translated and edited by Brett Larner
As university ekiden season begins with the Oct. 12 Izumo Ekiden, their job hunting in its final stages, fourth-year runners from all the major universities are deciding their future paths one by one. The biggest star of the 2015 Hakone Ekiden, the "Third God of the Mountain" Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin University) will go on to 2013-14 New Year Ekiden national corporate men's champion Konica Minolta, while 30 km collegiate national record holder Yuma Hattori (Toyo University), targeting the marathon at next year's Rio Olympics, plans to join 2015 New Year Ekiden winner Toyota. The country's best university runners plot their courses from Hakone beyond to the world stage early.
Kamino's super-fast run up the Fifth Stage at this year's Hakone Ekiden powered Aoyama Gakuin on to the win and new legend status. The chance to run with one of the runners he respects most, Tsuyoshi Ugachi, all-time Japanese #6 for the half marathon and #7 over 10000 m, was one of the reasons Kamino chose the powerhouse Konica Minolta team which features a number of other high-potential young runners like Masato Kikuchi, all-time Japanese #3 over the half marathon, and Keita Shitara, all-time #10 for the half. Alongside his talented new teammates Kamino will chase his dream of "a medal in the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics."
The "most popular" of this year's fourth-year class is Hattori. Hattori holds the 30 km collegiate national record of 1:28:52 and won the Second Stage at this year's Hakone Ekiden, its most competitive leg. His extensive experience and ambitious attitude toward competing in the marathon earned him high marks from corporate team scouts, from whom he received countless offers. Putting "the environment where I will become the strongest" as his ultimate criterion, Hattori selected the Toyota team. Next year he aims to run the Rio Olympics marathon as "Toyota's Hattori."
Last year the Asahi Kasei team pulled off a stunning recruiting coup, pulling in seven of the best graduating runners including two sets of twins, Kenta Murayama (Komazawa University) and Kota Murayama (Josai University), and Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida (both Daito Bunka University). Topping the recruiting drive for quantity of new talent this year is Fujitsu. Its incoming members include Ken Yokote (Meiji Univ.), the only Japanese collegiate to break 28 minutes for 10000 m this spring, Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin University), this year's Kanto Region 5000 m and 10000 m champion and 3000 mSC national champion and the runner AGU head coach Tsutomu Hara called "the strongest current Japanese university athlete," Tokai University captain Ryo Shirayoshi and Juntendo University captain Hiroki Matsueda. After last year's mass influx of talent Asahi Kasei will bring in only Soka University ace Shuhei Yamaguchi.
Kamino's teammate at AGU Yusuke Ogura, the 2015 World University Games half marathon gold medalist, will join Yakult team. Waseda University captain Koki Takada will follow former Waseda head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe to the Sumitomo Denko team, where Watanabe took over in April this year, reuniting the pair's master and pupil relationship. Former Kyushu Gakuin H.S. teammates Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin University) and Shota Miyagami (Tokai University) will return home to join the Kyudenko team. Miyagami said that the chance to train alongside Kubota, who he called "both a rival and a friend," again was one of his reasons for choosing Kyudenko. Kenyan star Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin University) also plans a future in Kyushu at the Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki team alongside his former YGU teammate Hiroto Inoue.
Placing 2nd on the Ninth Stage at this year's Hakone Ekiden and planning to tackle the marathon either at the Tokyo Marathon next February or the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon in March, Shin Kimura (Meiji University) will head to the Honda team along with 2014 National University Half Marathon champion Hideto Yamanaka, who recently quit the Nittai University team where he was part of its 2013 Hakone Ekiden-winning lineup.
Something of a novelty is Juntendo's Shoi Inada, who will start working for Kotobukiya, designers and manufacturers of anime-related figurines and toys. Juntendo head coach Akira Nakamura supported Inada's choice, saying, "This is the perfect company for Inada. He will be the only athlete there but I hope that he can find success and develop through the training he comes up with himself. As a new style of corporate athlete I hope that he becomes one of Japan's best athletes."
The Hakone Ekiden was founded in 1920 with the goal of "cultivating world-class athletes." The mission to live up to those ideals, should they choose to accept it, awaits this year's graduating seniors after their final time down Hakone's hallowed roads on January 2nd and 3rd.