Skip to main content

National High School Ekiden Championships Preview: Toyokawa Girls Look to Repeat, Sera Boys Set to Dominate

by Brett Larner

While most of the rest of the racing world kicks back for the holidays in the lull between seasons, Japan's distance runners from junior high to pro are hitting the peak of their year with the month-long championship ekiden season.  The biggest race of the weekend is the National High School Ekiden Championships, lovingly broadcast live nationwide and commercial-free for 4 and 1/2 hours this Sunday from Kyoto on NHK starting at 10:05 a.m.  JRN will cover both the girls' and boys' races live on @JRNLive.

The top 12-ranked teams at Sunday's National High School Girls Ekiden Championships.  Click to enlarge.


In its 26th running the girls' race covers 21.0975 km in five stages, with 47 teams representing each of Japan's prefectures.  Defending champion Toyokawa H.S. of Aichi returns ranked #1 with a 5-runner 3000 m average of 9:13 led by senior Azusa Sumi in 9:00.89.  But it's going to be a very closely-matched race, with 4 other teams averaging within 4 seconds of Toyokawa.  Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. is the media favorite with 2014 Youth Olympics 3000 m gold medalist Nozomi Musembi Takamatsu and a 9:14.70 average ranking it #2.  Junior Harumi Okamoto leads #3-ranked Tokiwa H.S. from Gunma with her 9:00.91 best, and, while they lack the star runners of the top 3 Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. and 2012 winner Ritsumeikan Uji H.S. of Kyoto are close behind with averages of 9:16 and 9:17.  Both Osaka Kunei and Ritsumeikan Uji have 7 girls with bests under 9:30, giving them an advantage on depth that will come into play if any of Toyokawa's 4 main runners is not fit.

Beyond the sub-9:20 top 5, 3 more schools average under 9:30 and another 3 at 9:31.  With 2014 NCAA D1 Cross Country champion Michigan State University having a 5-runner 3000 m average of 9:22.71 it's safe to say that any of the top 5 teams at the National H.S. Girls Ekiden could take a pretty mean swing at an NCAA D1 XC title.

The top 12 individuals in the National High School Girls Ekiden Championships.  Look for most to run the First Stage.


Altogether 11 girls from 8 schools have bests under 9:12 led by Kenyan senior Monica Margaret of Samuel Wanjiru's alma mater Sendai Ikuei H.S. in 8:59.60, just of Toyokawa's Sumi, Okamoto of Tokiwa and Youth Olympics gold medalist Takamatsu of Osaka Kunei.  As at the team level, any of the top 11 girls would be star runners at the university level in the NCAA.  Watch out for the best racing and the inevitable falls on the track on the First Stage and for a close finish back on the track on the anchor Fifth Stage.

The top 12-ranked teams at Sunday's National High School Boys Ekiden Championships.  Click to enlarge.


The boys' race, celebrating its 65th running, features an expanded field of 61 schools competing with 7-member teams over a total of 42.195 km.  Most of last year's champion Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. has graduated and moved on to form the core of this year's Yamanashi Gakuin University team.  In its absence, 2011 winner Sera H.S. of Hiroshima, alma mater of sub-27 Kenyan Bedan Karoki (DeNA RC) and recent 27:38 runner Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Team Asahi Kasei), is the heavy favorite, its 7-runner 5000 m average of 14:08 putting it way ahead of the competition if not quite in range of the 2:01:32 course record set in 2004 by the Wanjiru-led Sendai Ikuei H.S. or 2014 NCAA D1 XC winner University of Colorado.

Beloved by fans for having run the fastest time ever by an all-Japanese team, 2:02:18, Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S. comes in ranked #2 with an average of 14:19.72, but that's where things get interesting.  The next 9 teams, including 2012 winner Toyokawa H.S. of Aichi ranked at #3, all average within 6 seconds of Saku Chosei, all but guaranteeing a chaotic and complicated race behind Sera.

The top 12 individuals in the National High School Boys Ekiden Championships. Look for the Japanese athletes to run the First Stage with the Kenyans restricted to the shorter Third Stage.


11 boys, 7 Japanese and 4 Kenyan, from 10 schools come into this year's race with sub-14 bests over 5000 m led by senior Charles Ndungu of Hokkaido's Sapporo Yamanote H.S. in 13:35.54.  Junior Takuya Hanyu, 1 of 2 sub-14 high schoolers from Chiba's Yachiyo Shoin H.S., is the fastest Japanese runner at 13:52.98, while 2014 World Junior Championships team member Shota Onizuka leads Fukuoka's Omuta H.S. in 13:58.43 just ahead of a brand-new headline-making sub-14 addition, 16-year-old Hyuga Endo of Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. in 13:58.93.

With the mass popularity of the Hakone Ekiden ahead of them in university there is almost no chance any of the top ranks of this year's field would ever consider the NCAA, but imagine what an impact they could make if some lucky American school could somehow pull off a recruiting coup.  Regardless, the National High School Ekiden offers the chance to see future stars like Wanjiru and Karoki along with many of the contenders for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics team for the first time.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Brett Larner said…
The University of Colorado's 7-man 5000 m average is technically a 6-man average as I couldn't find a PB for Peterman. Feel free to post corrections here.

Most-Read This Week

Toyo University Leads Defending Champ Aoyama Gakuin on Hakone Ekiden Day One

The team that brought Japan's greatest race into the modern era with its historic 2012 sub-3 min/km win, Toyo University came out swinging to win Day One of the 2018 Hakone Ekiden.

Intensely popular with fans, Toyo has struggled this season with its entire senior class out with injury. With its fate in the hands of its younger members Toyo 1st-year Kazuya Nishiyama, freshly 19 in November, stepped up and took control of the race with both hands. Midway through the fast First Stage Nishiyama surged hard to go out front alone, 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa Univ.) and relative unknown Yuhei Urano (Koku Gakuin Univ.) the only ones to try to go with him. Nishiyama covered the 21.3 km stage in 1:02:16, equivalent to a 1:01:40 half marathon, with Urano and Katanishi around 15 seconds back. 3-time defending champ Aoyama Gakuin University was 25 seconds behind in 5th at the first exchange, 2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University another …

Nakamoto and Kawauchi to Run Boston

Japan's Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) and Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki) will run the 2018 Boston Marathon as part of the John Hancock Elite Athlete Team. Kawauchi holds world records for everything from most career sub-2:12 marathons to most sub-2:20, while Nakamoto is Japan's best championships marathoner of modern times with four top 10 finishes at the Olympics and World Championships.

Longtime rivals, their duel at the 2013 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon was one of the classics of Japanese marathoning, both running sub-2:09 PBs as Kawauchi set a still-standing course record of 2:08:15. The pair has a 3-3 record in the marathon so far, their most recent meeting coming at last summer's London World Championships where Kawauchi ran Nakamoto down in the last kilometer to take 9th. Boston will be their 7th and likely final face-off.

Our 2018 #BostonMarathon International Elite Field includes 46 of the world’s best marathoners from 13 countries. Watch to see the …

Kawauchi Breaks Sub-2:20 World Record in Sub-Zero Temperatures

Battling freezing temperatures and wind chill that took things down to -23C, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) ran a 2018 world-leading 2:18:59 at the Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, taking 30 minutes off the course record and breaking American Doug Kurtis' historic sub-2:20 world record with his 76th career sub-2:20.

Kawauchi spent Dec. 29 to 31 training on the Boston Marathon course ahead of his upcoming appearance as part of the John Hancock Elite Athlete Team and planned to run Marshfield at the tail end of his trip. The Marshfield Road Runners club, organizers of the marathon, had their longstanding race USATF certified ahead of his appearance.


Wearing full-length tights in a marathon for the first time, in Marshfield Kawauchi planned to run the first of the hilly course's two laps in 1:09 flat to give himself room to work with in breaking 2:20. But in the wind and cold he struggled to stay on pace, ice crystals coating his face as he hit halfway in 1:10:29…