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Kurashiki H.S. Runs All-Time #5 Time to Win Its First-Ever National High School Boys Ekiden Title

by Brett Larner
highlights video courtesy of broadcaster NHK
click here for National High School Girls Ekiden results

Having run the National High School Boys Ekiden 38 times without ever winning, Kurashiki H.S. staged a classic battle against the fastest-ever all-Japanese team Saku Chosei H.S. to take the national title for the first time.

Saku Chosei, alma mater of Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) and many of today's other top Japanese men, was out front early with stage wins from its first two men Ryota Natori and Sakito Matsuzaki.  At the start of the 8.1075 km Third Stage it was 21 seconds up on Kurashiki which sat 4th behind last year's runner-up Kyushu Gakuin H.S. and Iga Hakuho H.S.  Saku Chosei's third man Yuhi Nakaya said pre-race that if he could hold the lead until 5 km then he would be able to stay with whatever Kenyans caught him. He more than lived up to those words.

Kurashiki's Joel Mwaura set off in pursuit of Nakaya on course record pace, but as the kilometers went by it took longer than expected for him to bridge the 21-second gap.  Not until the tough uphill just past 6 km did he make contact, and Nakaya had little trouble staying with him on the downhill that followed. Running side-by-side over the next km,  Nakaya made a move back to the front with a kilometer to go before kicking away to hand off still in 1st by 2 seconds. Mwaura won on stage time in 23:09, but Nakaya's 23:28 was the fastest-ever by a Japanese runner and good enough to put him 3rd on a stage that included seven Kenyans.  The familiar gap in ability between the Kenyan and Japanese runners was noticeably smaller than in the past, and without a doubt Nakaya showed no fear of Mwaura and none of the usual resignation to settling for top Japanese honors when he was caught.  Change takes time, but it can happen.

With Mwaura having brought momentum to Kurashiki's flow its fourth runner Shunpei Maeda made a critical move when he dropped Saku Chosei's Takahiro Honma en route to winning his stage.  Saku Chosei turned it around with a Fifth Stage win by Hikaru Uchida, but another Kurashiki win on the Sixth Stage by Taiga Kitano meant Kurashiki was 57 seconds up on Saku Chosei at the start of the 5.0 km anchor stage, an unbreakable lead barring disaster.  Saku Chosei anchor Koki Maruyama ran the 3rd-fastest time in the field but could only pick up 15 seconds on Kurashiki anchor Haruki Nago. Nago broke the finish tape alone in 2:02:34, a school record by 38 seconds and the 5th-fastest time in Nationals history.  Saku Chosei was 2nd in 2:03:16, its 2nd-fastest time ever and the all-time 10th-best team performance at the National High School Boys Ekiden.

Alone much of the race, Kyushu Gakuin took 3rd in 2:03:51, anchor Hiroto Okura the only runner who could break up the top two schools' monopoly on individual stage wins.  Oita Tomei H.S. was over a minute and a half back in 4th in its best-ever performance to lead the rest of the field in 2:05:22.  Two-time defending champ Sera H.S., who broke the Samuel Wanjiru-era course record last year in 2:01:18, was never a factor, as low as 19th and never better than 4th as it squeezed onto the eight-deep podium in 7th in 2:05:49.

Many of the best runners at the National High School Boys' Ekiden will head to Hiroshima on Jan. 22 for the season-ending National Men's Ekiden where they will run for their home prefectures on teams featuring each prefecture's best junior high school, high school, university and pro runners.  Follow @JRNLive for coverage of that and the other remaining national championship ekidens.

67th National High School Boys Ekiden
Kyoto, 12/25/16
47 teams, 7 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Kurashiki H.S. (Okayama) - 2:02:34 - all-time #5
2. Saku Chosei H.S. (Nagano) - 2:03:16 - all-time #10
3. Kyushu Gakuin H.S. (Kumamoto) - 2:03:51
4. Oita Tomei H.S. (Oita) - 2:05:22
5. Iga Hakuho H.S. (Mie) - 2:05:31
6. Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S. (Hyogo) - 2:05:41
7. Sera H.S. (Hiroshima) - 2:05:49
8. Rakunan H.S. (Kyoto) - 2:06:10
9. Tosu Kogyo H.S. (Saga) - 2:06:24
10. Funabashi Municipal H.S. (Chiba) - 2:06:29

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (10.0 km)
1. Ryota Natori (3rd yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 29:22
2. Kiseki Shiozawa (3rd yr., Iga Hakuho H.S.) - 29:27
3. Takeshi Nishida (3rd yr., Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 29:28

Second Stage (3.0 km)
1. Sakito Matsuzaki (1st yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 8:06
2. Yuki Kametaka (3rd yr., Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 8:10
3. Ryota Uemura (3rd yr., Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 8:15

Third Stage (8.1075 km)
1. Joel Mwaura (3rd yr., Kurashiki H.S.) - 23:09
2. David Gure (2nd yr., Sera H.S.) - 23:18
3. Yuhi Nakaya (2nd yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 23:28 - fastest-ever by JPN runner

Fourth Stage (8.0875 km)
1. Shunpei Maeda (3rd yr., Kurashiki H.S.) - 23:01
2. Yuta Kanbayashi (3rd yr., Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 23:06
3. Shun Yoshizato (3rd yr., Omuta H.S.) - 23:43

Fifth Stage (3.0 km)
1. Hikaru Uchida (3rd yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 8:44
2. Daiki Kametaka (3rd yr., Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 8:49
3. Yuki Sakai (3rd yr., Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 8:51

Sixth Stage (5.0 km)
1. Taiga Kitano (2nd yr., Kurashiki H.S.) - 14:46
2. Takashi Soma (3rd yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 14:51
3. Yuki Teramae (3rd yr., Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S) - 14:58

Seventh Stage (5.0 km)
1. Hiroto Okura (3rd yr., Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 14:35
2. Sora Fukazawa (3rd yr., Toyokawa H.S.) - 14:37
3. Koki Maruyama (2nd yr., Saku Chosei H.S.) - 14:38

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

Anonymous said…
Brett, The Japanese high school competition sounds a bit like the US NCAA, what with the abundance of Kenyan runners and certain high schools dominating every year. Can you comment on how the school enrolment works there? In other words, do Japanese high schools offer scholarships to domestic and foreign runners? And, scholarship or not, are students able to attend whatever school they want? If not, and if there are no scholarships, what accounts for so many Kenyans and how are they able to afford to live/study in Japan? And how are so many top Japanese runners ending up at the same schools year after year?

Just curious! Thanks!
Brett Larner said…
Yes, there are scholarships. There aren't really that many Kenyans, probably not more than a dozen total boys and girls at the high school level nationwide, but they are scouted to run for schools, some of which, like Sendai Ikuei HS, have been doing it for a long time.

For Japanese runners it depends on the program but to some degree people do travel to attend strong programs. Suguru Osako, for example, went to Saku Chosei HS in Nagano despite being from Tokyo, and Tadashi Isshiki and Hazuma Hattori, natives of Kyoto and Niigata, went to Sendai Ikuei in MIyagi before transferring to Toyokawa HS in Miyagi.

Apart from that, the top schools typically have excellent coaches, as you'd expect. Saku Chosei got where it did thanks to coach Hayashi Morozumi, who is now doing the same thing to Tokai University.

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