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With the rest of the world busy discovering the joy of the relay that makes the Hakone Ekiden, the Kanto Region university men's road relay championships, the most-watched annual running race in the world, Japan spent the weekend focused on Hakone's stars at the 93rd edition of it's most exciting track meet, the Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships. Imagine an NCAA national championship held in a major stadium packed with ear-splitting cheering squads from each university and thousands of enthusiastic fans, average folk who actually care about "the sport," and you begin to approach the vibe at the Kanto Regionals. Plus a half marathon.
Yes, the half marathon, the most entertaining event of the meet, D2 running with a 3-minute head start over D1 over nine loops of a course like this:
Child's play, or only in Japan? Either way, despite humid conditions both the D2 and D1 turned in exciting races.
Inoue's teammate Enock Omwamba, who suffered a stress fracture at Hakone in January that knocked YGU out of the race, doubled on his comeback Kanto Regionals 1500 m title last weekend to defend his 2013 5000 m title in 13:36.96 in a tense and exciting D1 race against Meiji University's Shuho Dairokuno and 2013 National University 5000 m and 10000 m champion Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.). Pushing each other to drop a field that included sub-13:30 collegiate Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.), last weekend's Kanto D1 10000 m winner Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), 2013 Ageo City Half Marathon winner Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) and more, Omwamba had little trouble dropping Dairokuno and Kitonyi late in the race for the win, but the surprise came when Dairokuno held off the better-credentialed Kitonyi to take silver.
The D2 race was more conservative, Kenyan John Maina (Takushoku Univ.) reluctantly leading a Japanese field afraid to pass him before 10000 m 3rd-placer Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) found the guts to go out front, ultimately dropping Maina for the win in 13:51.96. Tsuetaki's teammate Yuta Oikawa didn't go with the pair initially but nearly ran Maina down, less than a second behind him in 3rd in 14:03.26.
Along with Omwamba's 1500 m - 5000 m double, the women's 5000 m saw another double with 10000 m winner Sakurako Fukuuchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) breaking 1999 World XC junior bronze medalist Yoshiko Fujinaga's 13-year-old meet record for the win in 15:43.14. Runner-up first-year Maki Izumida (Rikkyo Univ.) also broke Fujinaga's record, barely, in 15:50.26, with Fukuuchi's teammate Fuyuka Kimura 3rd in 15:51.11.
Even bigger news came in the women's 3000 mSC, where Daito Bunka women swept the podium and winner Chikako Mori set a national university record 9:58.98, a rare sub-10 clocking for Japanese women.
Meet records fell in three other events, Nihon University middle-distance athletes leading the way. Two weeks after setting a national record 1:45.75, Nihon's Sho Kawamura took more than a second off the men's 800 m meet record as he won in 1:46.97. His teammates Ryunosuke Okada and Jun Mitake took 2nd and 3rd, while in the women's 800 m Nihon's Fumika Omori solidified their school's position as the leading force in Japanese middle distance with a meet record 2:03.96 for the win.
The final meet record of the day came in the D2 men's 200 m where Shota Hara (Jobu Univ.) took nearly half a second off the D2 record to beat London Olympian Ryota Yamagata (Keio Univ.) for the win in 20.41 (+0.0) to come in at #10 on the all-time Japanese lists. Yamagata's 20.62 was also well under the old record but Hara was just too strong, strong enough to beat D1 winner Masafumi Naoki (Chuo Univ.) by 0.11.
A meet's worth of drama came in the very final event, the D1 men's 4x400 m. Defending champion Daito Bunka University was running well until Toshitaka Otani faceplanted on the back curve, dropping the baton and sliding face-down across the track. Otani got up and finished his leg, but the damage to DBU's chances seemed fatal. Up front, favorite Chuo University seemed set for the win on the anchor stage, but underdog Tokai University anchor Ryo Furukawa had other ideas. Closing the gap to Chuo's Shota Yabuuchi on the back straight Furukawa tried to go by into the lead on the second curve but could not get clear. Drawing even on the home straight, Furukawa pulled ahead, lost ground to Yabuuchi, then pulled ahead again. Yabuuchi closed just before the line with Nittai University coming up fast on the outside, but Furukawa got them both fair and square on the lean.
Except for one small thing. Incredibly, on the lean, on the last backswing of his right arm, Furukawa lost the baton, flinging it backwards as he bent forward and claiming victory even as the baton bounced to the ground a few centimeters in front of the finish line. His Tokai teammates piled on in victory as Chuo's collapsed in defeat and continued as race officials noticed the baton and frantically tried to point it out to him. Not until after the fallen DBU crossed the line in last by more than 20 seconds did it dawn on Tokai what had happened, Furukawa vainly picking the baton up and crossing the line. A slow-motion replay made it totally clear that Furukawa had somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but it was some time before race officials made the official announcement that Tokai would be bumped from first to last with no time recorded. Chuo celebrated as all four Tokai athletes fell to their knees, head on the ground and hands on heads. You couldn't ask for a wilder ending to a spectacular four-day championship meet.
93rd Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships Highlights
Nissan Stadium, Yokohama, 5/24-25/14
click here for complete results
Men's Half Marathon Division 1
1. Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:07
2. Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:10
3. Ryu Takaku (Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:23
4. Yuki Matsumura (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:04:56
5. Genta Yodokawa (Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:59
Men's Half Marathon Division 2
1. Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:23
2. Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:26
3. Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:04:52
4. Ryohei Nishiyama (Kanagawa Univ.)- 1:05:03
5. Shoya Kurokawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:05:33
Women's 5000 m
1. Sakurako Fukuuchi (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 15:43.14 - MR
2. Maki Izumida (Rikkyo Univ.) - 15:50.26
3. Fuyuka Kimura (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 15:51.11
4. Hitomi Suzuki (Tamagawa Univ.) - 15:58.34
5. Yuko Kikuchi (Hakuoh Univ.) - 16:02.29
Men's 5000 m Division 1
1. Enock Omwamba (Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:36.96
2. Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.) - 13:44.13
3. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Kenya/Nihon Univ.) - 13:44.85
4. Genki Yagisawa (Meiji Univ.) - 13:47.19
5. Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 13:49.04
6. Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.) - 13:52.63
7. Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 13:53.33
8. Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 13:55.47
9. Hikaru Kato (Nittai Univ.) - 13:57.54
10. Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 13:58.31
Men's 5000 m Division 2
1. Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 13:51.96
2. John Maina (Kenya/Takushoku Univ.) - 14:02.34
3. Yuta Oikawa (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 14:03.26
4. Mitsunori Asaoka (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 14:03.81
5. Yuhi Akiyama (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 14:07.35
Women's 800 m
1. Fumika Omori (Nihon Univ.) - 2:03.96 - MR
2. Miho Ito (Juntendo Univ.) - 2:04.27
3. Yukina Tanimoto (Tsukuba Univ.) - 2:06.87
4. Ryoko Hirano (Tsukuba Univ.) - 2:07.37
5. Hana Yamada (Tokyo Gakugei Univ.) - 2:08.76
Men's 800 m Division 1
1. Sho Kawamoto (Nihon Univ.) - 1:46.97 - MR
2. Ryunosuke Okada (Nihon Univ.) - 1:48.89
3. Jun Mitake (Nihon Univ.) - 1:49.35
4. Gen Tanaka (Waseda Univ.) - 1:49.81
5. Yusuke Hiratsuka (Josai Univ.) - 1:49.98
Men's 200 m Division 2 +0.0 m/s
1. Shota Hara (Jobu Univ.) - 20.41 - MR
2. Ryota Yamagata (Keio Univ.) - 20.62
3. Yuki Koike (Keio Univ.) - 20.90
4. Ishin Yagi (Keio Univ.) - 21.28
5. Ryuki Wada (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 21.41
Women's 3000 mSC
1. Chikako Mori (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 9:58.98 - NUR
2. Soyoka Segawa (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 10:28.87
3. Atsumi Miyamoto (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 10:31.32
4. Naho Otsuka (Chuo Univ.) - 10:41.43
5. Nanami Niwa (Chuo Univ.) - 10:44.34
Men's 4x400 m Division 1
1. Chuo Univ. - 3:07.02
2. Nittai Univ. - 3:07.08
3. Nihon Univ. - 3:07.93
4. Waseda Univ. - 3:08.51
5. Toyo Univ. - 3:09.00
6. Meiji Univ. - 3:09.41
7. Daito Bunka Univ. - 3:30.00
NM - Tokai Univ.
text and photos (c) 2014 Brett Larner
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