Not having made it to the Hakone Ekiden since 2010, on Aug. 1 former champion Asia University announced the hiring of Kenyan Patrick Mwaka, 27, as assistant coach to oversee its comeback. A longtime member of the Aisan Kogyo corporate team until this past April, Mwaka has track bests of 13:21.45 for 5000 m and 27:33.14 for 10000 m, and ran his half marathon best of 1:00:53 at February's National Corporate Half Marathon.
Among the main Hakone schools Kokushikan University also has Kenyan James Mwangi, 35, as assistant coach, but at just 27 Mwaka can still run with the students and give them the support they need to raise their game from close up. With his wife and two children still back in Kenya, he also now lives together with the student athletes in the team dormitory.
First thing in the morning on his first day on the job Mwaka was at Asia's home track in Hinodemachi, Tokyo to guide the student athletes. In Japanese he said, "Let's all make it to the Hakone Ekiden together!" he told them with passion, repeating, "Together!" in English for emphasis. Mwaka will train together with the students while still pursuing his own racing. He is currently planning to run the Dec. 20 Hofu Marathon. "My goal is to run 2:10," he said.
Asia head coach Nobuyuki Sato, 48, who invited Mwaka to join his staff, commented, "With Coach Mwaka leading the students in workouts they'll be able to do higher level training than we've ever done before. By running together their sense of rhythm and feel will improve."
Asia won the Hakone Ekiden for the first time in 2006, but since then its performances have suffered. At the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race where each team's top 10 runners' combined times determine the 10 schools to move on to the main event, Asia finished only 22nd last year. It has now been 10 years since it qualified as a team. Coach Mwaka has high expectations for the team. "I want to help them up their performances," he said. "I want to be the catalyst that helps make that happen." Coach Sato places great trust in Mwaka, saying, "He is very serious by nature, and that will have a positive effect on the student athletes in their day to day lives."
Looking toward the Oct. 17 Yosenkai qualifier, Coach Sato commented, "My goal is for us to make a breakthrough together as a single team." The 1999 World Championships men's marathon bronze medalist and a 2000 Sydney Olympian in the marathon, the combination of Coach Sato and his talented new assistant Mwaka may prove to be what Asia needs to make it all the way back to Hakone.
translated and edited by Brett Larner