Yuta Shitara, Kento Otsu and Coach Sakai at the 2012 NYC Half
Sunday's United Airlines NYC Half marked the fifth year that the NYRR has invited the top two Japanese university finishers from November's Ageo City Half Marathon to run against top international competition in New York, a concept JRN proposed in 2011 and continues to help oversee. For decades Japan's corporate leagues have sent runners to races like Philadelphia, San Diego and Virginia Beach, but relative to their pro elders the eight university men who have run a total of ten times in New York so far have represented themselves well with consistently serious and fast performances on a course with a challenging first half.
The ten fastest times ever run in the United States by Japanese corporate league runners to date:
1:02:28 - Yasuaki Yamamoto (Tokyo Metro) - Philadelphia 1999
1:02:50 - Yoshinori Oda (Toyota) - Virginia Beach 2007
1:02:59 - Yoichiro Akiyama (Honda) - Virginia Beach 2005
1:03:50 - Noritaka Fujiyama (Sumco) - Virginia Beach 2009
1:03:57 - Kazuhiro Matsuda (Sagawa Express) - San Diego 2003
1:03:57 - Takayuki Matsumiya (Konica Minolta) - Virginia Beach 2010
1:04:24 - Yuko Matsumiya (Konica Minolta) - Virginia Beach 2009
1:04:32 - Tetsuo Nishimura (YKK) - Virginia Beach 2006
1:04:32 - Yuichiro Ueno (DeNA) - San Diego 2015
1:04:33 - Hironori Arai (Chugoku Denryoku) - Virginia Beach 2011
The ten Japanese university runner results in New York to date:
1:01:48 - Yuta Shitara (Toyo Univ.) - 2012
1:02:02 - Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) - 2013
1:02:50 - Ikuto Yufu (Komazawa Univ.) - 2014
1:03:11 - Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 2014
1:03:15 - Kento Otsu (Toyo Univ.) - 2012
1:03:21 - Koki Takada (Waseda Univ.) - 2015
1:03:21 - Takashi Ichida (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 2015
1:03:37 - Yusuke Nishiyama (Komazawa Univ.) - 2016
1:03:40 - Haruki Minatoya (Tokai Univ.) - 2016
1:04:03 - Kento Otsu (Toyo Univ.) - 2013
Ikuto Yufu and Takashi Ichida in 2014
With the NYC Half invite serving primarily as a developmental program, most of its alumni have already gone on to upper levels of the corporate leagues in their fledgling pro careers. In both 2015 and 2016 Shitara broke the course record on the longest stage at the New Year Ekiden corporate national championship. Murayama ran 1:00:50 to qualify for the World Half Marathon Championships the year after running in NYC, getting some notice in his marathon debut this year as the only Japanese man to go with the lead pack at the Tokyo Marathon.
Ichida and Koki Takada in 2015
Both he and Shitara made the 10000 m at last year's Beijing World Championships, although both ran poorly. Ichida became the first of them to win a national title when he won the 2016 Japanese National Cross-Country Championships. Yufu struggled to make the transition to the corporate leagues but finally got it right with a win at the high-level Karatsu 10-Miler in February. Otsu has made steady progress, finishing 2nd in his 30 km debut at this year's Kumanichi Road Race, the world's most competitive race at that distance.
Haruki Minatoya, Yusuke Nishiyama and Coach Fujita in 2016
With all them of prime age to be on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team, the opportunity to have met, talked to and run against the best in the world when they were still at the peak of their Hakone fitness, to see things from an angle they would otherwise never experience in the Japanese system, is bound to prove invaluable in changing their thinking, and maybe someday that system, for the better.
Lagat photo © 2013 Chris Lotsbom, all rights reserved
Revlon photo © 2015 Takashi Ichida, all rights reserved
text and other photos © 2012-2016 Brett Larner, all rights reserved