by Brett Larner
National championship ekiden season may be through, but across the country smaller regional and local ekidens continue. Biggest among the dozen or so noteworthy ekidens this weekend was the 77th running of the Chugoku Yamaguchi Ekiden. A moderate-length event at 7 stages and 84.4 km, Chugoku Yamaguchi featured six top corporate league teams from the central Japan region along with local universities and clubs. Despite a one-two punch of 2012 Fukuoka International Marathon winner Joseph Gitau (Kenya) and former Sera H.S. star Charles Ndirangu (Kenya) the JFE Steel team could not hold off rivals Mazda, the lead turning over twice during the course of the race before Mazda anchor Kenji Yamamoto, a member of Toyo University's 2012 Hakone Ekiden course record-setting team, ran down JFE Steel's Yuki Moriwaki to give Mazda the win by 20 seconds in 4:08:54. Chugoku Denryoku, the top-ranked team in the region after finishing 5th at the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden, was only 3rd. Despite a strong run on the 11.3 km Second Stage by London Olympics marathoner Ryo Yamamoto, the SGH Group Sagawa team struggled and finished 6th among the six major corporate teams.
Southwest of Tokyo, six Hakone Ekiden universities and several smaller schools raced their JV teams at the 60th Atsugi Ekiden. The relatively minor Koku Gakuin University had an upset win over Hakone runner-up Komazawa University, taking two seconds off Komazawa's two-year-old record of 2:05:13 for the six-stage, 42.195 km course. One second behind Kanagawa University at the end of the 10.3 km First Stage, Koku Gakuin's Masanori Ikeda took the lead on 3.6 km Second Stage and from there the team never looked back, its lead over Komazawa and Kanagawa growing on each stage. Despite breaking the overall course record no individual stage records were broken, showing the quality of Koku Gakuin's team performance.
To the northwest of Tokyo, the Okumusashi Ekiden's news value took a hit when the Hakone all-star Morinokuma-san (A bear in the woods) fun run team featuring twins Keita and Yuta Shitara of Toyo and 2013 Hakone winner Nittai University's captain Shota Hattori was a last-minute cancellation. Tokai University bounced back from a disappointing 13th-place finish at Hakone to win, covering the six-stage, 38.792 km course in 1:56:33. Despite a 14:42 win on the 5.294 km Fifth Stage by ace Yuki Kawauchi, equivalent to 13:53 for 5 km, the Saitama Prefectural Government team was only 73rd.
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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