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Aoyama Gakuin Runs Down Toyo for Fourth-Straight Hakone Ekiden Title

In a rare reversal of Day One standings, Aoyama Gakuin University ran down Toyo University early in on Day Two to win its fourth-straight Hakone Ekiden title. At both the Izumo Ekiden and National University Men's Ekiden this season, Toyo struggled to cope with the absence of its entire senior class due to injury, running up front much of the way but lacking the depth to keep the lead in the final stages. Hakone played out like an opera-scale version of the same familiar story, its brilliant Day One win backlit by the headlights of rapidly approaching fate.

Second on Day Two's opening stage, the 20.8 km Sixth Stage with around 800 m elevation loss, both of the last two years, AGU 3rd-year Yuji Onoda just missed the course record en route as he ran down Toyo's Shunsuke Imanishi and put AGU almost a minute ahead by the time he handed off. AGU's next two runners Keisuke Hayashi and Yuta Shimoda both won their stages, Hayashi, a relative unknown on the roster, running 1:02:16 for the 21.3 km to incredibly take 16 seconds off the stage record held by then-future half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara and beat everyone else on the stage by over two and a half minutes. By the time Shimoda was done AGU was nearly 6 minutes up.

Toyo did its best to claw its way back. Ninth man Takeru Kobayakawa, the only fourth-year to recover in time to make Toyo's Hakone entry roster, ran the 3rd-fastest time on Day Two's most competitive stage and anchor Ryo Kozasa won his stage to cut a minute off AGU's lead. But AGU was simply too strong, cracking the 11-hour mark for the full 217.1 km course as it won its fourth-straight Hakone title in 10:57:39. Toyo was next across the line in 11:02:32, with Day One 3rd-placer Waseda University hanging on to its position for 3rd in 11:09:09 thanks in large part to a Ninth Stage win by 3rd-year Kanta Shimizu.

In 2016 Aoyama Gakuin beat 2014 winner Toyo with Waseda taking 4th. Last year Waseda moved up to 3rd, and this year's top three results repeated those from 2017. Whether Toyo would have been able to change that outcome with its full class of fourth-years will remain one of those unanswered questions, but getting the best possible lineup to the starting line is part of being a champion team and AGU proved again that it has that part of the equation down.

Last year's 7th-placer Nittai University ran strong on Day Two to move up from its Day One position of 7th to 4th overall only 19 seconds behind Waseda, emphasizing how important Shimizu's Ninth Stage win was for Waseda in the end. 2017 Izumo winner Tokai University, the favorite for the overall win in Hakone, improved on a lackluster Day One performance to take 5th, well below expectation but still a solid improvement over last year's 10th-place finish. With most of its team returning next year it will be a solid threat to break into the top three. 8th overall last year, Hosei University followed up a Fifth Stage win yesterday with a strong downhill run from 2nd-year Toshiya Sato to improve to 6th, its best placing in 13 years.

Behind the top six, most of the action revolved around making the top ten, a distinction in the 21-team field that earns schools an invitation to October's season-opening Izumo Ekiden and a place at the 2019 Hakone Ekiden. 11th-place or lower and you go back to the Yosenkai 20 km qualifier instead of Izumo to duke it out for the honor of a return trip to Hakone. After not even making Hakone last year Josai University came back to finish inside the top ten at 7th. Takushoku University held on after a strong Day One showing to take 8th, its first time in the top ten in four years. Yosenkai winner Teikyo University made the grade this year at 9th, with 2017 6th-placer Chuo Gakuin University hanging on to 10th.

With so many smaller programs stepping up this year more top-level programs than usual got knocked down to the Yosenkai, making for an exciting and entertaining Day Two well back from from the front. Among the teams to fall from grace last year's 4th-placer Juntendo University had the hardest luck, finishing 11th just 14 seconds behind CGU after a disappointing Day One run from team leader Kazuya Shiojiri. #3-ranked Komazawa University was 12th, only the second time in the last 22 years it has missed the top ten and the third in the last decade that it has finished outside the top three. Its star runner 4th-year Naoki Kudo, last year's World University Games half marathon silver medalist, delivered one of the more emotional runs at this year's Hakone, clearly in trouble as he staggered his way through the Seventh Stage in 14th but gutting it out to make the exchange. 2017 National University Ekiden champion Kanagawa University was a shambles, dropping from 5th last year to 13th.

For all the teams that missed, for those like Tokai and Kanagawa that couldn't get it right no matter how good they were on paper, and even for AGU with its grasp on the top rung, no matter how tenuous this year, the time comes now to reevaluate and regroup for the long trip back to the next running of the biggest race in Japan. Before then expect to see many of the big names at the National Men's Ekiden later this month and, in February, March and April, and half marathons and marathons at home and abroad.

94th Hakone Ekiden

Hakone - Tokyo, 1/3/18
21 teams, 5 stages, 109.6 km
click here for complete results

Top Individual Stage Performances
Sixth Stage - 20.8 km, ~800 m net elevation loss
1. Yuji Onoda (3rd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 58:03
2. Reiri Nakashima (2nd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 58:36
3. Toshiya Sato (2nd yr., Hosei Univ.) - 58:49

Seventh Stage - 21. 3 km
1. Keisuke Hayashi (3rd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:16 - CR
2. Masanori Sumida (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:04:50
3. Sota Watanabe (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:04:52

Eighth Stage - 21.4 km
1. Yuta Shimoda (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:04:46
2. Ryoji Tatezawa (2nd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 1:06:17
3 Seiya Yamaguchi (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:06:35

Ninth Stage - 23.1 km
1. Kanta Shimizu (3rd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 1:10:39
2. Daiuke Horiai (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:10:47
3. Takeru Kobayakawa (4th yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:10:58

Tenth Stage - 23.0 km
1. Ryo Kozasa (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 1:11:09
2. Takaya Hashima (3rd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:11:38
3. Shota Nakagawa (2nd yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:11:48

Overall Team Results - top ten qualify for 2019 Hakone Ekiden
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 10:57:39
2. Toyo University - 11:02:32
3. Waseda University - 11:09:09
4. Nittai University - 11:09:28
5. Tokai University - 11:10:09
6. Hosei University - 11:10:20
7. Josai University - 11:12:12
8. Takushoku University - 11:12:32
9. Teikyo University - 11:13:26
10. Chuo Gakuin University - 11:14:25
11. Juntendo University - 11:14:39
12. Komazawa University - 11:15:13
13. Kanagawa University - 11:17:08
14. Koku Gakuin University - 11:18:06
15. Chuo University - 11:19:26
16. Daito Bunka University - 11:22:58
17. Tokyo Kokusai University - 11:22:59
18. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 11:23:24
19. Kokushikan University - 11:26:42
20. Jobu University - 11:32:42
21. Kanto Region Student Alliance - 11:40:02

Day Two Team Results
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:28:34
2. Toyo University - 5:34:03
3. Nittai University - 5:35:41
4. Tokai University - 5:36:00
5. Hosei University - 5:37:14
6. Teikyo University - 5:38:39
7. Waseda University - 5:38:44
8. Josai University - 5:38:53
9. Kanagawa University - 5:39:04
10. Komazawa University - 5:39:12
11. Takushoku University - 5:39:27
12. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:39:42
13. Juntendo University - 5:40:45
14. Koku Gakuin University - 5:41:08
15. Tokyo Kokusai University - 5:41:14
16. Daito Bunka University - 5:43:20
17. Kokushikan University - 5:34:04
18. Chuo University - 5:45:08
19. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 5:45:17
20. Jobu University - 5:50:20
21. Kanto Region Student Alliance - 5:50:42

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


david rubenstein said…
Awesome commentary as always Mr. Runner!

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