by Brett Larner
Sunday is the next stop on the national championship ekiden season calendar, the National High School Ekiden Championships in Kyoto, both the boys’ and girls’ races broadcast live nationwide to millions of fans starting at 10:20 for the girls’ race and 12:30 for the boys. JRN will cover both races live on @JRNLive.
The seven-stage, 42.195 km boys’ race is about one thing and one thing only: can defending champion Sera H.S. of Hiroshima take down the legendary 2:01:32 course record set in 2004 by future Olympic marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru and his Sendai Ikuei H.S. teammates? Last year Sera ran the fifth-fastest time in Nationals history, winning easily in 2:03:18. This year they return even better, with a lineup that could compete against many of the best university teams over 5000 m. How good are they? Judge for yourself.
None of the other 55 teams even comes close. Their strongest competition Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. of Fukushima, led by #1-ranked Japanese high schooler Hyuga Endo, averages just 14:15.59, meaning for Sera it’s a race against the clock and history.
Defending champion in the five-stage, 21.0975 km girls’ race, Osaka Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S. likewise returns as the favorite led by sisters Nozomi and Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu. On paper they're back almost exactly as strong as last year, but they lack the same margin of safety and have shown cracks throughout the year with senior Nozomi in particular seeming to have lost some of her spark. Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S. and Gunma’s Tokiwa H.S. both look to be in range of Osaka Kunei should anything go wrong up front, promising a closer race than for the boys. For both Tokiwa and Yamanashi Gakuin it would be a first-ever national title, for Yamanashi Gakuin adding to their boys’ 2013 win.
Complete entry lists are available on broadcaster NHK’s outstanding Nationals website, with plenty more information including complete Nationals history on the official race website. American Bruce Carrick maintains an outstanding database of Japanese high school results, with top seven 5000 m averages for all 56 boys’ teams and top five 3000 m averages for the 56 girls’ teams.
© 2015 Brett Larner
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