Sunday, November 2, 2014

Komazawa Makes it Four-Straight National Titles by a Kilometer

by Brett Larner

Komazawa University delivered on expectations, winning a fourth-straight National University Men's Ekiden championship, its twelfth Nationals title under head coach Hiroaki Oyagi, by nearly a kilometer Sunday in Nagoya.

With the first of the season's Big Three University Ekidens, the mid-October Izumo Ekiden, cancelled due to a typhoon ekiden fans were hungry for action at Nationals and were rewarded with one of the best pieces of collegiate racing in memory on the 14.6 km First Stage.  Identical twins Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.), 13:34.53, 27:49.94 and 1:00:50 (half marathon) this year, and Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.), 3:39.56, 13:34.57 and 58:26 (20 km) this fall, led things off with future Asahi Kasei corporate teammate and fellow identical twin Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.), dropping the rest of the field early and running most of the stage as a trio pursued by intriguing indy Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) and Kenyan John Kariuki (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.).  Up against two of the best kickers in Japan, Ichida bravely went for a long surge over the last 2 km to try to open enough of a gap to hang on to the stage win, but both Murayamas managed to get back by him in the final meters.  Handing off in a crossed photo finish that saw both clock 42:58 with Ichida a step behind, Kenta got the stage win by a hair over his brother and gave Komazawa the top position it held for the rest of the race.  The three-way battle was so thrilling that at its peak seven of the top nine national trends on Japanese Twitter were about Nationals and the First Stage.

From there Komazawa was nearly perfect, winning two more stages and four of its remaining five runners taking second on their stages.  By the time anchor Shota Baba took over on the 19.7 km Eighth Stage Komazawa had a lead of 3:50, more than a kilometer, over second place, and with a steady and conservative 59:47 from Baba, fifth-best on the anchor stage, Komazawa was in no danger at all of being overtaken.  Oyagi was unusually positive throughout the race, his encouraging shouts to his runners a noticeable change from his past abusive language and giving them credit post-race for all running with excellence.  Despite its absolute dominance at Nationals over the last years Komazawa has had trouble transitioning to the longer stage lengths at the season-ending Hakone Ekiden in recent years, but with such a big margin of victory at this stage it looks like this may be the year it returns to the top of Japan's biggest race.

Further back, the race for the top three, which would receive places at the 2015 Izumo Ekiden, and top six, seeded for next year's Nationals, saw heavy turnover among the favorites.  Josai dropped back to oblivion after Kota Murayama's opening leg, finishing 15th out of the 26 schools in the field.  Takashi Ichida's twin Hiroshi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.), also Asahi Kasei-bound post-graduation next spring, was strong on the Second Stage but couldn't carry the entire team, DBU slipping out of the seeded bracket to 8th by ekiden's end.  The last team to beat Komazawa at Nationals, Waseda University, started the race off in 8th and rose as high as 6th after captain Shuhei Yamamoto finished 2nd on the Fourth Stage, but an inconsistent team performance left Waseda an unhappy 7th.

Predicted pre-race to be Komazawa's biggest rival, Aoyama Gakuin University was at the front of the chase pack throughout the day, running from 2nd to 4th the entire way with three of its runners including a brilliant comeback run from long-incapacitated former first-year star Kazuma Kubota taking 3rd on their stages and Sixth Stage man Yuki Kawasaki winning his leg.  Always strong on paper but struggling to put it together in the big races, Meiji University had the day it has been waiting for, steadily moving up after a weak opening leg by Kei Fumimoto to advance into 2nd on the 11.6 km Fifth Stage thanks to a Third Stage win by Asahi Kasei-bound senior Yuki Arimura and a new course record of 33:22 by ace Ken Yokote.  2014 Hakone Ekiden winner Toyo University likewise advanced after a bad opening run from Hazuma Hattori, his older brother and 30 km collegiate national record holder Yuma Hattori winning the Second Stage to move Toyo up from 10th to 2nd.

From the Fifth Stage through the Eighth Aoyama Gakuin, Meiji and Toyo swapped places continuously, but on the anchor Eighth Stage Toyo senior Masaya Taguchi lost touch and dropped back to land outside the Izumo Ekiden seeded bracket in 4th.  Aoyama Gakuin entered the 19.7 km anchor stage with a 38 second lead, just slim enough for Meiji anchor Shuho Dairokuno, yet another Asahi Kasei-bound senior, to give it all.  In a thrilling sprint finish that bracketed the race with the First Stage action, Dairokuno ran down Aoyama Gakuin anchor Daichi Kamino in the home straight to take 2nd for Meiji by 1 second, cutting Komazawa's lead down by over a minute to 2:47.  Dairokuno was so strong that his 58:06 was good enough to beat talented Kenyan Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) for the stage win.

Omwamba, the 2014 National University 1500 m and 5000 m champion, started the anchor stage in 8th, picking off the competition to move YGU up into the seeded bracket in 5th with the next-best time after Dairokuno, 58:28.  Tokai University, coached by former Saku Chosei H.S. head coach Hayashi Morozumi, turned in a solid team performance to round out the seeded top six despite only one of its runners, 7th man Yasutaka Ishibashi, making the top three on his stage.  The casualty of the day went to 2013 Hakone winner Nittai University, 11th just seconds ahead of the top school from outside the Tokyo-centric Kanto Region, Kyoto Sangyo University.

Next up on the university ekiden season circuit, many of the best from Nationals will line up in two weeks at the Ageo City Half Marathon, with the top two there following Komazawa's Murayama and DBU's Ichida in winning invites to next year's New York City Half Marathon.  With both the Murayama twins and the Ichida twins on the entry list as seniors Ageo could be a spectacular replay of today's First Stage action.

46th National University Men's Ekiden
Nagoya-Ise, 11/2/14
26 teams, 8 stages, 106.8 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Komazawa University - 5:14:36
2. Meiji University - 5:17:23
3. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:17:24
----- top three seeded for 2015 Izumo Ekiden
4. Toyo University - 5:18:09
5. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 5:21:02
6. Tokai University - 5:21:27
----- top six seeded for 2015 National University Ekiden
7. Waseda University - 5:22:33
8. Daito Bunka University - 5:23:26
9. Juntendo University - 5:25:15
10. Kanagawa University - 5:25:36
11. Nittai University - 5:26:11
12. Kyoto Sangyo University - 5:26:26
13. Jobu University - 5:27:25
14. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:27:53
15. Josai University - 5:28:33

Top Stage Performances
First Stage - 14.6 km
1. Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 42:58
2. Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 42:58
3. Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 42:59
4. Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) - 43:29
5. John Kariuki (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 43:39

Second Stage - 13.2 km
1. Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 38:12
2. Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.) - 38:21
3. Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 38:36

Third Stage - 9.5 km
1. Yuki Arimura (Meiji Univ.) - 27:32
2. Yoshihiro Nishizawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 27:34
3. Tsuyoshi Ebisawa (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 27:38

Fourth Stage - 14.0 km
1. Shogo Nakamura (Komazawa Univ.) - 41:01
2. Shuhei Yamamoto (Waseda Univ.) - 41:09
3. Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 41:28

Fifth Stage - 11.6 km
1. Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.) - 33:22 - CR
2. Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 34:09
3 Takuya Fujikawa (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 34:15

Sixth Stage - 12.3 km
1. Yuki Kawasaki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 35:56
2. Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 36:00
3. Koki Ido (Waseda Univ.) - 36:41

Seventh Stage - 11. 9 km
1. Shoya Kurokawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 34:46
2. Yasutaka Ishibashi (Tokai Univ.) - 35:34
3. Ryo Yamada (Meiji Univ.) - 35:36

Eighth Stage - 19.7 km
1. Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.) - 58:06
2. Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 58:28
3. Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 58:45
4. Masaya Taguchi (Toyo Univ.) - 58:58
5. Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.) - 59:47

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

1 comment:

TokyoRacer said...

I thought the most impressive run was by Nakamura on the fourth leg, running faster than Yamamoto, even though he was all by himself, while Yamamoto had the incentive of continually catching and passing people, which really helps in an ekiden.

By the way, even though the temperature at the start was comfortable, the humidity was 96% — not conducive to fast times, you would think....