schools line up at the Ageo City Half Marathon where the head coaches will thin the ranks of their lineups' contenders for the final squad at the season-ending Hakone Ekiden. Judging from the records so far this season it's going to be a big year.
90th Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Qualifier 20 km Road Race
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, 10/19/13
click here for complete results
1. Enock Omwamba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 57:57
2. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) - 58:00
3. Leul Gebreselassie (Ethiopia/Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 58:30
4. Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 59:17
5. Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 59:25
6. Masaya Kakihara (Kanagawa Univ.) - 59:25
7. Kazuma Ganaha (Kanagawa Univ.) - 59:29
8. Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 59:37
9. Hiroshi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 59:39
10. Masaki Toda (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:42
11. Kodai Tsuno (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:43
12. Shohei Kurata (Jobu Univ.) - 59:49
13. Natsuki Terada (Koku Gakuin) - 59:53
14. Hiroki Sugawa (Chuo Univ.) - 59:53
15. Shohei Yamaguchi (Soka Univ.) - 59:54
16. Yuta Aiba (Chuo Univ.) - 59:55
17. Duncan Muthee (Kenya/Takushoku Univ.) - 59:57
18. Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.) - 59:59
19. Ryoma Takeuchi (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:00:00
20. Ryohei Nishiyama (Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:00:08
Top Team Results
top thirteen teams qualify for 2014 Hakone Ekiden
click here for complete team results
1. Tokyo Nogyo Univ. - 10:04.35
2. Yamanashi Gakuin Univ. - 10:05:33
3. Tokai Univ. - 10:06:36
4. Kanagawa Univ. - 10:07:32
5. Koku Gakuin Univ. - 10:08:30
6. Daito Bunka Univ. - 10:09:51
7. Senshu Univ. - 10:09:56
8. Nihon Univ. - 10:11:39
9. Takushoku Univ. - 10:11:53
10. Josai Univ. - 10:12:29
11. Jobu Univ. - 10:14:05
12. Chuo Univ. - 10:14:12
13. Kokushikan Univ. - 10:16:54
14. Asia Univ. - 10:21:29
15. Ryutsu Keizai Univ. - 10:22:40
(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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