With a superb run by Kensuke Takezawa on the anchor leg, Hyogo prefecture won the 17th annual Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden in Hiroshima on Sunday (22).
In this seven-stage 48Km Ekiden, like the women’s version held last week in Kyoto, the team consists of runners from all age groups: two junior high school and three high school runners in addition to two runners of either college or professional rank.
It was the fourth victory for Hyogo, having most recently won two years ago, when Takezawa came from behind also in the anchor leg. Tokyo finished second, their highest finish in this Ekiden, while Kumamoto finished third one place ahead of the defending champion Tochigi.
The lead changed often during the race, but Hyogo always stayed relatively close to the front and the gap 2008 Olympian Takezawa had to make up was not large at the beginning of the leg. Hyogo took the lead with less than two kilometres left in the first stage, and stayed in front in the second stage. Hyogo dropped to seventh 21 seconds behind the leader Tokyo at the end of the third stage, but then moved up to fourth 13 seconds behind the leader Saga after stage four. Hyogo fell behind again to seventh 35 seconds behind the leader Kumamoto after stage five, but moved up to fifth 26 seconds behind the leader Aichi at the start of the anchor leg.
In the anchor leg Takezawa made up the difference slowly but surely and caught the leader at seven kilometres before making the decisive move two kilometres later. Takezawa was never threatened in the final four kilometres and Hyogo won by 23 seconds in 2:20:19. Tsuyoshi Ugachi, the big gun for the defending champion Tochigi, who started the stage in 11th place, may have tried to close the gap too fast. Although Ugachi moved up to fourt before five kilometres into the stage, he was visibly in trouble during the final kilometre and thus let Takezawa pull away.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1 - 7Km - stage reserved for high school runner
The first kilometre was covered in a slow 2:54, and the pace did not picked up before the half way (3.5Km), which was passed in 10:13. The real racing started from 4Km. Then after 5Km Keisuke Nakatani of Hyogo took off and Ken Yokote of the defending champion Tochigi tried to go with him. However, Nakatani pulled away from Yokote and with a kilometre to go the gap had grown to five seconds. Nakatani won the stage followed by Yokote. “My plan was to go with the 1Km to go, but thinking twice I thought it would be better if I take off early as I usually do,” said Nakatani.
Stage 2 – 3Km – stage reserved for junior high school runner
Chikashi Ikeda of Hyogo extended his lead in the early part of the race, but then the gap narrowed in the final kilometre.
Stage 3 – 8.5Km
The positions changed often. Yuta Takahashi of Tokyo started fast (2:37 for the opening kilometre) and caught the leader Fuminori Shikata of Hyogo at one kilometre. Soon Takahashi started to pull away from Shikata and by half way Takahashi was 14 seconds ahead. Behind them, soon after the half way Shuho Dairokuno caught Shikata in second place. Further down in position, Yusuke Mita of Aichi and Yuya Konishi of Saga, started to move up and eventually finished the stage second and third behind the leader Takahashi.
Stage 4 – 5Km – reserved for high school runner
Yuya Ando of Aichi and Makoto Mitsunobu of Saga started to close the gap on Kazuma Ganaha of Tokyo. Soon they formed the leading group, before Mitsunobu made his move and left both rivals behind. Approaching the end of the stage, Hyogo and Kagoshima closed the gap to finish the stage in fourth and fifth.
Stage 5 – 8.5Km – reserved for high school runner
The position changed often in this stage as well. Keita Katabuchi of Saga continued to lead in the early part but the chase pack, consisting of Hyogo, Aichi, Kagoshima and Tokyo caught Saga after two kilometres, and before the half way, Aichi and Saga pulled away from other three teams – Tokyo Kagoshima and Hyogo. With three kilometres to go Aichi pulled away from Saga, while Kazuma Kubota of Kumamoto moved up steadily into second. With one kilometre to go, Kubota caught Kamino of Aichi. They ran neck and neck until Kubota sprinted away in last 50 metres. They were followed by Okayama and Tokyo. The defending champion Tochigi is 40 seconds behind.
Stage 6 – 3Km – reserved for junior high school runner
Yoshihiro Nozu of Aichi, who competes mostly at 800m, took over the lead but could not shake off Taku Hiromatsu of Kumamoto. With one kilometre to go Hiromatsu took over the lead and slowly pulled away, but then the speed of middle distance runner Nozu prevailed at the end. He retook over the lead, and at the end of the stage Aichi led Kumamoto by six seconds. Hyogo was 26 second behind, while defending champion Tochigi was 45 seconds adrift. “I was thinking of going in the last 600m,” Nozu said.
Stage 7 – 13Km
Less than one kilometre into the stage, Takezawa of Hyogo moved into third, while, behind him Ugachi of Tochigi caught the main chase pack of seven runners running in fourth place. Four kilometres into the stage Takezawa moved up to second 14 seconds behind the leader Yuya Ito of Aichi. At the 5.2Km check point Ito led Hyogo by 11 seconds, with Tochigi 33 seconds behind in fourth. Seven kilometres into the stage Takezawa caught Ito. They ran together for the next two kilometres when Takezawa surged away. The race for second became tight as Aichi was caught by Tokyo, Tochigi and Kumamoto with 1.5Km to go. Yoshihiro Wakamatsu of Tokyo moved ahead to secure second.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
Weather: Weather: Cloudy;: temperature: 14.5C;
1. Hyogo 2:20:19
2. Tokyo 2:20:41
3. Kumamoto 2:20:50
4. Tochigi 2:20:53
5. Aichi 2:20:54
6. Ibaragi 2:21:17
7. Oita 2:21:18
8. Saga 2:21:36
9. Fukui 2:21:52
10. Saitama 2:22:02
1 - 7Km 20:12 Keisuke Nakatani Hyogo
20:22 Ken Yokote Tochigi
20:23 Shogo Higashijima Saga
2 - 3Km 8:37 Tatsuya Yamaguchi Hiroshima
8:40 Hiroki Nagayama Kagoshima
8:42 Hiroyuki Sakaguchi Nagasaki
3 - 8.5Km 24:14 Kazuya Detguchi Ibaragi
24:14 Kenta Murotsuka Ishikawa
24:19 Yusuke Mita Aichi
4 - 5Km 14:30 Yugo Muroi Oita
14:32 Makoto Mitsunobu Saga
14:32 Yuki Hirota Hyogo
5 - 8.5Km 24:13 Kazuma Kubota Kumamoto
24:43 Shohei Otsuka Oita
24:47 Shota Baba Okayama
6 - 3Km 8:42 Takuma Nagai Ibaragi
8:50 Daigo Yoshimura Saga
7 - 13Km 37:32 Kensuke Takezawa Hyogo
37:35 Chihiro Miyawaki Gifu
37:47 Tsuyoshi Ugachi Tochigi
37:57 Yoshihiro Wakamatsu Tokyo
1 - 7Km - 20:12 - Hyogo
20:22 - Tochigi
20:23 - Saga
2 - 10K - 28:59 Hyogo
29:08 - Tokyo
29:10 - Kagoshima
29:20 - Tochigi
3 - 18.5K - 53:59 - Tokyo
53:45 - Aichi
53:47 - Saga
53:56 - Kagoshima
4 - 23.5K - 68:18 - Saga
68:28 - Tokyo
68:31 - Aichi
68:32 - Hyogo
5 - 32K - 1:33:21 - Kumamoto
1:33:23 - Aichi
1:33:37 - Okayama
1:33:51 - Tokyo
6 - 35 - 1:42:21 - Aichi
1:42:27 - Kumamoto
1:42:44 - Tokyo
1:42:45 - Saga
1:42:47 - Hyogo