translated by Brett Larner
Broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free on NHK, the 65th National High School Boys Ekiden Championships and 26th National High School Girls Ekiden Championships take place this Sunday, Dec. 21 in Kyoto with the boys running a seven-stage, 42.195 km course and the girls a five-stage, 21.0975 km course, both starting and finishing at Nishi Kyogoku Field. Having represented Kyoto every time since the first National Championships, the Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. girls are set to run again.
Four members of last year's 4th-place Ritsumeikan Uji girls squad return, forming the core of this year's team. Looking to return to the top after winning its 3rd National title in 2012, head coach Yoshinobu Ogino showed confidence int he team's chances as he commented, "Our athletes have become strong."
The top five girls on the team have an average 3000 m PB of 9:20, ranking them fifth in the nation. Four of them ran in the National High School Track and Field Championships. At the Nov. 16 Kinki Region High School Ekiden they ran 1:38 faster than at the Kyoto area qualifier for Nationals, winning an 18th Kinki Region title after an off year last year and gaining confidence by beating the #1-ranked high school in the country by average 3000 m best, Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.
Senior Kureha Seki is the team's star runner. In this year's National High School Track and Field Championships 3000 m she was the top Japanese finisher, 2nd overall. "My speed is coming," she says of the growth she has achieved. At last year's National High School Girls Ekiden Championships she fell during the First Stage, a memory that leaves her with bitter tears. "This year," she declares, "my running is going to help us get the win."
The team's captain is junior Fumiko Ando. In June she suffered a stress fracture in her left leg, but she recovered quickly to set a 3000 m PB in September. At the Kinki Region High School Ekiden she showed her strength by running down 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu (Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) for the win. "I'm going to start fast and hang on," she said spiritedly of her plans for Sunday's race.
Along with Kinki Region High School Ekiden Third Stage winner Maako Konishi and First Stage runner Aki Manabe, last year's Nationals team member Saki Hashimoto is fit and healthy. At a time trial meet earlier this month several first-years ran PBs, adding momentum to the team's drive for the win. Having guided the Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. girls since they ran the first Nationals, head coach Ogino said, "They've got more experience than any other team. I want them to run on the edge."
Kureha Seki (3rd year)
Saki Hashimoto (3rd year)
Nagisa Hasegawa (3rd year)
Fukiko Ando (2nd year)
Aki Manabe (2nd year)
Maako Konishi (2nd year)
Chisa Isuji (1st year)
Honoka Yamamoto (1st year)