It has been learned that a plan has been put forth to further restrict the length of the stages that non-Japanese runners can run at the National High School Ekiden and its regional qualifying races starting next year. In the 7-stage, 42.195 km boys' race the plan calls for them to be restricted to the two 5 km stages and the two 3 km stages, or to only the two 3 km stages. In the 5-stage, 21.0975 km girls' race they would be restricted to the 4.0975 km Second Stage and the two 3 km stages, or to only the two 3 km stages.
The National High School Ekiden boys' race began in 1950, with a girls' race added in 1989. No restrictions on non-Japanese athletes were in place up to 2007, and teams that had them typically ran them on the longest stage of the race, the 10 km First Stage for boys and the 6 km First Stage for girls. But as the number of highly talented international students increased, the race's overall outcome started to become predetermined by the end of the opening leg, and in 2008 rules were put in place to ban them from running the First Stage.
After that, running non-Japanese students on the 8.1075 km Third Leg came to be recognized as the "winning plan." But even with this ghettoization of the event international athletes continued to have a major impact. In the last ten years, teams with non-Japanese athletes won the National High School Ekiden boys' race eight times and the girls' race three times.
With the boys' race set to celebrate its 75th running next year, voices have called for the occasion to be marked by further tightening the use of non-Japanese citizens beyond the 2008 restrictions. But it is a fact that the presence of international students has directly contributed to raising Japanese athletes' competitive level. And the post-graduation success of athletes like the late Samuel Wanjiru, who won his stage at the National High School Ekiden three years in a row and helped Sendai Ikuei H.S. take the overall title twice before going on to win the gold medal in the men's marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has elevated the prestige of the National High School Ekiden itself. With such restrictions going against the societal trend of increased internationalization, discussions on their implementation are being held carefully.
In addition, another proposal has been put forward to increase the number of slots for schools from high-population areas like the Tokyo-centric North Kanto and South Kanto regions and the Osaka-area Kinki region. Currently each of Japan's 47 prefectures sends one team to the National High School Ekiden. In each five-year anniversary edition an additional eleven spots are handed out to the above regions for a field of 58 teams. The proposal calls for this to be made the standard field size beginning next year. Both proposals would be put into place starting in the 2024-25 academic year and are beginning to attract attention.
translated by Brett Larner