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1:00:43 Half Marathoner Kazuki Matsuyama to Do Fifth Year at Toyo University

4th at the 100th Hakone Ekiden in January, Toyo University announced this week that 1:00:43 half marathoner Kazuki Matsuyama will do a fifth year at Toyo during the 2024-2025 academic year beginning next week. Head coach Toshiyuki Sakai, 47, commented, "He feels that he has unfinished business at Toyo, both academically and athletically."

Matsuyama has been one of the driving forces at Toyo since enrolling in the spring of 2020. He ran Hakone's competitive Second Stage as a first year, placing 4th, and backed that up a year later with a 5th-place run as the second-fastest Japanese athlete. As a 4th-year this year he left the Second Stage to 3rd-year Ren Umezaki, instead running the Fourth Stage where he was 2nd. That played a major role in Toyo taking 4th on Day One and in the overall results.

Collegiate athletes are allowed to be registered as part of a team's 16-member entry roster a maximum of four times. During Matsuyama's 3rd year he didn't make Toyo's final entry list, opening the door for him to run the 101st edition in 2025. "When the Hakone Ekiden was done, a while later I had a long conversation with Matsuyama," said Sakai. "He has refocused and is now a part of the team for the new academic year, living and training together with them in the same environment."

In February, 2022 during his 2nd year, after Hakone Matsuyama ran 1:00:43 for the half marathon, at the time the 2nd-fastest ever by a Japanese-born collegiate runner. Hopes were high that he'd grow even further during his 3rd year, but in late August that year his foot slipped on the pedal of his bicycle and he injured his left ankle. It wasn't a serious injury, but recovery took longer than anticipated and he missed that fall's Izumo Ekiden and National University Ekiden as a result. "I haven't ridden a bike since then," Matsuyama said. That December he caught influenza, which meant he was left off Toyo's Hakone entry roster.

Last November Toyo was a disastrous 14th at the National University Ekiden. Expectations were low for the team at Hakone, but with a gutsy run that embodied the team slogan, "Just one second faster," they closed to within 21 seconds of 3rd-placer Josai University to take 4th. That extended their school record of making the 10-deep podium to 19 years. The expected dominant forces in the 2024-2025 year will be Hakone top two Aoyama Gakuin University and Komazawa University, plus Koku Gakuin University which features Osaka Marathon winner Kiyoto Hirabayashi in its lineup. But don't overlook Toyo's chances.

Along with a very strong incoming class and Matsuyama, returning members include Umezaki, who was 6th on the Second Stage at Hakone and went on to run 2:10:19 for 2nd at February's Nobeoka Marathon, Third Stage 6th-placer Ryota Kobayashi, Ninth Stage runner-up Shu Yoshida, and anchor stage winner Ryotaro Kishimoto. The mountain stages are always critical to Hakone success, and this year's Fifth and Sixth Stage runners Renato Ogata and Mashu Nishimura will also bring their experience to the 2024 lineup. Former high school 5000 m record holder Kosuke Ishida missed all three major ekidens last season, but he is recovering and is expected to be an important part of the team too.

Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara, 57, is keeping a wary eye on Toyo, saying, "Our toughest rivals will probably be Komazawa and Koku Gakuin, but Toyo is also strong. Coach Sakai and the athletes are highly motivated." Toyo first won Hakone in 2009, and over the course of 6 years won 4 times. But its last victory came in 2014. Can the motivation of which Hara speaks carry them to their first win in 11 years next January?

Kazuki Matsuyama - Both in Odawara, Tochigi on Dec. 4, 2001. 22 years old. Set a course record of 8:29 for the 3.0 km Sixth Stage at the National Men's Ekiden during his 3rd year at Odawara J.H.S. While at Gakuho Ishikawa H.S. he was reliably solid, over the course of three years placing 3rd on the National High School Ekiden's Fifth Stage, 4th on the Third Stage, and 2nd on the First Stage. Enrolled in Toyo University's Information Studies department in 2020. His PBs are 13:48.80 for 5000 m, 28:42.17 for 10000 m, and 1:00:43 for the half marathon. 168 cm, 50 kg.

Hakone Ekiden Stats
  • Most times participating: Pre-war there was no limit on the number of times an athlete could run. Nihon University's Shigeru Sone competed eight times from 1927 to 1934.
  • Oldest runners: Kohei Murakoso of Chuo University won the Fifth Stage in 1939 at the age of 33 years, 131 days. Post-war an age limit of 27 was put in place, preventing Komazawa University 4th-year Hiroaki Oyagi from running in 1987 at the age of 28. That limit was lifted in 1992, and in 2022 Surugadai University's Takao Imai ran at the age of 31 years, 124 days after taking a leave of absence from his job as a junior high school P.E. teacher to go back to school in pursuit of the Hakone dream.
  • 5th-year runners: Recent examples include Toyo's Shun Gorotani, 3rd on the Fifth Stage in 2016, Aoyama Gakuin's Naoto Takeishi, 17th on the Fifth Stage in 2021, Koku Gakuin's Yoshinori Shimazaki, 12th on the Sixth Stage in 2023, and Soka University's Yudai Shimazu, 8th on the Fourth Stage in 2023.
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