After a DNF in the final round knocked it out of contention last year, Kanagawa University led the qualifiers for November's National University Men's Ekiden from the most competitive region in Japan to win the Kanto Region Qualifier Sunday in Urawa, Saitama.
With six schools from Kanto already seeded for Nationals after taking the top six spots last year twenty more lined up in Urawa for four heats of 10000 m on the track, two runners from each school per heat. The combined times of each school's eight runners would determine who would stay and who would go come November, the top nine teams on aggregate time making the cut. With the four heats graded by time the first heat established the early favorites, runners from Kanagawa, Tokai University and Daito Bunka University taking the top three spots.
Heat 2 went out bafflingly slow, with one exception. Running alone, Juntendo University senior Kento Hanazawa fearlessly went it alone, opening up a 300 m lead at one point and looking like he would lap the entire pack all at once. Overall it doesn't make any difference whether an individual heat is fast or slow -- if everybody is fast or slow the difference between their aggregate times remains unchanged. But one runner going far out front can have a major impact, especially further down near the cutoff for qualifying where the difference in final aggregate times is often a matter of seconds. Up more than 50 seconds at his peak, Hanazawa ended up winning the heat by just over 11 seconds, still a significant contribution to Juntendo's standing. Daito Bunka's Katsuya Kawasumi was 2nd, solidifying DBU's standings near the top of the field.
Heat 3 saw Chuo University, struggling under new head coach Masakazu Fujiwara, try to get into the mix, teammates Shoma Funatsu and Ken Nakayama working together up front and Funatsu getting the win in 29:06.78. Another DBU runner, Kohei Arai, was 2nd in 29:12.04, while Kanagawa runners went 3-4 a few seconds back to strengthen Kanagawa's position atop the team standings heading into the final heat. The top seven were relatively secure in their chances of making the top nine, but at the bottom it was close. Just over 30 seconds separated 8th-place Nittai University from Josai University, Juntendo and Soka University. Every second counted, and for two runners it meant something more.
Last year Kanagawa's Atsushi Yamato and Soka's Muthoni Muiru both DNF'd in the final heat. With all eight runners scoring in team qualifying their breakdowns meant both Kanagawa and Soka were out of contention for Nationals. This year both Yamato and Muiru were back. From the start Muiru was up front, dueling the entire way with #1-ranked Patrick Wambui (Nihon University), the only sub-28 man in the field. Close behind, Rio Olympian Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo University) and Hiroyuki Sakaguchi (Meiji University) worked together to try to stay in reach, shaking off top-ranked Japanese man Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Universtiy), Yamato and Shiojiri's teammate Wataru Tochigi and running down Ethiopian Derese Workneh (Takushoku University).
昨日は応援あざほい！🐟🐟— 山藤 篤司 (@2atsushi_y0313) June 19, 2017
In the home straight Wambui outkicked Muiru to take the win in 28:27.25, Muiru less than a second behind in 28:28.08. Sakaguchi did the same to Shiojiri, taking 3rd in 28:35.47, the fastest time ever by a Japanese man at the Kanto Region Qualifier, with Shiojiri 4th in 28:35.92. Yamato was 8th in 28:51.20, making up for last year by ensuring Kanagawa the top spot among the qualifying teams by a margin of over 40 seconds over runner-up Tokai. The fast times by Shiojiri and Tochigi were what Juntendo needed to move up into the qualifying bracket, knocking Nittai out as it took 8th, 25 seconds ahead of 9th-placer Josai. Unlucky top non-qualifier Nittai was just over 12 seconds behind Josai, Soka another half second behind in 11th despite Muiru's comeback performance, both teams just 1.5 seconds per runner from making the grade. Small programs and their coaches live and die on qualifying, and you can be sure that none felt it more keenly than Soka.
National University Ekiden Kanto Region QualifierKomaba Stadium, Saitama, 6/18/17
click here for complete results
Team Results - top nine qualify for National University Ekiden
1. Kanagawa University - 3:56:16.62
2. Tokai University - 3:56:57.31
3. Koku Gakuin University - 3:57:43.15
4. Daito Bunka University - 3:57:49.49
5. Hosei University - 3:58:10.42
6. Teikyo University - 3:58:34.22
7. Meiji University - 3:58:40.53
8. Juntendo University - 3:58:40.74
9. Josai University - 3:59:05.34
10. Nittai University - 3:59:17.69
11. Soka University - 3:59:18.38
12. Chuo University - 4:00:13.01
1. Patrick Wambui (Nihon Univ.) - 28:27.25
2. Muthoni Muiru (Soka Univ.) - 28:28.08
3. Hiroyuki Sakaguchi (Meiji Univ.) - 28:35.47
4. Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) - 28:35.92
5. Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) - 28:45.24
6. Yuta Bando (Hosei Univ.) - 28:48.73
7. Kohei Mukai (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 28:49.36
8. Atsushi Yamato (Kanagawa Univ.) - 28:51.20
9. Wataru Tochigi (Juntendo Univ.) - 28:53.61
10. Derese Workneh (Takushoku Univ.) - 28:54.91
1. Shoma Funatsu (Chuo Univ.) - 29:06.78
2. Kohei Arai (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 29:12.04
3. Yuki Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) - 29:15.98
4. Yamato Otsuka (Kanagawa Univ.) - 29:16.41
5. Ken Nakayama (Chuo Univ.) - 29:16.49
1. Kento Hanazawa (Juntendo Univ.) - 30:03.16
2. Katsuya Kawasumi (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 30:14.44
3. Ryota Tanaka (Meiji Univ.) - 30:15.32
1. Yohei Komatsu (Tokai Univ.) - 29:40.69
2. Kenta Koshikawa (Kanagawa Univ.) - 29:41.99
3. Shoma Yamamoto (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 29:43.85
© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved