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Yamanashi Gakuin Prep Wins Four-Way Last Sprint for First-Ever National High School Boys Ekiden Title

by Brett Larner
click photo for video highlights courtesy of NHK

Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. (Yamanashi) won a four-way sprint finish to claim its first-ever national title Dec. 22 in Kyoto at the 64th running of the National High School Boys Ekiden Championships.  Always in contention without ever taking the lead, Yamanashi Gakuin Prep, powered by sub-14 seniors Ryutaro Ichitani and Kenta Ueda, took the title in an all-around strong team performance without a single individual stage win.

Ueda, son of Yamanashi Gakuin university head coach Masahito Ueda, got things going strong with a 29:46 for the 10.0 km First Stage off a slow 15:10 first half but, outkicked by Suguru Hirosue (Kobayashi H.S.), took 2nd.  Kobayashi's Takashi Kawano added to his team's slight lead on the short 3.0 km Second Stage, but the dynamic changed on the longer 8.1075 km Third Stage when Kenyan Paul Kamathi (Sera H.S.) took over the lead.

From there the other contenders were playing catchup.  Yamanashi Gakuin Prep cut down on the gap to Sera over the 8.0875 km Fourth Stage as Omuta H.S. and Iga Hakuho H.S. worked together further back.  3.0 km later after the Fifth Stage all three were together in pursuit of Sera but still 30 seconds back.  Yamanashi Gakuin Prep and Iga Hakuho closed that up over the 5.0 km Sixth Stage, handing off to their anchors within 3 seconds of Sera, but Omuta was still 15 seconds back.

With 5.0 km to go Omuta anchor Shota Inuzuka went all-out over the first half of the stage to catch up, making contact with the lead trio partway through the stage to make it a quartet.  All four hit the track for the final 500 m together, and when the sprint finish started on the back straight it was Yamanashi Gakuin Prep's Ryo Nishiyama who got ahead, opening just one second over Inuzuka for the win in 2:03:53.  Iga Hakuho's Ryoto Nakahata was one more second back in 2:03:55.  For all three of the top three schools it was their fastest finish ever at the National Championships.  After starting the anchor stage in the lead, Sera's Taiji Nakashima was unable to match kicks and finished 4 seconds behind Nakahata in 4th, just cracking 2:04 in 2:03:59.  Course record holder Saku Chosei H.S. took 5th in 2:04:25, its best showing under current head coach Masaru Takamizawa.

With five of its seven runners graduating this year including both Ichitani and Ueda Yamanashi Gakuin Prep's title was likely a one-off win, but the title resonated with implications for the Hakone Ekiden university circuit over the next few years: all five graduating members will go to Yamanashi Gakuin University.  YGU aces Enock Omwamba and Hiroto Inoue are second and third-years respectively, and several of the school's other best runners are also in their first two years there.  Next year YGU should be rough, and two years from now when Omwamba is a senior they could be in contention for Japan's most prestigious win, the Hakone title.

64th National High School Boys Ekiden Championships
Kyoto, 12/22/13
47 teams, 7 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. (Yamanashi) - 2:03:53
2. Omuta H.S. (Fukuoka) - 2:03:54
3. Iga Hakuho H.S. (Mie) - 2:03:55
4. Sera H.S. (Hiroshima) - 2:03:59
5. Saku Chosei H.S. (Nagano) - 2:04:25
6. Kobayashi H.S. (Miyazaki) - 2:04:28
7. Yachiyo Shoin H.S. (Chiba) - 2:05:06
8. Ishikawa Gijuku H.S. (Fukushima) - 2:05:15
9. Tosu Kogyo H.S. (Saga) - 2:05:24
10. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. (Hyogo) - 2:05:55

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (10.0 km) - Suguru Hirosue (Kobayashi H.S.) - 29:45
Second Stage (3.0 km) - Takashi Kawano (Kobayashi H.S.) - 8:08
Third Stage (8.1075 km) - Paul Kamathi (Kenya/Sera H.S.) - 23:20
Fourth Stage (8.0875 km) - Takumi Kawato (Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 23:07
Fifth Stage (3.0 km) - Masanori Takazono (Omuta H.S.) / Tatsuya Sumide (Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 8:47
Sixth Stage (5.0 km) - Fuminori Shimo (Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 14:27
Seventh Stage (5.0 km) - Masaki Sakai (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 14:31

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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