Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Battle of Champions - Izumo Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner

The road ahead awaits.  Back after a typhoon-induced cancellation last year, the Izumo Ekiden kicks off the 2015-16 university men's ekiden season on Oct. 12.  Short and sweet with six stages averaging 7.5 km, Izumo is an indication of things to come in the buildup to the biggest of them all, January's season-ending Hakone Ekiden.

2015 Hakone winner Aoyama Gakuin University and defending Izumo champion Komazawa University are the clear favorites, with preceding champs Toyo University and Waseda University and darkhorse Yamanashi Gakuin University conceivably in the game.  Back again this year, the Ivy League Select Team fields a lineup that could see it equal its best-ever 8th-place finish if all goes perfectly.

No typhoon is on the horizon, but the forecast does call for strong winds straight out of the west, meaning a tailwind on the first half of the course and a powerful headwind in the second half.  In the pre-race coaches' press conference almost all the top teams' coaches indicated that they had stacked their teams accordingly with their best runners on the first three stages, meaning a blazing fast pace early on shifting to more strength-oriented runners through the back half.

2015 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Yusuke Ogura leads off on the 8.0 km First Stage for AGU ranked #1, but apart from Kenyan John Kariuki, the one hit on Kyushu's Daiichi Kogyo University team, Ogura's main competition is 2015 World University Games 10000 m bronze medalist Keisuke Nakatani of Komazawa.  Waseda, Toyo and YGU will likely all be struggling to hang on to this lead trio as Ogura and Nakatani battle it out for pride.

30 km collegiate national record holder Yuma Hattori should make up whatever deficit Toyo has on the 5.8 km Second Stage, the day's shortest, where he has a clear advantage over Komazawa's Kenya Sonota and AGU's Yuki Nakamura.  Also likely to make up ground is this year's 3000 mSC national champion Hironori Tsuetaki, who AGU head coach Susumu Hara recently called the strongest current Japanese collegiate athlete.

AGU's Kazuma Kubota leads the 8.5 km Third Stage on paper and, given his past reliability, should be a key player for the team's chances.  Komazawa's Naoki Kudo and Toyo's Hazuma Hattori don't look Kubota's equal on paper, but since his breakthrough at last year's Ageo City Half Marathon Kudo has quickly risen to become the most aggressive Japanese collegiate on the circuit right now, while Hattori delivered a stunning win over all the Kenyan favorites at last month's National University Championships 5000 m and has yet to have the opportunity to do the same over longer distances.  If Hattori is not in the lead when he takes the tasuki from his holder brother look for him to kick someone down at the end.  The Ivy League's Chris Bendtsen is ranked third on the Third Stage, the best pre-race ranking on anyone on the team, and could also make up some ground into the top eight after the first two stages.

From there things get more unpredictable given the impending effects of the wind.  Komazawa's Shota Baba is the likely favorite, but despite his relatively slow track times AGU's Yuta Shimoda shouldn't be ignored.  Although he wasn't good enough to make AGU's 2015 Hakone-winning team just two months later Shimoda ran 1:02:22 at the National University Half Marathon Championships, the best-ever by a Japanese 18-year-old.  It could be time for him to break through on the ekiden circuit.

Komazawa and AGU lead the Fifth Stage, where runners will be plowing straight into the wind the entire way without interruption.  On the 10.2 km Sixth Stage, the day's last and longest, AGU has 2015 National University Half Marathon champion and World University Games half marathon silver medalist Tadashi Isshiki versus Komazawa's Shohei Otsuka, 11 seconds slower than Isshiki over 10000 m on the track.  Faster than both of them is YGU first-year Dominic Nyairo, a fill-in for ailing fourth-year Enock Omwamba.  At a recent time trial meet YGU had five men run sub-14 for 5000 m, most for the first time, so despite the absence of its best Japanese man Kazuma Tashiro if the YGU team lives up to head coach Kiyoshi Ueda's expectations of a strong team performance and Nyairo is anywhere near in range of the leaders look for him to make it an exciting hunt for the top in the final kilometers.

JRN will be on-site at the Izumo Ekiden covering the race live on Twitter @JRNLive and @JRNHeadlines, and after the fact for Meter magazine and Ivy League sponsor Tracksmith.  If you are in Japan watch the race live on Fuji TV starting at 1:05 p.m.  Check back post-race for exclusive coverage.

27th Izumo Ekiden Start List Highlights
Izumo, Shimane, 10/12/15

First Stage - 8.0 km
Yusuke Ogura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 13:55.97 / 28:27.73
John Kariuki (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 13:54.07 / 28:29.87
Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:38.08 / 28:30.52
Shin Kimura (Meiji Univ.) - 13:51.76 / 28:37.33
Kazuto Kawabata (Tokai Univ.) - 13:49.33 / 28:44.71
Daisuke Uekado (Kyoto Sangyo Univ.) - 14:19.91 / 28:48.22
Jinnosuke Matsumura (Josai Univ.) - 13:50.63 / 28:57.47
Rintaro Takeda (Waseda Univ.) - 13:58.83 / 29:04.20
Naoya Takahashi (Toyo Univ.) - 13:59.10 / 29:06.60
Ryutaro Ichitani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:51.46 / 29:15.14
Sam Pons (Ivy League) - 14:14.55 / 29:17.54

Second Stage - 5.8 km
Yuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 13:36.76
Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 13:42.16
Toshiyuki Yanagi (Waseda Univ.) - 13:47.96
Kenya Sonota (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:50.14
Haruki Minatoya (Tokai Univ.) - 13:54.07
Shogo Hata (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:55.69
Yuki Nakamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 13:57.40
Tyler Udland (Ivy League) - 13:58.52

Third Stage - 8.5 km
Kazuma Kubota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 13:49.27 / 28:30.78
Takaya Sato (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:53.15 / 28:46.02
Chris Bendtsen (Ivy League) - 13:57.46 / 28:49.08
Shinichiro Nakamura (Waseda Univ.) - 13:54.09 / 28:52.80
Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:52.97 / 28:54.40
Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 13:38.45 / 28:55.31
Keita Shioya (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 14:00.21 / 28:59.55
Chihaya Kasuga (Tokai Univ.) - 13:52.92 / 29:33.34

Fourth Stage - 6.2 km
Kazuma Taira (Waseda Univ.) - 13:45.74 / 29:07.12
Yuki Muta (Meiji Univ.) - 13:47.58 / 28:43.20
Shota Baba (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:57.25 / 28:37.21
Ryo Kuchimachi (Toyo Univ.) - 13:58.16 / 29:13.64
Kenta Ueda (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 13:58.85 / 28:48.92
Alejandro Arroyo Yamin (Ivy League) - 13:59.21 / 29:19.08
Yuki Hirota (Tokai Univ.) - 14:05.55 / 28:44.34
Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 14:06.85 / 29:12.92

Fifth Stage - 6.4 km
Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 13:57.04 / 28:58.01
Shun Yamamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 14:00.06 / 29:13.05
Ryota Tanaka (Meiji Univ.) - 14:01.10 / 29:49.23
Ryunosuke Hayashi (Tokai Univ.) - 14:07.23 / 29:43.44
Tomoki Kawamura (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 14:07.34 / 29:29.77
Will Geiken (Ivy League) - 14:16.99 / 29:47.91

Sixth Stage - 10.2 km
Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 28:11.49
Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 28:23.40
Shohei Otsuka (Komazawa Univ.) - 28:34.31
Yasutaka Ishibashi (Tokai Univ.) - 28:52.69
Koki Ido (Waseda Univ.) - 28:54.84
James Leakos (Ivy League) - 29:26.83

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

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