Skip to main content

Aoyama Gakuin Ready to Break Four-Time National Champion Komazawa - National University Men's Ekiden Championships Preview

by Brett Larner



After record-setting races at the Izumo Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden Qualifier earlier this month, university men’s ekiden season keeps rolling with the weekend’s biggest race, the second of the Big Three University Ekidens, Sunday’s National University Men’s Ekiden Championships. Defending champion Komazawa University returns with four-straight titles and twelve wins in the last seventeen years behind it, but even Komazawa head coach Hiroaki Oyagi admits that this is Aoyama Gakuin University’s year.

Aoyama Gakuin ended last season with a course record-breaking win at the Hakone Ekiden and has only gotten stronger since then, all in line with head coach Susumu Hara’s long-term development plan for Aoyama Gakuin to become the best in Japan this season with the full maturing of his core group of seniors. At the Oct. 12 Izumo Ekiden Aoyama Gakuin ran six seconds faster than Komazawa’s course record despite a 600 m longer course, effectively two minutes faster minus the extra section on one stage, and without the runner who gave them the Hakone record, captain Daichi Kamino.

Izumo had six stages with an average length of 7.5 km and maxing at 10.2 km. The National University Ekiden has eight stages averaging 13.4 km and a 19.7 km anchor stage that approaches the kind of half marathon distances that make up Hakone and the focus of Japanese university men’s training. Where Izumo was short and fast, Nationals requires more of a balance between 10000 m speed and half marathon stamina. With Kamino back at the top of its entry list Aoyama Gakuin dominates in both.

Top 12 team entry lists.  6 teams have 8-man 5000 m averages under 14:00, 5 have 8-man 10000 m averages under 29:00 and 3 have 8-man half marathon averages under 1:03:00.  Click to enlarge.

Aoyama Gakuin's best eight men average 28:47.29 for 10000 m and an incredible 1:02:25 for the half marathon, far ahead of Komazawa and every other school, and still with four quality alternates to back up the main lineup. Only three teams have ever won the Big Three in a single season and only Waseda University has ever done it with course records at all three. At Nationals it’s not a question of whether Aoyama Gakuin will win, but how much they are going to take off the 5:12:43 course record Komazawa set in 2012. If every team member runs up to potential the numbers say 5:11:49. From there Aoyama Gakuin’s own Hakone record awaits.

Komazawa has a solid shot for 2nd with its main challenger being Waseda. Waseda has a slight advantage on paper with stronger half marathon credentials, but at Izumo it lacked captain Koki Takada and most of its other best were sub-par. Combined with Komazawa’s superiority over 10000 m Waseda will need a perfect day to outrun Komazawa, who will need more than a perfect day to challenge Aoyama Gakuin. Toyo University and Tokai University are ranked 4th and 5th, the same places they finished in Izumo and with a similar margin.

The seeded bracket, guaranteeing a return trip to Nationals in 2016, runs six-deep, and Izumo runner-up Yamanashi Gakuin University occupies the #6 pre-race ranking with a small margin of safety. Yamanashi Gakuin’s success at Izumo came in large part thanks to a soaringly brilliant anchor run from first-year Dominic Nyairo, a sub for ailing fourth-year Enock Omwamba. Despite Nyairo’s lack of experience over longer distances the lack of sub-1:03 half marathoners in Yamanashi Gakuin’s current roster means head coach Masahito Ueda will probably run him on the 19.7 km anchor stage. If he handles it like he did Izumo look for Yamanashi Gakuin to finish much higher than 6th. If not, three more schools, Meiji University, Nihon University, and Juntendo University will be there to pick up the slack.

Because the sheer scale of Hakone prestige draws so much high school talent to the Kanto Region universities it’s very unusual to see a school from anywhere else in the country make even the top ten at Nationals. The Kansai Region’s Kyoto Sangyo University pulled it off in Izumo, taking 10th with cross-town rival Ritsumeikan University 19 seconds back in 11th, but coming into Nationals ranked 16th and 17th it will be tough for either to match Kyoto Sangyo’s 12th-place finish last year.  New on the entry list this year, the National University Select Team features Kansai Region half marathon record holder Kentaro Hirai (Kyoto Univ.) and strong Kanto Region runners Sho Tokunaga (Chuo Univ.) and Kenta Muto (Kokushikan Univ.).

The National University Men’s Ekiden Championships will be broadcast live nationwide on TV Asahi starting at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1. Look for full results and exclusive coverage on JRN post-race.

47th National University Men’s Ekiden Championships Entry List
Nagoya-Ise, 11/1/15
27 teams, 8 stages, 106.8 km
click here for complete entry lists and running order

Komazawa University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Meiji University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Aoyama Gakuin University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Toyo University (Saitama, Kanto)
Yamanashi Gakuin University (Yamanashi, Kanto)
Tokai University (Kanagawa, Kanto)
Sapporo Gakuin University (Hokkaido)
Tohoku University (Iwate, Tohoku)
Chuo Gakuin University (Chiba, Kanto)
Nihon University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Kanagawa University (Kanagawa, Kanto)
Waseda University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Teikyo University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Juntendo University (Chiba, Kanto)
Nittai University (Kanagawa, Kanto)
Daito Bunka University (Saitama, Kanto)
Koku Gakuin University (Tokyo, Kanto)
Shinshu University (Nagano, Hokushinetsu)
Gifu Keizai University (Gifu, Tokai)
Ritsumeikan University (Kyoto, Kansai)
Kyoto Sangyo University (Kyoto, Kansai)
Kwansei Gakuin University (Hyogo, Kansai)
Kansai University (Osaka, Kansai)
Hiroshima Keizai University (Hiroshima, Chugoku-Shikoku)
Daiichi Kogyo University (Kagoshima, Kyushu)
National University Select Team
Tokyo Region University Select Team

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Yuta Shitara Breaks Japanese Men's Half Marathon National Record in Berlin Marathon Tuneup at Usti nad Labem Half

A week after his 28:55 at the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10 km and just eight days out from the Berlin Marathon, Yuta Shitara (Honda) made the great leap forward, taking 8 seconds off Atsushi Sato's 2007 half marathon Japanese national record, finishing 8th at the Czech Republic's Usti nad Labem Half Marathon.

Shitara is probably most well-known outside Japan for going through halfway under 62 minutes during his marathon debut at this year's Tokyo Marathon and still ending up with a 2:09:27, but he's been turning heads in Japan since his second year at Toyo University when he broke a stage record at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden and outkicked the U.S.A.'s Dathan Ritzenhein to finish in 1:01:48 at the NYC Half two months later, until this year the fastest time ever by a Japanese man on U.S soil.

Three weeks before Tokyo this year he ran a 1:01:19 PB at the Marugame Half. Many people would call that a solid tuneup three weeks out from a serious marathon, but eight days? In P…

Hattori Becomes Third-Straight Japanese Men's Sydney Marathon Winner

Following within 24 hours of Yuki Kawauchi's win at the BMW Oslo Marathon and Yuta Shitara's national record at the Usti nad Labem Half Marathon, Shota Hattori (Honda) made it an overseas hat trick for men from Japan's Saitama prefecture when he won the Sydney Marathon in 2:15:16. Having debuted at February's Nobeoka Nishi Nippon Marathon with a 2:14:19 for 2nd, Hattori outlasted Ethiopian Werkuneh Seyoum Aboye, Kenyan Sammy Kigen Korir (Kenya) and compatriot Ryoma Takeuchi (Hitachi Butsuryu) to become the third-straight Japanese men's Sydney champ, winning by a margin of 20 seconds over Aboye.

Congratulations to Shota Hattori, male winner of the Blackmores Marathon – with a time of 02:15:16. #SydneyRunningFestivalpic.twitter.com/R47w8TCG2X — SydneyRunFestival (@officialbsrf) September 17, 2017
No Japanese women made the podium in the marathon, but in the accompanying half marathon both the men's and women's races saw Japanese runners-up. In the men's …

Ayuko Suzuki Leaves for Altitude Training in Boulder Motivated for the Marathon

2017 London World Championships 5000 m and 10000 m runner Ayuko Suzuki (25, Japan Post) left from Narita Airport on Sept. 18 for altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.

Two days earlier at a half marathon in Czech Republic, Yuta Shitara (25, Honda), like Suzuki born in 1991, broke the 10-year-old Japanese men's half marathon national record in a time of 1:00:17. "It's a big motivation to see an athlete the same age as me doing something like that," she said. Showing her determination to be one of her generation's leaders, she added, "I'll be 28 [at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics], right in my prime mentally and physically. I want to run big too."

In the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics Suzuki has the marathon in sight along with the track. "I need to run a half marathon and marathon somewhere once to check [how well they suit me]," she said. "Coach and I will be talking about it." If everything goes according to plan, December's Sanyo …