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From Hakone to the Olympics

by Brett Larner

The Hakone Ekiden is Japan's biggest, most prestigious sporting event, a two-day road relay with twenty university teams of ten men each running roughly a half marathon that pulls in tens of millions of viewers on live TV and along the 210 km+ course.  University men focus on Hakone above all else.  Jason Lawrencea New Zealand runner who took part in Josai University's summer training camp for Hakone, wrote, "For most team members if not all, Hakone is the pinnacle of their careers and it's what they think about 24/7."

The media and the public love the catchphrase 箱根から世界へ, from Hakone to the World, Hakone's role as a springboard to the World Championships and, ultimately, the Olympics.  But at the same time there is frequent criticism that Hakone has grown too big, too popular, that the focus Lawrence cites is a distraction from prioritizing the Olympics as a career goal.  This line of criticism suggests that the very best young talent, the runners who might make top five on their stage at Hakone, are being burned out mentally and physically before they can develop.

And yet, of the seven Japanese men entered in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics long distance events, all seven have run the Hakone Ekiden.  Three of them graduated from Toyo University, the first school to break a 3:00/km average pace for the entire distance of Hakone.  Five of them made the top five on their stages at some point in their university careers.  Three won their stages. One set a new stage record. One is even a current Hakone runner.  Originally conceived of as a way to develop Olympic marathoners, there may be problems with the Hakone Ekiden and there may be casualties, but at least this year there is not much evidence to support claims of a negative impact on Japan's future Olympians.

The Hakone Ekiden performance history of Japan's seven Rio long distance men:

Suehiro Ishikawa (36, Honda) - men's marathon
graduated Toyo University 2002
  • 2000 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - Ninth Stage - 15th
  • 1999 Hakone Ekiden (1st yr.) - Second Stage - 14th

Hisanori Kitajima (31, Yasukawa Denki) - men's marathon
graduated Toyo University 2007
  • 2007 Hakone Ekiden (4th yr.) - Eighth Stage - 1st
  • 2006 Hakone Ekiden (3rd yr.) - Fourth Stage - 8th

Kota Murayama (23, Asahi Kasei) - men's 5000 m, 10000 m
graduated Josai University 2015
  • 2015 Hakone Ekiden (4th yr.) - Second Stage - 2nd
  • 2014 Hakone Ekiden (3rd yr.) - Second Stage - 18th
  • 2013 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - Second Stage - 15th
  • 2012 Hakone Ekiden (1st yr.) - First Stage - 5th

Suguru Osako (24, NOP) - men's 5000 m, 10000 m
graduated Waseda University 2014
  • 2014 Hakone Ekiden (4th yr.) - First Stage - 5th
  • 2013 Hakone Ekiden (3rd yr.) - Third Stage - 2nd
  • 2012 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - First Stage - 1st
  • 2011 Hakone Ekiden (1st yr.) - First Stage - 1st

Satoru Sasaki (30, Asahi Kasei) - men's marathon
graduated Daito Bunka University 2008
  • 2008 Hakone Ekiden (4th yr.) - Second Stage - 10th
  • 2007 Hakone Ekiden (3rd yr.) - Fifth Stage - 6th
  • 2006 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - Fifth Stage - 6th
  • 2005 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - Fifth Stage - 6th

Kazuya Shiojiri (19, Juntendo University) - men's 3000 mSC
current Juntendo University 2nd-year
  • 2016 Hakone Ekiden (1st yr.) - Second Stage - 5th

Yuta Shitara (24, Honda) - men's 10000 m
graduated Toyo University 2014
  • 2014 Hakone Ekiden (4th yr.) - Third Stage - 1st
  • 2013 Hakone Ekiden (3rd yr.) - Third Stage - 1st
  • 2012 Hakone Ekiden (2nd yr.) - Seventh Stage - 1st, course record
  • 2011 Hakone Ekiden (1st yr.) - Third Stage - 8th

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Brett Larner said…
Interestingly, with the exception of Shiojiri, all the men on the Rio distance team this year went to university in Saitama prefecture.

Ishikawa, Kitajima and Shitara: Toyo University, Kawagoe, Saitama
Murayama: Josai University, Sakado, Saitama
Osako: Waseda University, Tokorozawa, Saitama
Sasaki: Daito Bunka University, Higashi Matsuyama, Saitama

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