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Hakone Champ Aoyama Gakuin Alternate Sekiguchi Wins Hi-Tech Half Marathon

20 runners from Aoyama Gakuin University who were not among the school's 10 starting members in its course record win at last week's Hakone Ekiden ran the Hi-Tech Half Marathon Sunday in Tokyo. 3rd-year Takehiro Sekiguchi, who had been scheduled to run Hakone's 20.9 km Fourth Stage but was swapped out on race morning by head coach Susumu Hara, won in 1:02:26, the fastest time this school year by a Japanese-born college student. "I've got one year of school left," said Sekiguchi post-race. "Next season I want to build on the momentum of this win."

Including Sekiguchi, a total of 5 AGU runners who had been on the team's 16-man Hakone entry list but not among its 10 starters ran the half marathon. It was a week after the main event, but the race, nicknamed the "Eleventh Stage" by the team, gave them the chance to do something with the fitness they'd built through hard training for Hakone. 

Traditionally AGU has run its non-starting members at Tochigi's Takenezawa Half Marathon, but for the last 2 years that race has been canceled due to the pandemic. Last year the team held an intramural 5000 m time trial at its campus in Sagamihara instead. 4th-year Takeshi Shingo ran the track event last year, and this year he lined up at the half marathon. "Every year somebody has to be the 11th runner on the team," he said. "As the 11th runner I wanted to set an example."

From the early stages of the race the AGU runners formed the lead pack together with former Nihon University athlete Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Track Tokyo). With one km to go Sekiguchi attacked, pulling away to the win. "I wanted to show that AGU has more than just 10 strong runners," he said. "and I wanted to prove that we still would have won the Hakone Ekiden even if I had run in it." Asked how he felt about having run the fastest Japanese collegiate time this season he was indifferent, saying, "I didn't know that, and I don't care, really. Some of our Hakone team members and top people from other schools are running the Marugame Half Marathon in February, so somebody will break my time. I want to focus on bringing up my PB."

Hakone entry members Yuto Tanaka and Shungo Yokota were 2nd and 4th, with Kitonyi taking 3rd. AGU athletes who hadn't made its 16-man entry roster also ran well. 1st-year Masaya Tsurukawa, who was out with a stress fracture in his left shin from July through November last year, made a solid debut over the half marathon distance, running 1:02:44 for 5th. Having missed out on the chance to live up to the expectations of being one of the top 1st-years on the collegiate circuit, Tsurukawa said, "Next year I definitely want to run Hakone's First Stage. This year I went to the starting point to help our First Stage runner Hayato Shiki and soaked up the atmosphere before the start. I learned a lot. This season I want to train well and become the team's #1 runner."

Coach Hara commented, "If Sekiguchi had run the Fourth Stage, today's run showed he would probably have been between 3rd and 5th. Next year instead of winning the "Eleventh Stage" I hope to see him take the top spot in one of Hakone's ten stages." Regarding Tsurukawa, Hara said, "In anticipation of next season, I had him accompany Shiki this year. I'd like to see him give this year's First Stage record breaker Yamato Yoshii from Chuo University an honest race for it next year. He has the ability."

Of the 20 AGU runners at the Hi-Tech Half Marathon today, 15 set new PBs. 7 ran times in the 62-minute range, and 6 more ran 63 minutes. Newly named team captain for the upcoming academic year, Taiki Miyasaka was unhappy with his 28th-place finish in 1:05:46 but spoke like a leader as he said, "Next year's team is powerful. I might not have measured up personally, but there's no time to feel sorry for myself." With a show of strength today from its B-listers, AGU is already putting other teams on notice in the lead-up to next year's 99th Hakone Ekiden.

Hi-Tech Half Marathon

Arakawa, Tokyo, 9 Jan. 2022

1. Takehiro Sekiguchi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:26
2. Yuto Tanaka (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:33
3. Daniel Muiva Kitonyi (Track Tokyo) - 1:02:35
4. Shungo Yokota (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:36
5. Masaya Tsurukawa (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:44
6. Kento Yamauchi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:45
7. Masahiro Mekata (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:51
8. Ryo Nishikubo (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:58
9. Takato Azechi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:02
10. Akira Tomiyasu (Raffine) - 1:03:03
11. Rui Sasaki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:27
12. Kei Kitamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:48
13. Ryutaro Suzuki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:53
14. Kosei Matsunami (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:54
15. Hibiki Obara (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 1:03:57

1. Reia Iwade (Adidas) - 1:11:04
2. Miharu Shimokado (SID Group) - 1:12:28
3. Eri Oda (unattached) - 1:16:36
4. Kyoko Matsumoto (unattached) - 1:16:55
5. Eri Suzuki (unattached) - 1:17:12
6. Mio Takinami (Dream AC) - 1:17:32
7. Kana Kurosawa (Hitachi) - 1:17:51
8. Meari Obuchi (unattached) - 1:17:55
9. Mitsuko Hirose (Tokyo Wings) - 1:17:56
10. Haruna Takano (unattached) - 1:18:00

source article:
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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RigaJags said…
That is seriously impressive by AGU. They have such depth.

What I find more amazing is how their coaches prepare them, they are in top condition at the right moment for Hakone.
A lot of teams have talented runners but their performances can be a big up and down at Hakone.
AGU has them prepared, there's very little variation in their potential and their real performance.
Might not have the fastest superstar on the field but surely have the most consistent group.
That's good coaching.

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