Thursday, January 1, 2015

Toyota Over Konica Minolta for 2015 New Year Ekiden National Title

by Brett Larner

The 2015 New Year Ekiden marked a transition in Japanese distance running as a new wave of heavily talented collegiates including sub-62 half marathoners Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa University to Team Toyota), Suguru Osako (Waseda University to Team Nissin Shokuhin) and twins Keita Shitara (Toyo University to Team Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Toyo University to Team Honda) made a major impact in their corporate league debuts.

Training with Alberto Salazar's Nike Oregon Project and running for 2012 New Year Ekiden winner Nissin Shokuhin, Osako ran under control through the 12.3 km First Stage before kicking away in the last km to open a 5-second lead, 6 seconds ahead of 2011 winner Toyota and 7 seconds ahead of two-time defending champion Konica Minolta.  2013 World XC Jr. silver medalist Leonard Barsoton (Kenya) took Nissin's lead even further to 11 seconds, soloing a stage-winning 22:39 for the 8.3 km Second Stage.  Sub-27 Kenyan Bedan Karoki (DeNA) tied Barsoton's time but had to chasing down others further back in the pack to do it.

5000 m and 10000 m national champion Yuki Sato took over Nissin's lead on the 13.6 km Third Stage chased by Masato Kikuchi (Team Konica Minolta) and Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), both of whom closed the gap but couldn't catch Sato.  Down in 17th, sub-27:40 10000 m runner Tetsuya Yoroizaka of last year's 4th-placer Asahi Kasei split 27:49 through 10 km as he moved the all-Japanese Asahi Kasei up to 6th on his way to the stage win.

The best action of the day came on the 22.0 km Fourth Stage, the longest of the race.  With a rising headwind former Tokai University star Akinobu Murasawa (Nissin Shokuhin), struggling with injury since his senior year and only now rounding back into top form at the end of his second year as a pro, took over from Sato with a 4-second lead over Konica Minolta's Keita Shitara and a 28-second lead over Toyota's Kubota.  Shitara immediately caught Murasawa and the pair ran side-by-side as behind them Kubota closed the gap.  When he made contact he went straight to the lead, but both Shitara and Murasawa responded.  Murasawa faded once as the younger Kubota and Shitara kept turning it up, over 10 seconds back at one point before reeling them back in.  Kubota and Shitara threw in surges to break free, but it took a final surge from Shitara to put the defending champ Konica Minolta in front of Toyota by 4 seconds at the handoff, Nissin another 2 seconds behind. 

And that wasn't it.  Despite the headwind, Shitara's brother Yuta took 3 seconds off the stage record while chasing the lead trio, splitting 27:50 through 10 km and running 1:02:47 for 22.0 km as he moved Honda up from 10th to 4th where they remained for the rest of the race.  His time translated to 1:00:12 for the half marathon, well ahead of the Japanese national record of 1:00:25.

The lead trio reassembled on the 15.8 km Fifth Stage, Minato Oishi (Team Toyota) and Hiroyuki Ono (Team Nissin Shokuhin) overtaking the popular Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Team Konica Minolta) who was running less than a month after breaking 2:11 for the first time at the Fukuoka International Marathon.  All three stayed together until the final stretch where Oishi kicked away to put 4 seconds on Ono and 9 on Ugachi.

5000 m national record holder Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) made quick work of Waseda University graduate Hiroyuki Sasaki (Team Nissin Shokuhin) to move into 2nd, but ahead of him Toyota's Hideyuki Tanaka blew the race apart, going out on course record pace and extending Toyota's lead to 90 seconds over the 12.5 km Sixth Stage.  With a big lead and the most talented of the three leaders' anchors Toyota could have played the final stage, the 15.5 km Seventh Stage, safely, but its anchor Tsubasa Hayakawa soloed a 47:41 stage win to bring Toyota in to its first national title in four years.  Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Team Konica Minolta) held on to 2nd in 4:53:20, his former Toyo University teammate Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Team Nissin Shokuhin) rounding out the top three in 4:55:00.

Honda significantly stitched up the gap to Nissin but was too far away to close it and took 4th in 4:55:36.  Chugoku Denryoku was 5th in 4:56:35 thanks in large part to a strong run from former Aoyama Gakuin University ace Takehiro Deki on the Fifth Stage.  Last year's runner-up Toyota Kyushu was only 9th in 4:57:37, just ahead of the ramshackle Asahi Kasei team. 

The members of this year's Asahi Kasei and all of the teams ahead of them will be nervous about next year, however, as Asahi Kasei has pulled off a recruiting coup by pulling in most of the big names in the 2015 university graduating class including Yuki Arimura (Meiji Univ.), Shuho Dairokuno (Meiji Univ.), Hiroshi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.), Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.), Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.), Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) and Taiki Yoshimura (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.).  These seven men alone would probably be capable of winning the New Year Ekiden.  It will be very interesting to see what kind of success they have at Asahi Kasei, one of the most conservative environments in the corporate leagues. 

Most of the revolution going on in Japanese men's distance running is happening at the university level where younger coaches like Susumu Hara (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.), Toshiyuki Sakai (Toyo Univ.) and Yasuyuki Watanabe (Waseda Univ.) are trying fresh ideas and approaches before their runners hit the grist mill of the corporate leagues where older coaches continue to do things the way they always have.  With only one member of its 2011 winning team on the roster Toyota's average age was just 23.2 years old, and the incoming wave of 22 and 23-year-old talent shaped the outcome of this year's New Year Ekiden.  Will that wave smash itself on the rock of the system or sweep around it to bring in the new?  The next 2-3 years should be a very interesting time in the corporate leagues.

2015 New Year Ekiden
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/15
37 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Toyota - 4:51:41
2. Konica Minolta - 4:53:20
3. Nissin Shokuhin - 4:55:00
4. Honda - 4:55:36
5. Chugoku Denryoku - 4:56:35
6. DeNA - 4:56:43
7. Fujitsu - 4:57:33
8. NTN - 4:57:34
9. Toyota Kyushu - 4:57:37
10. Asahi Kasei - 4:58:23
11. Komori Corp. - 4:59:11
12. Kyudenko - 5:00:14
13. Otsuka Seiyaku - 5:00:15
14. JR Higashi Nihon - 5:00:15
15. Subaru - 5:00:58

Top Stage Performances
First Stage (12.3 km)
1. Suguru Osako (Nissin Shokuhin) - 34:47
2. Aritaka Kajiwara (Press Kogyo) - 34:52
3. Keiji Akutsu (Subaru) - 34:52
4. Taku Fujimoto (Toyota) - 34:53
5. Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta) - 34:54

Second Stage (8.3 km)
1. Leonard Barsoton (Kenya/Nissin Shokuhin) - 22:39
1. Bedan Karoki (Kenya/DeNA) - 22:39
3. Edward Waweru (Kenya/NTN) - 22:43
3. Paul Kuira (Kenya/Konica Minolta) - 22:43
5. Paul Tanui (Kenya/Team Kyudenko) - 22:53
6. Abanyeh Aiyele (Ethiopia/Mazda) - 22:58
7. Jeremiah Karemi (Kenya/Toyota Kyushu) - 23:03
8. Joseph Kamathi (Kenya/Toyota) - 23:05
8. William Malel (Kenya/Honda) - 23:05
10. Ronald Kwemoi (Kenya/Komori Corp.) - 23:13

Third Stage (13.6 km)
1. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei) - 38:26
2. Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta) - 38:38
3. Chihiro Miyawaki (Toyota) - 38:41
4. Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) - 38:45
5. Takuya Ishikawa (Chugoku Denryoku) - 38:53

Fourth Stage (22.0 km)
1. Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 1:02:47 - CR
2. Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:03:01
3. Shinobu Kubota (Toyota) - 1:03:03
4. Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) - 1:03:23
5. Akinobu Murasawa (Nissin Shokuhin) - 1:03:33
6. Shintaro Miwa (NTN) - 1:03:42
7. Ryota Matoba (Komori Corp.) - 1:03:45
8. Kentaro Nakamoto (Yasukawa Denki) - 1:03:57
9. Kazuhiro Maeda (Kyudenko) - 1:04:00
10. Sota Hoshi (Fujitsu) - 1:04:09

Fifth Stage (15.8 km)
1. Minato Oishi (Toyota) - 47:19
2. Hiroyuki Ono (Nissin Shokuhin) - 47:21
3. Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Konica Minolta) - 47:32
4. Takehiro Deki (Chugoku Denryoku) - 47:35
5. Shota Hattori (Honda) - 47:41

Sixth Stage (12.5 km)
1. Hideyuki Tanaka (Toyota) - 36:59
2. Hayato Saito (Honda) - 37:55
3. Yasunori Murakami (Fujitsu) - 38:08
4. Takuya Sakai (Toyota Kyushu) - 38:13
5. Takuya Fukatsu (Asahi Kasei) - 38:17

Seventh Stage (15.5 km)
1. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) - 47:41
2. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) - 47:50
3. Kazuhiro Kuga (Fujitsu) - 48:49
4. Tadaharu Amano (NTN) - 48:50
5. Kento Otsu (Toyota Kyushu) - 48:53

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


TokyoRacer said...

It was a great ekiden - the first four stages were as entertaining as I can ever remember, maybe the best ever. Osako's kick was awesome (everyone was waiting for it), in fact, it's amazing that he only put 5 seconds on those two guys - says a lot for them (although he was going so fast that 5 seconds was a long way). And Shitara's leg was also awesome - works out to about a 60:12 Half if my math is correct. More so because the top three - Imai, Kubota and his brother - were working together and he was alone. And it was into the wind, I believe (the whole race was basically run into the wind).

wataru22 said...

Best New Year Ekiden ever. 4th stage was a good of a stage I've ever seen. Murasawa may not be the fastest runner anymore, but he proves he still has balls.