The defending champions Hyogo Prefecture won the 18th annual Inter-Prefectural Men’s Ekiden, over seven stages and 48km, in Hiroshima on Sunday (20).
Like their women’s counterpart in Kyoto last week, the teams consist of school, college as well as professional runners as the idea of this ekiden is for young runners to learn from their older team mates.
With cloudy conditions and the temperature hovering at about 10C, Hyogo went into the lead early in the first stage and then stayed in the front through stage two. In the middle of third stage Suguru Osako, of Tokyo, went to the front but Hyogo's Yuhi Akiyama regained the lead barely a kilometre into the fourth stage.
During the fourth, fifth and sixth stage, Hyogo pulled further ahead but then desperately hung on to their lead, after a great run by Tokyo's Yuichiro Ueno on the final stage, to win by five seconds while Tokyo finished as runners up for the second consecutive year.
“Since Tokyo and Aichi were strong favorite, our goal was only top eight finish. Perhaps that was better for us psychologically,” said Koei Adachi, the team leader for Hyogo.
How the race unfolded:
Stage 1: 7km (high school runners)
The pace was quick because Hyogo's Keisuke Nakatani pushed the pace from two kilometres. “I was determined to win the stage, because I did so last year,” said Nakatani.
After stage 1: 1. Hyogo 19:56; 2. Tochigi 19:58; 3. Mie 20:00.
Stage 2: 3km (junior high school runners)
After two kilometres, Hyogo's Chikashi Ikeda, who set the national junior high school record for 1500m and 3000m, started to pull away. By the end of the stage, Ikeda led by 13 seconds. However, well behind the leader, a new stage record of 8:29 was set by Hiroshima's Shiki Shinsako.
After stage 2 (10km): 1. Hyogo 28:30; 2. Chiba 28:43; 3. Tochigi 28:46.
Stage 3: 8.5km
Tokyo's Suguru Osako ran brilliantly. Starting fifth, he caught Hyogo's Keisuke Fujii at 5.5km, and then tried to pull away with one kilometre to go. Fujii hung on for around a minute but when Osako surged again with 600 metres to go, he was successful and finished the stage eight seconds ahead of Fujii. “I used a lot of energy catching Fujii, so I rested a bit before I pushed hard with 1km to go,” said Osako.
After stage 3 (18.5km): 1. Tokyo 52:30; 2. Hyogo 52:38; 3. Aichi 52:53.
Stage 4: 5km (high school runners)
Hyogo's Yuhi Akiyama caught Tokyo's Yuta Inage before the ned of the first kilometre, and then started to pull away 1.5km later before improving the stage record by three seconds.
After Stage 4 (23.5km): 1. Hyogo 1:06:45; 2. Tokyo 1:07:45; 3. Aichi 1:07:53.
Stage 5: 8.5km (high school runners)
Halfway into the stage, Hyogo's Yuki Hirota led by a minute ahead of Tokyo's Rintaro Takeda but the latter closed to 50 seconds by the end of the stage.
After stage 5 (32km): 1. Hyogo 1:31:45; 2. Tokyo 1:32:35; 3. Chiba 1:33:05.
Stage 6: 3km (junior high school runners)
Hyogo's Haruki Nishimura took his team further and by the end of the stage Hyogo was 1:15 ahead of Tokyo.
After stage 6 (35km): 1. Hyogo 1:40:43; 2. Tokyo 1:41:58; 3. Aichi 1:42.12.
Stage 7: 13km
At 9km into the stage, Tokyo's Yuichiro Ueno was still 47 seconds behind Hyogo stalwart Satoru Kitamura. Uena was still 20 seconds in arrears of the leader with one kilometre to go before digging deep but fell short by five seconds.
Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
1. Hyogo 2:19:51
2. Tokyo 2:19:56
3. Aichi 2:20:35
4. Saitama 2:20:55
5. Chiba 2:21:06
6. Hiroshima 2:21:20
7. Nagano 2:21:20
8. Akita 2:21:33
9. Oita 2:21:37
10. Nagasaki 2:21:40
1. 7km Keisuke Nakatani (Hyogo) 19:56
2. 3km Shiki Shinsako (Hiroshima) 8:29
3. 8.5km Suguru Osako (Tokyo) 23:39
4. 5km Yuhi Akiyama (Hyogo) 14:07
5. 8.5km Rintaro Takeda (Tokyo) 24:50
6. 3km Mashide Saito (Saitama) 8:52
7. 13km Keigo Yano (Nagano) 37:54