Komazawa University Breaks Own CR by Over 4 Minutes to Win 3rd-Straight National University Ekiden Title
Two-time national champion Komazawa University rode the momentum of its course record win at last month's Izumo Ekiden to score a third-straight National University Men's Ekiden win Sunday in Nagoya and Mie, its 15th national title in 29 starts under head coach Hiroaki Oyagi. Komazawa's leading runner Kensuke Tsubura was 4th on the opening leg, star 1st-year Keita Sato broke the 2nd leg course record to move into 2nd, 60:40 half marathoner Chikara Yamano took the lead on the 3rd leg, and from there it was only a question of whether Komazawa could keep it together and how much they would win by.
Komazawa runners won three of the remaining five stages after Yamano and took top 2 on another, with 4th-year Ren Tazawa running an incredible 49:38 course record on the 17.6 km 7th leg, 43 seconds under the old record. Anchor Kyosuke Hanao had a lead of over a kilometer for the 19.7 km 8th leg and could have jogged it in, but he soloed a 57:30 stage win to bring Komazawa home in 5:06:47 for the complete 106.8 km course, 4:21 under the record Komazawa set in 2020.
And they weren't the only team to benefit from the excellent conditions and tailwind throughout the race. #4-ranked Koku Gakuin University, coached by Komazawa grad Yasuhiro Maeda, was 2nd in 2:10:08, 2022 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University was 3rd in 5:10:45, and 3000 mSC NR holder Ryuji Miura-fronted Juntendo University was 4th in 5:10:46, all under Komazawa's old record of 5:11:08.
Along with Tazawa, 3 other legs saw new course records. Peter Wanjiru of Hakone Ekiden qualifier winner Daito Bunka University became the first runner to break 27 minutes on the 9.5 km 1st leg, running a CR 26:58. Jun Kasai (Soka Univ.) outkicked Sato on the 11.1 km 2nd leg to set a CR 31:12 and hand off in 1st overall, Sato just 1 second slower and also under the old record. Hakone 1st leg CR holder Yamato Yoshii (Chuo) ran a 37:01 CR on the 12.8 km 6th leg to move up from 9th to 6th and put Chuo on the 8-deep podium. Juntendo's Yuma Nishizawa also got under the old record in 37:09. Behind Tazawa, Kotaro Kondo (AGU) improbably got under the old CR too, running 49:52.
The level of competition was extremely high throughout the race and there were a lot of great individual matchups, but given the lucky break with the wind direction from the northwest it's safe to say that it'll be a while before Komazawa's overall record and some of the individual records go down.
Beyond the 4 top-ranked teams all filling out the top 4, #7-ranked Soka University lived up to its 2nd-best ranking by average 10000 m with a 5th-place finish overall. Along with Kasai's 2nd leg CR, the always-reliable Yudai Shimazu played a big role with the 3rd-best time on the 5th leg. 4th at last month's Hakone Ekiden qualifier half marathon in its first major race under new head coach Katsuhiko Hanada, Waseda University outran #5-ranked Chuo University for 6th, Chuo holding off #8-ranked Toyo University by 7 seconds for 7th.
Ranked 9th pre-race, Waseda breaking into the top 8 meant one team was knocked off the podium and back to next June's Nationals qualifier. Unsurprisingly that was #6-ranked Meiji University, always strong on paper but unable to put it together in the big ekidens. Meiji ultimately finished 9th but was 2:19 behind 8th-placer Toyo, never really in contention to close in on a podium spot over the two long stages at the ekiden's end.
Daito Bunka had trouble living up to its win at the Hakone qualifier, finishing only 14th and losing out to non-qualifiers Kanagawa University and Chuo Gakuin University. With 15 teams from the Kanto Region in the field only the National University Select Team managed to overtake one of them, beating Nihon University by 1:19. The Kansai Region's Kwansei Gakuin University was the top single-university team from outside Kanto, 17th overall in 5:25:53 including the non-scoring Select Team's position.
Komazawa's Sato came up 1 second short of a stage win, but two other relatively unknown 1st-years had breakthrough runs to win their stages. With 5000 m and 10000 m bests of only 14:01.21 and 30:27.22 Komazawa's Takuma Yamakawa came out of nowhere to win the 11.8 km 4th leg in 33:41, and KGU's Rui Aoki, a quality 13:48.61 for 5000 m but only 29:52.40 for 10000 m, won the 12.4 km 5th leg in 35:50, just 3 seconds off the course record. Waseda 1st-year Tomonori Yamaguchi, 13:35.16 for 5000 m while still in high school, was also good, 3rd behind Yamakawa in 34:01.
With wins at Izumo and now Nationals this season Komazawa is one step closer to pulling off its first-ever triple crown with a win at Hakone. It's also in range of becoming only the 2nd team ever after Waseda to break the CR at all three big university ekidens in a single season. For Hakone it needs 10 solid performances. It had 8 today, without using sub-28 10000 m man Mebuki Suzuki.
Yamakawa's breakthrough is a major boost to its chances, but with Hakone stages averaging 21.7 km it's a major jump in distance for both him and Sato. On 5000 m and 10000 m credentials Komazawa is untouchable, but in the half marathon, the most important distance for Hakone, its average of 1:03:03 lags behind the other 3 teams in the top 4 today, 4th-placer Juntendo's 1:02:26 average, 2nd-placer KGU's 1:02:32, and AGU's 1:02:43. Next weekend's Setagaya 246 Half Marathon, the Ageo City Half Marathon the weekend after that, and the Dec. 4 Takashimadaira Half Marathon, all regular parts of Komazawa's pre-pandemic schedule, will be critical to its development toward Hakone.
AGU's main focus apart from head coach Susumu Hara's relentless self-promotion is Hakone, and despite sub-par performances at Izumo and today it's still likely to be Komazawa's main competition. KGU should be in the race for top 3, but Juntendo doesn't look to be able to capitalize on its paper roster, where most of its top half marathon times were set at the Hakone qualifier two years ago with no improvement since then. Soka is the wild card, almost pulling off the win over Komazawa two years ago and light years ahead of where it was then now. Today was patchy for Soka, but with its best performers Kasai, Shimazu and Mulwa all set to graduate in the spring it's now or never.
54th National University Men's Ekiden
Nagoya-Mie, 06 Nov. 2022
27 teams, 8 stages, 106.8 km
Top Team Results
top 8 teams auto-qualify for 2023
1. Komazawa University - 5:06:47 - CR
2. Koku Gakuin University - 5:10:08 (CR)
3. Aoyama Gakuin University - 5:10:45 (CR)
4. Juntendo University - 5:10:46 (CR)
5. Soka University - 5:12:10
6. Waseda University - 5:12:53
7. Chuo University - 5:13:03
8. Toyo University - 5:13:10
9. Meiji University - 5:15:29
10. Tokai University - 5:16:01
11. Tokyo Kokusai University - 5:16:41
12. Kanagawa University - 5:17:30
13. Chuo Gakuin University - 5:17:56
14. Daito Bunka University - 5:19:07
OP - National University Select Team - 5:21:35
15. Nihon University - 5:22:54
16. Kwansei Gakuin University - 5:25:53
17. Osaka Keizai University - 5:27:14
Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (9.5 km)
1. Peter Wanjiru (2nd yr., Daito Bunka Univ.) - 26:58 - CR
2. Masahiro Mekata (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 27:08
3. Tomohiro Chimori (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 27:13
Second Stage (11.1 km)
1. Jun Kasai (4th yr., Soka Univ.) - 31:12 - CR
2. Keita Sato (1st yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 31:13 (CR)
3. Ryuji Miura (3rd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 31:27
Third Stage (11.9 km)
1. Shotaro Ishihara (3rd yr., Tokai Univ.) - 33:48
2. Issei Sato (3rd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 33:52
3. Haruto Ishizuka (2nd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 33:59
Fourth Stage (11.8 km)
1. Takuma Yamakawa (1st yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 33:41
2. Shungo Yokota (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 33:44
3. Tomonori Yamaguchi (1st yr., Waseda Univ.) - 34:01
Fifth Stage (12.4 km)
1. Rui Aoki (1st yr., Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 35:50
2. Kotaro Shinohara (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 36:00
3. Yudai Shimazu (4th yr., Soka Univ.) - 36:10
Sixth Stage (12.8 km)
1. Yamato Yoshii (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 37:01 - CR
2. Yuma Nishizawa (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 37:09 (CR)
3. Yuito Nakamura (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 37:21
Seventh Stage (17.6 km)
1. Ren Tazawa (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 49:38 - CR
2. Kotaro Kondo (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 49:52 (CR)
3. Philip Mulwa (4th yr., Soka Univ.) - 50:37
Eighth Stage (19.7 km)
1. Kyosuke Hanao (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 57:30
2. Kenzo Ijichi (3rd yr., Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 57:33
3. Shunsuke Shikama (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 57:45
© 2022 Brett Larner, all rights reserved
I'm glad I was able to find a streaming, it's always great when I can watch these live (despite the time difference from here and there).
Komazawa was simply amazing. At this stage, they have just too much depth. If not only Sato but another first year wins them the stage they are just impossible to beat.
What is great is seeing so many very good performances from guys all from different teams.
Jun Kasai was really impressive in outkicking Sato. Yoshii seems to have found his consistency after a not so good debut on the Hakone second stage a couple of years ago.
Tazawa finally ran like his past Hakone self and seems to be past his struggles of last summer and a not so great (but not bad) Izumo leg.
Aoyama Gakuin had a disaster of a second stage. They appear to be far from top form and don't seem to have the depth they had last season but like you said, they come up big as the distance grow.
The fact that they managed to fight back from that second stage performance proved they will be probably the most serious competition for Komazawa at Hakone.
KGU is growing well. Young and consistent runners.
Soka has had a memorable performance from Kasai, I was expecting perhaps more from Mulwa. They lack a bit of depth but they are always fun to watch.
On Juntendo I agree with what you said: these guys don't seem to be improving much. Or maybe they overperformed at the Yosenkai a couple of years ago in ideal conditions (flat track course and running in group).
They are not running badly, far from it and they will likely be in top 3 contention at Hakone. But as promising as they were they didn't seem to take the next step. They also like a bit of depth compared to Komazawa/Agu, they have really solid runners but they always have one or two who fall behind too much (Kudos to Shunsure Taira on first stage today, he is the guy who had a bad bad first stage at Hakone this year compromising most of the race. He didn't set the world on fire today but wasn't a complete disaster)
And when I say this about Juntendo I also say this in regards to Miura: he runs well, he has a fantastic kick but his times when it comes to ekidens are almost the same as 2 years ago.
He "struggles" (compared to his half marathon record set at 18) as the distance grows. He runs well and today he brought back Juntendo after the first stage in the top 3 but one would think that with his talent he should have been there with Kasai and Sato.
I can never tell if he is putting in the effort (he is of course, you just can't tell watching his face) and seems like he hasn't taken the next step when it comes to 5K and over distances.
To be fair, he runs a lot of different events all year long (as opposed to a lot of other guys who show up big "just" at the ekidens) and he is specialized in shorter distances. I think him continuously jumping from short track distances to long ekidens preparation is not ideal for him. Yes, he had that half marathon u18 record but from there he hasn't had the time to improve on long distance.
I think Juntendo coaches (or the system) aren't doing him a favour with all this switching.
I read him saying he hasn't worked enough on long distances with the team because of his track schedule and it shows.
At some point he will have to make a decision after college on what to do. What do you think Brett?
Toyo is a team that will take a while before going back to how it was. Kosuke Ishida isn't the same runner that we admired last Autumn. I don't know what happened but he is struggling.
Kokusai without Vincent Yegon isn't the same. I hope he can come back for Hakone.
All in all it was a great race, with some amazing performance, without Komazawa the battle would have been fantastic for first place.
I hope more first years start putting in great performance like the ones we saw today as new faces are needed as some great 4th years will be moving on from college in March.