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44 Universities to Bid for 13 Places at Oct. 19 Hakone Ekiden Qualifier

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Oct. 3 the Inter-University Athletic Union of Kanto [KGRR] announced the entry list for the Oct. 19 Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifier road race in Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park.  Forty-four universities led by 2013 Hakone Ekiden 11th-placer Yamanashi Gakuin University will compete for places at the Hakone Ekiden's 90th running on Jan. 2-3, 2014.  In honor of Hakone's 90th anniversary its field size has been increased from the traditional twenty to twenty-three teams, meaning that the top thirteen schools at the Yosenkai will have the honor of competing in Japan's most prestigious sporting event alongside the ten schools that earned seeded places by finishing in the top ten at Hakone this year.

Each athlete at the Yosenkai runs 20 km, with his team's score determined by the cumulative time of its top ten finishers.  Up to this year the scores for the 7th-place and below teams have included points earned at May's Kanto Regional University Track and Field Championships, but beginning this year this additional point system has been eliminated.  Also eliminated is the Kanto Region University Select Team made up of top-finishing individuals from schools that do not make the Hakone cut as teams.  Its elimination means that the number of schools able to qualify for Hakone increases from nine to ten, with three additional places added to commemorate Hakone's 90th edition.

Translator's note: The Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai is one of Japan's greatest races.  Any readers in the Tokyo area should join the thousands of fans who go out to Showa Kinen Park on the 19th to soak in the atmosphere of a race packed with university bands, cheerleader squads and booster clubs.

The elimination of the Kanto Regionals point system is a plus for smaller schools and fairness.  In the past, large, wealthy, well-established universities that can afford to develop sprint and field event squads along with a distance team have earned points based on the overall performance of their entire track and field team at the Kanto Regionals meet. Virtually every year this has resulted in big old boy network universities with weak distance squads making Hakone via this crutch over smaller schools whose distance teams actually ran faster at the Yosenkai qualifier.  No more.

On the other hand, the elimination of the Kanto Region University Select Team is a major blow for smaller schools.  People like 2013 World Championships marathoner Yuki Kawauchi, his 2011 World Championships marathon teammate Yoshinori Oda and the currently ascendant Aritaka Kajiwara all chose to attend academically-strong universities over a running-focused center of power but still got to run in the Hakone Ekiden thanks to the Select Team.  Its elimination means that new programs and outsider schools will no longer be able to attract any talented high schoolers, and that anyone who develops under their program will not get to fulfill the dreams of every Japanese boy who begins running and race in Hakone.  Kawauchi has written articulately and passionately about this subject on his blog.  The KGRR's move positions its priorities solidly on developing an high average level among its distance runners at the expense of individual development, an accurate reflection of the dilemma currently facing Japanese distance running as a whole.


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