translated and edited by Brett Larner
On March 9 Waseda University held a press conference at its Shinjuku campus in Tokyo to announce the transfer of leadership at the end of the month from ekiden team head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe, 41, to incoming head coach Yutaka Sagara, 34. Watanabe, who spent 12 years leading Waseda including one year as assistant coach, had a light and relaxed expression as he said, "I did all I had to do, and that's why I am stepping down now."
Watanabe developed two Waseda runners, 2008 Olympian Kensuke Takezawa (now 28, Team Sumitomo Denko) and 2013 World Championships team member Suguru Osako (now 23, resigning from Team Nissin Shokuhin at the end of this month) into world-class athletes, and under his leadership in the 2010-11 season Waseda achieved an unprecedented triple crown of course record wins at all of the Big Three university ekidens, Izumo, Nationals and Hakone. A Hakone star since his own days as a collegiate athlete, Watanabe said, "The Hakone Ekiden made me what I am. Now I want to give back to Hakone." With a rueful smile of tribute to Hakone's uphill Fifth Stage stars Ryuji Kashiwabara (formerly of Toyo University, now 25, Team Fujitsu) and Daichi Kamino (3rd yr, Aoyama Gakuin University), Watanabe said, "Those guys really kept handing it to us on the Fifth Stage."
Incoming head coach Sagara has worked with Watanabe as assistant coach since 2005. "From Waseda to World Class, those are our key words," the new leader of the most prestigious university team in Japan said of his aspirations. "While we cultivate athletes who can compete at the international level we also work to help athletes who follow the difficult path of walking on as general admission students to develop. When we can fully fuse these twin objectives then Waseda University will truly be able to deliver strength. If we don't set a goal as ambitious and difficult as rewriting the course record [10:49:27] Aoyama Gakuin University set this year as our target then we will never win the Hakone Ekiden."
With an eye toward the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and beyond to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Watanabe will take on a new challenge in April. At the Waseda press conference he avoided answering questions about his future plans, saying, "I'm not going to talk about what comes next here," but he confirmed that he will continue his mission of cultivating athletes who can compete against the best in the world by taking over as head coach of the Sumitomo Denko corporate team. At Sumitomo Denko Watanabe will reunite with arguably the most talented athlete he has ever coached, Takezawa.
Translator's note: On March 11 Watanabe will travel with JRN to New York for his final official duty as Waseda head coach, overseeing Waseda star Koki Takada's U.S. debut at the March 15 United Airlines NYC Half.