translated and edited by Brett Larner
On Dec. 13 the Tokyo Kokusai University men's ekiden team went to Koma Shrine in Hidaka, Saitama to pray for success in their first-ever appearance at the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. Afterward they returned to their training ground in Sakado for practice, everything looking smooth as they made their final preparations for Japan's biggest race. Set to take on the legendary Fifth Stage thanks to his talent at running uphill, 2nd-year Takaya Hamato has special motivation in his Hakone debut. A native of Yamada, Iwate, his home was complete destroyed in the 2011 Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami. Now Hamato has vowed to produce something special to give encouragement to his fellow survivors back home.
Hamato grew up in a port town but is fearless in his uphill running. When he was a 2nd-year at Iwate's Ichinoseki Gakuin H.S. he took part in a practice session with the Tokyo Kokusai University team. Running eight laps of a tough and hilly 2.5 km cross-country course he far outshone all the older university runners, finishing the run in 1st and showing outstanding potential. Tokyo Kokusai head coach Shuji Oshida, 53, was immediately optimistic about Hamato's chances, saying, "Right from the time he entered university I've wanted to use him on the Hakone Fifth Stage."
Although Hamato's immediate family survived the 2011 disasters, some of his relatives lost their lives in the tsunami that followed the earthquake. His determination to encourage and support other survivors through his running is strong. "I want to show them that even someone from our area can still make Hakone," he said. A champion's spirit hidden inside his petite 164 cm-tall frame, Hamato is ready to tackle the mountain come January 2.