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Top University Teams Join Okukuma Ekiden Field Following Izumo Cancelation

Ten top men's university ekiden teams centered in the competitive Kanto Region are expected to run the first edition of the Okukuma Ekiden in Tanagi, Kumamoto on Oct. 4. The new event will feature high school, university and corporate league teams racing each other over a 42.195 km course. Starting together, the  university and corporate team divisions will be divided into four stages, with the high school division dividing the longer stages to cover the same total distance in seven stages.

In addition to the ongoing coronavirus crisis the Tanagi area has been battered by severe rain and flooding in recent weeks, but race organizers remain determined to stage the event with measures potentially including barring spectators from the course. "The roads on the course suffered no damage from the flooding," commented a race official. "The determining factor on whether the event can go ahead will be the situation regarding the coronavirus. We will make a series of decisions in that regard one month out, two weeks out, and the week before. If we are able to go ahead, we expect to have ten university teams in the race."

On July 27 it was announced that the Oct. 11 Izumo Ekiden, the first race in the Big Three University Ekiden season, had been canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. The decision immediately brought the new Okukuma Ekiden into the spotlight. 2020 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University was already planning to take part in Okukuma, but with Izumo's cancelation 2019 Hakone champ Tokai University, 2019 Izumo Ekiden winner Koku Gakuin University, traditional powerhouse Waseda University and others have now also come board.

Top local high school team Kyushu Gakuin will be joined by national-class rivals from Fukuoka, Omuta, Miyazaki and Kobayashi. The corporate league division will feature Kyushu-based teams. Stage lengths in the high school division mirror those in the National High School Ekiden, with a 10 km First Stage, 3 km Second Stage, 8.1 km Third Stage, 8.05 km Fourth Stage, 3 km Fifth Stage, 5 km Sixth Stage and 5.045 km Seventh Stage. The university and corporate division course combines the high school division's Second and Third Stages into a single 11.1 km stage, the Fourth and Fifth into an 11.05 km stage, and the Sixth and Seventh stages into a 10.045 km stage.

Scoring and awards will be divided into two different classes, but both divisions will run together with a single start. AGU head coach Susumu Hara, 53, commented, "High school students may find it challenging to keep up on the long First Stage, so after that they will be chasing. It will be very interesting to see the competition between corporate league, university and high school teams. I'm looking forward to this ekiden."

The organizers of the Okukuma Ekiden announced the new event in late April in the midst of a wave of race cancelations across the country. "I'm impressed with the work the Okukuma Ekiden organizers have put into making this happen," said Hara. "I hope it can go ahead as planned. I hope all the local residents will watch the Aoyama Gakuin University athletes run."

There is still concern over the continued spread of the coronavirus, but with the decision to cancel the Izumo Ekiden the Okukuma Ekiden stands to gain. There's no doubt it'll be an exciting new start to ekiden season.

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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