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Tokai University Outruns Defending Champ Aoyama Gakuin to Win First Izumo Ekiden Title in Ten Years



Kanagawa's Tokai University outran two-time defending champion Aoyama Gakuin University to win the 2017 Izumo Ekiden, its first win at one of the Big Three university men's ekidens under head coach Hayashi Morozumi and Tokai's first Izumo title since 2007.

Formerly head coach at Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S. where he produced the fastest-ever all-Japanese high school team and standout Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) on a cross-country based training regimen, since taking over at Tokai in 2011 Morozumi has set about systematically developing the Tokai program into one with the greatest depth in Japanese university running. On paper AGU had a slight advantage over Tokai over the first half of Izumo's six stages, but with Tokai's second half runners, including its top two men Shota Onizuka and Hayato Seki, ranked at the top of their stages AGU needed a decent lead by halfway to stand a chance.

From the start it wasn't to be. In hot and sunny conditions Tokai's Ryohei Sakaguchi led the 8.0 First Stage in 23:16, AGU's Ryuya Kajitani only 8th in 23:54. At least three runners were staggering as they came into the exchange zone, a sign of the tough conditions, and one, Gifu Keizai University's Taiki Takekuma, collapsed around 100 m from the exchange zone, unable to stand or even crawl and knocking GKU out of the race at its very start. Another runner, Ryoya Goya of Hosei University, was a DNF on the Fourth Stage, making it two teams out of the race. That does happen at the season-ending Hakone Ekiden where stage lengths average around a half marathon, but with an average stage length of 7.5 km at Izumo it was unheard of.

AGU's second man, sub-62 half marathoner Kazuki Tamura, made up over half of the deficit with a course record 15:47 for his his 5.8 km stage win to put AGU into 2nd just behind Kanagawa University, and on the next stage his fellow fourth-year Yuta Shimoda overtook Tokai's Junnosuke Matsuo in the final few hundred meters of the stage to give AGU its only lead of the day, 5 seconds ahead of Tokai with Toyo University sandwiched in between. It wasn't the lead AGU needed to have a chance, and the outcome of the second half was all but certain.

Ranked at the top of his stage, Tokai's #2 man Shota Onizuka put 14 seconds on AGU's Yuji Onoda and win the 6.2 km Fourth Stage in 18:12. Fifth runner Shuto Mikami opened up another 23 seconds over his 6.4 km stage, winning it in 19:15. Going by 10000 m PB Tokai anchor Hayato Seki, the team's strongest runner, had an advantage of over 30 seconds over AGU anchor Taisei Hashizume, and with a lead of over 30 seconds at his disposal it would have been a major upset for Seki to get run down. Not to say it didn't almost happen.

By about 2 km into the 10.2 km anchor stage Hashizume had closed to within 20 seconds of Seki, over half the gap gone with most of the race to come and Seki looking uncharacteristically sluggish. Last year Tokai lost to AGU on the anchor stage, and for a moment everyone held their breath as it looked like a repeat performance might be in the works. But rounding the corner in front of Izumi Taishi shrine onto a steep downhill Seki went into action, his stride smoothing out as he sped up and began to pull away from Hashizume.

By halfway through the stage Hashizume was barely visible behind him, and from there Seki pushed on to break the tape in 2:11:59 and secure Tokai its first Izumo win since 2007. With AGU head coach Susumu Hara having transformed university men's distance running with a systematic and businesslike approach, Morozumi's ascension from top high school coach to top university coach marked another transition point in the scene's ongoing development.


AGU was 2nd over a minute and a half behind Tokai. Its best chance for a win this season may come at November's National University Men's Ekiden Championships, with Hakone looking all but out of reach without major improvement in its half marathon credentials. How AGU coach Hara, a media personality who spend Saturday night appearing on a comedy variety show in Tokyo while his team prepared without him in Izumo, responds to the loss, will determine his true value as a coach and leader.

Ranked 7th in the middle of a group of five schools competing for 5th, Nittai University came on strong late in the race, anchor Kyoya Tsujino running down 3rd-place contenders Toyo and Juntendo University for an unexpected 3rd place finish in 2:14:39. Powered by Rio Olympian Kazuya Shiojiri, Juntendo beat Toyo on the anchor stage for 4th in 2:15:00, Toyo falling to 5th in 2:15:36. Kanagawa University, Komazawa University and Chuo Gakuin University rounded out the eight-deep podium, with former course record-setter Waseda University the last-placed Kanto Region school to finish at 9th in 2:16:24.


Although it wasn't shown on the TV broadcast, one of the most dramatic races of the day came in the battle for 10th and top non-Kanto honors. the Kansai Region's 13th-ranked Kwansei Gakuin University and 11th-ranked Ritsumeikan University went back-and-forth until the anchor stage, when they received unexpected company. Ranked 12th, the Ivy League Select Team was near the back of the field over the first half of the race before its third through fifth men moved it up to 12th. With a track best of only 29:41.73, Ivy anchor Ben de Haan of Cornell University flew past Ritsumeikan anchor Tsuyoshi Masumoto and then caught KGU's Tsuyoshi Bando to put the Ivies into 10th just 13 seconds ahead of KGU. When the smoke cleared de Haan had the second-fastest time on the anchor stage behind only Tokai's Seki, one of the best individual performances in the Ivy League's history at Izumo.

29th Izumo Ekiden

Izumo, Shimane, 10/9/17
21 teams, 6 stages, 45.1 km
click here for complete results

Overall Team Results

1. Tokai University - 2:11:59
2. Aoyama Gakuin University - 2:13:32
3. Nittai University - 2:14:39
4. Juntendo University - 2:15:00
5. Toyo University - 2:15:36
6. Kanagawa University - 2:15:45
7. Komazawa University - 2:16:12
8. Chuo Gakuin University - 2:16:14
9. Waseda University - 2:16:24
10. Ivy League Select Team 2:19:02
11. Kwansei Gakuin University 2:19:15
-----
DNF - Hosei University
DNF - Gifu Keizai University

Top Individual Stage Results

First Stage (8.0 km)
1. Ryohei Sakaguchi (Tokai Univ.) - 23:16
2. Atsushi Yamato (Kanagawa Univ.) - 23:18
3. Rei Omori (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 23:29
-----
17. Jordan Mann (Ivy League) - 25:05
-----
DNF - Taiki Takekuma (Gifu Keizai Univ.)

Second Stage (5.8 km)
1. Kazuki Tamura (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 15:47 - CR
2. Ryoji Tatezawa (Tokai Univ.) - 16:07
3. Fuminori Shimo (Komazawa Univ.) - 16:15
-----
16. Brian Eimstead (Ivy League) - 17.17

Third Stage (8.5 km)
1. Kazuya Shiojiri (Juntendo Univ.) - 24:17
2. Shuji Yamamoto (Toyo Univ) - 24:29
3. Yuta Shimoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 24:48
-----
12. Will Geiken (Ivy League) - 26:05

Fourth Stage (6.2 km)
1. Shota Onizuka (Tokai Univ.) - 18:12
2. Yuji Onoda (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 18:31
3. Yoshiki Hiro (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 18:41
-----
9. Julian Heninger (Ivy League) - 19:34
-----
DNF - Ryota Goya (Hosei Univ.)

Fifth Stage (6.4 km)
1. Shuto Mikami (Tokai Univ.) - 19:15
2. Akira Tomiyasu (Nittai Univ.) - 19:19
3. Yuta Kanbayashi (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 19:38
3. Kazuki Noda (Juntendo Univ.) - 10:38
-----
12. Henry Sterling (Ivy League) - 20:27

Sixth Stage (10.2 km)
1. Hayato Seki (Tokai Univ.) - 29:58
2. Ben de Haan (Ivy League) - 30:34
3. Kyoya Tsujino (Nittai Univ.) - 30:40

Alternates' 5000 m
1. Kiseki Shiozawa (Tokai Univ.) - 14:01.88
2. Homare Morita (Aoyama Gakuin Univ.) - 14:04.89
3. Kazuto Kawabata (Tokai Univ.) - 14:10.00
4. Reo Kuniyuki (Tokai Univ.) - 14:10.03
5. Yasuyuki Ishida (Waseda Univ.) - 14:10.30 - PB
-----
15. David Melly (Ivy League) - 14:43.46

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

Comments

Brett Larner said…
JRN's pre-race rankings:

1. Tokai
2. AGU
3. Juntendo
4. Toyo
5. Kanagawa
6. Waseda
7. Nittai
8. CGU
9. Komazawa
10. Hosei
11. Ritsumeikan
12. Ivy League
13. KGU

Actual results:
1. Tokai
2. AGU
3. Nittai
4. Juntendo
5. Toyo
6. Kanagawa
7. Komazawa
8. CGU
9. Waseda
10. Ivy League
11. KGU
12. Hokkaido
13. Ritsumeikan

Nittai and Komazawa both performed better than expected, Waseda and Ritsumeikan worse, and the DNF by Hosei was unexpected, but overall the pre-race rankings were pretty much on the money.
Metts said…
Komazawa has really fallen off. How long before the coach retires?
Metts said…
Does the Aoyoma team use the Kanagawa campus or the Tokyo campus? So Nittai, Kanaagawa, Tokai in Kanagawa?
Brett Larner said…
AGU is based at the Machida campus, which is part of Tokyo. Nittai and Tokai are both in Kanagawa.

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