Skip to main content

Hometown Hiroshima Looking Like the Favorite - National Men's Ekiden Preview

by Brett Larner
click here for video highlights of the first 19 years of the National Men's Ekiden

Ekiden season rolls on for a few weeks more, but Sunday's 20th anniversary National Men's Ekiden marks the end of the month-long run of national championship ekiden races.  Teams made up of the best J.H.S., H.S., university and pro runners from each of Japan's 47 prefectures race over 48.0 km in 7 stages through the streets of Hiroshima, with NHK's live commercial-free broadcast showing many of Japan's future stars to a national audience for the first time.  Follow @JRNLive for live coverage starting at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 18.

There's so much growth happening right now in Japanese men's distance running that there's almost no point filling a preview with details about which teams are packed with talent.  Most of them are.  Hometown Hiroshima is not fooling around with its lineup, featuring 27:38.99 man Tetsuya Yoroizaka (Asahi Kasei), 2015 Hakone Ekiden Ninth Stage winner Takuya Fujikawa of Hakone champion Aoyama Gakuin University, and four members of Sera High School's 2014 National High School Ekiden champion team.  The favorite?  Maybe.

Defending champion Nagano, with 6 national titles the winningest in National Men's Ekiden history, is solid, with its two-time anchor stage winner Keigo Yano (Nissin Shokuhin) back for more fronting a team that includes three members of 2014 National High School Ekiden runner-up Saku Chosei H.S.  2014 2nd-placer Saitama looks even stronger, led by Honda team members Yuta Shitara, Shota Hattori and Wataru Ueno and two members of National High School Ekiden 3rd-placer Saitama Sakae H.S.  4th-place Nagasaki includes sub-62 half marathon collegiate Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.), talented ekiden specialist Takehiro Deki (Chugoku Denryoku) and sub-14 high schooler Hiroyuki Sakaguchi (Isahaya H.S.).

2012 and 2013 winner Hyogo finished only 10th last year, but its lineup this year includes two of its past stage winners, Kensuke Takezawa (Sumitomo Denko) and Keisuke Nakatani (Komazawa Univ.).  Runner-up behind Hyogo both of those years, Tokyo was also down on its luck last year in a dismal 24th.  Keita Shitara (Konica Minolta), the brother twin of Saitama's Shitara, leads this year's team which should be in contention to climb back into the top 10.  The Shitaras may have split up, but their rivals to the claim of being the world's best twins, Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.) and Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) are both on the roster for Miyagi and should bring some fireworks even if the Miyagi team is not strong enough for them to feature up front.

In terms of what to watch for in the development of the race, the 7.0 km First Stage features only high school runners, with many star runners who never got to run the National High School Ekiden making their national debuts.  The top two or three placers almost always end up making a big impact at the Hakone Ekiden later, so catch them now.  Likewise for the 3.0 km Second Stage featuring most of the top J.H.S. runners.  Top university and pro runners square off on the 8.5 km Third Stage where some of the heaviest turnover of the race usually takes place, especially late in the stage.  High School runners fill the 5.0 km Fourth Stage and 8.5 km Fifth Stage, where the contenders for the win usually separate themselves from the rest of the field for good.  More J.H.S. runners populate the 3.0 km Sixth Stage before the handoff to the 13.0 km anchor stage for one more matchup between the best university and pro talent on the way to finish line in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial commemorating the victims of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima 70 years ago this year.  Kicking off 50 years after the bombing, in its 20th edition the National Men's Ekiden promises some of the best action yet in its history.

(c) 2015 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

TokyoRacer said…
I thought the determination of what team you run for depended on where you were born, but since the Shitara twins were obviously born in the same place, I guess this is not the case. So what is the determining factor? Thanks....
Brett Larner said…
It's mostly based on wherever you are registered. Yuta runs for Saitama-based Honda and Keita for Tokyo-based Konica Minolta, hence their team placements. The 'furusato' teams are the ones where people are running for their home prefectures, I think, but those seem to be the minority, at least at the university/pro level.
Metts said…
Do the university or pro runners have a choice; can they choose their furusato or where they are now, such as the Murayama twins chose Miyagi but based in Tokyo? But then there are only so many slot so the need to balance out all teams I guess.

Most-Read This Week

Berlin Marathon - Japanese Results

Fresh off a 1:00:17 half marathon national record last weekend and a 28:55 road 10 km the one before, Yuta Shitara (Honda) lived up to expectations at today's Berlin Marathon, trying to go with the lead group and running the first part of the race alone between the first and second groups.

Whatever his plan, Shitara was swallowed up by the second pack, a good turn of events as it was travelling ahead of Japanese national record pace on track for just sub-2:06. Shitara hung with that group through 25 km before his projected time started to creep away, drifting to high-2:06 pace by 30 km, high-2:07 by 35 km, and high-2:08 by 40 km. In the end he was well short of Toshinari Takaoka's 2:06:16 national record, but with a 2:09:03 for 6th Shitara took 24 seconds off his best with the fastest Japanese men's performance in Berlin since Takayuki Inubushi's then-NR 2:06:57 in 1999. And just 8 days after the greatest half marathon performance in Japanese history.

『ベルリンマラソン動画 設楽悠太…

Yuta Shitara Breaks Japanese Men's Half Marathon National Record in Berlin Marathon Tuneup at Usti nad Labem Half

A week after his 28:55 at the Birell Prague Grand Prix 10 km and just eight days out from the Berlin Marathon, Yuta Shitara (Honda) made the great leap forward, taking 8 seconds off Atsushi Sato's 2007 half marathon Japanese national record, finishing 8th at the Czech Republic's Usti nad Labem Half Marathon.

Shitara is probably most well-known outside Japan for going through halfway under 62 minutes during his marathon debut at this year's Tokyo Marathon and still ending up with a 2:09:27, but he's been turning heads in Japan since his second year at Toyo University when he broke a stage record at the 2012 Hakone Ekiden and outkicked the U.S.A.'s Dathan Ritzenhein to finish in 1:01:48 at the NYC Half two months later, until this year the fastest time ever by a Japanese man on U.S soil.

Three weeks before Tokyo this year he ran a 1:01:19 PB at the Marugame Half. Many people would call that a solid tuneup three weeks out from a serious marathon, but eight days? In P…

Ayuko Suzuki Leaves for Altitude Training in Boulder Motivated for the Marathon

2017 London World Championships 5000 m and 10000 m runner Ayuko Suzuki (25, Japan Post) left from Narita Airport on Sept. 18 for altitude training in Boulder, Colorado.

Two days earlier at a half marathon in Czech Republic, Yuta Shitara (25, Honda), like Suzuki born in 1991, broke the 10-year-old Japanese men's half marathon national record in a time of 1:00:17. "It's a big motivation to see an athlete the same age as me doing something like that," she said. Showing her determination to be one of her generation's leaders, she added, "I'll be 28 [at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics], right in my prime mentally and physically. I want to run big too."

In the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics Suzuki has the marathon in sight along with the track. "I need to run a half marathon and marathon somewhere once to check [how well they suit me]," she said. "Coach and I will be talking about it." If everything goes according to plan, December's Sanyo …