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Asahi Kasei Set to Challenge Honda and Toyota for New Year Ekiden National Title

by Brett Larner

It’s an interesting and exciting time in Japan’s corporate leagues. Over the last five years there has been an unprecedented explosion of quality and depth at quality on the university scene at the hands of young, innovative coaches, on which more in a JRN feature next month, and its impact is starting to be felt at the more conservative corporate level.



Last year’s New Year Ekiden national corporate men’s championships winner Toyota had an average age of 23.2, just out of university, for its 7-man team. First-year pros Shinobu Kubota (Toyota), Suguru Osako (Nissin Shokuhin) and twins Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta) and Yuta Shitara (Honda) were some of the day’s overall big players. This year there has been an even bigger influx of major talent ahead of the New Year Ekiden’s 60th running, with the celebrated Asahi Kasei team’s new star Kota Murayama breaking the 10000 m national record in 27:29.69 and cracking the all-time Japanese top 10 for 5000 m, his twin brother Kenta Murayama landing 7th on the all-time 10000 m top 10 in 27:39.95 and their fellow Asahi Kasei rookie Shuho Dairokuno also making the top 25 at 27:46.55.

The Shitara twins also continued to improve, Yuta placing 13th on the all-time lists for 10000 m at 27:42.71 and Keita 10th for the half marathon at 1:01:12 and his Konica Minolta teammate all-time #3 in 1:00:32. There has always been this level of talent, but where in the past it was a handful of athletes at a time, many of whom never seemed to reach their individual potential in the ekiden-oriented corporate system, the sheer quantity of high-quality new recruits and the slow infiltration of the system by younger coaches means that people like the Murayamas may be a sign of real change and more to come over the next five years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Asahi Kasei team conjures up memories of Japanese marathoning’s golden years, of the Soh twins Shigeru and Takeshi, of Tokyo World Championships gold medalist Hiromi Taniguchi, of Barcelona Olympics silver medalist Koichi Morishita. It has been a long time since there has been an all-Japanese New Year Ekiden champion team, and it looks like Asahi Kasei had that rare achievement in mind with its recruitment last year, pulling in the Murayama twins, Dairokuno, sub-63 half marathon twins Hiroshi and Takashi Ichida and more to join its existing stars like Tetsuya Yoroizaka, under both the 5000 m and 10000 m national records this year, and former Toyo University captain Tomoya Onishi. Asahi Kasei won the Kyushu regional qualifier easily, its average pace of 2:56.6/km ranking it 3rd among the 43 teams in the field on a hillier course than regions like the highly competitive East Japan.

Honda, 4th at last year’s New Year Ekiden, outran last year’s 2nd and 3rd placers Konica Minolta and Nissin Shokuhin to win the East Japan qualifier, its average pace of 2:55.9/km leading the New Year Ekiden field. Nissin Shokuhin, feeling the loss of Osako who left the corporate leagues in March to run full-time in the U.S.A., was 2nd just 22 seconds back and comes in to the New Year Ekiden ranked 2nd at 2:56.1/km. 2013-14 New Year Ekiden winner Konica Minolta is ranked only 6th after finishing 4th behind the Bedan Karoki-led DeNA team in East Japan.  Defending champion Toyota won the Chubu qualifier, its pace of 2:56.9/km putting it 4th and well within range of the other top five teams. 

The differences in courses between each region mean that the margins between them may be even closer, and with a half dozen other teams close behind it should be an exciting race full of turnover. But make no mistake, all eyes in Japan will be on Asahi Kasei. TBS’ live nationwide broadcast starts at 8:30 a.m. on January 1 and runs well on into the day. Follow the race live on Twitter @JRNLive.

60th Anniversary New Year Ekiden Entry List
Maebashi, Gunma, 1/1/16
7 stages, 100.0 km, 43 teams 
click here for complete entry lists

Honda (East Japan) - 2:55.9 / km
Nissin Shokuhin Group (East Japan) - 2:56.1 / km
Asahi Kasei (Kyushu) - 2:56.6 / km
Toyota (Chubu) - 2:56.9 / km
DeNA (East Japan) - 2:57.6 / km
Konica Minolta (East Japan) - 2:57.7 / km
Hitachi Butsuryu (East Japan) - 2:58.8 / km
Toyota Kyushu (Kyushu) - 2:58.9 / km
Yakult (East Japan) - 2:59.0 / km
JR Higashi Nihon (East Japan) - 2:59.5 / km
Fujitsu (East Japan) - 2:59.8 / km
Kyudenko (Kyushu) - 3:00.0 / km
Mitsubishi HPS Nagasaki (Kyushu) - 3:00.3 / km
Yasukawa Denki (Kyushu) - 3:00.4 / km
Aichi Seiko (Chubu) - 3:00.5 / km
Press Kogyo (East Japan) - 3:00.8 / km
Yachiyo Kogyo (East Japan) - 3:01.2 / km
Kurosaki Harima (Kyushu) - 3:01.3 / km
Komori Corp. (East Japan) - 3:01.3 / km
Subaru (East Japan) - 3:01.4 / km
NTN (Chubu) - 3:01.5 / km
Toyota Boshoku (Chubu) - 3:01.6 / km
YKK (Hokuriku) - 3:02.4 / km
Mazda (Chugoku) - 3:02.5 / km
Otsuka Seiyaku (Kansai) - 3:02.8 / km
Aisan Kogyo (Chubu) - 3:02.8 / km
SGH Group (Kansai) - 3:02.9 / km
Kanebo (East Japan) - 3:02.9 / km
Chuo Hatsujo (Chubu) - 3:03.0 / km
Toenec (Chubu) - 3:03.4 / km
Sunbel'x (East Japan) - 3:03.7 / km
Tokyo Police Department (East Japan) - 3:03.8 / km
Chugoku Denryoku (Chugoku) - 3:04.0 / km
NTT Nishi Nihon (Kansai) - 3:04.0 / km
Sumitomo Denko (Kansai) - 3:04.4 / km
Nishitetsu (Kyushu) - 3:04.7 / km
JFE Steel (Chugoku) - 3:05.3 / km
Osaka Gas (Kansai) - 3:06.2 / km
Omokawa Zaimokuten (Hokuriku) - 3:07.0 / km
Chudenko (Chugoku) - 3:07.3 / km
Osaka Police Department (Kansai) - 3:08.9 / km
Ryugataki SDF Base (Chubu) - 3:13.5 / km
Takeda Yakuhin (Chugoku) - 3:16.8 / km

© 2015 Brett Larner
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The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …

Guinness Certifies Kawauchi's World Record 78 Career Sub-2:20 Marathons After Half Marathon in Panda Costume

Known as the Civil Servant Runner, Saitama Prefectural Government employee Yuki Kawauchi's career record of 78 sub-2:20 marathons was officially recognized as the Guinness World Record at a ceremony in his hometown of Kuki, Saitama on Mar. 25.  Raised in Kuki, Kawauchi began working for the Saitama Prefectural Government after graduating from university. Running while working full-time as a civil servant, he has qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic trial race.

Earlier this month on the 18th Kawauchi ran Taiwan's Wan Jin Shi Marathon, winning in 2:14:12. His 78th time running faster than 2 hours and 20 minutes, his achievement was certified as the official Guinness World Record. He actually broke the previous record on Jan. 1 at the Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon in the U.S.A. with his 76th sub-2:20 but followed up with two performances, one in February and the other last week, before Guinness could ratify the record.

The official recognition ceremony took place Mar. 2…

“The Miracle in Fukuoka” - Real Talk From Yuki Kawauchi on “Taking on the World” (part 1)

http://sports.yahoo.co.jp/column/detail/201701120002-spnavi

translated by Brett Larner

Ahead of his nomination to the London World Championships Marathon team, Sportsnavi published a three-part series of writings by Yuki Kawauchi on what it took for him to make the team, his hopes for London, and his views on the future of Japanese marathoning.  With his place on the London team announced on Mar. 17, JRN will publish an English translation of the complete series over the next three days. See Sportsnavi's original version linked above for more photos. Click here for part two, "Bringing All My Experience Into Play in London," or here for part three, "The Lessons of the Past Are Not 'Outdated.'"


The Fukuoka International Marathon was held on Dec. 4 last year. Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) took part despite nursing injuries he had sustained in training. Falling rain contributed to less than ideal conditions during the race, but from the very early stages…