by Brett Larner
Kicking off the 2016 Big Three University Ekiden season, the 6-stage, 45.1 km Izumo Ekiden played out almost exactly according to script, with defending champion Aoyama Gakuin University holding off the perfectly-matched Yamanashi Gakuin University and Tokai University on the second half of the anchor stage to win a second-straight title.
A moderate easterly wind meant slower times than last year on the first three and final stages. Right from the start it was all Aoyama Gakuin, Yamanashi Gakuin and Tokai, given a push on the 8.0 km First Stage by Nittai University's Takumi Komatsu and Daiichi Kogyo University's Geoffrey Gichia, but by midway through the 5.8 km Second Stage Aoyama Gakuin's Kazuki Tamura and Tokai first-year Ryoji Tatezawa had opened a lead over Yamanashi Gakuin that lasted until the anchor stage.
In terms of the anchor stage Yamanashi Gakuin had the greatest advantage, with last year's stage winner Dominic Nyairo having beaten Aoyama Gakuin's Tadashi Isshiki by 30 seconds over the 10.2 km stage and both returning this year with a similar margin in their track 10000 m bests. Aoyama Gakuin needed at least that much to be safe. Tokai anchor Haruki Minatoya was 23 seconds behind Isshiki on track 10000 m and 50 seconds behind Nyairo, and he likewise needed those kinds of margins to have a chance at the win.
To the second, Tokai first year Hayato Seki did his part on the 8.5 km Third Stage, dropping Aoyama Gakuin's 2:11:34 marathoner Yuta Shimoda and opening a 23 second lead over Aoyama Gakuin and a 57 second lead over Yamanashi Gakuin. If all held steady from there Tokai's place would be secure. But sometimes things aren't that easy.
Tokai's next man Kazuto Kawabata was just 5 seconds off the course record in 17:51 for the 6.2 km Fourth Stage, but with the wind now blowing directly behind them five others went under the old record, among them both Aoyama Gakuin's Ryota Motegi and Yamanashi Gakuin's Ryutaro Ichitani. Two stages to go and Aoyama Gakuin was just 11 seconds back from Tokai, Yamanashi Gakuin 51 seconds back.
With the tailwind still blowing from straight behind Tokai's fifth man Shuto Mikami was 2 seconds off the 6.4 km Fifth Stage record, but Aoyama Gakuin captain Yuya Ando dug deep to pass Mikami in the last stretch and set a new record of 17:43. Yamanashi Gakuin's fifth man Sho Nagato was the third-fastest on the stage, setting up a tense anchor stage with Aoyama Gakuin and Tokai separated by just 2 seconds and Yamanashi Gakuin's Nyairo a minute behind them with 10.2 km to make it up.
Aoyama Gakuin's Isshiki and Tokai's Minatoya ran together until the downhill past 3 km, while behind them Nyairo cut their lead in half. On the downhill Isshiki pulled away from Minatoya, and behind them Nyairo's rate of progress began to stall. Just past 6 km he caught Minatoya, but from there Isshiki, with a 2:11:45 marathon debut in February and a 4th-place finish in the National Championships 5000 m in June behind him, began to push harder, and with that the race was settled.
JRN's pre-race rankings put Aoyama Gakuin 1st, Yamanashi Gakuin 2nd and Tokai 3rd with almost identical margins between them, and that's exactly how it played out. Isshiki brought Aoyama Gakuin home in 2:10:09, just over a minute slower than last year. Yamanashi Gakuin was 2nd again, 31 seconds behind Aoyama Gakuin versus last year's 38-second margin. 5th last year, Tokai took 3rd just 33 seconds behind Yamanashi Gakuin, all three schools earning seeded spots in next year's race. With the windy conditions times were overall slower than last year, but consider this: in 2013 Komazawa University set a 2:09:11 record for the 44.5 km Izumo course that at the time JRN called a "near-perfect performance." Last year 600 m was added to the Third Stage, making the overall distance 45.1 km. If Komazawa had run the same way on the slightly longer current course their time would have been 2:10:56. Both Aoyama Gakuin and Yamanashi Gakuin beat that today, with Tokai just seconds off.
A few surprises did come further back, none more so than 9th-ranked Chuo Gakuin University taking 4th less than a minute behind Tokai. 4th-ranked Waseda University was digging itself out a hole all the way from the First Stage when its leading man Kazuma Taira, ranked #1 on his stage, faltered, but Chuo Gakuin was in the action in the chase pack the entire way. Chuo Gakuin dropped the higher-ranked Waseda, Nittai, Komazawa, Toyo University and Juntendo University to take its best-ever placing at Izumo, at 2:12:08 the only school in the top 10 to run faster than last year in the windy conditions. And that despite the graduation of two-time 3000 mSC national champion Hironori Tsuetaki, course record setter on the Second Stage last year.
Missing its top man Keisuke Nakatani with injury Komazawa performed up to potential, taking 5th in 2:12:20. Buoyed by Komatsu's strong leadoff run, Nittai bettered its pre-race ranking by two to take 6th in 2:12:42. Juntendo, led by Rio Olympics 3000 mSC runner Kazuya Shiojiri, ran to ability at 7th in 2:13:07. Waseda, behind early after Taira's breakdown, fought back with a Fourth Stage record from Yohei Suzuki, overtaking Toyo in the last kilometer for 8th in 2:14:20. Like Komazawa missing one of its best men, last year's National University Ekiden champion Toyo had the worst showing of the day, ranked 6th close behind Waseda and Komazawa but missing the 8-deep podium at 9th in 2:14:25.
With 10 schools from the Tokyo-area Kanto Region in the field Teikyo University made it a clean sweep for Kanto at 10th in 2:15:52. 12th-ranked Kyoto Sangyo University gave it a good shot at getting into the top 10 again this year as the top non-Kanto school but came up just short at 11th in 2:16:24. Ranked 10th pre-race, the Ivy League Select Team was only 14th in 2:20:19, spending most of the race in 18th but moving up late thanks in large part to a strong anchor run from Columbia's Jake Sienko, the only Ivy League runner to crack the top 10 on his stage.
University men's ekiden season continues Saturday with the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km in Tokyo, a qualifying race featuring 50 schools gunning for 10 spots at January's Hakone Ekiden alongside the top 10 schools from Izumo. Most of the Izumo field will line up again the first weekend in November for the National University Men's Ekiden, the next stop in the Big Three season that wraps up at Hakone. Over the shorter distances at Izumo Yamanashi Gakuin and Tokai were almost even matches for Aoyama Gakuin. But as the distances increase at Nationals and Hakone Aoyama Gakuin's strengths only grow.
Yamanashi Gakuin doesn't look like it has the depth in its roster to field the bigger teams needed at the next two ekidens, but while Tokai has the depth, 14 men sub-14 for 5000 m and 6 sub-29 for 10000 m, it will need a massive rush of PBs at next month's Ageo City Half Marathon to earn the credentials to challenge Aoyama Gakuin, which has 13 men sub-14, 6 sub-29 and half marathon marks to match. If not, Aoyama Gakuin will be well on its way to becoming just the fourth school to win the triple crown of Izumo, National and Hakone titles in a single season.
28th Izumo Ekiden
Izumo, Shimane, 10/11/16
21 teams, 45.1 km, 6 stages
click here for complete results
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 2:10:09
2. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 2:10:40
3. Tokai University - 2:11:13
----- top three seeded for 2017
4. Chuo Gakuin University - 2:12:08
5. Komazawa University - 2:12:20
6. Nittai University - 2:12:42
7. Juntendo University - 2:13:07
8. Waseda University - 2:14:20
9. Toyo University - 2:14:25
10. Teikyo University - 2:15:52
11. Kyoto Sangyo University - 2:16:24
12. Hiroshima Keizai University - 2:19:01
13. Daiichi Kogyo University - 2:19:21
14. Ivy League Select Team - 2:20:19
15. Aichi Kogyo University - 2:20:26
16. Hokkaido Region Select Team - 2:20:28
17. Nippon Bunri University - 2:20:34
18. Chugoku/Shikoku Region Select Team - 2:21:33
19. Tohoku Region Select Team - 2:22:44
20. Hokushinetsu Region Select Team - 2:25:00
DNS - Kwansei Gakuin University
Top Stage Performances
First Stage - 8.0 km
1. Takumi Komatsu (Nittai Univ.) - 23:23
2. Shota Onizuka (Tokai Univ.) - 23:26
3. Kenta Ueda (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 23:26
4. Geoffrey Gichia (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 23:32
5. Takato Suzuki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 23:33
17. Henry Sterling (Ivy League Select Team) - 24:48
Second Stage - 5.8 km
1. Kazuki Tamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 16:24
2. Ryoji Tatezawa (Tokai Univ.) - 16:34
3. Shogo Hata (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 16:54
4. Shori Arai (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 17:07
5. Yushiro Miyazaki (Nittai Univ.) - 17:19
20. John Gregorek (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:54
Third Stage - 8.5 km
1. Hayato Seki (Tokai Univ.) - 24:50
2. Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) - 24:51
3. Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 24:59
4. Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 25:16
4. Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 25:16
18. Chris Bendtsen (Ivy League Select Team) - 27:39
Fourth Stage - 6.2 km
1. Yohei Suzuki (Waseda Univ.) - 17:34 - CR
2. Ryota Motegi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:39 (CR)
2. Fuminori Shimo (Komazawa Univ.) - 17:39 (CR)
4. Yuki Murakami (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 17:41 (CR)
5. Ryutaro Ichitani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 17:45 (CR)
13. Steve Mangan (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:44
Fifth Stage - 6.4 km
1. Yuya Ando (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:43 - CR
2. Shuto Mikami (Tokai Univ) - 17:56
3. Sho Nagato (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 18:03
4. Ryoichi Yoshida (Nittai Univ.) - 18:06
5. Makoto Mitsunobu (Waseda Univ.) - 18:07
11. Will Geoghegan (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:53
Sixth Stage - 10.2 km
1. Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:05
2. Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:34
3. Daichi Takasago (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 30:09
4. Shohei Otsuka (Komazawa Univ.) - 30:14
5. Haruki Minatoya (Tokai Univ.) - 30:36
9. Jake Sienko (Ivy League Select Team) - 31:21
© 2016 Brett Larner
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