by Brett Larner
videos by naoki620
Another week, another world record-setting Japanese collegiate race.
Virtually every major Japanese university men's distance race since Tokyo won the 2020 Olympic bid has seen incredible new course records and world records set for depth at quality. Today's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai, the 20 km road race qualifier for the season-capping January 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, was no exception.
49 schools from around the Kanto Region lined up in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park to try to be one of the lucky 10 programs to join those who had already reserved their place at the 2016 Hakone Ekiden by finishing in the top 10 in Hakone this year. Each of the schools at the Yosenkai qualifier fielded 10 to 12 runners with the team scored on the aggregate time of its first 10 finishers. The 10 fastest schools go on to Hakone, clean and simple.
After heavy rain with 5 minutes to go 2015 Kanto Region DI Half Marathon champion Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Nihon University), 2nd in 58:00 in his last Yosenkai appearance 2 years ago, made sure things got off right by taking the field through the 1st km in 2:51. A large group went with him, but when they hit 3 km without the pace slackening all let go to leave Kitonyi alone on track to break the 57:01 course record.
Kitonyi hit 5 km in 14:10, the chase group of 8 including last year's 6th-placer Shuhei Yamaguchi (Soka Univ.) and 7th-placer Stanley Siteki (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.), Ethiopian 1st-year Workneh Derese (Takushoku Univ.) and 5 other Japanese men 18 seconds further back in 14:28 and the main group led by 2015 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Yuta Takahashi (Teikyo University) skimming well under the typical 3 min/km pace in 14:50.
Kitonyi pushed on through the next 5 km, hitting 10 km still on CR pace in 28:30, before slowing slightly heading into the hilly 2nd half of the course on his way to a 43:11 split at 15 km. The 8-man chase group and main pack likewise slowed incrementally, Kitonyi's lead maxing out at 1:11 at the 15 km mark. From there he started to fade, while behind him Derese went on the attack.
Pulling ahead of the chase group at 15 km, Derese repeatedly turned and gestured for 4th-year teammate Hiroto Kanamori to follow him, waiting for nearly a kilometer before gunning it to get rid of Siteki and rival teams' Japanese men. Siteki, a 2nd-year, did his best to follow, his performance critical to the chances of his school Tokyo Kokusai University to make the Hakone grade in just its 5th year as a program. Every second counted.
Up front, Kitonyi slowed nearly 30 seconds over the last 5 km, especially in the final km as he showboated to the crowds and celebrated his win. Bad form in a race scored on aggregate time, but his winning time of 58:20 gave Nihon a comfortable margin over the competition. Siteki closed on Derese in the last km but couldn't catch him, Derese making a solid university road debut in 59:10 for 2nd with Siteki improving on his own debut from last year by 14 seconds for 3rd in 59:14.
Just back from him, 4th-year Sho Tokunaga (Chuo Univ.) was the top Japanese finisher in a school record 59:17, leading Kanamori, Yamaguchi and 10 other Japanese men under 60 minutes. All told 16 men cleared the hour mark, the 2nd-most in Yosenkai history. But there were records to fall. Already the world record course for depth, the Yosenkai field set new best-time-for-place records for 46th place and up, breaking new world records for depth with 72 men under 61 minutes, 119 under 61:30, 163 under 62 minutes and an incredible 190 men under 62:30. With unexpectedly ideal conditions, all told it was the greatest 20 km race in history, again.
But the Yosenkai achieves that status due to its position as a team effort to get into Japan's biggest sporting event. The post-race announcement of the qualifying teams before a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters is one of the tensest moments in the ekiden year. Thanks to Kitonyi's boost Nihon University comfortably took 1st, well under last year's winning time in 10:06:00. Teikyo University lived up to its 2nd-place ranking in 10:07:20, with #1-ranked Nittai University a very tight 3rd in 10:07:37 despite a recent exodus of many of its best runners from the team. Juntendo University, Kanagawa University and Takushoku University were all within a minute of Nittai before a gap to 7th place. 2:36 separated 1st and 6th, 0.78 seconds/km per runner.
Hosei University returned to the Hakone fold, qualifying again at 7th in 10:11:03 after bombing out last year. The once-mighty Chuo University pulled itself through in 8th not far behind Hosei in 10:11:32, while the biggest surprise came just behind them. Its ekiden program launched just 5 years ago, Tokyo Kokusai University was 9 seconds behind Chuo in 9th, making Hakone for the 1st time in an almost unheard-of progression from its still-fresh beginnings.
Which brought things to the final team spot. In contention were 3 of last year's Hakone schools, Koku Gakuin University, Jobu University and then-1st-timer Soka University, last year's 11th-placer Tokyo Nogyo University with its Fighting Radish cheerleaders, and onetime Hakone regular Kokushikan University. A hush and dramatic pause for effect flowed across the packed field in front of the stage before the announcer called out the Jobu name in 10th in 10:12:04.
The hush and tension multiplied before the unlucky Kokushikan was named to 11th, the crowd crying out in dismay at its time of 10:12:14. 1 second for each of its 10 men. 1 second over 20 km. Heartbreak as the entire team cried on live national television. Kokushikan's 10th man was faster than Jobu's 7th, but without a star runner to match Jobu's 1st finisher Morihiro Higashi, top Kokushikan man Kenta Muto running 1:00:14 to Higashi's 59:53, Kokushikan was digging itself out of a hole from the start. It's a cliche ekiden runners usually drop that they "wanted to get the tasuki to the next runner even just 1 second faster." In this case that really was all it would have taken. Small consolation to Muto and Kokushikan, or to Koku Gakuin and Soka sent down from Hakone glory, that he and others on top-placing teams from outside the magic top 10 will still get to run in Hakone as part of the Kanto Region University Student Alliance select team.
University men's ekiden season continues Nov. 1 with the 2nd of the Big Three University Ekidens, the National University Ekiden Championships. 2 weeks later more world record-setting collegiate depth awaits at the Ageo City Half Marathon.
92nd Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Qualifier 20 km Road Race
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 10/17/15
click here for complete results
1. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (4th yr., Nihon Univ.) - 58:20
2. Workneh Derese (1st yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 59:10
3. Stanley Siteki (2nd yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 59:14
4. Sho Tokunaga (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 59:17
5. Hiroto Kanamori (4th yr., Takushoku Univ.) - 59:21
6. Shuhei Yamaguchi (4th yr., Soka Univ.) - 59:26
7. Masaki Toda (4th yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:34
8. Kazuya Shiojiri (1st yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 59:38
9. Kengo Suzuki (2nd yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 59:44
10. Takumi Koyama (3rd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 59:44
11. Shinnosuke Ogino (4th yr., Nihon Univ.) - 59:51
12. Atsumi Ashiwa (3rd yr., Hosei Univ.) - 59:52
13. Morihiro Higashi (4th yr., Jobu Univ.) - 59:53
14. Shoya Okuno (4th yr., Nittai Univ.) - 59:54
15. Taiga Machizawa (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 59:55
16. Masaya Komachi (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 59:58
25. Yuji Serunarudo (3rd yr., Soka Univ.) - 1:00:18
50. Keita Murase (4th yr., Reitaku Univ.) - 1:00:40
75. Sho Sakuma (4th yr., Asia Univ.) - 1:01:02
100. Shinji Watanabe (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:19
125. Ryosuke Niizeki (2nd yr., Nihon Univ.) - 1:01:35
150. Yushi Kunisawa (2nd yr., Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:52
175. Kohei Kawaguchi (2nd yr., Surugadai Univ.) - 1:02:10
200. Jo Fujimura (2nd yr., Reitaku Univ.) - 1:02:34
Top Team Results
aggregate time of top 10 finishers; top 10 qualify for 2016 Hakone Ekiden
1. Nihon University - 10:06:00
2. Teikyo University - 10:07:20
3. Nittai University - 10:07:37
4. Juntendo University - 10:07:58
5. Kanagawa University - 10:08:01
6. Takushoku University - 10:08:36
7. Hosei University - 10:11:03
8. Chuo University - 10:11:32
9. Tokyo Kokusai University - 10:11:41
10. Jobu University - 10:12:04
11. Kokushikan University - 10:12:14
12. Tokyo Nogyo University - 10:12:57
13. Koku Gakuin University - 10:13:28
14. Soka University - 10:14:13
15. Senshu University - 10:16:29
2016 Hakone Ekiden Field
Tokyo-Hakone-Tokyo, January 2-3, 2016
Aoyama Gakuin University
Chuo Gakuin University
Yamanashi Gakuin University
Daito Bunka University
Tokyo Kokusai University
Kanto Region University Student Alliance Team
text and photos (c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved