Monday, October 20, 2014

Comparing the Incomparable: The Wisconsin adidas Invitational Cross-Country Meet and the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Road Race

by Brett Larner
videos by sk002000 and naoki620



The world's two leading university men's distance running systems each held some of their fall seasons' major events this weekend.  In the U.S.A.'s NCAA, 36 university teams lined up at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational 8 km cross-country meet, with other top teams competing at the Pre-Nats meet later in the weekend.  In Japan's KGRR, the 11th through 58th ranked university teams in the Kanto Region were at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km road race, with the top 10 teams in the region scattered elsewhere on the track and road.



It's not really fair to compare cross-country to road racing and even less so to compare 8 km to 20 km, but how do the results from Wisconsin and the Yosenkai look in relation to each other despite the inequalities?  Click to enlarge the tables below to find out.


In NCAA cross-country, teams run 7 men with the top 5 placers scoring. Team scores are based on placing instead of time, creating some irregularities where teams with a faster average finishing time can place lower than slower teams.  Winner Syracuse's 5 scorers averaged 3:00.6/km for the 8 km course, with 7th-place UCLA averaging 3:02.3/km and 10th-place Florida State averaging 3:02.9/km.

Teams at the Yosenkai run from 10 to 12 men with their top 10 scoring.  Team scores are determined by total time of all 10 men, meaning the finish order mirrors how fast they actually ran.  Winner Kanagawa's top 10 averaged 3:02.2/km for the 20 km course, 5th-place Chuo Gakuin averaging 3:02.8/km and 10th-place Soka averaging 3:04.2/km.

In other words, although NCAA teams were at a relative disadvantage in running on a cross-country course, the average pace of Kanagawa's top 10 men over 20 km was faster than UCLA's top 5 men over 8 km, while the top 5 schools at the Yosenkai all averaged faster than 10th-place Florida State with teams twice as big running 2.5 times as far.  Reducing the variables by one and looking at just the top 5 scorers on the Yosenkai teams and reordering both races' results by average pace produces a better, if still not perfect, comparison.


Yamanashi Gakuin's 5 fastest men averaged nearly a second per km faster than Wisconsin Invitational winner Syracuse's 5 scorers.  The second-fastest Yosenkai team, Koku Gakuin, was also faster than Wisconsin Invitational runner-up Iona, and likewise all the way down the top 10 each of the KGRR teams' top 5 scorers averaged faster over 20 km on the roads than the equivalent NCAA team's 5 scorers did over 8 km cross-country.


At the individual level, 124 men in the Wisconsin Invitational averaged 3:05/km or better for the 8 km cross-country course, while at the Yosenkai 138 men did the same for 20 km on the roads. The top 3 finishers in Wisconsin averaged 2:57/km, 2:58/km and 2:58/km for 8 km, while the top 3 at the Yosenkai averaged 2:55/km, 2:55/km and 2:57/km for 20 km.  While only the top 3 in Wisconsin ran under 2:59/km, all of the top 10 at the Yosenkai were 2:58/km or better.  40 Wisconsin finishers ran 3:01/km or better to only 37 at the Yosenkai, but by 3:02/km Yosenkai numbers were again greater.  While more schools did run the Yosenkai the lower end of the field there performed at a lower level than the bottom schools in Wisconsin, and the number of teams represented in the totals above was similar.

The main objection here is bound to be that cross-country is far tougher than road racing.  The Wisconsin 8 km course features at least 10 sharp turns and a series of hills with a maximum elevation difference of roughly 30 m and a net climb of around 5 m, all run on soft surfaces.  The Yosenkai 20 km road course does feature a large proportion of flat and straight sections but also includes at least 19 sharp turns and 2 more 180-degree turns, with small hills over the final 5 km and a net climb of around 10 m.  The Wisconsin course was no doubt harder, but the key question is whether the difficulty of the course was enough of an issue to offset the fact that Yosenkai competitors had to run 2.5x farther than their U.S. counterparts.

This doesn't seem likely as a sole explanation for the consistent pattern of slower performances at Wisconsin seen in the second table above, especially considering the unseasonably hot and sunny conditions at this year's Yosenkai.  To put it differently, if the Yosenkai teams were to run 8 km cross-country in a week or two, could they perform similarly to how they did over 20 km on the roads?  That seems reasonable.  If the Wisconsin Invitational teams ran 20 km on the roads in a week or two, could they replicate their performances over the much longer distance?  That seems much less achievable.  Taken together with the fastest-ever winning time by a Japanese man at this year's Yosenkai and its world record-setting depth both this year and last, overall the results seem to point to increasing success in long-distance development in the KGRR relative to the NCAA where, as Race Results Weekly's David Monti documented last year, considerable success has come in middle distances.

The question of whether what's happening in the KGRR is too much too young is a good one that will see its definitive answer 6 years from now in Tokyo.  In the meantime, the question could be better put this way: if you are a high schooler looking at colleges and dreaming of being internationally competitive as a miler, which system is more likely to get you there?  If your dream is to be internationally competitive as a marathoner which system will give you a better chance?

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ngandu Repeats at Takashimadaira 20 km

http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/athletics/news/f-sp-tp0-20141019-1384249.html

translated by Brett Larner

1229 people ran in the 39th edition of the Takashimadaira Nikkan Sports Road Race Oct. 19 on a 5 km loop course in Takashimadaira, Tokyo.  In the men's open division, last year's winner Benjamin Ngandu (23, Team Monteroza) ran solo from the first lap to defend his title in 1:00:01.  His next race is the Dec. 7 Fukuoka Marathon, where he made an unsuccessful debut last year.  "This year I want to break 2:10," he said with conviction.

39th Takashimadaira Nikkan Sports Road Race
Takashimadaira, Tokyo, 10/19/14

Men's 20 km
1. Benjamin Ngandu (Kenya/Team Monteroza) - 1:00:01
2. Shohei Hayakawa (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:14
3. Yuta Takahashi (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:21
4. Yusei Tsutsumi (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:22
5. Takayuki Tsuchiya (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:29
6. Hiroki Takemoto (Teikyo Univ.) - 1:00:30
7. Kenta Ando (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:38
8. Kodai Matsushita (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:49
9. Nanami Arai (Tokai Univ.) - 1:00:53
10. Hidetoshi Yamashita (Tokai Univ.) - 1:01:05

Women's 20 km
1. Eri Okubo (Miki House) - 1:13:18

Men's 10 km
1. Kinya Hashira (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:44
2. Tatsunori Sato (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:47
3. Yuji Sezaki (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:48
4. Sho Tsuisawa (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:49
5. Masatomi Tsutsui (Tokyo Police Dep't) - 29:53

Women's 10 km
1. Haruka Yamaguchi (AC Kita) - 35:39

Men's 5 km
1. Yuto Hashimoto (Daito Bunka Univ. Alumni Club) - 15:05

Women's 5 km
1. Miyuki Hara (Kinjo Gakuen H.S.) - 17:06

Feeling Free Despite Hate Mail Burying Him at Work, Kawauchi Wins Chiba Aqualine Half

http://headlines.yahoo.co.jp/hl?a=20141019-00000091-spnannex-spo

translated by Brett Larner

Enough with the hate mail.  Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (27, Saitama Pref. Gov't) returned to the Chiba Aqualine Marathon, where he is the course record holder, to run its half marathon on Oct. 19, winning in 1:04:22 and beating 2nd place by more than 5 minutes.  "I had fun today!  I was grinning the whole time I was running," he said with a smile.  "I held my pace steadily and even picked it up at the end."

His shot for a gold medal in the Asian Games marathon ending in bronze, Kawauchi has excused himself from running any of the domestic selection races for the Japanese team for next summer's World Championships marathon in Beijing, China.  Taking himself out of contention for the National Team for the time being has lightened Kawauchi's load and left him feeling free.  "Up to now I've always had to worry about my time and place when I ran," he said with honesty.  "Now's it's like, 'Enough of that!  It's got nothing to do with me!'"

After the Asian Games Kawauchi received hate mail at work addressed to the "civil shithead" and saying things like, "Never run the marathon again!"  Nobody has felt the responsibility of wearing the Rising Sun more than Kawauchi, but this time was different.  "I've removed myself from national team contention, so I don't deserve to be told things like that," he said.  "Until I'm good enough to be selected [for the national team] why don't you say them to the people who are on the Japanese national team instead?"  It was clear that the pleasant sea breeze wasn't enough to cool down the heat boiling up inside the civil servant runner.  He next races at the Nov. 2 New York City Marathon.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fearless Murayama Front-Runs to Fastest-Ever Japanese Win at Yosenkai 20 km (updated)

by Brett Larner
videos by naoki620

After hammering each other to rare Japanese collegiate sub-3:40 PBs to go 1-2 in last month's National University Track & Field Championships 1500 m, defending Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km winner Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) and last year's top Japanese finisher Kota Murayama (Josai University) were back at it to turn this year's race into a two-man show.



The qualifying race for the second tier of schools trying to make it into the Hakone Ekiden, Japan's most prestigious race, the Yosenkai is the world's biggest and most competitive 20 km.  Kenyan Omwamba won last year in 57:57, with Murayama 4th overall in 59:17.  This time Omwamba took things out fast enough, leading a front group including Hironori Tsuetaki (Chuo Gakuin Univ.) and first-year Kenyans Stanley Siteki (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) and Lazarus Motanya (Obirin Univ.) through a 2:50 km as Murayama sat a stride or two back at the front of the 2nd pack.

Just before 5 km Murayama took off, crossing the timing line 1st in 14:30 with Omwamba just behind and opening a steadily growing gap over the others.  Just before 6 km Omwamba briefly caught up and Murayama gestured for him to run next to him.  Omwamba shook his head, both laughed, and when Murayama surged again it was all but over.  Murayama, this year's Kanto Region 10000 m champion, 5th behind four African pros in a PB 13:34.57 late last month in the Incheon Asian Games 5000 m and the twin brother of #1-ranked Japanese collegiate Kenta Murayama (Komazawa Univ.), covered the next 5 km in 14:15, one hour-flat marathon pace, to hit 10 km in 28:45 just off his 28:42.09 track best.



Considering what was at stake, not just his own failure but his entire team's chances of qualifying for the legendary Hakone Ekiden, it was an incredibly risky move.  As temperatures continued to climb under cloudless skies he slowed but still pulled away from Omwamba, hitting 15 km on sub-58 pace in 43:26 with Omwamba 17 seconds back and the rest of the field almost another minute further behind.  A 57-minute time slipped away in the final 5 km, but Murayama was free and clear as he crossed the finish line in 58:26, the fastest time ever by a Japanese man at the Yosenkai by 14 seconds and the first Japanese win in five years.  A PB by nearly a minute, equivalent to a 1:01:38 half marathon.

And what was most notable was the way Murayama did, taking a huge risk in a critically important race, fearlessly attacking the best Kenyan on the college circuit and having the faith in himself to go it alone with none of the usual sit-behind-whatever-foreigner-is-in-the-race-and-try-to-hang-on Japanese mentality, the polar opposite of the kind of running seen from Japan's top pros around the world this fall in Berlin, Chicago, the Great North Run, Philadelphia and elsewhere.  And his twin Kenta is the same way.  Let's hope they don't have it crushed out of them when they head to the Asahi Kasei corporate team after graduating next spring.

Omwamba, solid this season after recovering from the stress fracture that knocked both him and Yamanashi Gakuin out of this year's Hakone, closed on Murayama but was too far back to catch him, disappointed at taking 2nd in 58:34.  The next seven men worked together throughout the race, Masaya Kakihara (Kanagawa Univ.) getting away late in the race to take 3rd in 59:17.  Newcomer Siteki was 7th in 59:28, while Motanya, this year's Kanto Region D2 1500 m champion, faded to 58th in 1:00:57 in his debut over this kind of distance.



Mid-pack the field set new world records for depth, surpassing even last year's world record-setting race.  But more than the individual results the Yosenkai is about the team race, the ten teams that fight for their right to Hakone.  All throughout the race, at each checkpoint, team scores determined by the cumulative time of each school's best ten finishers were close, and in the final tally four schools finished within 46 seconds of each other on total time, less than 5 seconds per runner.  Ranked right on the cusp of picking up the tenth and final Hakone qualifying spot pre-race, Kanagawa University pulled off a shocker as it won the team race in 10:07:11 with a superb all-around team performance.  Pre-race darkhorse Koku Gakuin University also pulled off the hoped-for team performance to take 2nd in 10:07:18, while pre-race favorites Tokai University and Yamanashi Gakuin University went 3-4 in 10:07:31 and 10:07:57.

The post-race team score announcement ceremony in front of a crowd of tens of thousands and a live TV audience in the millions is the most dramatic part of the Yosenkai, and nothing is more dramatic about it than the announcement of the last of the ten qualifying spots for Hakone.  The tension built after the announcement of the top four led on to the next five, Chuo Gakuin University, the always-Yosenkai-ready Jobu University, Chuo University making a return after breaking a 67-year streak of Hakone appearances last year, Juntendo University and Murayama's Josai University.

With one place to go last year's Yosenkai winner Tokyo Nogyo University and 2014 Hakone qualifiers Hosei University and Kokushikan University were still waiting with hearts in throats, but after an extended pause all got a shock as the minor Soka University, a pre-race longshot led by 6th-place finisher Shuhei Yamaguchi, took 10th to qualify for Hakone for the first time in its history.  Defending Yosenkai champ Tokyo Nogyo University was only 49 seconds back in 11th.  5 seconds faster per runner over the 20 km Yosenkai course and they would have been back in Hakone.  It was exactly the kind of surprise that makes the Yosenkai what it is, and the new blood can only add to the Hakone story in its 91st running on Jan. 2-3.



91st Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai 20 km Road Race
Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, 10/18/14

Top Individual Results
click here for complete individual results
1. Kota Murayama (Josai Univ.) - 58:26
2. Enock Omwamba (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 58:34
3. Masaya Kakihara (Kanagawa Univ.) - 59:17
4. Mitsunori Asaoka (Tokyo Nogyo Univ.) - 59:22
5. Hiroto Inoue (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 59:25
6. Shuhei Yamaguchi (Soka Univ.) - 59:25
7. Stanley Siteki (Tokyo Kokusai Univ.) - 59:28
8. Gen Hachisuka (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 59:29
9. Ryo Shirayoshi (Tokai Univ.) - 59:34
10. Satoshi Okimori (Koku Gakuin Univ.) - 59:37
-----
25. Takaya Sato (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.) - 1:00:31
50. Kotaro Kashiwabe (Kanagawa Univ.) - 1:00:49
58. Lazarus Motanya (Obirin Univ.) - 1:00:57
100. Masatoshi Sakata (Hosei Univ.) - 1:01:26
150. Yuki Tagomori (Kanto Gakuin Univ.) - 1:02:11
200. Toru Tajima (Heisei Kokusai Univ.) - 1:03:12

Top Team Results - top ten qualify for 2015 Hakone Ekiden
click here for complete team results
1. Kanagawa University - 10:07:11
2. Koku Gakuin University - 10:07:18
3. Tokai University - 10:07:31
4. Yamanashi Gakuin University - 10:07:57
5. Chuo Gakuin University - 10:09:17
6. Jobu University - 10:10:20
7. Chuo University - 10:11:37
8. Juntendo University - 10:11:55
9. Josai University - 10:12:09
10. Soka University - 10:14:03
-----
11. Tokyo Nogyo University - 10:14:52
12. Hosei University - 10:16:53
13. Tokyo Kokusai University - 10:18:24
14. Heisei Kokusai University - 10:22:19
15. Kokushikan University - 10:25:28

2015 Hakone Ekiden Field
Tokyo-Hakone-Tokyo, Jan. 2-3, 2015

Toyo University
Komazawa University
Nittai University
Waseda University
Aoyama Gakuin University
Meiji University
Nihon University
Teikyo University
Takushoku University
Daito Bunka University
Kanagawa University
Koku Gakuin University
Tokai University
Yamanashi Gakuin University
Chuo Gakuin University
Jobu University
Chuo University
Juntendo University
Josai University
Soka University

text and photos (c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Friday, October 17, 2014

'On the Run ... With Brett Larner'

http://rendezvoo.blogspot.ca/2014/10/on-run-with-brett-larner.html

University Ekiden Season Round Two At the World's #1 20 km - Yosenkai Preview

by Brett Larner



The Japanese university ekiden season, the highlight of the year for distance fans, peaks with the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, Japan's biggest and best race.  Hakone determines everything for the following year, with the top 10 of its 20 teams guaranteed a place on the starting lines of both the next Hakone and the season-starting Izumo Ekiden.  For the bottom 10 it means their season gets going a week at the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai, a 20 km qualifying road race in and around Tokyo's Showa Kinen Park where they must face off against 40 to 50 other university teams joining the ranks of the Hakone-bound and where school cheerleaders and marching bands and tens of thousands of fans bearing school color flags assemble before a live TV broadcast to create one of the greatest race atmospheres in the sport.

With the first-ever cancellation of the Izumo Ekiden last weekend after a typhoon swept through race day, the millions of ekiden fans across the country are eager for the Yosenkai to give them what they've been waiting for.  Thanks to simplified rules this year the Yosenkai's format is straightforward: 48 teams run at least 10 and no more than 12 men in a single-start 20 km road race.  The times of each school's first 10 finishers are added, and the schools with the 10 fastest aggregate times qualify for Hakone.  Given what's at stake it all adds up to the world's deepest and one of its fastest 20 km races.

Yamanashi Gakuin University, 2nd last year, was knocked back to the Yosenkai after Kenyan ringer Enock Omwamba DNF'd on the Second Stage at Hakone this year with a stress fracture and eliminated the entire team.  Omwamba is back to full strength, and with sub-62 minute half marathoner Hiroto Inoue and a major influx of over half of Yamanashi Gakuin Prep H.S.'s 2013 National High School Ekiden champion team they are looking very tough to beat, featuring 3 men with sub-63 minute half marathon bests and 7 sub-65 with 12 of its 14 entrants having sub-30 bests for 10000 m.

Last year's 3rd-placer Tokai University looks like the only school really able to mount a challenge for the team win, with all 14 of its entrants holding sub-30 10000 m times, six with sub-65 half marathons and 2 sub-63.  A darkhorse is Koku Gakuin University, only 5th last year and light on top-level talent but rock-solid in depth with 13 sub-30 men, 7 of them also sub-65.

6 schools make up the next tier, almost all with 8 men sub-30 and 4 to 7 sub-65 half marathoners.  Led by last year's top Japanese finishers, Kanto Region 10000 m champion Kota Murayama, Josai University leads this group along with Chuo Gakuin UniversityHosei University is missing its star runner Kazuto Nishiike, mostly injured since his 2nd-place finish at last November's Ageo City Half Marathon, but is solid on depth and could challenge both Josai and CGU.  Juntendo University, Chuo University and last year's team title winner Tokyo Nogyo University fill out the bottom of the second group, both Chuo and TNU seriously relying on depth to get them where they want to go.

The one-by-one announcement of the team results is always tense and dramatic, never more than when it comes down to the final slot.  4 schools have chances of making the grade, Hakone regular Jobu University leading the way.  Kanagawa University stands at only 11th on paper, but with a similar ranking last year they finished 4th and can't be counted out.  Sometime qualifier Kokushikan University is also in the mix, while Soka University, led by sub-29 man Shuhei Yamaguchi, looks to bring some new blood with its first-ever Hakone qualification.  Distant outliers who might break into the top 10 with a miracle day include Senshu University, Asia University, and the brand-new Tokyo Kokusai University.

57-minute winning times at the Yosenkai have become commonplace, and last year's winner Omwamba returns the favorite to do it again after running both 1500 m and 10000 m bests this fall.  Murayama and Inoue, last year's top Japanese pair at 4th and 5th overall, are probably the only ones who could take him on, Murayama just a step behind when Omwamba ran his 3:39.01 and Inoue saying he thinks he can take it.  Wildcards in their debuts over this kind of distance are Kenyan first-years Stanley Shiteki of Tokyo Kokusai University and Lazarus Motanya of the Stephen Mayaka-coached Obirin University.

The Yosenkai will be broadcast live on Nihon TV starting at 9:25 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 18.  JRN will be on-hand to cover the race.  If in Tokyo you are strongly encourage to go out to Showa Kinen Park and soak in the spectacle.  Click here for a course map and checkpoint times, and here for entry lists.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

London Olympic Gold Medalist Tiki Gelana Leads Yokohama International Women's Marathon Elite Field

by Brett Larner

The 6th running of the Yokohama International Women's Marathon brings in a good field headed by formerly Japan-based London Olympic marathon gold medalist Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia), lending credibility to its struggle to remain relevant.  The equally formerly Japan-based Philes Ongori (Kenya) tops a trio of 2:23 women including Caroline Rotich (Kenya) and Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) who should give Gelana a swing of it, with Marisa Barros (Portugal), 2014 Nagano Marathon winner Alina Prokopeva (Russia), Irvette Van Zyl (South Africa) and, welcomed back to Yokohama again after her drug suspension, Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania), rounding out the international field in Yokohama's usual boutique style.

The Japanese field is thin, with only three or four contenders for the top ten.  Independent 2014 Hokkaido Marathon winner Azusa Nojiri (Hiratsuka Lease) is the top Japanese woman on paper, but the better bet to factor into the race is her former teammate Tomomi Tanaka (Team Daiichi Seimei), a two-time National Corporate Half Marathon winner coached by Tokyo World Championships marathon silver medalist Sachiko Yamashita and who made a decent debut in Nagoya this spring in 2:26:05.  Nanami Matsuura (Team Tenmaya), coached by Japan's main Olympian generator Yutaka Taketomi, had a weaker debut in Osaka in 2:33:24 but should stand to improve on that.  The most interesting domestic product is 19-year-old Reia Iwade (Team Noritz), following through on her plans to debut before turning 20 in December after making this year's World Half Marathon team off a sub-70 debut at last December's Sanyo Women's Half just after her 19th birthday.

The Yokohama International Women's Marathon will be broadcast live nationwide.  Check back closer to race date for more info on following the race live.

Yokohama International Women's Marathon Elite Field
Yokohama, Kanagawa, 11/16/14
click here for complete field listing

Tiki Gelana (Ethiopia) - 2:18:58 (Rotterdam 2012)
Caroline Rotich (Kenya) - 2:23:22 (Chicago 2012)
Olena Shurkhno (Ukraine) - 2:23:32 (Berlin 2012)
Philes Ongori (Kenya) - 2:24:20 (Rotterdam 2011) / 2:23:22a (Boston 2014)
Azusa Nojiri (Japan/Hiratsuka Lease) - 2:24:57 (Osaka Int'l 2012)
Marisa Barros (Portugal) - 2:25:04 (Yokohama 2011)
Kiyoko Shimahara (Japan/SWAC) - 2:25:10 (Hokkaido 2009)
Zivile Balciunaite (Lithuania) - 2:25:15 (Tokyo Int'l 2005)
Tomomi Tanaka (Japan/Team Daiichi Seimei) - 2:26:05 (Nagoya Women's 2014)
Mayumi Fujita (Japan/Team Juhachi Ginko) - 2:29:02 (Yokohama Int'l 2012)
Alina Prokopeva (Russia) - 2:30:56 (Nagano 2014)
Irvette Van Zyl (South Africa) - 2:31:26
Nanami Matsuura (Japan/Team Tenmaya) - 2:33:24 (Osaka Int'l 2014)
Tomomi Higuchi (Japan/Team Daihatsu) - 2:33:48 (Daegu 2011)
Kumi Ogura (Japan/Kochi T&F Assoc.) - 2:34:01 (Nagoya Women's 2013)
Maki Inami (Japan/Wings AC) - 2:37:34 (Tokyo 2011)
Reia Iwade (Japan/Team Noritz) - debut - 1:09:45 (Sanyo Women's Half 2013)

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Izumo Ekiden Organizers Lose $1,000,000 in Typhoon Cancellation

http://www.sponichi.co.jp/society/news/2014/10/14/kiji/K20141014009096510.html
http://www.sponichi.co.jp/sports/news/2014/10/13/kiji/K20141013009095960.html
http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/etc/20141013-OHT1T50215.html?from

translated and edited by Brett Larner

After making landfall Oct. 13 in Makurazaki, Kagoshima and travelling across Kyushu, the massive Typhoon #19 again struck land in Sukumo, Kochi.  On the morning of the 14th its status was downgraded as it headed back out to sea in the northeast.  JR Nishi Nihon cancelled all trains in the Kinki region the afternoon of the 13th, and other events including a concert by Namie Amuro were also cancelled one after another.  At the time of writing 82 people had been injured in the typhoon, with one person missing.

Shimane prefecture, the birthplace of tennis star Kei Nishikori and having just celebrated the royal wedding of the Izumo Oyashiro shrine's Kunimaro Senge and Princess Noriko, was hit by unexpected flooding.  One of the consequences of the worsening conditions was the cancellation of the 26th running of the Izumo Ekiden in Izumo, Shimane, a move that raised unhappy voices among the athletes.  It was the first cancellation in the event's history, and no plans were announced for it to be held at an alternate date or time.  Organizers lost roughly 100 million yen [~$1 million USD] from their operating budget due to the cancellation, the money simply gone with the typhoon's winds.

The race was scheduled to start at 1:05 p.m. on the 13th.  At 8:00 that morning organizers issued an initial statement.  Because the winds were weak at that point, the statement on their website said, "The race will go ahead as planned," but included a caveat that there was a chance the race would be stopped after it started depending on changing weather conditions.  However, at 9:30 heavy rain arrived, and at just past 10:00 they released a second statement saying the ekiden would be called off.  IUAU director Masanobu Wada explained the events leading to the cancellation, saying, "It was difficult to ensure the safety of athletes, fans [along the course] and volunteers.  In light of the conditions it would also have been difficult to have the usual support and assistance from the police."  Given the overall situation around the storm it was decided that it would not be possible to conduct the race.

In the history of the Big Three University Ekidens, the key university road racing series made up of the Izumo Ekiden, November's National University Ekiden and January's Hakone Ekiden, it was the first time that one of the events had been cancelled due to bad weather.  At the pre-race coaches' meeting on Oct. 12 many teams' head coaches had said that as the start of the season they wanted the Izumo Ekiden to go ahead, and Director Wada was apologetic as he said, "It would have been better if we had come to a decision sooner."  A decision will be made later concerning what to do about the seeded places for the 2015 Izumo Ekiden that were available to the top three finishers this year.

Targeting a rare Big Three sweep this season, defending champion and course record holder Komazawa University head coach Hiroaki Oyagi was crushed, saying, "We were going to win all of the Big Three this year, so it's very disappointing.  The only one here we couldn't beat was this storm."  Komazawa's #1 man, senior Kenta Murayama, commented, "We were looking to repeat, so it's really too bad."  After the announcement of the race's cancellation Komazawa's team headed to Izumo's Hamayama Park Field for full-on track practice.  Head coach Oyagi said, "We will be going for our fourth-straight Nationals victory.  That race will be here soon enough."

Also shooting for a Big Three sweep, Susumu Hara, head coach of Komazawa's toughest competitor Aoyama Gakuin University, likewise showed his disappointment as he said, "We planned our peak very carefully to be ready for this race, so its cancellation hurts.  The first jewel in the triple crown goes to Typhoon #19."  Like Komazawa, the AGU squad did not simply pack and go home after the cancellation, instead heading out for a 21 km training run in the heavy rain to continue their preparations for the Nov. 2 National University Men's Ekiden and the Hakone Ekiden on Jan. 2-3.  "I'm a little nervous about whether we have the distance in to be competitve at Nationals and Hakone," said Hara.  "We have to refocus on that as quickly as possible after this."

2014 Hakone Ekiden champion Toyo University's star junior Yuma Hattori said, "Safety is the most important thing.  It's disappointing that Izumo was cancelled, but we have to take that and channel it into the next race."  Toyo's head coach Toshiyuki Sakai commented, "We are now going to concentrate on winning both Nationals and Hakone."  The Toyo crew went to a covered shopping arcade in central Izumo to run a workout on its central promenade.  Team member Shinya Saito, having finally worked his way onto Toyo's A-roster for his university ekiden debut at Izumo as a senior, cried throughout the workout.

Yasuyuki Watanabe, head coach of last year's 4th-place Waseda University, commented, "The top schools are very close in level this year so I think a lot of teams wanted to do it anyway, but we have to put safety first.  There's nothing we can do about it."  There's no telling who might have won in Izumo, but none of them can afford to stand around as the season rolls on to Nationals and Hakone.