Nihon University, 18th at this year's Hakone Ekiden, has named former Daito Bunka University head coach and former Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto (KGRR) director Yoshiyuki Aoba, 77, as its new head coach. It is almost unheard-of for someone who has risen to the top position of the KGRR, organizers of the Hakone Ekiden, to return to coaching. Previous head coach Yoshiyuki Musha, 36, has retired from coaching and will remain at Nihon University in another capacity.
With 12 Hakone Ekiden titles to its name, ranking it #3 in the event's history, and 89 Hakone appearances, the second-most in history, the change is a surprising move from the powerhouse Nihon University. The young Musha stepped down following this year's 18th-place finish, the sixth year in a row that Nihon has missed a prestigious top ten finish, leaving the door open for the 77-year-old veteran Aoba to come in.
Aoba graduated from Nihon University, becoming head coach at Daito Bunka University at just age 25. He quickly transformed the new team into one of the strongest in Kanto, winning Hakone four times and producing standout athletes like four-time Hakone Fifth Stage winner Hatsuo Okubo and 1996 Atlanta Olympic marathoner Kenjiro Jitsui.
After retiring from Daito Bunka in 2020, Aoba took the powerful position of KGRR director. He now serves as honorary director. The move to Nihon represents his first time coaching in 20 years. Aoba's home is close by the Daito Bunka athlete dormitory in Higashi Matsuyama, Saitama, but he will now live in the Nihon team dormitory in Inagi, Tokyo alongside athletes almost 60 years younger than him. "All I can say is that he's still got the hands-on competitive spirit, even at that age," a person close to Aoba said in admiration.
Like other universities, Nihon University has currently suspended official team activities due to the coronavirus crisis. In the midst of this difficult situation, the return of a legend is sure to draw attention.
Yoshiyuki Aoba - Born June 16, 1942 in Otamura, Saitama. 77 years old. He began running when he entered Chichibu Nokokagaku H.S. As a 3rd-year he was a member of Chichibu Nokokagaku's first-ever National High School Ekiden-qualifying team. After graduating in 1961 he started working for Chichibu Railways, but a year later he entered Nihon University. As a 4th-year he finished 3rd on the 1966 Hakone Ekiden's First Stage. After graduating he began working at the Saitama Prefectural Government, but after two years he became head coach at Daito Bunka University, where he remained until 2000. Under his leadership Daito Bunka won Hakone four times, in 1975, 1976, 1990 and 1991. In the 1990-1991 season Daito Bunka became the first school to ever achieve the triple crown, winning the Izumo Ekiden, National University Ekiden, and Hakone Ekiden. He served as KGRR director from 2007 to 2016.
translated by Brett Larner