translated and edited by Brett Larner
2014 Hakone Ekiden First Stage winner Hideto Yamanaka, a fourth-year at 2013 Hakone Ekiden champion Nittai University, has quit the school's ekiden team. Left without its star runner, Nittai will shoot for its 68th-straight Hakone Ekiden appearance when it runs the Oct. 17 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race.
Yamanaka ran the Third Stage at the 2013 Hakone Ekiden as a first-year, playing a key role in Nittai's first overall Hakone win in 30 years. As a second-year he won the 21.4 km First Stage in 1:01:25, with a 1:02:09 course record win two months later at the National University Half Marathon Championships cementing his position as a top-class collegiate athlete. Shortly afterward, however, he suffered a long-lasting string of injuries that kept him out of competition throughout his third year until a surprise return at the start of his fourth year to win the 10000 m at May's Kanto Region University Track and Field Championships under new head coach Masaaki Watanabe.
A team spokesperson commented, "Yamanaka has left university athletics early in order to ensure a full recovery from his injuries. This decision comes from numerous discussions and is in no way a result of any conflict within the team." After graduating next spring Yamanaka plans to enter the corporate leagues to continue his athletic career.
Translator's note: Yamanaka came to Nittai in 2012 under longtime head coach Kenji Beppu. At the start of the 2015-16 academic year in April Beppu was replaced by Watanabe, who had previously left his position at Toyokawa Kogyo H.S. after a major scandal in 2013 involving his physical and mental abuse of male and female Toyokawa Kogyo ekiden team members, going on to spend a year coaching at the Nittai-related Ebara H.S. before moving up to the university this year. It is relatively common for coaching changes to result in team members leaving, and with online talk suggesting four other Nittai members have also quit the spokesperson's claim of no conflict within the team must be viewed with skepticism.