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Asahi Kasei Defends New Year Ekiden National Title

With the addition of Kenyan Abraham Kipyatich making them almost unbeatable, 2017 national champions Asahi Kasei defended their title in the first major race of 2018, the New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships.

1:00:54 half marathoner Keijiro Mogi led Asahi Kasei off, doing much of the work up front on the first of the day's seven stages but losing out to 19-year-old rookie Hyuga Endo (Sumitomo Denko) and a handful of others in the last sprint to the first exchange. Kapyatich was quick to make up the 10-second deficit he inherited, going straight to the front on the Second Stage and opening a 6-second lead. Farther back, Bedan Karoki (DeNA) passed 18 people, most of them fellow Kenyans, to win the  8.3 km stage in 22:25 just four weeks after running the Fukuoka International Marathon.

The winner on the New Year Ekiden's longest stage last year, Asahi Kasei's Takashi Ichida brought his best again on the 13.6 km Third Stage, starting slow but picking up speed as he went. Ichida won the stage on time, meeting head coach Masayuki Nishi's expectation of a 30-second lead by the end of the stage and handing off 32 seconds ahead of a trio of tightly positioned teams.

With the longest stage increased from 22.0 to 22.4 km this year Asahi Kasei's Shuho Dairokuno, in the midst of heavy training for his marathon debut, took over Ichida's duties from last year, running a solid 1:05:51. But behind him, new half marathon national record holder Yuta Shitara (Honda) showed why he was the best Japanese runner of 2017. Starting in 12th over a minute and a half behind Dairokuno, Shitara split 13:47 and 27:54 for the first 5 and 10 km, bearing down on Dairokuno and catching him in the last kilometer. The two handed off simultaneously, Dairokuno credited with maintaining Asahi Kasei's lead by a fraction of a second but Shitara setting the bar high on time. His 1:04:19 equated to a 1:00:35 half marathon, just 18 seconds slower than his national record from September.

The pressure was on for Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei), winner of the 15.8 km Fifth Stage last year and twin brother of 10000 m national record holder Kota Murayama (Asahi Kasei) who didn't make the starting roster this year as he continues to recover from a stress fracture last spring. Murayama responded well to the head-to-head handoff, turning Asahi Kasei's fortunes back around as he dropped Hideto Yamanaka (Honda) and reopened the lead to 14 seconds.

After breaking the Sixth Stage record last year, Hiroshi Ichida (Asahi Kasei), twin brother of Third Stage winner Takashi Ichida, did it again on the newly shortened stage, increasing Asahi Kasei's lead to over a minute. Anchor Tetsuya Yoroizaka ran the second-fasteest time on the stage as he added another minute-plus to the gap back to Honda, crossing the finish line in 4:52:18 to give Asahi Kasei its second-straight national title.

Expected to be a contender for the win after breaking the course record at the Chubu Corporate Ekiden in November, Toyota nearly overtook East Japan champ Honda in the last kilometer, anchor Tsubasa Hayakawa winning the stage on time as he closed to within 9 seconds of Honda anchor Wataru Ueno but running out of room. Honda took 2nd in 4:54:30, Toyota just back in 4:54:39 for 3rd. Teams from the Kyushu, East Japan and Chubu Regions dominated the top 10, with Sumitomo Denko the top Kansai Region team at 11th, Chugoku Denryoku leading the Chugoku Region at 14th, and YKK topping the Hokuriku Region at 26th. Keita Shitara (Hitachi Butsuryu), twin brother of Fourth Stage winner Yuta Shitara, was 16th on the anchor stage after debuting in Fukuoka.

The peak of their season behind them, the country's corporate men now turn their focus elsewhere. Many will run for their home prefectures in three weeks at the National Men's Ekiden. After that runners targeting the World Half Marathon Championships will run February's Marugame Half or National Corporate Half Marathon. Others like Yuta Shitara and Dairokuno will run one of the four high-level Japanese marathons between the first weekend in February and the first in March.

2018 New Year Ekiden

62nd National Corporate Men's Ekiden Championships
Gunma, 1/1/18
37 teams, 7 stages, 100.0 km
click here for complete results

Top Team Results
1. Asahi Kasei (Kyushu) - 4:52:18
2. Honda (East Japan) - 4:54:30
3. Toyota (Chubu) - 4:54:39
4. Toyota Kyushu (Kyushu) - 4:56:25
5. Fujitsu (East Japan) - 4:56:53
6. DeNA (East Japan) - 4:59:08
7. Konica Minolta (East Japan) - 4:59:09
8. MHPS (Kyushu) - 4:59:15
10. Aisan Kogyo (Chubu) - 4:59:17

Top Individual Stage Performances
First Stage - 12.3 km
1. Hyuga Endo (Sumitomo Denko) - 34:55
2. Hazuma Hattori (Toenec) - 34:56
3. Aritaka Kajiwara (Hiramatsu Byoin) - 34:58

Second Stage - 8.3 km
1. Bedan Karoki (DeNA) - 22:25
2. Edward Waweru (NTN) - 22:38
3. Abraham Kipyatich (Asahi Kasei) - 22:43

Third Stage - 13.6 km
1. Takashi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 38:27
2. Yuta Takahashi (DeNA) - 38:34
3. Hiroki Matsueda (Fujitsu) - 38:42

Fourth Stage - 22.4 km
1. Yuta Shitara (Honda) - 1:04:19 - CR
2. Hiroto Inoue (MHPS) - 1:04:53
3. Yuki Oshikawa (Toyota Kyushu) - 1:05:36

Fifth Stage - 15.8 km
1. Kenta Murayama (Asahi Kasei) - 47:09
2. Hideto Yamanaka (Honda) - 47:23
3. Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu) - 47:55

Sixth Stage - 12.1 km
1. Hiroshi Ichida (Asahi Kasei) - 35:49 - CR
2. Hiroyuki Yamamoto (Konica Minolta) - 36:30
3. Shinobu Kubota (Toyota) - 36:32

Seventh Stage - 15.5 km
1. Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) - 47:12
2. Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei) - 47:14
3. Yuki Sato (Nissin Shokuhin) - 47:38

© 2018 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


Metts said…
Komazawa alums, of course other Hakone stars; but Wateru Uneo, who usually ran the 9th leg through Yokohama at Hakone, and Shinobu Kubota, who usually ran the anchor at Nationals and Hakone. But I always get the Murayama brothers mixed up. Good to see the these two running good again.

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