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Hironaka, Ndiku and Aoyama Gakuin Lead Weekend Track Highlights

by Brett Larner

A week after running 9:00.81 to become the fastest-ever Japanese 10th grade girl over 3000 m, Ririka Hironaka (Nagasaki Shogyo H.S.) was back to break another record.  At Saturday's Challenge Games in Oita Ginko Dome Hironaka ran 15:42.23 to win the women's 5000 m, again the fastest mark ever by a Japanese 10th grader.  10th graders also brought good times in the women's 3000 m and men's 5000 m, where Oita Tomei H.S. resident Kenyans Marta Mokaya and Benuel Mogeni won in 9:06.29 and 13:43.37.  Japanese high schoolers Keita Yoshida (Sera H.S.) and Yuta Kanbayashi (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) both broke 14 minutes, Yoshida running 13:53.53 for 3rd and Kanbayashi next across the line in 13:59.14.

Faster 5000 m times came Sunday at Yokohama's Nittai University Time Trials, where Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) came up just short of the fastest 5000 m on Japanese soil so far this year as he won in 13:15.32.  John Maina (Team Fujitsu) and Alfred Ngeno (Team Nissin Shokuhin) also broke 13:20, but reigning university ekiden power Aoyama Gakuin University delivered bigger news across the pack behind the top three.  Already holding thirteen men with sub-14 bests for 5000 m, in the same heat as Ndiku nine Aoyama Gakuin men broke 14, the four fastest of them setting new PBs and one doing it for the first time.  Aoyama Gakuin's roster now includes fourteen men sub-14, five of whom have also run sub-29 for 10000 m and sub-63 for the half marathon, plus one more runner, fourth-year Kinari Ikeda, who has run 28 and 62 with a 5000 m best of only 14:08.27.  This gives Aoyama Gakuin a fifteen-deep roster of A-listers, more than enough to tackle next week's National University Ekiden with eight stages averaging 13.4 km.  But they have company.

Before this weekend Tokai University already matched Aoyama Gakuin at runners fourteen sub-14 and six sub-29.  At Nittai two more of its team broke 29, giving it a seventeen-deep A-list roster, fourteen of them sub-14 including five sub-29, plus three more sub-29 with 5000 m bests between 14:03.82 and 14:11.25.  Only second-year Haruki Minatoya has broken 63 for the half marathon at this point, a shortcoming that will hurt their chances against Aoyama Gakuin at Nationals and especially at January's Hakone Ekiden where the ten stages average roughly a half marathon in distance.  But take a look at Tokai's first-years:

  • Hayato Seki: 5000 m: 13:41.28     10000 m: 28:48.63
  • Shota Onizuka: 5000 m: 13:43.61     10000 m: 28:55.26
  • Rintaro Takata: 10000 m: 28:57.91
  • Junnosuke Matsuo: 10000 m: 28:59.65
  • Ryoji Tatezawa: 5000 m: 13:48.89
  • Ryohei Sakaguchi; 5000 m; 13:51.69
  • Takuya Hanyu: 5000 m: 13:52.98
  • Yuichiro Nishikawa: 5000 m: 13:58.54

Just these eight first-years alone would be a better team than most other schools will field at Nationals, and none of them has run a half marathon yet.  Tokai could even field two teams and both would do better than most of the competition.  Give them another year and you'll be looking at the team that will take away Aoyama Gakuin's spot on top of the university ekiden world.

© 2016 Brett Larner
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