The 26th National Junior High School Ekiden took place Dec. 16 in Shiga's Hikarigaoka Bunka Park. Kyoto's Katsura J.H.S. girls ran 41:34 to win the five-stage, 12.0 km girls' race, becoming the first team ever to win the national title five years in a row. The Katsura J.H.S. boys ran a 56:33 course record to win the six-stage, 18.0 km boys' race, becoming the first team from Kyoto to win the boys' title and making Katsura the first school in event history to take both the boys' and girls' titles. The champion teams from each of Japan's 47 prefectures took part, with hosts Shiga fielding two teams to make in a field of 48 teams in both the boys' and girls' races.
In the girls' race Katsura's Koko Kamada took the lead late on the First Stage, and after that the team held that position until the Fifth Stage. The Shizuoka J.H.S. team nearly caught anchor Momoka Sano, but Sano was able to fight them off to win by a margin of just 3 seconds.
5th place last year, the Katsura boys started slow, working their way up through the field until the Fourth Stage where a stage record run from Yuki Murao put them into 1st. The team's fifth and sixth runners held on to win break the finish tape 7 seconds ahead of 2nd place. "I promised all the seniors last year that we'd do it this time, and I'm glad we could keep that promise," Murao said post-race. "I just wanted to get us there 1 second faster and have fun doing it."
Noriko Katayama, coach of both the Katsura boys and girls, commented, "With the help of everyone who supported us these wins would not have happened. I am grateful." Head coach Yamada added, "The hard times were hard, but they did a great job."
translated and edited by Brett Larner