With a mix of confidence and regret in their hearts a day after their third-straight runner-up finish and tenth-straight top 3 placing at the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, the members of the Toyo University men's ekiden team assembled early in the morning on Jan. 4 for their first training session of the new year. The session began with a 6:30 a.m. team meeting at its dormitory in Kawagoe, Saitama. Head coach Toshiyuki Sakai, 41, was passionate as he told the team members, "The way we finished 2nd this year was different from last year. This time we won Day One and led for the first 15 km of the Sixth Stage on Day Two. This was the first step in our counterattack."
The 2014 Hakone champion, Toyo's margin of loss behind four-time winner Aoyama Gakuin University has shrunk from 11:55 in 2015 to 7:11 in 2016 to 7:21 in 2017 and finally to 4:53 this year. Its Day One winning lineup of First Stage winner Kazuya Nishiyama (1st yr.), Second Stage 3rd-placer Akira Aizawa (2nd yr.), Third Stage winner Shuji Yamamoto (3rd yr.), Fourth Stage runner-up Hirotsugu Yoshikawa (1st yr.) and uphill Fifth Stage 9th-placer Ryusei Tanaka (1st yr.) was a fresh lineup full of rookie underclassmen full of potential for further growth next season. Combined with an outstanding record of stability demonstrated by its decade of top 3 finishes there's no doubt that Toyo is the best hope to overcome AGU's hegemony.
On the morning of the 4th the sun rose over Kawagoe at 6:52 a.m. A night after Hakone, by the time its light touched their faces Toyo University's athletes were already on the road to next year's 95th running.
translated by Brett Larner