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Kisaisa and Tokyo Kokusai Dominate 2020 Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

The Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai is one of the best races on the calendar in Japan or anywhere else, 43 Tokyo-area university men's teams of 10 to 12 runners each racing a half marathon head-to-head in hopes of becoming one of the lucky 10 teams to join the field for the 2020 Hakone Ekiden. Tens of thousands of alumni, fans, and school marching bands aligned under the crisp autumn skies of suburban parkland, all united in anticipation of that single moment when the announcer calls out the name of the final team to make the cut.

In the only race of its kind on the university circuit, teams are scored on the aggregate time of their first 10 finishers, with the 10 fastest going on to January's main event. In warm and sunny conditions that seemed to hold times back by about a minute, Ledama Kisaisa (Obirin Univ.) led the way in 1:01:01 to become the first man in 18 years to win the Yosenkai 3 years in a row. After setting a 1:00:44 course record last year Kisaisa sought to become the first college runner in Japan to break the 60-minute mark for the half marathon since the great Mekubo Mogusu (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), but after getting off on track over the first 10 km he, like everyone else, faded in the heat.

Last year 6 men broke 62 minutes and 15 went under 63. In the tougher conditions this year only Kisaisa and runner-up Vincent Laimoi (Kokushikan Univ.) were under 62, and just 5 men cleared 63. Among them was 2019 World University Games half marathon bronze medalist Katsuhiko Ito (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.), who closed faster than anyone else in the field from 15 km to finish line including an impressive 2:46 final km to take 5th in 1:02:34.

Ito and teammate Vincent Yegon led Tokyo Kokusai University to take the top spot in team scoring in 10:47:29. It was another indication of how tough the conditions were that that time would have put them 12th and out of the qualifying bracket last year. This year it was enough to give them a commanding 3 and a half minute margin over runner-up Kanagawa University. Hakone regulars Nittai University and Meiji University were 3rd and 4th, with the relatively young Soka University program making a return after missing out last year.

In the day's biggest surprise, the Tsutomu Hiroyama-coached Tsukuba University, well outside the top 15 last year, took 6th to qualify for Hakone for the first time in 26 years. Absent any star runners strong enough to make the top 10, Tsukuba executed a solid team performance with 3 men placing between 13th and 20th to pull off its upset. The moment they were announced in 6th place was captured in the video above. Nihon University, Kokushikan University and Waseda University took the next 3 spots.

The announcement of the final qualifying spot live on stage in front of a massive assembled crowd, is one of the most dramatic moments in sport, this year all the more so as a toss-up between heavyweight legacy program Chuo University and hopefuls Reitaku University, trying to make Hakone for the first time after finishing as the first non-qualifier last year. When the final tab was pulled from the results board it was Chuo, holding a heartbroken Reitaku off by just 26 seconds, less than 3 seconds per runner over the half marathon distance. As a team Reitaku surpassed Chuo, its 10th man finishing before Chuo's 8th, but it lacked the front-end power to overcome the time advantage given by Chuo's 3 best men, its top man Ryo Miyata finishing over a minute behind Chuo's first finisher Nagiya Mori.

With Soka and Tsukuba having made the cut two other programs were knocked out. Jobu University was 13th, breaking its streak of having qualified every year since its first Hakone appearance 11 years ago. Josai University was far off making a Hakone return trip at 15th. Hakone regulars Yamanashi Gakuin University and Daito Bunka University were also knocked out of the bracket as the Hakone field size returned to its regular quota of 20 university teams following a one-time expansion last year in honor of Hakone's 95th running. Top-placing individuals from non-qualifying teams will still have the chance to rep their school colors as part of Hakone's 21st team, the Kanto Region Student Alliance select team, come January 2nd and 3rd.

2020 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai Half Marathon

Qualifying Race for 2020 Hakone Ekiden
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 10/26/19
complete individual results
complete team results

Top Team Results
43 teams of 10-12 runners
times are aggregates of team's first 10 finishers
top 10 teams qualify for 2020 Hakone Ekiden
1. Tokyo Kokusai University - 10:47:29
2. Kanagawa University - 10:50:55
3. Nittai University - 10:51.09
4. Meiji University - 10:51:42
5. Soka University - 10:51:43
6. Tsukuba University - 10:53:18
7. Nihon University - 10:54:29
8. Kokushikan University - 10:55:21
9. Waseda University - 10:55:26
10. Chuo University - 10:56:46
11. Reitaku University - 10:57:12
12. Surugadai University - 10:58:44
13. Jobu University - 11:00:16
14. Senshu University - 11:01:57
15. Josai University - 11:02:27
16. Tokyo Nogyo University - 11:05:05
17. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 11:06:14
18. Daito Bunka University - 11:06:22
19. Ryutsu Keizai University - 11:10:57
20. Tokyo Keizai University - 11:16:21

Top Individual Results
1. Josphat Ledama Kisaisa (4th yr., Obirin Univ.) - 1:01:01
2. Vincent Raimoi (2nd yr., Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:01:37
3. Vincent Yegon (1st yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:02:23
4. Charles Ndungu (1st yr., Nihon Univ.) - 1:02:33
5. Tatsuhiko Ito (4th yr., Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:02:34
6. Tomoya Ogikubo (4th yr., Josai Univ.) - 1:03:12
7. Ren Yonemitsu (4th yr., Soka Univ.) - 1:03:19
8. James Bunuka (2nd yr., Surugadai Univ.) - 1:03:26
9. Kyosuke Teshima (2nd yr., Meiji Univ.) - 1:03:28
10. Boniface Muiwa (1st yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:38
11. Shu Hasegawa (4th yr., Senshu Univ.) - 1:03:51
12. Taiyo Iwasaki (3rd yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:03:52
13. Itsuki Kanamaru (4th yr., Tsukuba Univ.) - 1:03:53
14. Tamaki Fujimoto (1st yr., Nittai Univ.) - 1:03:54
15. Nagiya Mori (2nd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 1:03:58
16. Tomoki Ota (4th yr., Waseda Univ.) - 1:03:58
17. Takeru Yamaguchi (3rd yr., Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 1:03:59
18. Kanto Sakamoto (3rd yr., Jobu Univ.) - 1:04:00
19. Kento Nishi (3rd yr., Tsukuba Univ.) - 1:04:01
20. Takumi Saruhashi (3rd yr., Tsukuba Univ.) - 1:04:04

2020 Hakone Ekiden Field
Tokai University
Aoyama Gakuin University
Toyo University
Komazawa University
Teikyo University
Hosei University
Koku Gakuin University
Juntendo University
Takushoku University
Chuo Gakuin University
Tokyo Kokusai University
Kanagawa University
Nittai University
Meiji University
Soka University
Tsukuba University
Nihon University
Kokushikan University
Waseda University
Chuo University
Kanto Region Student Alliance

© 2019 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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CK said…
"the top spot scoring 10:47:29...was another indication of how tough the conditions were that that time would have put them 12th and out of the qualifying bracket last year."
This prompted me to review last year's results. Determination of statistical impact of temperature, course profile, wind, etc on performance times has always been a somewhat inaccurate science. Runner A's times regularly suffer disproportionately in heat; runner B seems relatively unaffected by mild undulation, etc.
Although Komazawa's special situation skewed the top end last year, with 500 elite/very strong runners all peaking for the same course at the same time in the season etc, data from these races (and Ageo, Marugame,etc) - particularly from the first 300 or so runners - is probably as good a controlled sample set as sports scientists can obtain anywhere.
Unknown said…
Did Aoyama Gakuin not even participate this year?
Brett Larner said…
No, they had already qualified for Hakone by making the podium last time.

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