translated and edited by Brett Larner
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Powered by its formidable lineup of talented first-years, Tokai University is shooting for top three in Japan's biggest race. On Dec. 16 the Tokai University men's ekiden team held a public practice session in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa ahead of the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. Of its sixteen-man Hakone entry roster, eight are first-years. Four of those have run 13 minutes for 5000 m, four have run 28 minutes for 10000 m, and two have run 62 minutes for the half marathon. Head coach Hayashi Morozumi, 50, told reporters, "I think you'll probably see a lot of the first-years on the final start list too. It's jump or die. If we take an interesting approach, we can make it a good race. We have to take it to the champs Aoyama Gakuin University and not be afraid of failing. Our goal is 3rd place. I hope that we can go into it with every team member bringing the best of his abilities."
Morozumi plans a strong start. On the First Stage he intends to put Shota Onizuka, who ran an all-time Asian junior #2 time of 1:02:03 at November's Ageo City Half Marathon, following on the Second Stage with Hayato Seki, winner of the Third Stage at October's Izumo Ekiden. Both are first-years. "I'm excited to see what this kind of fresh blood can bring to those stages," Morozumi commented. Onizuka promised to get things started fast, saying, "I want to get us into a good flow, whether that's running with Aoyama Gakuin or ahead of them." Seki added, "I want to keep the team's momentum up on the most competitive stage. I think we can take 1st as a team."
Morozumi also intends to use first-years on Hakone's two most important stages, the uphill Fifth Stage and the downhill Sixth Stage. Conducting trial runs in training to identify potential candidates, Morozumi identified first-years Ryoji Tatezawa and Junnosuke Matsuo as possibilities for the Fifth Stage. "Neither of them is affected by the demands of the climb," he said. "Tatezawa sits low down on his solid legs, an old-school style. Matsuo has a lighter style like [former Aoyama Gakuin uphill star] Daichi Kamino. Both are well-suited. They're not going to be called 'God of the Mountain' like Kamino but they are better on tough courses." For the downhill he also identified a first-year. "I am thinking of Reiri Nakashima," Morozumi said. "He showed something special during the trial run."