Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ueda Over Kamino at Akasaka 5-Chome Mini Marathon

by Brett Larner

Hakone Ekiden Fifth Stage star Daichi Kamino made his pro debut for the Konica Minolta team in surprising style, running Saturday night as part of the 50th edition of the All-Star Kanshasai variety show's twice-annual Akasaka 5-Chome Mini Marathon.  Broadcast live during the show, the race covers four laps of a twisting 900 m course with a steep downhill start, two 180-degree turns, a 200 m-long uphill with a nearly 10% grade, and a section through the TBS studios in front of the hundred or so comedians and TV personalities assembled for the variety show.  Each edition features a well-known pro runner racing several dozen other comedians and celebrities, each carefully handicapped for the staggered start to make the outcome as close as possible.  Past editions have featured Olympic and World Championships medalists including Joan Benoit Samuelson, Masako Chiba, Meseret Defar, Vanderlei de Lima, Bedan Karoki, Frank Shorter, Lidia Simon, Erick Wainaina and Valentina Yegorova.  This year's guest star was Kamino, who graduated last month from Aoyama Gakuin University where he played a key role in AGU's two-straight Hakone wins by dominating the hills of its legendary Fifth Stage.

Before Kamino took to the roads four of his former AGU teammates, Tadashi Isshiki, Yuki Nakamura, Yuta Shimoda and Kazuki Tamura, ran a special Mini Ekiden against eight more comedians and entertainers, the comedians each running one lap of a shortened 350 m version of the course with the AGU runners each handling two laps.  Fans were out along the course in record numbers to cheer on the massively popular Hakone champs.  Accidental interference during the comedians' third exchange forced Nakamura to go wide and lose several seconds that neither Tamura nor anchor Isshiki could make up, and the comedian team held on for the win.  AGU tweeted pics of its "gutted" team post-race.

The Mini Marathon started with non-runner women, then non-runner men, then entertainers with running experience carefully seeded all the way up to Kamino's 5:10 handicap.  The most experienced runner among the entertainers and a regular on the program, Kenji Moriwaki upped the stakes by saying pre-race that if Kamino won he would retire from the show.  Model Nonoka Ono went out to an early lead, just finishing her first lap when Kamino started, but was quickly caught by Tatsuya Ueda, a singer from the boy band KAT-TUN who was doubling from the Mini Ekiden.  From there to the finish it was a race between Ueda and Kamino, Kamino flying through the field in pursuit.

Out among the deafening, screaming fans, the AGU team student managers were on the course holding up signs showing the time difference between Kamino and the leader, just like at Hakone.  With one lap to go Kamino was down to one minute behind, and on the last uphill before the turn into the studio for the finish he came into sight of Ueda for the first time.  It looked like he would do it, but on the highly technical last stretch into the studio Ueda held on to take the win by one second, saving Moriwaki from having to quit the show.  Moriwaki was 3rd just 18 seconds back with 4th-placer Ayumu Mori and last fall's winner Gaku Sano a few steps behind, the close finish showing just how well whoever at TBS was doing the handicapping knew their game. There's no doubt that when it comes to making distance running popular and entertaining for the general population Japan leads the way.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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