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Aoyama Gakuin Takes Hakone Ekiden Day One

Heavy favorite Aoyama Gakuin University set up for its sixth overall Hakone Ekiden victory in the last eight years, taking the Day One win by over two and a half minutes and leading defending champ Komazawa University by more than three. 

Yamato Yoshii (Chuo Univ.), Japan's 5000 m U20 NR holder and 2nd-fastest U20 half marathoner, led the 21.3 km opening leg start to finish, starting with a 2:50 CR pace opening km, splitting 27:58 at 10 km, and ending at 1:00:40, 26 seconds under the old record held by Yuki Sato and equivalent to a 1:00:06 half marathon. The rest of the field was fast too, Komazawa's Takumi Karasawa leading them in in 1:01:19 with AGU's Hayato Shiki 6 seconds further back.

Komazawa's top man Ren Tazawa, who ran an all-time Japanese #2 27:23.44 for 10000 m last month, took his time calmly reeling in Chuo's Shun Teshima on the 23.1 km Second Stage, taking just over 7 km to close the gap and never looking back once he did. The expectation was that CR holder Vincent Yegon (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) would catch up and make it a head-to-head race, but that never happened. Tazawa stayed strong throughout, running the 4th-fastest time ever on the stage, 1:06:13, equivalent to a 1:00:29 half marathon with an uphill finish, and handing off to third man Taiyo Yasuhara with a lead of 1:02 over 2nd-place AGU. Coincidentally, for both Tazawa and Yoshii, the last person from their universities to win their two stages were their coaches, Komazawa's Hiroaki Oyagi and Chuo's Masakazu Fujiwara. Yegon was unremarkable this time, overtaken by Vincent Raimoi (Kokushikan Univ.) for 3rd and finishing only 5th on stage time.

AGU really got moving on the 21.4 km Third Stage. 1st-year Aoi Ota, with bests of 13:55.74, 28:32.17 and 1:02:27 for 5000 m, 10000 m and half marathon, worked with TKU's Ken Tansho for most of the stage to catch Yasuhara, then dropped Tansho once they were free out front. Tansho beat Ota by 5 seconds on stage time, running a 1:00:04 equivalent half marathon time of 1:00:55, but Ota still managed to make it to the next exchange 12 seconds ahead. Tansho's time was the best-ever by a Japanese athlete on the stage.

Fourth AGU runner Takayuki Iida held steady on his 20.9 km leg, building AGU's lead over TKU to 1:37. Behind them, Taiga Nakanishi (Koku Gakuin Univ.) closed to 9 seconds behind TKU. Yudai Shimazu of 2021 Day One winner Soka University had another spectacular run, coming up from 11th to 4th before dropping back to 5th in a great last kick duel with Keiichi Terashima (Teikyo Univ.). Shimazu won the stage on time in 1:01:08, like Tazawa the 4th-best time ever.

Hakone's Fifth Stage is its most legendary, 20.8 km starting near sea level, peaking out at 874 m elevation and dropping down to near 700 m at the finish. A lot of the most dramatic action in Hakone's 98-year history has happened there, and major changes in the standings are common. Heading into it AGU had a decent 1:37 lead over TKU and 1:46 over KGU, with Teikyo, Soka, Komazawa, Juntendo University, Chuo and Hosei University all within another 2 minutes. 

AGU 1st-year Hiroki Wakabayashi was tasked with taking the team up the mountain, and from start to finish he ran close to CR pace, never fading and bringing AGU to the finish line in 1st with a time of 1:10:46. Teikyo's Shoma Hosoya was one of only two people to outrun Wakabayashi, moving up from 4th to a school record 2nd and winning the stage in 1:10:33. Hibiki Yoshida of 2019 Hakone winner Tokai University was the other, stunningly moving up from 17th to 10th with a 1:10:44.

Everyone through 16th-place Yamanashi Gakuin University finished with 10 minutes of Wakabayashi and will start Day Two's return trip with the same order and time differential. 17th-place Nittai University and beyond all finished over 10 minutes behind and will start Day Two together 10 minutes after AGU, carrying a time handicap throughout the day to make up the difference. In the case of Nittai, 10:01 behind at the top of the mountain, that will be a 1-second handicap. In the case of last-place Surugadai University, it's 9:05.

Looking at the prospects for Day Two action, without some kind of blowup by AGU the overall win is pretty much already decided. 2nd-place Teikyo isn't at a level that could run them down, and while 3rd-place Komazawa came from 2:21 behind to win last year, it was against a lower-level program that blew up on the last stage. Here they have to make up 3:28 against the #1-ranked team, one with all 16 people on its entry list having sub-29 10000 m bests. All but impossible.

But the race for 2nd is pretty interesting, with Teikyo, Komazawa, KGU, two-time Yosenkai qualifier runner-up Chuo, 2020 Yosenkai winner Juntendo, 2021 Izumo Ekiden winner TKU, and 2021 Hakone runner-up Soka all within 3:01 of each other. Juntendo got off to a rocky start on its first two stages, but if it has more of the kind of running shown by 3rd through 5th runners Tatsuya Iyoda, Kazuki Ishii and Shunsuke Shikama lined up then look for it to break into top 3. 

Last year's 3rd-placer Toyo University is all alone in 9th, and while it might move up to attack some of the schools currently in the top 8 it's just as likely to be in the battle to make the 10-deep podium. At Hakone a top 10 finish earns you both a return trip the next year and an invitation to Izumo in October. 11th place and beyond and it's back to the Yosenkai qualifier. Right now only 35 seconds separates 10th-place Tokai from 14th-place Kokushikan, so it's impossible to say who's going to make it. Waseda University, just edged out of the top 10 by Tokai's Yoshida, seems like the best bet, but it could be any of them.

Meiji University, winner of the Yosenkai this time around but a perpetual underperformer when it counts, had the worst day of any team, finishing 18th and over 3 minutes out of the top 10. Last-place Surugadai made it to the finish line in its debut, but it did achieve one thing really special. 31-year-old 4th-year Takao Imai was a national team-level triathlete when younger before retiring and taking a job as a teacher. A few years back he decided to leave his job and go back to school in order to fulfill the dream of running Hakone. Imai played an important role in getting Surugadai here this year for the first time, and in his first and last chance he made that dream happen. 

Imai was last by more than 2 minutes on the Fourth Stage, but with the joy he showed when he handed off he might have been anchoring the winning team. For all the incredible performances at Hakone every year, what really sets it apart from other races is its human side, the resonance of youth in pursuit of something beautiful and the way it's presented. Imai's long past his youth, but his run shines out as one of this year's brightest moments.

NTV's broadcast of Day Two starts at 7:00 a.m. Japan time on Jan. 3, with the race kicking off at 8:00. The NTV site has team tracking and streaming that readers around the world reported worked great on Day One with a VPN. There are subscription services you can get for watching Japanese TV from abroad and options like, but from what readers said today a VPN sounds like the way to go. Either way, we'll be back to cover it all on @JRNLive. See you then, and help support JRN with a cup of coffee or three if you join us. Thanks.

98th Hakone Ekiden Day One

Tokyo~Hakone, 02 Jan. 2022
21 teams, 5 stages, 107.5 km, 722 m net elevation gain
complete results

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (21.3 km)
1. Yamato Yoshii (Chuo Univ.) - 1:00:40 - CR
2. Takumi Karasawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:01:19 - all-time #6
3. Tomoki Ichimura (Tokai Univ.) - 1:01:24 - all-time #10
4. Akihito Kimura (Senshu Univ.) - 1:01:24
5. Hayato Shiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:25

Second Stage (23.1 km)
1. Ren Tazawa (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:06:13 - all-time #4
2. Vincent Raimoi (Kokushikan Univ.) - 1:06:41 - all-time #8
2. Philip Muluwa (Soka Univ.) - 1:06:41 - all-time #9
4. Paul Onyiego (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:06:49
5. Vincent Yegon (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:07:02
5. Kazuki Matsuyama (Toyo Univ.) - 1:07:02

Third Stage (21.4 km)
1. Ken Tansho (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 1:00:55 - all-time #2
2. Aoi Ota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:00 - all-time #3
3. Tatsuya Iyoda (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:19 - all-time #4
4. Daichi Endo (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:01:39
5. Ayumu Yamamoto (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:59

Fourth Stage (20.9 km)
1. Yudai Shimazu (Soka Univ.) - 1:01:08 - all-time #4
2. Kazuki Ishii (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:01:31 - all-time #5
3. Takayuki Iida (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:46 - all-time #9
4. Taiga Nakanishi (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 1:01:50 - all-time #10
5. Shota Nakano (Chuo Univ.) - 1:02:17

Fifth Stage (20.8 km, 691 m net uphill, 837 m max elevation difference)
1. Shoma Hosoya (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:10:33 - all-time #3
2. Hibiki Yoshida (Tokai Univ.) - 1:10:44 - all-time #5
3. Hiroki Wakabayashi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:10:46 - all-time #7
4. Ibuki Kaneko (Komazawa Univ.) - 1:11:19 - all-time #10
5. Shunsuke Shikama (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:11:44

Team Results
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:22:06
2. Teikyo University - 5:24:43
3. Komazawa University - 5:25:34
4. Koku Gakuin University - 5:25:49
5. Juntendo University - 5:26:10
6. Chuo University - 5:26:25
7. Tokyo Kokusai University - 5:26:55
8. Soka University - 5:27:44
9. Toyo University - 5:28:34
10. Tokai University - 5:29:14
11. Waseda University - 5:29:15
12. Kanagawa University - 5:29:26
13. Hosei University - 5:29:36
14. Kokushikan University - 5:29:49
15. Kanto Region Select Team - 5:30:15
16. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 5:31:42
17. Nittai University - 5:32:07
18. Meiji University - 5:32:20
19. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:36:04
20. Senshu University - 5:38:46
21. Surugadai University - 5:41:11

© 2022 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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RigaJags said…
Yes, Aoyama has too deep of a roster to not win this one. Anything can happen of course (especially when you have a icey and slippery downhill stage ahead) but it's up to them to lose it.
I honestly thought Komazawa would have been a closer challenger on day one (was expecting Sato and Mebuki Suzuki in day 1 line up, let's see if Suzuki is on day 2) and was expecting a better result from Waseda as well on day 1.

We have been commenting a bit on twitter during the race and again the Yoshii run was an amazing change from last year and unexpected. He really went out at a crazy pace with the result that teams who tried to resist the first push (when the pack broke the first time before getting in rhythm again) had their runners break their rhythm. Chuo Gakuin, Juntendo and Waseda paid badly for it with a terrible 1st stage who impacted their teams fate.

Juntendo first stage 3:15 gap was unexpected and took away most of their chances.
Miura didn't make the difference he was supposed to do but after looking at timesheets he wasn't really bad as I thought it was live.
It's just that second stage this year was very fast on average (and lots of experienced guys there). Miura clocked 1:07:42 I think and Tazawa last year was around 10-15 seconds faster (but without the pain of starting 3 minutes behind everyone else like happened to Miura).
I think it shows how difficult tackling the second stage the first time is and makes it even more amazing what Yegon did last year.
That makes me curious to see what happens with him next year, if he takes a major step like Tazawa has (and also Yoshii) or if the Hakone Ekiden will be somewhat of a tough race for him as it's the second year in a row where he struggles compared to expectations.
Of course had the first stage runner run a middle of the pack section Miura likely finds himself in a better position, doesn't have to catch up and runs a better second stage as a result.
Still, being left behind by Fujimoto who was on the same boat was disappointing.

The other Juntendo guys were very good and they still have Nomura on day 2 and other very good half marathon runners. They can aim for the podium.

This year it has been a fast race compared to last year and if we took away Aoyama (who like we said has great depth on day 2 as well) we would absolutely have had a race today on day 2 for the win.

Do you know which stage will Kosuke Ishida run? 9th stage perhaps? I was kind of expecting him on the 3rd one but so far I haven't seen him on Toyo.

Let's have a great day 2!
I don't believe that but maybe Aoyama struggles on the downhill and the pack gets together on the way back and who knows what happpens.
The battle for the top 10 will be brutal!

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