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Kisaisa Wins Second-Straight Yosenkai Half Marathon in 1:00:44, Komazawa University Averages Ten Men Under 1:03

The Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai is the qualifying race for Japan's most prestigious road race, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden. University men's teams in the Tokyo area that didn't make the top ten at Hakone the year before square off in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park with teams of up to twelve. The top ten score, their cumulative times determining the team's placing with the top eleven teams advancing and high-placing individuals from schools that don't make the cut rounded up to form a select team.

The Yosenkai has long been the world's #1 20 km road race by a wide margin, with winning times among the fastest in the world for the distance and the same kind of incredible depth seen at November's Ageo City Half Marathon and March's National University Men's Half Marathon. In light of changes in the IAAF's ranking system and the level of performance at the Yosenkai, this year organizers took the historic step of changing it from its traditional distance to a half marathon.

Last year Obirin University 2nd-year Josphat Ledama Kisaisa blew the field away with the 3rd-fastest winning time in event history, 57:27. Having gone out in 14:14 for the first 5 km last year, this time Kisaisa sat at the head of a pack of 30 through a 14:33 opening split before losing patience. Jetting away from the rest of his competition he split 14:01 for the next 5 km, almost exactly tying his 10 km split from year.

Dominic Nyairo (Yamanshi Gakuin Univ.) picked it up just enough for a chase group of eight to detach from the main pack including last year's Ageo course record breaker Simon Kariuki (Nihon Yakka Univ.), 2017 World University Games half marathon gold medalist Kei Katanishi (Komazawa Univ.) and 2016 Rio Olympian and 2018 Jakarta Asian Games 3000 mSC bronze medalist Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.). Near 8.5 km a pedestrian tried to run across the road just as the group turned a corner, colliding with Hiroki Abe (Meiji Univ.) and falling. Abe lost ground but quickly rejoined the group. Rolling through 10 km in 28:54, they slowed just enough to let Kenyan first-years Vincent Laimoi (Kokushikan Univ.) and James Bunuka (Surugadai Univ.) get back on board in their first shot at the half marathon distance.

The new Yosenkai course spent more time on the flat and straight roads between Showa Kinen Park and nearby Tachikawa Station before heading into the hilly park than the old 20 km version. Kisaisa slowed slightly coming up to 15 km, then further on the hills in the park. Behind him Shiojiri threw in a quick surge that shook off Laimoi, Bunuka and Titus Mogusu (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.). Heading back into the park he attacked again on the early hills, surging away from the dwindling chase group. From 15 km to the finish Shiojiri was faster than Kisaisa, but as strong as he looked there was no hope of catching him.

Kisaisa crossed the finish line in 1:00:44 to give the Yosenkai a solid course record for its new configuration and become the first man since 2001 to defend a Yosenkai title. Previously the fastest-ever Japanese man at the Yosenkai was 2014 winner and future 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama in 58:26. Shiojiri split 58:13 at 20 km en route to 1:01:22, the third-fastest Japanese time of the year behind marathon national record holder Suguru Osako's 1:01:01 and half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara's 1:01:13 and one that made him the 25th Japanese man in history to go under 1:01:30.

Despite having fallen 17 seconds behind at 15 km Laimoi returned to close with a 2:48 final kilometer to move into 3rd in 1:01:49, just outkicking Nyairo and Katanishi who both clocked 1:01:50. Coached by collegiate marathon national record holder Masakazu Fujiwara, Kensuke Horio (Chuo Univ.) was next in 1:01:57 to make it six under 1:02. Fifteen men including three from Komazawa University broke 1:03. All told the depth of quality put the Yosenkai solidly into the same class as Ageo and the National University Half:

sub-1:01 = 1
sub-1:02 = 6
sub-1:03 = 15
sub-1:04 = 62
sub-1:05 = 129
sub-1:06 = 202
sub-1:07 = 249
sub-1:08 = 284

Komazawa won the team competition by 7 minutes, an average of 42 seconds per runner over the half marathon distance, in 10:29:58. Its ten scoring men averaged 1:02:59.80, with tenth man Shunsuke Kanbe running 1:03:22 and its two non-scorers both clearing 1:04. Ten men averaging under 1:03 for the half marathon is the mark of a Hakone winner, and with alternates to spare at the same level Komazawa could threaten Aoyama Gakuin University's shot at a fifth-straight Hakone title if it runs like it did today.

A perpetual Hakone top-three finisher, once a decade or so Komazawa drops a dud and gets sent down to the Yosenkai to requalify. The last time that happened in 2009 it crushed the team score course record. It's a sign of how far things have come in the last decade that Komazawa's record that time, 10:03:39 for ten men over 20 km, averaged 3:01/km versus 2:59/km today. The first team to ever break 3:00/km at the Yosenkai, it's safe to call Komazawa's performance today the best in Yosenkai history. Despite this being only the first year at the longer distance, Komazawa's team time is bound to stand as the record until at least the next time it flames out at Hakone.

Shiojiri's stellar run led Juntendo University to a 2nd-place team finish with both it and 3rd-placer Kanagawa University, last year's National University Ekiden champion, scoring under 10:40:00, an average of under 1:04:00 for its ten scorers. Legacy school Meiji University made it back with an unexpectedly strong 5th-place finish after missing out the last two years. Having lost its core group Japanese runners to graduation last season Yamanashi Gakuin University limped into 10th on the back of Nyairo's 1:01:50. The announcement of the final Hakone qualifier is one of the most dramatic moments in the sport. With an extra spot up for grabs Jobu University extended its ten-year streak of Hakone appearances to 11 thanks to a solid pack team run.

Seeking to make Hakone for the first time, Reitaku University executed just a strong a group run, but, lacking the one or two guys with a little something extra that it needed, came up just short at 12th in 10:48:41, just 1:50 behind Jobu on cumulative time. But by beating its previous best-ever finish by 4 places with only two fourth-years among its ten scorers Reitaku marked itself as a contender over the next two seasons to follow in the footsteps of recent first-time qualifiers like Tokyo Kokusai University and Soka University. Of the 457 starters in the race 456 finished, the lone DNF coming from Takuya Inoue (Sophia Univ.), who unluckily knocked his ten-man squad out of the competition.

University ekiden season continues Nov. 4 with the National University Men's Ekiden, where Yosenkai teams Koku Gakuin University, Meiji University and Juntendo University will join the upper-tier Kanto region teams and the best from the rest of the country. Two weeks later is the fall's traditional major half, Ageo. What impact the Yosenkai's change in format will have on coaches' decision about who to run in Ageo has remains to be seen.

95th Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Half Marathon

Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 10/13/18
complete results

Top Individual Results
1. Josphat Ledama Kisaisa (3rd yr., Obirin Univ.) - 1:00:44 - PB
2. Kazuya Shiojiri (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:22 - PB
3. Vincent Laimoi (1st yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:49 - debut
4. Dominic Nyairo (4th yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:50
5. Kei Katanishi (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:50 - PB
6. Kensuke Horio (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:01:57 - PB
7. Yuhei Urano (3rd yr., Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:02 - PB
8. Hiroki Abe (3rd yr., Meiji Univ.) - 1:02:16 - PB
9. James Bunuka (1st yr., Surugadai Univ.) - 1:02:22 - debut
10. Simon Kariuki (4th yr., Nihon Yakka Univ.) - 1:02:23
11. Shogo Ise (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:38 - PB
12. Titus Mogusu (3rd yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:02:42 - debut
13. Ichitaka Yamashita (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:02:46 - PB
14. Shu Hasegawa (3rd yr., Senshu Univ.) - 1:02:49 - debut
15. Kenta Koshikawa (3rd yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:02:51- PB
16. Atsushi Yamato (4th yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:03:02 - PB
17. Taisei Nakamura (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:10
18. Yudai Noguchi (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 1:03:11 - debut
19. Atsushi Kato (2nd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:12 - PB
20. Yuto Aizawa (3rd yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:03:13 - debut
21. Sota Ito (2nd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:13 - PB
22. Taisei Nakamura (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:15 - PB
23. Fuminori Shimo (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 1:03:15
24. Ryosuke Tawada (4th yr., Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:03:16 - PB
25. Hideaki Sumiyoshi (4th yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:03:16
DNF - Takuya Inoue (3rd yr., Sophia Univ.)

Top Team Results
cumulative time of team's top 10 finishers
top 11 teams qualify for 2019 Hakone Ekiden

1. Komazawa University - 10:29:58
2.. Juntendo University - 10:36:58
3. Kanagawa University - 10:39:16
4. Koku Gakuin University - 10:40:38
5. Meiji University - 10:41:06
6. Tokyo Kokusai University - 10:41:15
7. Daito Bunka University - 10:42:16
8. Chuo University - 10:42:55
9. Kokushikan University - 10:45:39
10. Yamanashi Gakuin  University - 10:46:27
11. Jobu University - 10:46:51
12. Reitaku University - 10:48:41
13. Asia University - 10:48:54
14. Senshu  University - 10:49:23
15. Soka University - 10:50:39
DNF - Sophia Univ.

95th Hakone Ekiden Field
Tokyo-Hakone, Jan. 2-3, 2019
Aoyama Gakuin University
Toyo University
Waseda University
Nittai University
Tokai University
Hosei University
Josai University
Takushoku University
Teikyo University
Chuo Gakuin University
Komazawa University
Juntendo University
Kanagawa University
Koku Gakuin University
Meiji University
Tokyo Kokusai University
Daito Bunka University
Chuo University
Kokushikan University
Yamanashi Gakuin University
Jobu University
Nihon University
Kanto Region Student Alliance

© 2018 Brett Larner

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