Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sera Breaks National High School Boys Ekiden Course Record

by Brett Larner
video highlights courtesy of broadcaster NHK

The shadow of the late Samuel Wanjiru still looms large over the National High School Boys Ekiden Championships, his 2004 stage record-setting run powering Sendai Ikuei H.S. to a course record 2:01:32 win that no team since has ever approached.  The buzz was in the air this year that defending champion Sera H.S. was ready to do it, its seven starters averaging 14:01.95 for 5000 m, enough to compete at the university level.  Before the race captain Shiki Shinsako made it clear, saying, "This team is good enough to break 2:01."

For that to happen the race, 7 stages totalling 42.195 km, had to start fast on its longest stage, the 10.0 km First Stage.  Luck was with Sera as the talented Takuya Hanyu (Yachiyo Shoin H.S.) was happy to oblige, dropping a 2:47 opening km, 27:50 pace, and pulling the whole field with him.  The entire way Hanyu kept things moving, shaking the front end competition down to just himself, Sera's Taiju Nakashima and Hayato Seki (Saku Chosei H.S.) on the 70 m-high hill mid-stage.  Nakashima lost touch at 8 km as the pace picked up again on the downhill, and in the last kick Seki pulled ahead, handing off in 29:08 with the hard-working Hanyu a second behind.  Nakashima was 3rd in 29:16, but the 8 second deficit meant nothing with what was to come.

Sera's second runner Hiroyuki Inoue opened in 2:41 on his 3.0 km stage, easily passing both Saku Chosei and Yachiyo Shoin to run a stage-winning 8:15 and open a 9-second lead before handing off to Kenyan star Paul Kamais.  Like every Kenyan who has run the Third Stage since 2004 Kamais was up against the invisible presence of Wanjiru, his intimidating 22:40 record for the hilly 8.1075 km Third Stage exerting unseen pressure like in Beijing when Wanjiru controlled the pack from the rear mid-race.  Where others have cracked under the pressure and gone out at a ridiculously unsustainable pace Kamais was stable and steady after a 2:40 opening km, saving himself for the hills mid-stage.  But despite his best effort it wasn't enough, handing off with a time of 22:51, 11 seconds off Wanjiru's invulnerable mark.

But Kamais did succeed in the bigger goal.  When he handed off to Sera's fourth runner, 13:50.67 second-year Keita Yoshida, Sera was 26 seconds ahead of Sendai Ikuei's 2004 CR pace, what proved to be its largest margin of safety.  Yoshida ran a solid if unremarkable 23:32 for the 8.0875 km Fourth Stage, handing off with Sera down to 11 seconds ahead of CR pace.  Sera's fifth man Kazuya Yamaguchi won his 3.0 km stage in 8:38, picking up 1 second to reopen Sera's margin to 12 seconds.  Sixth man Takumi Uemura likewise topped his 5.0 km stage in 14:25, the margin back down to 11 seconds.  It was all up to team captain Shinsako to deliver on the 5.0 km anchor stage.

With a 14:00.45 best for 5000 m on the track Shinsako said his goal was to break the 13:58 stage record.  Despite only needing to run 14:35 for the overall CR he went out hard, clocking 2:40 for the first km, 13:20 pace.  Needless to say that was unsustainable, but despite fading Shinsako did his job, running 14:21 to cross the line in 2:01:18, cutting 14 seconds off Sendai Ikuei's legendary mark and giving Sera the double national title along with its girls' win earlier in the day.  Along with the record it was also Sera's ninth time winning the national title, the most in the event's 66-year history.

Fighting their way up mid-race Kyushu Gakuin H.S. and Kurashiki H.S. were head-to-head until the last 100 m, Kyushu Gakuin anchor Shota Nakagawa pulling away to win the stage in 14:16 and take 2nd in 2:03:06 with Kurashiki 2 seconds back.  Both schools placed in the all-time top 10, with the top 7 all breaking 2:05.  At every level, sub-2:05, sub-2:06, sub-2:07 and on, record numbers of schools had breakthrough performances.  The incredible depth of quality left race announcers talking in amazement about a new era and showed that the wave sweeping collegiate running runs even deeper.  There's no telling what will happen between now and 2020.

National High School Boys Ekiden Championships
Kyoto, 12/20/15
59 teams, 7 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Sera H.S. - 2:01:18 - CR
2. Kyushu Gakuin H.S. - 2:03:06 - all-time #7
3. Kurashiki H.S. - 2:03:08 - all-time #8
4. Saku Chosei H.S. - 2:04:05
5. Kobayashi H.S. - 2:04:15
6. Rakunan H.S. - 2:04:18
7. Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. - 2:04:40
8. Kato Gakuen H.S. - 2:05:09
9. Yachiyo Kogyo H.S. - 2:05:09
10. Omuta H.S. - 2:05:09

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage - 10.0 km
1. Hayato Seki (Saku Chosei H.S.) - 29:08
2. Takuya Hanyu (Yachiyo Shoin H.S.) - 29:09
3. Taiju Nakashima (Sera H.S.) - 29:16

Second Stage - 3.0 km
1. Hiroyuki Inoue (Sera H.S.) - 8:15
2. Rintaro Takada (Kyushu Gakuin Univ.) - 8:18
3. Genki Nishijima (Rakunan H.S.) - 8:19

Third Stage - 8.1075 km
1. Paul Kamais (Sera H.S.) - 22:51
2. Silas Kingori (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 23:00
3. Charles Nijioka (Kurashiki H.S.) - 23:21

Fourth Stage - 8.0875 km
1. Takuma Nagai (Mizuki H.S.) - 23:17
1. Naoki Soh (Tosu Kogyo H.S.) - 23:17
3. Yuta Kanbayashi (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 23:21

Fifth Stage - 3.0 km
1. Kazuya Yamaguchi (Sera H.S.) - 8:38
2. Hiroto Okura (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 8:41
3. Ryo Miyamoto (Kato Gakuen H.S.) - 8:45
3. Ryo Matsushita (Tosu Kogyo H.S.) - 8:45

Sixth Stage - 5.0 km
1. Takumi Uemura (Sera H.S.) - 14:25
2. Reiri Nakajima (Kurashiki H.S.) - 14:26
3. Hikaru Sakata (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 14:32

Seventh Stage - 5.0 km
1. Shota Nakagawa (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 14:16
2. Shiki Shinsako (Sera H.S.) - 14:21
3. Takahiro Nakatani (Kurashiki H.S.) - 14:23

© 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Gabriel Rodriguez said...

Two Questions -
1) What is the fastest JPN-only record?
2) Has a single team ever swept all the legs?

Brett Larner said...

The fastest time by an all-Japanese team was Saku Chosei's 2:02:18 win in 2008, now all-time #4. I'm not sure if a single team has ever swept every stage but I don't think it's likely.

Bruce said...

Seems like the meet is growing in size, with teams from talent-deep regions getting more chances. Last year the boys had the 10 regional extra slots (not sure when this began) and this year the girls got 10 more, plus both getting one more for the hosting prefecture (Kyoto). These 22 regional extras all placed ahead of many prefectural champions. Sumagakuen, Toyokawa and Kitakyushu Municipal girls even finished in the top 10! The rest of these 22 extras finished mostly in the mid pack. In earlier years they would not have even run. I hope they continue this trend. 60 runners on the line constitutes an unnecessarily small field.