Skip to main content

National Men's Ekiden Wraps Up Championship Ekiden Season This Sunday

by Brett Larner

This Sunday's 19th National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima brings Japan's 2013-2014 national championship ekiden to a close with one of the most entertaining races of them all. Teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures made up of junior high school, high school, university and pro runners race over 7 stages and 48 km, one of the few chances of the year to see the best of the corporate league's New Year Ekiden men duel with the university circuit's Hakone Ekiden stars and often the first glimpse of upcoming stars running young.  It's all broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free on NHK starting at 12:30 p.m.  As usual, JRN will cover the race live on Twitter @JRNLive.

This year university runners seem to outweigh the pros, with many of the Hakone stage winners and upper-echelon men taking the top positions on a number of teams.  That may in part be due to this year's World Half Marathon Championships being held in March and the National Corporate Half Marathon Championships, usually held mid-March, being bumped back to mid-February as a consequence.  The new Okukuma Half Marathon, of which more later, could also be playing a role.

Whatever the reason, defending champion Hyogo returns with a quality lineup led by London Olympics marathoner Ryo Yamamoto (Team SGH Group Sagawa) and Hosei University ace Kazuto Nishiike.  Nishiike suffered a minor injury at the end of December and was unable to run Hakone, but if he is not ready to start in Hiroshima team alternate Keisuke Nakatani of Hakone runner-up Komazawa University, the only Komazawa man to win his stage at Hakone, is a more than suitable replacement.  High school powerhouse Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. also fields two members, giving Hyogo a good shot at a title defense.

Fukushima fields an exceptionally strong team including 5000 m national champion Sota Hoshi (Team Fujitsu) and Toyo member Norihisa Imai.  With a 5000 m best of 14:01.63 its leading runner Masaki Takamoto (Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.) is one of the fastest on the First Stage, so look for Fukushima to be in the action from the early going.

Yamanashi's team is stacked with four members of 2013 national champion Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. including sub-14 high schoolers Ryotaro Ichitani and Kenta Ueda, but its chances will be largely up to sub-28:40 collegiate Kazuma Tashiro (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and late-career pro Norio Kamijo.  Nagano is likewise stacked with four members of National High School Ekiden 5th-placer Saku Chosei H.S., former 1500 m and 5000 m national champion and Saku Chosei alum Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA RC) and Hakone Ninth Stage winner Keigo Yano (Nittai Univ.).  Following the same pattern, Hiroshima's team features four people from High School Ekiden 4th-place Sera H.S. backing former collegiate 10000 m national record holder Tetsuya Yoroizaka and New Year Ekiden ace Fourth Stage 4th-place Naoki Okamoto (Team Chugoku Denryoku), a lineup that should be enough for it to be near the front of the race.

One of Hyogo's strongest challengers could be last year's 4th-placer Saitama, which includes Hakone Fifth Stage top two Keita Shitara (Toyo Univ.) and Shota Hattori (Nittai Univ.) as its two main members and Third Stage winner Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) as alternate.  Much depends on how its high school men perform, and with 14:06.73 man Kazuki Takeshita (Tokyo Nogyo Prep #3 H.S.) on board they could have that angle covered.

Saitama's most famous runner, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) is giving the National Men's Ekiden a pass in favor of the new Okukuma Road Race half marathon the same day in Kumamoto.  Having just started last year, Okukuma is already establishing itself as a top drawer-race.  Alongside Kawauchi the field includes defending winner Hayato Ideue, New Year Ekiden Fourth Stage runner-up Masato Imai, Seventh Stage winner Ryuji Watanabe and 2013 Tamana Half Marathon winner Daichi Kato (all four of Team Toyota Kyushu), members of most of the top ten teams at Hakone, and a few dozen other elite university and corporate league men.  Imai, Watanabe and Kato have all beaten Kawauchi in half marathons in the last year, and with an unexpected loss behind him last weekend at the Tanigawa Mari Half Kawauchi will no doubt be going for payback.  Ideue's 1:04:31 course record from last year should fall by a wide margin.

Although the women's national championship ekiden season wrapped up last weekend with the National Women's Ekiden in Kyoto, across Kyushu from Kumamoto there's one more for the road as the Kita-Kyushu Invitational Women's Ekiden celebrates its 25th anniversary.  Kita-Kyushu gives some of the country's top high schools the chance to take a shot at top pro and university teams, with the 32.8 km event's longest stage divided into two for the high schoolers.  2013 winner Ritsumeikan Uji H.S., which became the first high school in event history to beat every corporate league team as it set the course record last year, returns to take on the two best corporate teams it outran, Tenmaya and Kyudenko. Last weekend London Olympics marathoner Risa Shigetomo won the National Women's Ekiden's 10 km anchor stage in 31:50 with Kyudenko anchor Misaki Kato 4th in 32:28.  Their rematch here should be one of the day's highlights.

Check back over the weekend for coverage of these and other road action.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Nittai University Head Coach Masaaki Watanabe Fired Over Abuse Scandal

On Sept. 12 Nittai University announced that it will fire ekiden team head coach Masaaki Watanabe, 55, over the current power harassment scandal surrounding him. According to the university's public relations office, interviews by the alumni association with five current and one former team member reported multiple acts of violence by Watanabe including kicking athletes' legs and grabbing them by the chest.

The interviews also reported that Watanabe verbally abused and threatened student athletes and attacked their character. When runners fell off pace during workouts he was reported to have shouted, "Get the hell out of this university!" and, following the runners in a car, "I am going to f*cking run you over and kill you." Injured team members were also reported to have been subject to verbal humiliation by Watanabe, including, "Look at this f*cking cripple," and "You f*cking deserve it." Watanabe admitted the accusations but said tha…

Weekend Overseas Japanese Results

Lost in the luminosity of Eliud Kipchoge's world record and Gladys Cherono's women's course record at the Berlin Marathon were a score of Japanese results there and elsewhere overseas, ranging from the sparkling to the dull. Cherono and 2nd and 3rd placers Ruti Aga and Tirunesh Dibaba all broke Mizuki Noguchi's Berlin Marathon course record of 2:19:12 which has stood since she set that national record mark in 2005.

A kilometer behind Dibaba, Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) followed up her 2:22:44 debut in Osaka in January with a 2:22:23 PB for 5th, making her just the fourth Japanese woman ever to break 2:23 twice in her career. 2:23:46 woman Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) ran 2:25:23 for 7th, beating Tenmaya teammate Rei Ohara whose 2:27:28 put her only 10th but qualified her for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trials, only the second athlete after 2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) to qualify for the trials under the two-race average wildcard opt…

Kazami Breaks 100 km World Record at Lake Saroma

Running on the same course where Japan's Takahiro Sunada set the road 100 km world record of 6:13:33 twenty years ago, 2:17:23 marathoner Nao Kazamibested a deep and competitive field to win the Lake Saroma 100 km Ultramarathon in a world record 6:09:14.

Part of a front group of at least five that went through the marathon split in 2:33:36, on pace for 6:04:01, Kazami lost touch with the lead as rivals Koji Hayasaka and Takehiko Gyoba surged just before halfway to open a roughly 30 second lead that lasted until nearly 75 km. But in the last quarter of the race Kazami, a graduate of Hakone Ekiden powerhouse Komazawa University, was the only one who could sustain anything close to the early pace, overtaking Hayasaka and Gyoba before pulling away to open a lead of over 11 minutes. Kazami's mark took more than 4 minutes off the world record, and he also bettered the 100 km track world record of 6:10:20 set in 1978 well before he was born by the late Don Ritchie.
Trying to stay wi…