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University Ekiden Season Part Two at Saturday's Hakone Ekiden Qualifier - Preview

by Brett Larner


Just five days after a record-breaking start to Japan's university men's ekiden season at the Izumo Ekiden the next big race is set to go off Saturday in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race.  The January 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, where 20 universities from around the Tokyo-area Kanto Region send 10-man teams to race roughly a half marathon distance each, is Japan's biggest sports event.  The first 10 schools to cross the finish line on Hakone's second day score places at both the following season's Izumo Ekiden and Hakone Ekiden.  The rest line up with 40 other Kanto teams at the Yosenkai to try to make it back onto the Hakone start line.

This year 49 teams will start the Yosenkai, a 20 km road race in and around Showa Kinen Park in the western Tokyo suburb of Tachikawa.  Each school runs 10 to 12 men from a 14-deep entry list and is scored on the aggregate time of its first 10 finishers.  The 10 fastest teams go to Hakone.  10 of the fastest individuals from the teams that don't make it are chosen to round out the Hakone Ekiden field on a Select Team.  Every other runner at the Yosenkai is obliged to support the ones who did make it by volunteering as marshals and support staff along the 217.1 km Hakone course come January 2-3.



The atmosphere at the Yosenkai is unlike any other race in Japan, the park and course packed with dozens of school marching bands and cheerleader squads, tens of thousands of students, alumni and fans carrying school banners and soaking the runners in deafening noise.  Millions more watch at home thanks to the live TV broadcast, which includes the tense and dramatic announcement of the top 10 teams.  Winning individual times are usually in the 57 to 58-minute range, 60 to 61 minutes equivalent for the half marathon, and in terms of depth the size and quality of the field makes the Yosenkai historically the biggest and best 20 km road race in the world.



In terms of the team competition 11 schools come in with good chances of making the 10-deep Hakone bracket.  4 of them, Nittai University, Teikyo University, Chuo University and Koku Gakuin University, have 10-man half marathon averages under 1:04:00, Nittai with a slight lead over the others at 1:03:39 despite a recent exodus of most of its best runners under new head coach Masaaki Watanabe.  Last year's Yosenkai winner Kanagawa University is ranked 5th at 1:04:10 but has a history of performing well at this race and should contend with the faster top 4.  Things get interesting at 8th to 11th, where just 4 seconds separate the 4 schools shooting for the last 3 spots, Takushoku University, Jobu University, Hosei University and Nihon University.  Last year Hosei was the one who didn't make the grade, but this year it could be any of them.

In the individual race the winner is bound to be whichever of its two Kenyans Nihon University fields.  4th-year Daniel Muiva Kitonyi ran 58:00 at the Yosenkai two years ago and has better credentials over this kind of distance, but 1st-year Patrick Mathenge Wambui has the fastest current 10000 m best in the entire Kanto Region after running 27:54.98 this summer.  Takushoku University 1st-year Workneh Derese, a rare Ethiopian addition to the Kanto mix, is an unknown factor with a 10000 m best of just 28:46.37.  2015 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Yuta Takahashi of Teikyo University leads the Japanese list with a half marathon best of 1:02:13, Tokyo Nogyo University 4th-year Masaki Toda right behind him in 1:02:14.



Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Entry List Highlights
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 10/17/15
click here for complete entry list
school times listed are average half marathon PBs of top 10 members
individual times listed are half marathon PBs unless otherwise indicated

Nittai University - 1:03:39
Shoya Okuno, 4th yr. - 1:02:26
Akira Tomiyasu, 2nd yr. - 28:49.53 (10000 m)

Teikyo University - 1:03:40
Yuta Takahashi, 4th yr. - 1:02:13
Yusei Tsutsumi, 4th yr. - 1:02:37

Chuo University - 1:03:48
Sho Tominaga, 4th yr. - 1:02:52
Taiga Machizawa, 3rd yr. - 1:02:52

Koku Gakuin University - 1:03:55

Kanagawa University - 1:04:10
Ryohei Nishiyama, 4th yr. - 1:02:38
Kazuma Ganaha, 4th yr. - 1:02:45
Kengo Suzuki, 2nd yr. - 28:53.67

Juntendo University - 1:04:16
Hiroki Matsueda, 4th yr. - 28:46.42 (10000 m)

Tokyo Nogyo University - 1:04:16
Masaki Toda, 4th yr. - 1:02:14

Takushoku University - 1:04:27
Workneh Derese, 1st yr. - 28:46.37 (10000 m)

Jobu University - 1:04:29
Hiroya Inoue, 2nd yr. - 13:55.47 (5000 m)

Hosei University - 1:04:29

Nihon University - 1:04:31
Daniel Muiva Kitonyi, 4th yr. - 1:01:11
Soma Ishikawa, 3rd yr. - 1:02:46
Patrick Mathenge Wambui, 1st yr. - 27:54.98 (10000 m)
Shinnosuke Ogino, 4th yr. - 28:50.97

Soka University - 1:04:54
Shuhei Yamaguchi, 4th yr. - 1:02:41
Kodai Gozawa, 4th yr. - 28:51.87

Tokyo Kokusai University
Stanley Siteki, 2nd yr. - 1:02:44

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
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