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37-Year-Old Rikkyo University Head Coach Ueno Anchors Nagano to National Men's Ekiden CR

There's a first time for everything. In the last major ekiden of the season, 37-year-old Yuichiro Ueno, head coach of the Rikkyo University team that ran the Hakone Ekiden three weeks ago, anchored the Nagano prefecture team to a second-straight course record win at the 28th National Men's Ekiden in Hiroshima.

Nagano's Soma Nagahara got things off to a solid start, going one-on-one with favorite Sonata Nagashima of Hyogo on the 7.0 km 1st leg, both going under the old stage CR with Nagashima 1st in 19:39 and Nagahara only 2 seconds back. Over the next two stages Nagano dropped to 4th 20 seconds off the lead, but a pair of new CR from 4th and 5th runners and Saku Chosei H.S. teammates Shunpei Yamaguchi and Hiroto Yoshioka put the team 37 seconds ahead. 6th runner Riku Kobayashi extended that to 49 seconds, giving Ueno a margin of error of just over 3 sec/km on the 13.0 km anchor stage.

Ueno first ran the National Men's Ekiden 20 years ago, passing 17 people on the 8.5 km 5th leg with a CR 24:33 at the 2003 race. He broke that record a year later, helping Nagano take the overall win. Since then he has run it another 8 times, anchoring 6 of them and part of the winning team in another 5. Over the first half of the anchor stage this time he added another 4 seconds to the lead, but even though he slowed and started to look back repeatedly he was never at risk of getting caught.

Waving to fans in the home straight in front of Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park, Ueno went 1 second under Nagano's CR, giving them a new record of 2:17:10 for the full 7-stage, 48.0 km course. It was Nagano's 9th win in the 26 times the race has been held, extending its record as the most dominant prefecture in the country. Nagahara, Yamaguchi and Yoshioka played the most important roles in that, but Ueno running well enough to place 12th of 47 on the anchor stage on time was part of the mix too.

Down in 10th after three stages, Saitama ground its way up to 2nd over the last four. Anchor Tomoya Ogikubo was 2nd-fastest on his leg, cutting Ueno's lead in half but just too far back to close it as Saitama finished 2nd in 2:17:35. Tokyo was in a consistent position for the first six stages, inching up from 8th to 6th before anchor Yudai Shimazu took the tasuki. In the last major ekiden of his college career Shimazu ran down three teams for 3rd in 2:18:20, beating Chiba by 1 second and Okayama by 8.

Briefly leading on the 8.5 km 3rd leg thanks to a good run from Keita Sato, the Kyoto team was 6th in 2:18:32, 6 seconds ahead of hosts Hiroshima. Early leader Hyogo fell to 8th in 2:18:45. Saga's Ryosuke Yamasaki, a student at Kanagawa University, was the surprise winner on the anchor stage, running 37:26 to pass ten people and move Saga up from 21st to 11th. 

Way back in the back end of the field, 38-year-old Naoki Okamoto turned in the other performance of the day. Running the National Men's Ekiden for the 18th time for Tottori, Okamoto passed ten people on the 8.5 km 3rd leg to bring his career passing record at the race to 137. Okamoto will run October's Olympic marathon trials, meaning it's likely he'll be back next year to take that total one step further.

28th National Men's Ekiden

Hiroshima, 22 Jan. 2023
47 teams, 7 stages, 48.0 km

Top Individual Stage Results
First Stage (7.0 km, H.S.) - Sonata Nagashima (Hyogo) - 19:39 - CR
Second Stage (3.0 km, J.H.S.) - Haruki Niizuma (Hyogo) - 8:17
Third Stage (8.5 km, open) - Kazuya Shiojiri (Gunma) - 23:30
Fourth Stage (5.0 km, H.S.) - Shunpei Yamaguchi (Nagano) - 14:02 - CR
Fifth Stage (8.5 km, H.S.) - Hiroto Yoshioka (Nagano) - 23:52 - CR
Sixth Stage (3.0 km, J.H.S.) - Yota Mashiko (Fukushima) - 8:36
Seventh Stage (13.0 km, open) - Ryosuke Yamasaki (Saga) - 37:26

Top Team Results
1. Nagano - 2:17:10 - CR
2. Saitama - 2:17:35
3. Tokyo - 2:18:20
4. Chiba - 2:18:21
5. Okayama - 2:18:28
6. Kyoto - 2:18:32
7. Hiroshima - 2:18:38
8. Hyogo - 2:18:45
9. Miyagi - 2:20:07
10. Ibaraki - 2:20:09
11. Saga - 2:20:10
12. Wakayama - 2:20:11
13. Yamaguchi - 2:20:11
14. Osaka - 2:20:30
15. Nagasaki - 2:20:33

© 2023 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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