Saturday, March 14, 2015

Ichida and Takada Ready to Take on United Airline NYC Half

by Brett Larner

Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) and Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) at Riverside State Park, New York, on Mar. 13.

For the fourth year, the top two Japanese collegiate finishers from November's super-deep Ageo City Half Marathon have been invited to run the United Airlines NYC Half as part of a collaboration set up by JRN between the Ageo city government and the New York Road Runners.  At the 2013 Ageo Half Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka University) won a five-way sprint finish in 1:02:36 to pick up his place at the 2014 NYC Half.  A stride behind him, Koki Takada (Waseda University), was the third collegiate finisher, ripping of his bib number in anger at missing out on the chance to run in a big race overseas.

A year later, Ichida and Takada were again head-to-head in Ageo, working together to push the pace and drop their competition one by one.  In another sprint finish Takada got the win this time in a PB 1:02:02 with Ichida right behind in a PB 1:02:03.  Both of them scored the NYC invite, and what made it special was that the two had been high school teammates.  Not just teammates, but members of the 2010 National High School Ekiden champion Kagoshima Jitsugyo H.S. team, Ichida leading off on the first stage and Takada running down the competition on the anchor leg to give Kagoshima Jitsugyo its first-ever national title with yet another brilliant sprint finish.

Just over four years later the two are now back together in New York.  For Ichida it is his last race as a student before graduating and joining the powerful Asahi Kasei corporate team.  Takada is a year younger and will head back to his senior year at Waseda, the most prestigious running university in Japan, but for him too there is an element of finality to the race.  Waseda head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe, one of the most revered collegiate runners in Japan's history and still immensely popular as a 40-something coach who developed the Nike Oregon Project's Suguru Osako, is retiring from Waseda at the end of the school year this month, and the United Airlines NYC Half will be his final official appearance as the head of the legendary Waseda.

In the three years so far the Japanese collegiates in NYC have represented, running the two fastest half marathon times and five of the top ten ever by Japanese men on U.S. soil.  #1 on that list is 1:01:48 by Yuta Shitara (Toyo University) at the 2012 NYC Half.  Both Ichida and Takada are gunning for that time, and with a bit of luck from the weather and competition and the kind of teamwork that comes from having bookended a national champion team there's a good chance they could join the growing list of Japanese students running world-class times under 62 minutes.

Even if they don't make it, going home with the kind of experience mostly absent from contemporary Japanese methodology will help put them on the short list for 2020 Olympic marathon hopefuls.  Imagine what it's going to take to make that team.  Running against a top-level international field in their youth and finding out how good they themselves already are can only give Ichida and Takada a leg up in the game.

text and photos (c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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