by Brett Larner
Ekiden season rolls on this Sunday with the Morinomiyako Ekiden, the 34th edition of the National University Women's Ekiden. 25 university teams and one regional select team will race over 38.0 km in six stages. Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University has won the national title ten times in the last thirteen years and is in the middle of the longest streak in the championships' history, with five straight wins behind them and looking to add a sixth. The last team to beat them, Kyoto rivals Bukkyo University, have completely disappeared since the departure of head coach Kenichi Morikawa to take over at the Yamada Denki women's corporate team, while the only other team to beat Ritsumeikan since 2003, 2005 champ Meijo University of Aichi, was 5th last year almost four minutes behind Ritsumeikan.
Ritsumeikan won September's Kansai Region University Women's Ekiden, but its margin over runner-up Kyoto Sangyo University was only 24 seconds over 30 km. At the National University Track and Field Championships earlier in September, between the 1500 m, 5000 m, 10000 m and 3000 mSC only one Ritsumeikan runner, fourth-year Natsuki Omori, made the top five in any event. Ritsumeikan has rarely looked as vulnerable.
Last year's runner-up Daito Bunka University of Saitama may be the one to break the Ritsumeikan dynasty. Almost three minutes behind Ritsumeikan last year, at September's Kanto Region University Women's Ekiden DBU won by a margin of almost two minutes in 1:38:59 for 30.6 km, faster than Ritsumeikan's 1:39:21 for 30.0 km in Kansai. On the other hand, no DBU women made the top five in the distance events at the National University Track and Field Championships. If they come to Nationals with the same strength they showed at the Kanto Region race they could become the first Kanto national champion since 2002.
2015 third-placer Matsuyama University easily won the Chugoku-Shikoku Region University Ekiden, but with a total distance of only 25.0 km its time of 1:26:28 is harder to compare to Ritsumeikan's. A better indication of Matsuyama's strength was its performance at the National University Track and Field Championships. Led by Rio Olympian Anju Takamizawa, seven Matsuyama women made the top five in the four distance events including a meet record from Takamizawa in the 3000 mSC and a win in the 5000 m by fourth-year Misuzu Nakahara over Ritsumeikan's Omori. A national title for them would be a first for the Chugoku-Shikoku Region.
University men's ekiden season is completely dominated by Kanto Region teams, but with Ritsumeikan, Daito Bunka and Matsuyama all coming back strong this year's women's Nationals look to be an exciting race between the top teams from three different regions. Ritsumeikan prioritizes peaking for Nationals above all else and shouldn't be counted down and out based on its September results. But apart from Bukkyo's 2009 and 2010 wins it's hard to remember a time any teams have looked as close to them in ability. Even Kyoto Sangyo could get in on the action. The only thing better than an unbeatable champ is seeing someone beat one. This could be the year.
Nippon TV will broadcast the Morinomiyako Ekiden live starting at noon on Sunday, Oct. 30. Follow @JRNLive for live coverage throughout the race.
34th Morinomiyako Ekiden
National University Women's Ekiden
Sendai, Miyagi, 10/30/16
click here for complete entry list and uniform guide
1. Ritsumeikan University - Kyoto
2. Daito Bunka University - Saitama
3. Matsuyama University - Ehime
4. Nittai University - Kanagawa
5. Meijo University - Aichi
6. Osaka Gakuin University - Osaka
7. Tokyo Nogyo University - Tokyo
8. Kansai University - Osaka
9. Hokusho University - Hokkaido
10. Tohoku Fukushi University - Miyagi
11. Ishinomaki Senshu University - Miyagi
12. Toyo University - Saitama
13. Hakuoh University - Tochigi
14. Josai University - Saitama
15. Juntendo University - Chiba
16. Chuo University - Tokyo
17. Niigata Iryo Fukushi University - Niigata
18. Chukyo University - Aichi
19. Kyoto Sangyo University - Kyoto
20. Kansai Gaikokugo University - Osaka
21. Osaka Geijutsu University - Osaka
22. Kantai Heiyo University - Okayama
23. Fukuoka University - Fukuoka
24. Kanoya Taiiku University - Kagoshima
25. Kwassui Joshi University - Nagasaki
26. Tohoku Region Select Team
© 2016 Brett Larner
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