At the Yosenkai 46 university men's teams field 10 to 12 runners apiece, with each school's first ten finishers scoring and the top ten teams going on to join the top ten from last year's Hakone to make up the back half of the twenty-deep 2021 Hakone field. There's really nothing else like it. The announcement ceremony is the most dramatic moment in the sport. If you've ever been there for it, you know it's true.
This year things will be a bit different. The race will have its usual start on the runway at the SDF Air Base in Tokyo's western suburb of Tachikawa with the traditional single-file team lineup at the start, this time with 1 m in between each runner on the team and 2 m to either side of each team. But where the race usually heads out onto the city streets before finishing inside nearby Showa Kinen Park, this time the field of about 500 will go round and round the runway to make up the half marathon distance. It's closed to the public, meaning none of the usual marching bands, the cheerleading squads, the tens of thousands of alumni, fans, and corporate league scouts that give it something extra.
But the Yosenkai is still what it is, the chance to make Hakone. For many teams that's a years-long, multimillion dollar quest buoyed by the dreams of every high school runner they pull in. The race will still be the race, the announcement ceremony will still be dramatic, and NTV's broadcast will still be the best around. The broadcast happens 9:25 to 11:25 a.m. Saturday Japan time, and while it doesn't look like there's an official live stream there are options like mov3.co, iTVer, and TVJapanLive that might work. We'll be doing English commentary on @JRNLive too.
Looking at who's who in the field, it's an unusually exciting year with at least 19 of the 46 teams having a realistic chance of picking up one of the ten places on offer. Numbers 1 through 10 were the 11th through 20th-place finishers at this year's Hakone, and most have solid histories of qualifying behind them. Numbers 11 through 19 are looking to knock one of those teams out, some for the first time and some for a comeback. Numbers 20 and up are the dreamers, the ones trying to get up into the next bracket or just proud to be in the trials event for Japan's biggest race.
CGU has two men under 63 minutes for the half marathon, 4th yr. Takeru Toguchi the faster at 1:01:55, and another five either under 64 minutes or under 29 for the 10000 m, putting it in comfortable position for a top five placing. Everything depends on their 8th through 10th men, but CGU has almost always performed well at the Yosenkai when it's been there.
2. Chuo University
Chuo has three men sub-63 and another nine under either 64 or 29, so it's pretty much a lock for qualifying and should be in it for the win. The thing everything will be watching for, though, is how Chuo's star 1st-year Yamato Yoshii, the U20 national record holder for 5000 m at 13:28.31 and with a 28:35.65 to his name for 10000 m, does in his half marathon debut.
3. Takushoku University
Takushoku was hurt by the graduation of senior Akira Akasaki, but with bests of 27:51.91 and 1:01:23, Kenyan 2nd-year Razini Lemeteki should help compensate for some lack of depth in the Takushoku lineup. Expect to see them in the last few qualifying spots, or lower if some of the up-and-comers bring A-game.
4. Juntendo University
Like Chuo, Juntendo's got some buzz around it thanks to star 1st-year Ryuji Miura, the 3000 mSC collegiate and U20 national record holder, in his half marathon debut. But Juntendo isn't just a one-man show, with two runners under 63 for the half and another eight under 64 or 29. If it's a good day it might challenge Chuo for the win, but anything outside the top five would be a surprise.
5. Hosei University
Hosei's in about the same league as Takushoku, with 3rd-year Yuki Kamata, 28:53.97 for 10000 m and 1:02:19 for the half, taking the place of a Kenyan ringer. A solid competitor for the second half of the qualifying bracket.
6. Kanagawa University
Kanagawa is weak on half marathon credentials, but over 10000 m it's ahead of both Takushoku and Hosei. They don't have anyone who would be a contender at the front end of the field, but a solid team run should get them into the top ten.
7. Nittai University
Nittai has had some chaotic changes to its coaching over the last few years, but right now it has a strong lineup led by 4th-year Kohei Ikeda with sub-14 and sub-29 bests on the track and a 1:01:36 half marathon to his name. Another contender for the middle of the qualifiers.
8. Nihon University