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Hakone Ekiden Entry Lists

Entry lists are out for Japan's biggest and best road race, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. 21 university teams from around the Tokyo area will field ten runners from the sixteen on their entry list, each runner taking on roughly a half marathon length over the ten-stage race.

2017 Izumo Ekiden winner Tokai University is the class of the field, one of only five teams to enter all ten of its best athletes and the only one with ten-runner averages under 14 minutes for 5000 m, under 29 for 10000 m and 1:03 for the half marathon. At all three distances its averages are slightly better than Aoyama Gakuin University's were last year when AGU won its third-straight Hakone title, and no other school even comes closer over the most relevant distance, the half marathon. It has never won Hakone, but this year it's Tokai's race to lose.

AGU has been hit by injury troubles this year, losing in both Izumo and the National University Ekiden and missing several key members from its Hakone entry list. On paper it's ranked #2 behind Tokai, but with star senior Yuta Shimoda operating at less than 100% all season AGU is in range of Komazawa University, a perpetual top 3 finisher led by 2017 World University Games half marathon gold and silver medalists Kei Katanishi and Naoki Kudo.
In terms of ability Yamanashi Gakuin University is nearly equal to Komazawa in strength, but it has struggled with injury issues this year harder than any other team and in reality will probably be fighting to finish in the top ten come Hakone. This season's Hakone Qualifier winner Teikyo University, Nittai Univesity, 2017 National University Ekiden champion Kanagawa University and Waseda University all look to be solidly positioned to finish inside the top ten, scoring themselves a place on the podium and at the following year's Hakone. Kanagawa pulled off a surprise win over Tokai and AGU at Nationals last month, but it simply doesn't have the half marathon credentials to have a chance of competing with Tokai over Hakone's longer stages without pulling out an even bigger shocker.
Crowd favorite Toyo University has been missing all of its seniors this season, leaving a shortage in quality. At both Izumo and Nationals it was clearly 3/4 of a top-rank team, and despite the return of one senior, Takeru Kobayakawa, Toyo will arrive in Hakone shorthanded again. It's ranked #9, but just behind it Koku Gakuin University, Takushoku University and Daito Bunka University will all be looking to step up to the top ten and avoid a return trip to next October's Hakone Qualifier. If Toyo falters it will be its first time being knocked down to the Qualifier since 2005.
Josai University, alma mater of 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama, Chuo Gakuin University and Chuo University all look out of range of the top ten but could break through with the combination of a perfect team performance and a misstep by YGU, Toyo or another top-ranked team. Chuo, coached by collegiate marathon record holder Masakazu Fujiwara, did just that, running far beyond expectations at the Hakone Qualifier to make it back into the fold after severing an unbroken string of Hakone appearances stretching back to 1925 last year in Fujiwara's first season as head coach.
The bottom-ranked five university teams and the Kanto Region Student Alliance team made up of top-placing individuals from schools that failed to qualify as teams at the Hakone Qualifier, fill out the rest of the field. Juntendo University features the best Japanese collegiate runner in the field, Rio Olympian Kazuya Shiojiri, fresh off a 27:47.87 PB for 10000 m late last month in Hachioji. Of special interest is bottom-ranked Tokyo Kokusai University featuring a first-year named Kazuya Watanabe. As a pro at the Shikoku Denryoku and Nissin Shokuhin corporate teams Watanabe was one of Japan's best-ever on the track, ranked all-time #2 over 1500 m. Now 30, Watanabe quit the corporate leagues to go to university in hopes of getting to run Hakone. Watanabe helped score for TKU at the Hakone Qualifier and earned a place on their entry list. Only two hurdles remain for Watanabe to fulfill his Hakone dream: making it through onto TKU's starting list and surviving it's head coach's race-day substitutions.
Both Shiojiri and Watanabe rank among the top ten individuals in the field, Shiojiri leading the 5000 m and 10000 m PB lists and Watanabe making it onto the 5000 m list. Ranked #2 behind Shiojiri over 10000 m, YGU Kenyan Dominic Nyairo leads the half marathon rankings. Two men, Tokai second-year Shota Onizuka and AGU fourth-year Kazuki Tamura, make the top ten for all three distances, Onizuka with bests of 13:38.58, 28:17.52 and 1:02:03 and Tamura with 13:43.22, 28:18.31 and 1:01:56.

Look for a detailed Hakone Ekiden preview and more coverage closer to race date.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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