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Aoyama Gakuin University Head Coach Hara: "The Hakone Ekiden is Not About the Olympics"


"This year is an Olympic year, but is the Hakone Ekiden really helping Japanese athletics develop?" "Students are not running the Hakone Ekiden because of the Olympics!" This exchange happened in a video on the ABEMA News Youtube channel between comedian Shigeo Takahashi of comedy duo Savannah, and Susumu Hara, head coach of Aoyama Gakuin University which had won the Hakone Ekiden for the seventh time three weeks earlier. Speaking with tremendous energy, Hara went on:

"If you think about it rationally, fundamentally the only people who would say they are interested in the Olympics are Japanese people. Japanese are the ones who place so much importance on the Olympics. If you go to the U.S., they have football and basketball. Our press conference after winning this time was an Olympic-level event. There were 50 or 60 news media companies there, a hundred of them, and all the reporters were clamoring for quotes. That has nothing to do with the Olympics. The Hakone Ekiden is such a stellar product that it's its own thing, a part of Japan's unique culture, and if that's what you want to go for then go for it. If you want to end it there and move on, end it there and move on. The idea of trying to tie this to the Olympics is one that belongs to a developing country."

The 100th Hakone Ekiden broadcast pulled in viewership ratings of 26.1% for its first day on Jan. 2 and 28.3% on its second day on Jan. 3. Viewership numbers are in this range around 30% every year. The Hakone Ekiden is often accused of being responsible for "burnout syndrome" and blamed for Japan's lack of successful Olympic marathoners, but Japanese people should take more pride in the value of their road relays, a uniquely Japanese sports culture.

Translator's note: Not a single athlete coached by Hara has ever made a World Championships or Olympic team. Part of the context of his comments was a statement by Atsushi Fujita, head coach of 2023 Hakone winner Komazawa University, after losing to Aoyama Gakuin this year. "It's disappointing to lose," Fujita told reporters after the race, "but we're thinking about more than just Hakone." Almost immediately after Hara's comments were public, Komazawa's Keita Sato ran 13:09.45, an indoor 5000 m national record and 2nd-fastest-ever time by a Japanese man, at the Boston University John Thomas Classic.

Despite saying the above, Hara pulled Aoi Ota, who beat Sato to win Hakone's Third Stage this year in the equivalent of a 58:57 half marathon, from his planned marathon debut at this weekend's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon claiming he wasn't feeling well after having floated the idea Ota could run 2:03 in his debut, and is expected to run him instead at the Osaka Marathon where based on his Hakone performance he would have a realistic shot at clearing the 2:05:50 standard to take the 3rd spot on the Paris Olympic Marathon team.

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translated by Brett Larner

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Comments

Stefan said…
Great article. I can understand each coach's point of view. What is more important for the athlete - winning the Hakone Ekiden or competing/winning at the Olympics?

Can you do both? Perhaps, Aoi Ota will answer that one at the Osaka Marathon.

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