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Toyota Holds Off Challengers for Second-Straight New Year Ekiden National Title

by Brett Larner
photos by @rikujolove


2015 national corporate men's champion Toyota held off all comers to take a second-straight New Year Ekiden national title thanks in part to its second-to-last runner Hideyuki Tanaka and some bad luck for its strongest competition.

An expected challenge from the all-Japanese Asahi Kasei superteam never materialized as its 10000 m national record-breaking pair Tetsuya Yoroizaka and Kota Murayama finished 16th and 24th out of 43 on the first two of the 100.0 km New Year Ekiden's seven stages.  In their absence Yoshihiro Wakamatsu of East Japan region runner-up Nissin Shokuhin took the First Stage, 4 seconds ahead of Konica Minolta's Kazuto Nishiike and another 5 seconds ahead of Toyota's Tsubasa Hayakawa, winner of last year's anchor stage.


2013 World Cross-Country Championships junior silver medalist Leonard Barsoton (Nissin Shokuhin) added a few seconds to the lead on the Second Stage as a large pack of around 12 coalesced behind him.  Disaster struck for Konica Minolta when a roadside spectator's small dog lunged out at the pack, stopping directly in front of 2015 Marugame International Half Marathon winner Paul Kuira who tried to jump over it but fell and landed on his knees.  Limping when he got back up, Kuira lost 26 seconds relative to the rest of the pack by the end of the stage, seconds that proved critical late in the race.

Two-time World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Paul Tanui (Kyudenko) and 2012 World Junior Championships 5000 m bronze medalist William Malel (Honda) broke from the pack to chase Barsoton, but at the handoff to the Third Stage Nissin Shokuhin had a clear lead.  Past 1500 m and 5000 m national champion Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) came up fast to overtake leader and former Saku Chosei H.S. teammate Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) mid-stage, splitting 13:35 for 5 km and 27:18 for 10 km on the 13.6 km leg.  By the next handoff he had created a 27-second lead over Nissin, a lead which DeNA promptly lost on the 22.0 km Fourth Stage, the New Year Ekiden's longest.

Starting in 4th, last year's Fourth Stage record-setter Yuta Shitara almost equalled Ueno's opening split, going through 5 km in 13:36 and blowing past first Toyota, then Nissin, then DeNA to go out front.  Behind him, a dream pack of three former Hakone Ekiden stars, Tsuyoshi Ugachi (Konica Minolta), Akinobu Murasawa (Nissin Shokuhin) and Shinobu Kubota (Toyota) worked against each other in pursuit, cutting Shitara's lead from 24 to 13 seconds despite an incredible 41:23 split from Shitara at 15 km.  Shitara held on to hand off in 1:02:45, 1:00:11 half marathon pace, and 2 seconds under the course record he set last year.  Toyota and Nissin came through almost together, with small gaps back to DeNA and Konica Minolta.

With leader Shota Hattori (Honda) in sight primary chasers Keigo Yano (Nissin Shokuhin), Chihiro Miyawaki (Toyota) and Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) all went to work, passing and repassing each other on the way to overtaking Hattori.  With his last kick Miyawaki, one of Japan's all-time best over 10000 m and the half marathon, dropped Yamamoto to hand off in 1st, Yamamoto getting the minor satisfaction of winning on stage time.  Hattori was a short distance back, followed in 4th to the surprise of many by a resurgent Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu), the 2:07:39 marathoner knocked out of the Beijing World Championships by a mysterious case of meningitis.

Yuta Shitara's twin brother Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) quickly caught Toyota's Tanaka on the second-to-last stage, but Tanaka responded and reopened a 10-second lead over Shitara.  The gap grew to 33 seconds by the end of the stage with Suehiro Ishikawa (Honda) 3rd well back.  On the 15.5 km anchor stage first-year pro Shuhei Yamamoto (Toyota) initially extended his lead by a few seconds over Takuya Noguchi (Konica Minolta) and promising marathoner Hiroaki Sano (Honda), but Noguchi turned it around and came within 15 seconds on the hilliest part of the course.  Inching back away, Yamamoto turned it on with 1 km to go and crossed the finish line in 4:52:15, 21 seconds up on Noguchi.  21 seconds versus the 26 seconds Konica Minolta's Kuira lost to an irresponsible dog owner.  The race would have played out differently if he had stayed in contact and not fallen and Konica Minolta may still not have won, but you can't help but feel that they were robbed of at least an even better race.

Honda's Sano faded and was overtaken by Kaoru Hirosue (Team Toyota Kyushu) with just over a kilometer to go, Toyota Kyushu taking 3rd by 8 seconds in 4:53:32.  DeNA managed to improve slightly on last year's 6th-place finish as it took 5th, further upward mobility in its short history as a team despite the recent loss of several team members.  Nissin Shokuhin was 6th more than two minutes behind DeNA in one of its weakest showings in years, with Asahi Kasei only 7th after most of its biggest names flopped.

For most of the field the start of the new year marked the end of the season.  For the best of them there is one more big ekiden, the Jan. 24 National Men's Ekiden featuring hometown teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures made up of top junior high school, high school, university and pro runners.  For fans it was one of the better New Year Ekidens in recent years, the new generation of talent arriving from Hakone living up to its potential to raise the bar.

60th New Year Ekiden
Corporate Men's National Championships
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/16
43 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Toyota 4:52:15
2. Konica Minolta 4:52:36
3. Toyota Kyushu 4:53:32
4. Honda 4:53:40
5. DeNA 4:54:10
6. Nissin Shokuhin 4:56:12
7. Asahi Kasei 4:56:14
8. Yasukawa Denki 4:56:33
9. Hitachi Butsuryu 4:58:07
10. Kyudenko 4:58:08

Stage Best Performances
First Stage (12.3 km)
1. Yoshihiro Wakamatsu (Nissin Shokuhin) - 35:24
2. Kaido Kita (Chugoku Denryoku) - 35:27
3. Kazuto Nishiike (Konica Minolta) - 35:28

Second Stage (8.3 km)
1. Paul Tanui (Kyudenko) - 22:28
2. William Malel (Honda) - 22:32
3. Leonard Barsoton (Konica Minolta) - 22:33

Third Stage (13.6 km)
1. Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - 37:58
2. Masato Kikuchi (Konica Minolta) - 38:20
3. Minato Oishi (Toyota) - 38:25

Fourth Stage (22.0 km)
1. Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 1:02:45 - CR
2. Shinobu Kubota (Toyota) - 1:03:09
3. Hiroto Inoue (Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki) - 1:03:15

Fifth Stage (15.8 km)
1. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) - 46:58
2. Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu) - 47:09
3. Chihiro Miyawaki (Toyota) - 47:29

Sixth Stage (12.5 km)
1. Hideyuki Tanaka (Toyota) - 37:54
2. Ikuto Yufu (Fujitsu) - 37:57
3. Suehiro Ishikawa (Honda) - 37:59

Seventh Stage (15.5 km)
1. Kazuya Deguchi (Konica Minolta) - 46:40
2. Shuhei Yamamoto (Toyota) - 46:52
3. Kaoru Hirosue (Toyota Kyushu) - 47:04

text © 2016 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
photos © 2016 M. Kawaguchi, all rights reserved

Comments

Eryn said…
I wonder why Asahi Kasei had no fast Kenyan on the second stage. It may have cost them a lot of dynamic as catching up was rather difficult later on.
浅野渉 said…
What a ballsy run by Yuta Shitara in stage 4. Murasawa and Kubota also showed a lot of guts to keep pace with him. I hope these 3 guys and Imai will be seen at Rio later this year because they have a lot of heart.

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