Monday, October 24, 2016

Hironaka, Ndiku and Aoyama Gakuin Lead Weekend Track Highlights

by Brett Larner

A week after running 9:00.81 to become the fastest-ever Japanese 10th grade girl over 3000 m, Ririka Hironaka (Nagasaki Shogyo H.S.) was back to break another record.  At Saturday's Challenge Games in Oita Ginko Dome Hironaka ran 15:42.23 to win the women's 5000 m, again the fastest mark ever by a Japanese 10th grader.  10th graders also brought good times in the women's 3000 m and men's 5000 m, where Oita Tomei H.S. resident Kenyans Marta Mokaya and Benuel Mogeni won in 9:06.29 and 13:43.37.  Japanese high schoolers Keita Yoshida (Sera H.S.) and Yuta Kanbayashi (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) both broke 14 minutes, Yoshida running 13:53.53 for 3rd and Kanbayashi next across the line in 13:59.14.

Faster 5000 m times came Sunday at Yokohama's Nittai University Time Trials, where Jonathan Ndiku (Team Hitachi Butsuryu) came up just short of the fastest 5000 m on Japanese soil so far this year as he won in 13:15.32.  John Maina (Team Fujitsu) and Alfred Ngeno (Team Nissin Shokuhin) also broke 13:20, but reigning university ekiden power Aoyama Gakuin University delivered bigger news across the pack behind the top three.  Already holding thirteen men with sub-14 bests for 5000 m, in the same heat as Ndiku nine Aoyama Gakuin men broke 14, the four fastest of them setting new PBs and one doing it for the first time.  Aoyama Gakuin's roster now includes fourteen men sub-14, five of whom have also run sub-29 for 10000 m and sub-63 for the half marathon, plus one more runner, fourth-year Kinari Ikeda, who has run 28 and 62 with a 5000 m best of only 14:08.27.  This gives Aoyama Gakuin a fifteen-deep roster of A-listers, more than enough to tackle next week's National University Ekiden with eight stages averaging 13.4 km.  But they have company.

Before this weekend Tokai University already matched Aoyama Gakuin at runners fourteen sub-14 and six sub-29.  At Nittai two more of its team broke 29, giving it a seventeen-deep A-list roster, fourteen of them sub-14 including five sub-29, plus three more sub-29 with 5000 m bests between 14:03.82 and 14:11.25.  Only second-year Haruki Minatoya has broken 63 for the half marathon at this point, a shortcoming that will hurt their chances against Aoyama Gakuin at Nationals and especially at January's Hakone Ekiden where the ten stages average roughly a half marathon in distance.  But take a look at Tokai's first-years:

  • Hayato Seki: 5000 m: 13:41.28     10000 m: 28:48.63
  • Shota Onizuka: 5000 m: 13:43.61     10000 m: 28:55.26
  • Rintaro Takata: 10000 m: 28:57.91
  • Junnosuke Matsuo: 10000 m: 28:59.65
  • Ryoji Tatezawa: 5000 m: 13:48.89
  • Ryohei Sakaguchi; 5000 m; 13:51.69
  • Takuya Hanyu: 5000 m: 13:52.98
  • Yuichiro Nishikawa: 5000 m: 13:58.54

Just these eight first-years alone would be a better team than most other schools will field at Nationals, and none of them has run a half marathon yet.  Tokai could even field two teams and both would do better than most of the competition.  Give them another year and you'll be looking at the team that will take away Aoyama Gakuin's spot on top of the university ekiden world.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Toilet Maker Toto Claims Princess Ekiden Throne to Qualify for National Corporate Women's Ekiden

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The Princess Ekiden, gateway to the throne of Japan's ekiden queens.  28 teams competed Oct. 23 for the 14 remaining spots at next month's National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships.

The fierce battle to sit atop the throne started right out of the gate.  Its big movement came on the 3.8 km Fourth Stage.  Shuru Bulo, making her debut for toilet and washlet maker Toto, made up a 46-second deficit to put Toto into the lead by 4 seconds.  From there on out Toto sailed on smoothly and without straining to score its first Princess Ekiden title by 45 seconds over rival Noritz.  The win meant a fourth-straight appearance at Nationals for the Toto team.  Can they become the queens of tomorrow?

More drama was to found further back in the field in the race for the 14th and final ticket to Nationals.  In 14th on the second-to-last stage, the Juhachi Ginko team was overtaken by Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo, dropping out of the qualifying bracket.  With just 1 km to go Juhachi Ginko anchor Yuka Koga caught Route Inn Hotels anchor Suzune Ishikawa, moving back into 14th and sealing ints place on the national stage by a final margin of 12 seconds.

Princess Ekiden
National Corporate Women's Ekiden Championships Qualifier
Munakata, Fukuoka, 10/23/16
24 teams, 6 stages, 42.195 km
click here for complete results

Stage Best Performances
First Stage - 7.0 km: Haruna Maekawa (Juhachi Ginko) - 22:34 - CR
Second Stage - 4.0 km: Misaki Tanabe (Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) - 12:23 - CR
Third Stage - 10.3 km: Mizuki Matsuda (Daihatsu) - 33:04
Fourth Stage - 3.8 km: Pauline Kamulu (Route Inn Hotels) - 11:47
Fifth Stage - 10.4 km: Kyoka Nakagawa (Japan Post) - 35:30
Sixth Stage - 6.695 km: Nozomi Terauchi (Japan Post) - 22:04

Top Team Performances
1. Toto - 2:19:15
2. Noritz - 2:20:00
3. Kyocera - 2:20:11
4. Panasonic - 2:20:14
5. Hokuren - 2:20:16
6. Shimamura - 2:20:25
7. Hitachi - 2:20:42
8. Japan Post - 2:20:45
9. Shiseido - 2:20:50
10. Daihatsu - 2:21:26
11. Wacoal - 2:21:33
12. Yutaka Giken - 2:21:50
13. Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo - 2:22:20
14. Juhachi Ginko - 2:22:45
----- top 14 teams qualify for Nationals
15. Route Inn Hotels - 2:22:57
16. Uniqlo - 2:23:02
17. Otsuka Seiyaku - 2:23:25
18. Edion - 2:23:29
19. Miyazaki Ginko - 2:23:56
20. Sysmex - 2:25:08

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hyuga Endo Breaks 3000 m Japanese High School National Record

by Brett Larner

Ekiden season is underway but there is plenty of track action along the way as teams get ready for the main road races.  A week after his third-straight National Sports Festival track title, 12th-grader Hyuga Endo (Gakuho Ishikawa H.S.) became the first Japanese high schooler to break 8 minutes for 3000 m when he won Hyogo's Sumitomo Denko Cup in 7:59.18 by a margin of more than 20 seconds.  Opening with a 2:36.82 first 1000 m, Endo slowed to 2:42.50 in the middle of the race, still on track to break 8 overall but behind pace over the next 600 m.  One of Endo's main strengths to date has been his kick over the last lap, and here a 59.92 second last lap was just enough to get him under.  Endo's time was a new high school national record and the second-fastest ever by a Japanese junior.  With a steady string of new PBs from 1500 m to 5000 m over the last two years the new record was another step forward for Endo, who plans to join the Sumitomo Denko corporate team after his graduation next spring.

The same day in Fukuoka another high schooler dropped a fast 3000 m. Ririka Hironaka (Nagasaki Shogyo H.S.), already Japan's fastest-ever 10th grader in the women's 3000 m, took 3 seconds off her best as she won the All-Kyushu High School Newcomers' Meet in 9:00.81.  A meet record, Hironaka's time was the 5th-best Japanese girls' high school mark and 7th-best junior mark, and it was enough to beat Kenyan Tabitha Njeri Kamau (Kamimura Gakuen H.S.) by over 5 seconds.

Another fast race came at the Chubu Corporate Track and Field Meet in Gifu, where Kenyans James Rungaru (Team Chuo Hatsujo) and Hiram Ngatia (Team Toyota) pushed each other where at least Ngatia had never gone over 10000 m.  Both clocked 27:30, former Toyota runner Rungaru getting the win in 27:30.17, his best time in over five years, and Ngatia 2nd in a 10-second+ PB of 27:30.75.  Edward Waweru (Team NTN) and Patrick Muendo Mwaka (Team Aisan Kogyo) were both under 27:45, with Ngatia's teammate Yuma Hattori (Team Toyota) running a PB of 28:09.74 for 7th as the top Japanese finisher.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wambui, Ngandu and Daito Bunka Dominate a Double Dose of 20 km Action

by Brett Larner

This weekend saw Japan's two biggest 20 km road races go down back to back in Tokyo.  Saturday in  Showa Kinen Park fifty Tokyo-area university men's teams lined up at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai to try to claim one of the ten remaining places at January's ultra-prestigious Hakone Ekiden.  With at least six Kenyans, one Ethiopian and one Taiwanese runner on the starting line it may have been a record for international participation in the Yosenkai, the official qualification race for Hakone, and it was the internationals who pushed the front end of the field to fast times despite conditions made unseasonably warm by the bright and cloudless skies.

Undefeated in his last seven races on the track and road, Patrick Mathenge Wambui (Nihon Univ.) was the heavy favorite despite his inexperience at such a long distance, but he received a serious challenge from newcomer Josphat Ledama Kisaisa (Obirin Univ.).  Arriving in Japan earlier this fall to run under the coaching of Stephen Mayaka at Obirin, Kisaisa was on the attack early.  Pushing the first 5 km to 14:23 and keeping it almost even with 14:29 and 14:32 splits for the next two 5 km sections, Kisaisa progressively burned both off his international competition and the only four Japanese men to try to roll with him until only Wambui was left.  After 15 km Kisaisa began to fade, and biding his time for a long surge Wambui had no trouble pulling away for the win in a solid 58:15.  Kisaisa was 2nd in 58:27, one of the better Yosenkai debuts by a first-year.

Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) was the last Japanese man standing up front, teaming up with another Kenyan first-year, Muthoni Muiru (Soka University) when the leading pace proved too hot.  The pair worked together to reel in Workneh Deresse (Takushoku Univ.) after halfway, then set their sights on Simon Kariuki (Nihon Yakka Univ.).  With 2 km to go Suzuki surged to drop Muiru, running down Kariuki for 3rd in 58:43, the third-fastest time ever by a Japanese man at the Yosenkai.  Muiru also overtook Kariuki to claim 4th in 58:51, the first time four men have broken 59 minutes at the Yosenkai.  Altogether ten men cleared the hour mark, putting it near the top of the race's better years.

At the Yosenkai times matter more than places, with each university's ten fastest finishers adding to its overall time and the ten top schools on aggregate time going on to Hakone.  Ranked just 6th pre-race Daito Bunka University was the first one to put ten men past each of the checkpoints along the course, but up against schools with a super-fast star up front that was no guarantee.  Everything depended on final finishing times, and with a record 87-year streak of making Hakone at stake nobody felt that more than Chuo University after its star runner Taiga Machizawa fell off the lead group and slowed dramatically over the second half of the race.  The announcement ceremony, always tense, was more dramatic than ever.

With third-year Noritoshi Hara making an unexpected breakthrough to the sub-60 level with a 59:44 for 9th overall and its first ten finishers all breaking 1:01:15 Daito Bunka won the team competition in 10:08:07.  Its tenth scorer was first-year Ryosuke Nara, the son of head coach Osamu Nara.  Meiji University lived up to its #2 ranking, 2nd just behind Daito Bunka with a time of 10:10:09.  Muiru's strong debut powered Soka University to 3rd overall in 10:10:09 for just its second-ever Hakone appearance.  Soka's 11th runner ran 1:02:05, meaning that without Muiru the team would have totalled 10:13:23 for 7th, just ahead of its pre-race #9 ranking.  Soka still would have made the Hakone cut, but a 3rd place generated buzz that just squeaking through wouldn't have.

Similarly, last year Tokyo Kokusai University qualified for Hakone for the first time in just its fifth year as a program.  This year it ran Kenyan first-year Titus Mogusu, who dropped out after 15 km.  Without him, Tokyo Kokusai was 15th, not enough for a return to Hakone.  In the case of last year's Yosenkai winner Nihon University, Wambui's time meant everything.  Nihon's 11th runner finished in 1:04:08, a difference of 5:53 from Wambui's winning time.  An extra 5:53 would have put Nihon outside the circle at 13th; considering the profound cachet of the Hakone Ekiden and the impact that making it can have on a university's name value, enrollment, and alumni relations it's pretty clear just how valuable having good African athletes like Muiru or Wambui can be to a Japanese university.

Chuo gave even more evidence.  In its first season under new head coach, Chuo alum and 2:08:12 marathoner Masakazu Fujiwara, Chuo was the 9th school to put its top ten across the finish line, but with Machizawa running only 1:00:05 its runners and staff were sweating it out through the announcement ceremony, 87 years of history weighing heavier and heavier on them as the countdown went on.  1st, 2nd, 3rd, then 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th all bringing cheers as relatively minor schools made the grade.  A long pause before 10th, and when Nihon's name was announced an era had come to an end.  Chuo was 11th, 44 seconds behind Nihon on aggregate time, a little over 4 seconds per runner over 20 km.  If Machizawa had held on to his first half pace and finished around 59-flat Chuo would have made it.  If Nihon hadn't had Wambui and the race had otherwise played out the same way, Chuo would have made it.  For that matter, if Wambui had been only a decent athlete like Deresse or Kariuki, Chuo would have made it.  If Chuo had an African team member they probably would have made it.  Nothing but ifs, but one thing was clear: Wambui's presence at Nihon meant the difference between Nihon's fate and Chuo's and all that is going to come down as a result.

The next day Japan's other big 20 km got off on a unique 5 km loop in Tokyo's Takashimadaira neighborhood at the Takashimadaira Road Race.  Always a mid-season time trial for schools already qualified for Hakone plus Yosenkai school second-stringers and a few random turners-up, this year saw 2013 and 2014 winner Benjamin Ngandu (Team Monteroza) lead Rio Olympian Kazuya Shiojiri and other Juntendo University runners, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) and more collegiate competition from Tokai University, Teikyo University and elsewhere to the deepest finish in Takashimadaira's 41-year history.

From the start it was all Ngandu and Shiojiri, the pair splitting 14:33 and 14:37 for the first two 5 km laps.  On the third lap Shiojiri, who ran the 3000 mSC in Rio and whose unexpected appearance in Takashimadaira left fans and amateur runners in the race alike very pleased to say the least, slowed, taking 15:00 to Ngandu's 14:48.  From there the two were never challenged, Ngandu winning for the third time in 59:17 and Shiojiri taking 2nd in 59:36, a PB by 2 seconds.  Defending champ Kawauchi, in preparation for next month's Porto Marathon, took 3rd in 59:43, well over a minute faster than his winning time last year.  Shiojiri's Juntendo teammate Takuya Nishizawa and independent Aritaka Kajiwara also cleared 60 minutes to make to make five under the hour mark, the most-ever on the Takashimadaira course.

93rd Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km
Tachikawa, Tokyo, 10/15/16
click here for complete results

Top Individual Results
1. Patrick Mathenge Wambui (Nihon Univ.) - 58:15
2. Josphat Ledama Kisaisa (Obirin Univ.) - 58:27
3. Kengo Suzuki (Kanagawa Univ.) - 58:43
4. Muthoni Muiri (Soka Univ.) - 58:51
5. Simon Kariuki (Nihon Yakka Univ.) - 59:06
6. Workneh Derese (Takushoku Univ.) - 59:34
7. Soma Ishikawa (Nihon Univ.) - 59:38
8. Tatsuya Maruyama (Senshu Univ.) - 59:40
9. Noritoshi Hara (Daito Bunka Univ.) - 59:44
10. Atsushi Yamato (Kanagawa Univ.) - 59:58
DNF - Titus Mogusu (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.)

Top Team Results - top ten qualify for 2017 Hakone Ekiden
1. Daito Bunka University - 10:08:07
2. Meiji University - 10:08:17
3. Soka University - 10:10:09
4. Hosei University - 10:10:18
5. Kanagawa University - 10:11:47
6. Jobu University - 10:12:12
7. Takushoku University - 10:12:36
8. Koku Gakuin University - 10:14:09
9. Kokushikan University - 10:14:45
10. Nihon University - 10:16:17
11. Chuo University - 10:17:01
12. Josai University - 10:19:10
13. Tokyo Nogyo University - 10:20:50
14. Senshu University - 10:25:00
15. Tokyo Kokusai University - 10:25:29

41st Takashimadaira Road Race 20 km
Takashimadaira, Tokyo, 10/16/16
click here for complete results

1. Benjamin Ngandu (Monteroza) - 59:17
2. Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) - 59:36
3. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov't) - 59:43
4. Takuya Nishizawa (Juntendo Univ.) - 59:48
5. Aritaka Kajiwara (Atsugi T&F Assoc.) - 59:52
6. Naoya Sakuda (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:00:20
7. Kazuto Kawabata (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:26
8. Reo Kuniyuki (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:28
9. Kento Hanazawa (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:00:50
10. Reiri Nakashima (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:56

1. Shinobu Ayabe (Dream AC) - 1:15:56
2. Mitsuko Hirose (Tokyo Wings) - 1:16:16
3. Shiori Shimomura (Comody Iida) - 1:17:58

text and photos © 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hakone Ekiden Qualifier Preview

Nihon University third-year Ikki Yamazaki made this animated video using over 700 pieces of paper asking for fans' support for Nihon at Saturday's Hakone Ekiden qualifier.

by Brett Larner

Monday's Izumo Ekiden saw the top ten schools from the 2016 Hakone Ekiden get their 2016-17 season started.  For the rest of the universities in the Tokyo area, Saturday's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai is their gateway to the biggest race of the year.

A 20 km road race, the Yosenkai is the official qualifier for the Hakone Ekiden, the Jan. 2-3 road relay that is a cultural institution in Japan featuring twenty Tokyo-area university teams and one select team.  The top ten finishers in Hakone are seeded for the following year, freeing them up to run Izumo.  The rest line up again at the Yosenkai with all the other Hakone hopefuls, where they field teams of ten to twelve men.  The times of their first ten finishers are combined, and the ten schools with the fastest aggregate times make the Hakone cut.  Ten of the fastest individuals at the Yosenkai whose teams don't make it are chosen for the select team.

Like Hakone itself, the Yosenkai is broadcast live, and the atmosphere in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park is alive with energy before, during and after the race. Marching bands and cheerleader squads from each university line the course around the start area and 5 km first loop, and all around the park crowds of students, alumni and fans wave banners with the school colors and cheer their runners on enthusiastically.  The announcement ceremony for the ten qualifying schools is one of the most dramatic moments of the season. Taken all together, the Yosenkai is the biggest, most competitive 20 km in the world.

Highlights from the 2015 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai.

This year fifty universities will field teams at the Yosenkai, each lining up single-file by PB for the mass start.  All ten of the 12th-21st place teams at the last Hakone return, with a few more schools close to making the bottom end of the field.  The top fifteen-ranked teams in the field by average half marathon PB are listed below.  In some cases individual times are extrapolated from 20 km performances or IAAF scoring tables.  Click to enlarge.

After not even qualifying for Hakone last year, Koku Gakuin University looks like the favorite for the overall win with a margin of almost 30 seconds per runner over the next-best team.  You might remember Koku Gakuin for this scene from a few years back when it was trying to finish within Hakone's seeded bracket for the first time.

In a rebuilding phase after heavy losses to graduation in recent years, Hakone 15th-placer Meiji University is Koku Gakuin's closest competiton.  Last year's Yosenkai winner and 12th at Hakone this year, Nihon University is also close behind as it sees star runner Patrick Wambui, undefeated in his last seven races on the track and roads, making his debut over the longer distances.  Hakone 14th-placer Kanagawa University is comfortably positioned at 4th to re-qualify.  From there things get interesting.

5th through 10th are ranked within a relatively tight range of 6 seconds per runner.  With ten runners that's a one-minute range overall, but expect most of the group containing Hosei University, Daito Bunka University, Chuo University in its debut under new head coach Masakazu Fujiwara, Kokushikan University, Soka University and Senshu University to be close together throughout the race.  Soka, going for its second Hakone appearance, and Senshu, trying to return for the first time since 2014, have a 6 second per runner margin over 11th-ranked Josai University.  The line between 10th and 11th is the critical one that decides who runs Hakone and who watches from the side of the road, and the margin is close enough that it should be exciting.

12th-ranked Tokyo Kokusai University, which made its Hakone debut in 2016 in just its fifth year of existence as a program, is 4 seconds per runner behind Josai and will need a combination of a perfect day and a higher-ranked team blowing up to bridge the 10 second per runner gap to Hakone.  6~7 seconds per runner behind Tokyo Kokusai, Tokyo Nogyo University, Takushoku University and likable underdog Jobu University, feeling the resignation of head coach Katsuhiko Hanada this spring, will need a miracle to make the cut.

Last year Kokushikan was 11th behind Jobu, missing Hakone by 10 seconds. One second per runner over 20 km.  With at least four schools in contention for the last two spots at Hakone this year's Yosenkai should be even more dramatic.  JRN will be on-site to cover the race as it happens.

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Ivy League On Its Izumo Ekiden Experience

A day after its 14th-place finish at the 28th Izumo Ekiden, JRN sat down with the members and staff of the Ivy League Select Team in Shinjuku to talk about their races and experience.  Their own words, in 35 seconds or less:

Henry Sterling (Dartmouth): First Stage (8.0 km) - 24:48 (17th of 20)

John Gregorek (Columbia): Second Stage (5.8 km) - 18:54 (20th of 20)

Chris Bendtsen (Princeton): Third Stage (8.5 km) - 27:39 (18th of 20)

Steve Mangan (Dartmouth): Fourth Stage (6.2 km) - 18:44 (13th of 20)

Will Geoghegan (Dartmouth): Fifth Stage (6.4 km) - 18:53 (11th of 20)

Jake Sienko (Columbia): Sixth Stage (10.2 km) - 31:21 (9th of 20)

Ben de Haan (Cornell): alternate

Brian Masterson (Dartmouth): alternate

Jack Fultz: head coach

Bill Okerman: manager

Atsushi Yoshimura: Inter-University Athletics Union of Japan official:
"14th place this time was a bit disappointing.  I'm optimistic for better results next year, so please continue to cheer for the Ivy League team."

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

National Sports Festival Athletics Highlights Part Two

by Brett Larner
click here for part one

After a meet record in the men's 10000 m race walk earlier in weekend, the second half of the 71st National Sports Festival saw two more race walk meet records.  In the senior women's 5000 mRW, Kumiko Okada (Bic Camera) broke the record set 21 years ago with a new mark of 21:24.94 to win by almost a minute.  The junior men's 5000 mRW was closer, with Masatora Kawano (Gotemba Minami H.S.) pushing Ryutaro Yamamoto (Toyama Shogyo H.S.) to break his own record.  Yamamoto bettered his 2015 record by 12 seconds in 19:56.66, Kawano also coming in under Kawano's old mark in 20:02.38.

In the junior men's 3000 m, 9th-grader Hiroto Hayashida (Sakuragahara J.H.S.) bettered his high school competition to win in a new junior high school national record of 8:19.14.  No records were set in the junior women's 3000 m, but Kenyan Helen Ekarare (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) delivered one of the fastest performances in National Sports Festival history as she won in 8:58.36.  Nozomi Tanaka (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) came up short of winning a national title again, outrunning Rika Kaseda (Narita H.S.) for 2nd in 9:05.03 with Kaseda just 0.70 seconds behind.

With his Rio Olympics men's 4x100 m relay silver medalist teammates Ryota Yamagata (Seiko) and Asuka Cambridge (Dome) having appeared earlier in the weekend, Shota Iizuka (Mizuno) wrapped up his season and the National Sports Festival in the 4x100 m final.  Running anchor, Iizuka brought his hometown Shizuoka team home in 3rd in 40.07.  Aichi got the win in 40.00 with 100 m champ Takuya Nagata (Hosei Univ.) running opposite Iizuka, and Fukuoka a surprising 2nd in 40.03.

71st National Sports Festival Athletics Highlights - Part Two
Iwate, Oct. 10-11
click here for complete results

Junior Women's 400 m Final
1. Rin Aoki (Soyo H.S.) - 54.67
2. Yukina Shimada (Tsuruga H.S.) - 54.82
3. Minami Hatano (Tokai Prep Boyo H.S.) - 55.10

Junior Men's 400 m Final
1. Daichi Inoue (Tokyo H.S.) - 47.33
2. Naoki Kitadani (Kagaku Gijutsu H.S.) - 47.61
3. Yushi Uike (Saikyo H.S.) - 47.64

Senior Men's 800 m Final
1. Tatsuya Nishikubo (Waseda Univ.) - 1:51.17
2. Takumi Murashima (Juntendo Univ.) - 1:51.18
3. Sho Kawamoto (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 1:51.18

Junior Men's 3000 m Final
1. Hiroto Hayashida (Sakuragahara J.H.S.) - 8:19.14 - JHS NR
2. Ren Tazawa (Aomori Yamada H.S.) - 8:19.80
3. Ryuto Igawa (Kyushu Gakuin H.S.) - 8:20.36

Junior Women's 3000 m Final
1. Helen Ekarare (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) - 8:58.36
2. Nozomi Tanaka (Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S.) - 9:05.03
3. Rika Kseda (Narita H.S.) - 9:05.73
4. Tomomi Musembi Takamatsu (Kunei Joshi Gakuin H.S.) - 9:14.21
5. Yuna Wada (Nagano Higashi H.S.) - 9:16.42

Senior Women's 100 m Hurdles Final +2.8 m/s
1. Meg Hemphill (Chuo Univ.) - 13.35
2. Sayaka Kobayashi (Aichi Taiiku Univ.) - 13.46
3. Chisato Kiyoyama (Ichigo Track Team) - 13.53

Senior Men's 110 m Hurdles Final +0.3 m/s
1. Wataru Yazawa (Descente Track Club) - 13.62
2. Taio Kanai (Hosei Univ.) - 13.74
3. Masanori Nishizawa (Tottori T&F Assoc.) - 13.80

Junior Men's 5000 m Race Walk Final
1. Ryutaro Yamamoto (Toyama Shogyo H.S.) - 19:56.66 - MR
2. Masatora Kawano (Gotemba Minami H.S.) - 20:02.38 (MR)
3. Yu Takeuchi (Horikoshi H.S.) - 20:11.91

Senior Women's 5000 m Race Walk Final
1. Kumiko Okada (Bic Camera) - 21:24.94 - MR
2. Nanako Fujii (Kitakyushu Municipal H.S.) - 21:14.52
3. Mizuka Takayama (Niigata Iryo Fukushi Univ.) - 22:20.36

Junior Men's Triple Jump Final
1. Tsukasa Mizutani (Obihiro Nogyo H.S.) - 15.48 m +1.6 m/s
2. Kota Nishimura (Rakunan H.S.) - 15.35 m +0.4 m/s
3. Tomoro Yokomori (Nirasaki H.S.) - 15.29 m +1.7 m/s

Women's 4x100 m Relay Final
1. Tokyo - 45.45
2. Osaka - 45.52
3. Hokkaido - 45.64

Men's 4x100 m Relay Final
1. Aichi - 40.00
2. Fukuoka - 40.03
3. Shizuoka - 40.07

Senior Women's High Jump Final
1. Miyuki Fukumoto (Konan Gakuen AC) - 1.75 m
2. Yuki Watanabe (Mirait Technologies) - 1.75 m
3. Moeko Kyoya (Hokkaido Hi-Tech AC) - 1.72 m
3. Riko Kamisaka (Funabashi Municipal H.S.) - 1.72 m

Junior Men's Long Jump Final
1. Yuto Nakano (Meijo Prep H.S.) - 7.15 m +2.0 m/s
2. Yasunari Kobatake (Iida H.S.) - 7.14 m +2.2 m/s
3. Kaede Kato (Tokyo H.S.) - 7.11 m +0.7 m/s

Junior Men's Javelin Throw Final
1. Junichiro Aizawa (Seibudai H.S.) - 69.67 m
2. Hiroshi Ikegawa (Takikawa Daini H.S.) - 66.30 m
3. Shugo Maeda (Kikugawa Nanryo H.S.) - 64.53 m

Senior Men's Javelin Throw Final
1. Ryohei Arai (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 81.62 m
2. Takuto Kominami (Kokushikan Univ.) - 75.85 m
3. Yukifumi Murakami (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) - 74.02 m

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Monday, October 10, 2016

Aoyama Gakuin University Holds Off Yamanashi Gakuin and Tokai for Second-Straight Izumo Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner

Kicking off the 2016 Big Three University Ekiden season, the 6-stage, 45.1 km Izumo Ekiden played out almost exactly according to script, with defending champion Aoyama Gakuin University holding off the perfectly-matched Yamanashi Gakuin University and Tokai University on the second half of the anchor stage to win a second-straight title.

A moderate easterly wind meant slower times than last year on the first three and final stages.  Right from the start it was all Aoyama Gakuin, Yamanashi Gakuin and Tokai, given a push on the 8.0 km First Stage by Nittai University's Takumi Komatsu and Daiichi Kogyo University's Geoffrey Gichia, but by midway through the 5.8 km Second Stage Aoyama Gakuin's Kazuki Tamura and Tokai first-year Ryoji Tatezawa had opened a lead over Yamanashi Gakuin that lasted until the anchor stage.

In terms of the anchor stage Yamanashi Gakuin had the greatest advantage, with last year's stage winner Dominic Nyairo having beaten Aoyama Gakuin's Tadashi Isshiki by 30 seconds over the 10.2 km stage and both returning this year with a similar margin in their track 10000 m bests.  Aoyama Gakuin needed at least that much to be safe.  Tokai anchor Haruki Minatoya was 23 seconds behind Isshiki on track 10000 m and 50 seconds behind Nyairo, and he likewise needed those kinds of margins to have a chance at the win.

To the second, Tokai first year Hayato Seki did his part on the 8.5 km Third Stage, dropping Aoyama Gakuin's 2:11:34 marathoner Yuta Shimoda and opening a 23 second lead over Aoyama Gakuin and a 57 second lead over Yamanashi Gakuin.  If all held steady from there Tokai's place would be secure.  But sometimes things aren't that easy.

Tokai's next man Kazuto Kawabata was just 5 seconds off the course record in 17:51 for the 6.2 km Fourth Stage, but with the wind now blowing directly behind them five others went under the old record, among them both Aoyama Gakuin's Ryota Motegi and Yamanashi Gakuin's Ryutaro Ichitani.  Two stages to go and Aoyama Gakuin was just 11 seconds back from Tokai, Yamanashi Gakuin 51 seconds back.

With the tailwind still blowing from straight behind Tokai's fifth man Shuto Mikami was 2 seconds off the 6.4 km Fifth Stage record, but Aoyama Gakuin captain Yuya Ando dug deep to pass Mikami in the last stretch and set a new record of 17:43.  Yamanashi Gakuin's fifth man Sho Nagato was the third-fastest on the stage, setting up a tense anchor stage with Aoyama Gakuin and Tokai separated by just 2 seconds and Yamanashi Gakuin's Nyairo a minute behind them with 10.2 km to make it up.

Aoyama Gakuin's Isshiki and Tokai's Minatoya ran together until the downhill past 3 km, while behind them Nyairo cut their lead in half.  On the downhill Isshiki pulled away from Minatoya, and behind them Nyairo's rate of progress began to stall.  Just past 6 km he caught Minatoya, but from there Isshiki, with a 2:11:45 marathon debut in February and a 4th-place finish in the National Championships 5000 m in June behind him, began to push harder, and with that the race was settled.

JRN's pre-race rankings put Aoyama Gakuin 1st, Yamanashi Gakuin 2nd and Tokai 3rd with almost identical margins between them, and that's exactly how it played out.  Isshiki brought Aoyama Gakuin home in 2:10:09, just over a minute slower than last year.  Yamanashi Gakuin was 2nd again, 31 seconds behind Aoyama Gakuin versus last year's 38-second margin.  5th last year, Tokai took 3rd just 33 seconds behind Yamanashi Gakuin, all three schools earning seeded spots in next year's race.  With the windy conditions times were overall slower than last year, but consider this: in 2013 Komazawa University set a 2:09:11 record for the 44.5 km Izumo course that at the time JRN called a "near-perfect performance."  Last year 600 m was added to the Third Stage, making the overall distance 45.1 km.  If Komazawa had run the same way on the slightly longer current course their time would have been 2:10:56.  Both Aoyama Gakuin and Yamanashi Gakuin beat that today, with Tokai just seconds off.

A few surprises did come further back, none more so than 9th-ranked Chuo Gakuin University taking 4th less than a minute behind Tokai.  4th-ranked Waseda University was digging itself out a hole all the way from the First Stage when its leading man Kazuma Taira, ranked #1 on his stage, faltered, but Chuo Gakuin was in the action in the chase pack the entire way.  Chuo Gakuin dropped the higher-ranked Waseda, Nittai, Komazawa, Toyo University and Juntendo University to take its best-ever placing at Izumo, at 2:12:08 the only school in the top 10 to run faster than last year in the windy conditions.  And that despite the graduation of two-time 3000 mSC national champion Hironori Tsuetaki, course record setter on the Second Stage last year.

Missing its top man Keisuke Nakatani with injury Komazawa performed up to potential, taking 5th in 2:12:20.  Buoyed by Komatsu's strong leadoff run, Nittai bettered its pre-race ranking by two to take 6th in 2:12:42.  Juntendo, led by Rio Olympics 3000 mSC runner Kazuya Shiojiri, ran to ability at 7th in 2:13:07.  Waseda, behind early after Taira's breakdown, fought back with a Fourth Stage record from Yohei Suzuki, overtaking Toyo in the last kilometer for 8th in 2:14:20.  Like Komazawa missing one of its best men, last year's National University Ekiden champion Toyo had the worst showing of the day, ranked 6th close behind Waseda and Komazawa but missing the 8-deep podium at 9th in 2:14:25.

With 10 schools from the Tokyo-area Kanto Region in the field Teikyo University made it a clean sweep for Kanto at 10th in 2:15:52.  12th-ranked Kyoto Sangyo University gave it a good shot at getting into the top 10 again this year as the top non-Kanto school but came up just short at 11th in 2:16:24.  Ranked 10th pre-race, the Ivy League Select Team was only 14th in 2:20:19, spending most of the race in 18th but moving up late thanks in large part to a strong anchor run from Columbia's Jake Sienko, the only Ivy League runner to crack the top 10 on his stage.

University men's ekiden season continues Saturday with the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km in Tokyo, a qualifying race featuring 50 schools gunning for 10 spots at January's Hakone Ekiden alongside the top 10 schools from Izumo.  Most of the Izumo field will line up again the first weekend in November for the National University Men's Ekiden, the next stop in the Big Three season that wraps up at Hakone.  Over the shorter distances at Izumo Yamanashi Gakuin and Tokai were almost even matches for Aoyama Gakuin.  But as the distances increase at Nationals and Hakone Aoyama Gakuin's strengths only grow.

Yamanashi Gakuin doesn't look like it has the depth in its roster to field the bigger teams needed at the next two ekidens, but while Tokai has the depth, 14 men sub-14 for 5000 m and 6 sub-29 for 10000 m, it will need a massive rush of PBs at next month's Ageo City Half Marathon to earn the credentials to challenge Aoyama Gakuin, which has 13 men sub-14, 6 sub-29 and half marathon marks to match.  If not, Aoyama Gakuin will be well on its way to becoming just the fourth school to win the triple crown of Izumo, National and Hakone titles in a single season.

28th Izumo Ekiden
Izumo, Shimane, 10/11/16
21 teams, 45.1 km, 6 stages
click here for complete results

Team Results
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 2:10:09
2. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 2:10:40
3. Tokai University - 2:11:13
----- top three seeded for 2017
4. Chuo Gakuin University - 2:12:08
5. Komazawa University - 2:12:20
6. Nittai University - 2:12:42
7. Juntendo University - 2:13:07
8. Waseda University - 2:14:20
9. Toyo University - 2:14:25
10. Teikyo University - 2:15:52
11. Kyoto Sangyo University - 2:16:24
12. Hiroshima Keizai University - 2:19:01
13. Daiichi Kogyo University - 2:19:21
14. Ivy League Select Team - 2:20:19
15. Aichi Kogyo University - 2:20:26
16. Hokkaido Region Select Team - 2:20:28
17. Nippon Bunri University - 2:20:34
18. Chugoku/Shikoku Region Select Team - 2:21:33
19. Tohoku Region Select Team - 2:22:44
20. Hokushinetsu Region Select Team - 2:25:00
DNS - Kwansei Gakuin University

Top Stage Performances
First Stage - 8.0 km
1. Takumi Komatsu (Nittai Univ.) - 23:23
2. Shota Onizuka (Tokai Univ.) - 23:26
3. Kenta Ueda (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 23:26
4. Geoffrey Gichia (Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 23:32
5. Takato Suzuki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 23:33
17. Henry Sterling (Ivy League Select Team) - 24:48

Second Stage - 5.8 km
1. Kazuki Tamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 16:24
2. Ryoji Tatezawa (Tokai Univ.) - 16:34
3. Shogo Hata (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 16:54
4. Shori Arai (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 17:07
5. Yushiro Miyazaki (Nittai Univ.) - 17:19
20. John Gregorek (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:54

Third Stage - 8.5 km
1. Hayato Seki (Tokai Univ.) - 24:50
2. Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) - 24:51
3. Hazuma Hattori (Toyo Univ.) - 24:59
4. Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 25:16
4. Naoki Kudo (Komazawa Univ.) - 25:16
18. Chris Bendtsen (Ivy League Select Team) - 27:39

Fourth Stage - 6.2 km
1. Yohei Suzuki (Waseda Univ.) - 17:34 - CR
2. Ryota Motegi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:39 (CR)
2. Fuminori Shimo (Komazawa Univ.) - 17:39 (CR)
4. Yuki Murakami (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 17:41 (CR)
5. Ryutaro Ichitani (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 17:45 (CR)
13. Steve Mangan (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:44

Fifth Stage - 6.4 km
1. Yuya Ando (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:43 - CR
2. Shuto Mikami (Tokai Univ) - 17:56
3. Sho Nagato (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 18:03
4. Ryoichi Yoshida (Nittai Univ.) - 18:06
5. Makoto Mitsunobu (Waseda Univ.) - 18:07
11. Will Geoghegan (Ivy League Select Team) - 18:53

Sixth Stage - 10.2 km
1. Dominic Nyairo (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:05
2. Tadashi Isshiki (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:34
3. Daichi Takasago (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 30:09
4. Shohei Otsuka (Komazawa Univ.) - 30:14
5. Haruki Minatoya (Tokai Univ.) - 30:36
9. Jake Sienko (Ivy League Select Team) - 31:21

© 2016 Brett Larner
all rights reserved