by Brett Larner
As the world's best university distance runners start their buildup to the main event of their year, the Kanto Region's Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, and the U.S.A.'s NCAA holds its national cross country championships, their counterparts further west ran their season-ender Saturday at the 76th Kansai Region University Men's Ekiden Championships.
On a new course in Tango, Kyoto last year Kyoto Sangyo University beat crosstown rival Ritsumeikan University in a photo finish, both schools clocking 4:10:50 for the 8-stage, 81.2 km distance. This year both were back up front on a slightly longer 81.4 km version of the Tango course, but instead of a two-school show both got a serious challenge from last year's 4th-placer Kwansei Gakuin University.
KSU started in 2nd with Ritsumeikan and KGU further back as most other schools put their best runners on the First Stage. After a stage win by second man Yohei Koyama KGU was up to 2nd, and by the end of the Third Stage it was in the lead with a 6-second margin over KSU and an 11-second lead over Ritsumeikan. KGU's next three men Masashi Nonaka, Hiroki Tsujiyoko and Kota Tamura all won their stages, putting KGU 1:11 ahead of KSU and 1:14 up on Ritsumeikan with two stages and 23.7 km to go.
KGU's seventh man Takahiro Kawaguchi faltered slightly, running only the fourth-best time on the Seventh Stage, but anchor Masaki Kai still inherited a 41-second lead on KSU and 59 seconds on Ritsumeikan with 11.8 km to run, not enough to be safe but far enough to make the other team's anchors work for it. And they did. With Kai running the third-fastest stage time of 36:57, KSU's Shuto Nakai ran 36:15 to catch Kai in the home staight. It looked set to be a repeat of last year's photo finish, but Ritsumeikan anchor Shota Nagumo blazed a stage best 35:57 to fly past both Nakai and Kai and give Ritsumeikan the win in 4:10:04.
KSU was also timed at 4:10:04 but found itself on the other side of the line from last year's win, KGU almost dead even with them but given a 4:10:05 finish time. 4th-place Osaka Keizai University was a distant 4:15:56, showing the quality of the battle up front. University men outside the Kanto Region don't get their fair share of attention, but this year's ekiden was as good as any racing to be found at the Hakone powerhouses.
76th Kansai Region University Ekiden Championships
Tango, Kyoto, 11/22/14
8 stages, 81.4 km, 20 teams
click here for complete results
Top Team Results
1. Ritsumeikan Univ. - 4:10:04
2. Kyoto Sangyo Univ. - 4:10:04
3. Kwansei Gakuin Univ. - 4:10:05
4. Osaka Keizai Univ. - 4:15:56
5. Kansai Univ. - 4:16:35
Stage Best Performances
First Stage - 8.0 km: Yuki Goto (Osaka Gakuin Univ.) - 23:49
Second Stage - 8.7 km: Yohei Koyama (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 28:49
Third Stage - 7.0 km: Yuya Iwasaki (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 20:05
Fourth Stage - 9.7 km: Masashi Nonaka (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 29:32
Fifth Stage - 12.3 km: Hiroki Tsujiyoko (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 36:30
Sixth Stage - 12.0 km: Kota Tamura (Kwansei Gakuin Univ.) - 36:49
Seventh Stage - 11.9 km: Masatoshi Teranishi (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 36:22
Eighth Stage - 11.8 km: Shota Ogumo (Ritsumeikan Univ.) - 35:57
(c) 2014 Brett Larner
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