translated and edited by Brett Larner
Having run the inaugural Hakone Ekiden in 1920, Keio University announced this week that it is promoting assistant coach Kosaku Hoshina, 32, to the position of head coach. A graduate of Nittai University and former Nissin Shokuhin corporate runner, Hoshina will lead the team in a bid to make a fully-fledged return to Hakone for the first time since the 70th running in 1994. Although its team is currently weak with just a 28th-place finish at October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai qualifying race, Keio's prominent brand-name value may help it become a rival to three-time Hakone winner Aoyama Gakuin University.
The Keio University track and field team was founded in 1917. Along with Waseda University, Meiji University and Tokyo Koto Shihan College, in 1920 it was one of the four universities that ran the Hakone Ekiden's first edition. Known as one of the "Original Hakone Four," it ran Hakone as a team a total of 30 times, winning the 13th edition in 1932. It won Day One twice and took the Day Two win in 1947, but beginning in the 1950s it had more and more trouble qualifying. Prominent alumni include Seiichiro Tsuda, 6th-placer in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics marathon and 5th in Los Angeles four years later.
The alma mater of Rio de Janeiro men's 4x100 m relay silver medalist Ryota Yamagata (24, Seiko Holdings), Keio is well-known as a successful sprint program. Its ekiden team, however, has not been a factor for a long time, with a 23-year absence since the 1994 Hakone Ekiden. But with name value as one of Japan's leading academic universities it has great potential for recruiting leading high school talent. Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara commented, "The Aoyama Gakuin University brand name has been a tremendous help to me. If Keio University utilizes its name value and seriously pursues this there is no doubt it will become strong."
Keio is now fully committed to restoring its team. According to a university spokesperson, Hoshina has already been confirmed as head coach and is currently working with the university to establish guidelines for facilitated admission for athletes and other basic groundwork. The Hakone Ekiden organizers are expected to expand the number of schools in the field for its 95 anniversary two years from now and again for the 100th running five years later. Given the time involved in building a strong program, the 100th running looks like a realistic goal for a reborn Keio University.