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Aoyama Gakuin University Breaks Izumo Ekiden CR in First-Ever Big Three University Ekiden Win

by Brett Larner

Far outrunning pre-race expectations, their own included, Aoyama Gakuin University pulled off an inspired win at the 2012 Izumo Ekiden as it broke powerhouse Waseda University's two-year-old course record by nearly thirty seconds to set a new mark of 2:09:41 for the six-stage, 44.5 km course in Aoyama's first-ever Big Three University Ekiden win.  Defending champion Toyo University was 2nd a minute and a half behind, Chuo University rounding out the top three just back from Toyo.  The strongest teams on paper, Waseda, Komazawa University and the nominally Ivy League U.S. Select Team, had their share of problems and went 5th, 6th and 8th.

In a solid team effort, Aoyama's first year Yusuke Ogura opened 7th on the First Stage ahead of favorites Toyo, Komazawa and Waseda.  Second Stage runner Takuya Fujikawa surprised himself and everyone else by advancing to 2nd behind leader Juntendo University, putting Aoyama's first-year star recruit, Kazuma Kubota, in position to take the lead on the Third Stage.  From there Aoyama never looked back.  Senior Ryotaro Otani has struggled with injury since the spring, a 5000 m last month the sole blip of light in his season, but he had no issues frontrunning his way to a new record of 17:50 for the 6.2 km Fourth Stage.  Fifth Stage runner Yudai Fukuda lost half of his 40-second lead to Toyo's stage record-setting Ryu Takaku, ahead of team captain Takehiro Deki's 10.2 km anchor stage run.

Deki, a surprising star on the university ekiden scene for the last two years, ran his marathon debut at Lake Biwa in March at the end of his junior year, running 2:10:02 without specific marathon training.  Since then he has struggled with injury, he and Otani costing Aoyama a place at next month's National University Ekiden Championships when they were not in racing condition for June's qualifying race.  Having since moved back toward peak shape, he came down with an illness last week and was in questionable condition for his anchor run.  Nevertheless, he pushed on at a steady and strong pace, widening his lead over Toyo anchor Kento Otsu by over a minute by race's end where he crossed the line 24 seconds up on Waseda's old mark.

When Waseda set that course record they were on the verge of an unprecedented achievement, course records at all three of the Big Three University Ekidens, Izumo, Nationals and Hakone, in one season.  It's a peculiar fluke that Aoyama will not be able to race Nationals, but come Hakone they should be very close to fulfilling their goal of a win at Japan's most prestigious race if they can translate their success at the relatively short Izumo to Hakone's longer distances.  Look for an original JRN interview tomorrow with Deki and Aoyama head coach Susumu Hara on their goals for this ekiden season.

Defending champion Toyo's chances were hurt after a somewhat flat opening run from one of its twin aces, Keita Shitara, and its final position was indicative of the challenges it faces in following up on its 2012 Hakone Ekiden win following the graduation of star Ryuji Kashiwabara.  3rd-placer Chuo performed above expectation with an impressive stage win by opening man, national collegiate 3000 m steeple champ Shuhei Shirota, senior Junichi Shioya one of five men to break the Fifth Stage record, and five of its six men making the top four on their stages.  5000 m and 10000 m national collegiate champion Enock Omwamba powered Yamanashi Gakuin University to a 4th-place overall finish by winning the anchor stage, and the two strongest teams on paper, Komazawa and Waseda, recovered somewhat from surprisingly poor performances on the first few stages to pull into the top six in the second half of the race.

The "Ivy League" team post-race at Aoyama Anzutei in Tokyo.

Juntendo faded from its early lead to 7th, while despite having the fastest average 5000 m time among its starters and running more than a minute faster than last year's best-ever 8th-place finish, the U.S. team was 8th again in 2:13:26, nearly four minutes behind Aoyama. Brendan Gregg of Stanford University origin was one of the five record breakers on the Fifth Stage, 2nd in 18:13 just behind winner Takaku of Toyo in what may be the U.S.' best-ever individual performance at Izumo.  Gregg advanced the team as high as 6th place, its best position following opening runner Elliott Heath's 4th-place run, before anchor Matt Liano fell victim to Omwamba and last year's anchor stage winner Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa Univ.).

The alternates' 5000 m track race post-ekiden was tough and competitive, with eight of the top ten setting new PBs.  Yuji Osuda (Chuo Univ.) held off Brendan Martin (U.S.) for the win in 14:05.22 with three other runners right behind.  Ethan Shaw (U.S.) was just two seconds off his best, 8th in 14:12.86.

The university men's ekiden season continues Oct. 20 with the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km, the qualifying race for Kanto-region schools outside Hakone's top ten seeded bracket.  Some members of the ten seeded schools, many of them among those who ran Izumo, will instead run the Takashimadaira 20 km the next day.  The Big Three series then continues Nov. 4 National University Men's Ekiden Championships, followed shortly on Nov. 18 by the Ageo City Half Marathon and, come Jan. 2 and 3, the main event on the year's calendar, the Hakone Ekiden.  While Komazawa and Waseda look very shaky at this stage, Toyo's result suggests that it is in a good position for Hakone given its proven credentials over longer distances.  The challenge for the season will be for Aoyama Gakuin to follow suit.

2012 Izumo Ekiden
Izumo, Shimane, 10/8/12
six stages, 44.5 km, 21 teams
click here for complete results

Top Team Performances
1. Aoyama Gakuin University - 2:09:41 - CR
2. Toyo University - 2:11:10
3. Chuo University - 2:11:35
4. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 2:11:46
5. Komazawa University - 2:11:50
6. Waseda University - 2:12:06
7. Juntendo University - 2:12:13
8. U.S. "Ivy League" Select Team - 2:13:26
9. Josai University - 2:13:35
10. Koku Gakuin University - 2:13:53

Top Individual Performances
First Stage (8.0 km)
1. Shuhei Shirota (3rd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 23:29
2. John Kariuki (1st yr., Kenya/Daiichi Kogyo Univ.) - 23:32
3. Tatsuya Oike (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 23:33
4. Elliott Heath (U.S.) - 23:33
5. Hiroto Inoue (2nd yr., Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 23:34

Second Stage (5.8 km)
1. Hideyuki Tanaka (4th yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 16:50
2. Takuya Fujikawa (2nd yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:00
3. Dai Nakahara (4th yr., Josai Univ.) - 17:06
4. Koki Takada (1st yr., Waseda Univ.) - 17:09
4. Hiroyuki Fujii (1st yr., Chuo Univ.) - 17:09
-----
9. Julian de Rubira (U.S.) - 17:27

Third Stage (7.9 km)
1. Kazuma Kubota (1st yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 23:13
2. Yuma Hattori (1st yr., Toyo Univ.) - 23:36
3. Shuhei Yamamoto (2nd yr., Waseda Univ.) - 23:46
4. Kaname Tada (2nd yr., Chuo Univ.) - 23:50
5. Kei Fumimoto (2nd yr., Meiji Univ.) - 24:08
-----
8. Landon Peacock (U.S.) - 24:26

Fourth Stage (6.2 km)
1. Ryotaro Otani (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 17:50 - CR
2. Yuta Shitara (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 17:54 (CR)
3. Ikuto Yufu (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 17:55
4. Sho Tokunaga (1st yr., Chuo Univ.) - 17:56
5. Yuki Maeda (4th yr., Waseda Univ.) - 18:01
-----
11. John Thomas Sullivan (U.S.) - 18:39

Fifth Stage (6.4 km)
1. Ryu Takaku (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 18:11 - CR
2. Brendan Gregg (U.S.) - 18:13 (CR)
3. Kazuhiro Kuga (4th yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 18:19 (CR)
4. Junichi Shioya (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 18:23 (CR)
5. Shin Kimura (1st yr., Meiji Univ.) - 18:30 (CR)

Sixth Stage (10.2 km)
1. Enock Omwamba (1st yr., Kenya/Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 29:23
2. Shinobu Kubota (3rd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 29:26
3. Takehiro Deki (4th yr., Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 29:30
4. Takayuki Saigo (2nd yr., Juntendo Univ.) - 30:21
5. Shota Hiraga (4th yr., Waseda Univ.) - 30:32
-----
10. Matt Liano (U.S.) - 31:08

Alternates' 5000 m
Gifu, 10/8/12
click here for complete results

1. Yuji Osuda (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 14:05.22 - PB
2. Brendan Martin (Columbia/U.S.) - 14:06.03 - PB
3. Toshiki Sadakata (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:06.36 - PB
4. Hiroaki Koike (3rd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:06.76
5. Masaya Taguchi (2nd yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:07.93 - PB
6. Yoshihiro Nishizawa (2nd yr., Komazawa Univ.) - 14:10.25 - PB
7. Toshiyuki Yanagi (1st yr., Waseda Univ.) - 14:12.67 - PB
8. Ethan Shaw (Dartmouth/U.S.) - 14:12.86
9. Kazuki Uemura (1st yr., Toyo Univ.) - 14:12.97 - PB
10. Shota Shinjo (4th yr., Chuo Univ.) - 14:13.14 - PB

(c) 2012 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

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