translated and edited by Brett Larner
Hakone Ekiden organizers KGRR announced on Nov. 30 that they are examining changing the lengths of the 18.5 km Fourth Stage and 23.2 km uphill Fifth Stage. The race's 92nd edition on Jan. 2 and 3, 2016 will go ahead with the existing stage lengths, with the possibility of changes as early as the 93rd running in 2017. Changes under discussion would likely involve lengthening the Fourth stage, Hakone's shortest, and reducing the Fifth Stage.
Beginning with the 2006 race the Odawara exchange point between the Fourth and Fifth Stages was moved 2.5 km toward Tokyo due to construction at its former location at Suzuhiro. As a result the Fourth Stage became shorter and the Fifth Stage longer. With the challenging uphill Fifth Stage now the longest, the success of its star runners Masato Imai (Juntendo Univ., now Toyota Kyushu), Ryuji Kashiwabara (Toyo Univ., now Fujitsu) and Daichi Kamino (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) earned them the title "God of the Mountain" and widely expanded Hakone's popularity.
At the same time, since the Fifth Stage was lengthened every team that won it has gone on to take the overall title, leading to claims that the Fifth Stage has too large an impact on the overall team results. The KGRR will discuss the issue at upcoming coaches' council meetings.
Translator's note: The 2006 change made the iconic Fifth Stage 23.4 km in length. Subsequent road construction resulted in its length being cut to 23.2 km in 2015 without its start or finish points being moved. At the time of the 2006 lengthening organizers cited the hope that the longer stage would become a proving ground for Japan's future top marathoners. At the 2015 Tokyo Marathon Imai ran 2:07:39 to become Japan's 6th-fastest marathoner ever. Click here for the KGRR's official press release on the possibility of shortening the Fifth Stage.