Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Izumo Ekiden Organizers Lose $1,000,000 in Typhoon Cancellation

translated and edited by Brett Larner

After making landfall Oct. 13 in Makurazaki, Kagoshima and travelling across Kyushu, the massive Typhoon #19 again struck land in Sukumo, Kochi.  On the morning of the 14th its status was downgraded as it headed back out to sea in the northeast.  JR Nishi Nihon cancelled all trains in the Kinki region the afternoon of the 13th, and other events including a concert by Namie Amuro were also cancelled one after another.  At the time of writing 82 people had been injured in the typhoon, with one person missing.

Shimane prefecture, the birthplace of tennis star Kei Nishikori and having just celebrated the royal wedding of the Izumo Oyashiro shrine's Kunimaro Senge and Princess Noriko, was hit by unexpected flooding.  One of the consequences of the worsening conditions was the cancellation of the 26th running of the Izumo Ekiden in Izumo, Shimane, a move that raised unhappy voices among the athletes.  It was the first cancellation in the event's history, and no plans were announced for it to be held at an alternate date or time.  Organizers lost roughly 100 million yen [~$1 million USD] from their operating budget due to the cancellation, the money simply gone with the typhoon's winds.

The race was scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. on the 13th.  At 8:00 that morning organizers issued an initial statement.  Because the winds were weak at that point, the statement on their website said, "The race will go ahead as planned," but included a caveat that there was a chance the race would be stopped after it started depending on changing weather conditions.  However, at 9:30 heavy rain arrived, and at just past 10:00 they released a second statement saying the ekiden would be called off.  IUAU director Masanobu Wada explained the events leading to the cancellation, saying, "It was difficult to ensure the safety of athletes, fans [along the course] and volunteers.  In light of the conditions it would also have been difficult to have the usual support and assistance from the police."  Given the overall situation around the storm it was decided that it would not be possible to conduct the race.

In the history of the Big Three University Ekidens, the key university road racing series made up of the Izumo Ekiden, November's National University Ekiden and January's Hakone Ekiden, it was the first time that one of the events had been cancelled due to bad weather.  At the pre-race coaches' meeting on Oct. 12 many teams' head coaches had said that as the start of the season they wanted the Izumo Ekiden to go ahead, and Director Wada was apologetic as he said, "It would have been better if we had come to a decision sooner."  A decision will be made later concerning what to do about the seeded places for the 2015 Izumo Ekiden that were available to the top three finishers this year.

Targeting a rare Big Three sweep this season, defending champion and course record holder Komazawa University head coach Hiroaki Oyagi was crushed, saying, "We were going to win all of the Big Three this year, so it's very disappointing.  The only one here we couldn't beat was this storm."  Komazawa's #1 man, senior Kenta Murayama, commented, "We were looking to repeat, so it's really too bad."  After the announcement of the race's cancellation Komazawa's team headed to Izumo's Hamayama Park Field for full-on track practice.  Head coach Oyagi said, "We will be going for our fourth-straight Nationals victory.  That race will be here soon enough."

Also shooting for a Big Three sweep, Susumu Hara, head coach of Komazawa's toughest competitor Aoyama Gakuin University, likewise showed his disappointment as he said, "We planned our peak very carefully to be ready for this race, so its cancellation hurts.  The first jewel in the triple crown goes to Typhoon #19."  Like Komazawa, the AGU squad did not simply pack and go home after the cancellation, instead heading out for a 21 km training run in the heavy rain to continue their preparations for the Nov. 2 National University Men's Ekiden and the Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2-3.  "I'm a little nervous about whether we have the distance in to be competitve at Nationals and Hakone," said Hara.  "We have to refocus on that as quickly as possible after this."

2014 Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University's star junior Yuma Hattori said, "Safety is the most important thing.  It's disappointing that Izumo was cancelled, but we have to take that and channel it into the next race."  Toyo's head coach Toshiyuki Sakai commented, "We are now going to concentrate on winning both Nationals and Hakone."  The Toyo crew went to a covered shopping arcade in central Izumo to run a workout on its central promenade.  Team member Shinya Saito, having finally worked his way onto Toyo's A-roster for his university ekiden debut at Izumo as a senior, cried throughout the workout.

Yasuyuki Watanabe, head coach of last year's 4th-place Waseda University, commented, "The top schools are very close in level this year so I think a lot of teams wanted to do it anyway, but we have to put safety first.  There's nothing we can do about it."  There's no telling who might have won in Izumo, but none of them can afford to stand around as the season rolls on to Nationals and Hakone.

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