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Josai University's Kishima Twins Face One Last Chance for Hakone Ekiden Glory

translated by Brett Larner

Tossed about by the winds of a complex fate, Josai University's twin runners Ryota and Keita Kishima, both seniors, face their final year at the Hakone Ekiden together.  At the last Hakone this past January, the younger Keita was scheduled to run the anchor Tenth Stage but was replaced by the older Ryota on race morning.  In his debut at Japan's greatest race Ryota finished only 18th, while Keita still awaits what will be his first and last time setting foot on Hakone's hallowed ground.  This season the pair are aiming to make the team together, handing off the tasuki one to another and going for the top.

This year Hakone celebrated its 90th running.  Course record holder Toyo University's twins Yuta Shitara (now Team Honda) and Keita Shitara (now Team Konica Minolta) won the Third and Fifth Stages, playing crucial roles in guaranteeing Toyo the overall win.  While the Shitara twins bathed in the spotlight, Josai's Kishima twins drowned in tears of disappointment.  Just before the start of the second day of the race on Jan. 3, Josai head coach Seiji Kushibe (42) took anchor Keita off the roster, replacing him with alternate Ryota.  Neither of them had made Hakone their first or second years.  Finally as juniors it looked like the brothers would make the big show, but when it came time there was only one seat open for the two of them.  Keita set off that morning for the Tsurumi handoff zone as planned with Ryota there to assist him pre-race, but it was Ryota who ultimately stood on the line waiting to receive Josai's tasuki.

Ryota set off from Tsurumi on the 23.1 km to the finish line in Otemachi full of the sense of responsibility to his younger brother and the rest of his teammates, but, unable to bring out his full potential, he finished only 18th out of the 23 runners on his stage.  Josai finished 20th overall.  "I wanted to run my best for Keita who stayed to help me get ready, but I blew it," said Ryota.  "I disrespected him and the rest of the team.  It hurt me to my soul."

And it hurt Keita even more.  "When they made the decision to replace me it was devastating," he said.  "Even though the alternate was my twin brother I wanted to be the one running."  A spokesperson for Hakone Ekiden organizers Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto commented, "We don't keep formal records of race day start list changes, but I do not remember any previous case of a twin replacing his brother."

The Kishimas' father Toshimi (50) and mother Miyoko (50) came up to Tokyo from Kita-Kyushu for the race.  By jumping on the train they were able to cheer for Ryota at the 1 km and 15 km points on the Tenth Stage before going to the finish line.  "We'd be happiest if they both got to run, but athlete changes are entirely the coach's decision and that has to be respected," said Toshimi.  Having to make that coldhearted decision was not easy on coach Kushibe.  "Ryota was in better shape, so I replaced Keita with him.  I had to make what was best for the team the top priority and not think about the complex personal issues involved in replacing one twin with another," he reflected with visible sadness.

For the bitterly disappointed Kishima twins, the outcome ultimately meant there would be only one last chance for salvation a year later as seniors.  With Hakone finished, the pair headed home to recover and regroup.  Home for the first time in a year, Keita stated it plain to Ryota: "If you were going to finish 18th on the stage then I should have just gone ahead and run."  "Fuck off," shot back Ryota.  "I got picked to run anchor because I was better."  Both spoke their minds honestly during the fight, but even so the brothers ran 20 km together every day that they were home that week.

Josai University's captain and star runner, senior Kota Murayama is also an identical twin.  His brother, the older of the pair, is Kenta Murayama (Komazawa University), who has transcended the level of university competition to become the top-level distance runner in Japan.  "We chose to go to different universities, but I feel envious of Ryota and Keita going to the same school," smiled Kota.  "They can always push each other."

Going into their final university year, the as yet-Hakoneless Keita leads his older Hakone Ekiden Runner twin.  Running in extreme heat and humidity at the July 12-13 Tokai University track meet, Keita won the first day's 10000 m in 30:34.88, returning the next day to take 3rd in the 5000 m in 14:35.61.  Sitting the meet out with pain in his left knee, Ryota tried to play catch-up from Josai's summer training camp.  "At our final Hakone Ekiden I want to make top three on the second day's most competitive stage, the Ninth Stage," said Keita.  Ryota was quick to follow with, "I want payback on the Tenth Stage.  Top three."  If the twins both meet their goals, handing off the tasuki in a rare brother-to-brother exchange, it should move Josai way up through the field late in the game.  Both plan to quit running after graduation.  Having gone it together for ten years since they first started junior high school, the Kishima twins are readying themselves to launch their final kick.

Ryota and Keita Kishima - Born May 15, 1992 in Kita-Kyushu.  22 years old.  Ryota is 170 cm, 53 kg, Keita 172 cm, 53 kg.  Both began track and field as first-years at Numa J.H.S. in Kita-Kyushu, going on to the powerhouse Omuta H.S.  At the National High School Ekiden Championships Ryota finished 10th on the Seventh Stage as a first-year, 14th on the Sixth Stage as a second-year, and 29th on the First Stage as a third-year.  Keita was an alternate and did not run as a first year, finished 21st on the Fifth Stage as a second-year, and 28th on the Second Stage as a third-year.  Omuta H.S. was 10th overall their first year, 13th their second year and 20th their third year.

Great Twins of Japanese Long Distance

Shigeru and Takeshi Soh - Born Jan. 9, 1953 in Usuki, Oita.  61 years old.  The iconic athletes of the still-dominant Asahi Kasei corporate team, both made the Japanese marathon team for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which Japan boycotted, and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  Along with rival Toshihiko Seko, they were the world's best marathoners of the late 70s and early 80s.

Takayuki and Yuko Matsumiya - Born Feb. 21, 1980 in Kazuno, Akita.  34 years old.  Takayuki (Team Konica Minolta) holds the Japanese national record for 5000 m, 13:13.20, and 30 km, 1:28:00.  Yuko (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) has a marathon best of 2:09:18.  Both continue to compete as veteran athletes.

Keita and Yuta Shitara - Born Dec. 18, 1991 in Yorii, Saitama.  22 years old.  As seniors at Toyo University, in May last year the Shitara twins broke 28 minutes for 10000 m in the same race, the first time in Japanese history and only the second time in the world that twins have achieved the feat.  Both Keita (Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta (Team Honda) are expected to figure prominently at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics.


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