translated by Brett Larner
The Oita Fire Department ekiden team is targeting the Jan. 1 New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships. Thanks to the Miyazaki-based Asahi Kasei team's win at the 2017 New Year Ekiden, the number of spots available at the 2018 race to Kyushu region teams will increase by one to eight teams. "This is our big chance," said OFD head coach Masakazu Mishiro, 40. Police Department and Self-Defense Force teams have made the New Year Ekiden in the past, but to date no Fire Department team has ever qualified.
To make it to the biggest stage in Japan it's a constant struggle to balance a busy work schedule and training. The OFD team has around 20 members, half of them full-on serious runners who competed in university, and with the addition of three new members at the start of the fiscal year in April its strength has only grown. Forming the team's core are star runner Tsuyoshi Miyamoto, 27, track runner Tomoya Watanabe, 23, endurance king Yuki Kojina, 26, and veteran Toshiya Uto, 31.
Together they have led the OFD team to win the Kyushu Region Fire Department Championships four years in a row. At February's National Championships, in just its third appearance OFD defeated the Tokyo Fire Department for the first time to take the top spot. "Due to our work we have limited time in which to train," said Miyamoto. "We have to improve the quality of both our individual runs and group workouts, and every team member needs to get faster." Ryota Uchida, 22, one of April's new additions, added, "Looking at the strong older guys on the team, I want to train seriously."
The New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships features 37 teams from different regions across the country competing over 100 km divided into seven stages. The Kyushu Corporate Ekiden, the qualifying event for the Kyushu region, will take place in mid-November in Kita-Kyushu, with the top eight teams going on to the New Year Ekiden. Looking ahead, coach Mishiro commented, "The top seven teams [in the Kyushu region] including Asahi Kasei are in a different class in terms of ability. The race will be for the last spot. With young runners having come on board we have momentum and headroom for improvement. Can we make it? Absolutely."