Championship Ekiden Qualification Weekend – The Foreigners magazine In tokyo
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Championship Ekiden Qualification Weekend

Written by on October 22, 2021

Championship ekiden season is on the way, and this weekend two of the main events will hold their official qualification races.

Saturday in Tokyo’s western suburb of Tachikawa is the Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai half marathon, a chance for collegiate men to be on the starting line of the world’s #1 race this coming January. 10 universities are already qualified for the Hakone Ekiden by having finished in the top 10 at this year’s race, and at the Yosenkai another 10 will join them. 41 universities from the greater Tokyo area will run from 10 to 12 men each and are scored on the total time of their first 10 finishers. The fastest 10 teams go on to Hakone, pure and simple. Top individuals from teams that don’t qualify will also be named to a select team, as long as they’re Japanese citizens, to fill out Hakone’s field of 21. NTV will broadcast the race and its tense qualifier announcement ceremony live starting at 9:25 a.m. Saturday local time, with official streaming on TVer for those in-country.

Meiji University is ranked at the top of the field, a Hakone regular knocked out of the seeded top 10 this year by last year’s Yosenkai winner Juntendo University. 2020 Yosenkai runner-up Chuo University is Meiji’s toughest competition for the team win, but what really matters is just making the top 10. Kanagawa University, Nittai University, Takushoku University and Josai University look pretty secure to pull that off, but beyond that it gets interesting. Hosei University and Kokushikan University are in the grey zone of Hakone regulars vulnerable to programs trying to get back into elite status like Yamanashi Gakuin University and Senshu University, ones perpetually on the cusp like Tsukuba University and Reitaku University, and up-and-coming programs like Surugadai University and Keio University. Chuo Gakuin University throws an additional variable at the equation, a perpetual Hakone qualifier that somehow blew last year’s Yosenkai and didn’t make the cut.

Daihatsu leads the field, missing 8th place at Queens last year by just 9 seconds. Edion, Tenmaya and Shiseido were all just seconds behind, making it a close race up front. But like at the Yosenkai, this is a qualifying race and what matters most is getting into the qualifying bracket. Down around the 15th to 25th-ranked level you’ve got a mix of traditionally minor teams like Nitori, Shimamura and Toto, fallen greats like former national champ Daiichi Seimei, and new teams like SID Group. At the collegiate level making nationals can impact a coach’s career, but at the corporate level it can make the difference to a team’s existence the next season. Amid a post-Olympic pullback and the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic, this year that’s truer than ever.

© 2021 Brett Larner, all rights reserved

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