Aoyama Gakuin defends title


Aoyama Gakuin University successfully defended its Hakone Ekiden championship in style on Sunday, becoming the first team to lead the two-day event from wire to wire in 39 years.

Aoyama Gakuin’s team won all five stages of the 109.6-km return leg from Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, to Tokyo’s Otemachi business district.

The second- and third-place teams from Saturday’s outward leg, collegiate champion Toyo University and Komazawa University, respectively, crossed the finish line in that order. A total of 21 teams took part in the race with Aoyama Gakuin winning in a total time over 10 stages of 10 hours, 53 minutes, 25 seconds.

Kazuma Kubota, the senior who gave Aoyama Gakuin the lead in Saturday’s first stage, was named the race MVP.

“It’s great to have won the title two times. I’m so happy to have won this (MVP) in my final year,” said Kubota.

Yuji Onoda, the only freshman on the Aoyama Gakuin team, started the 20.8-km sixth stage with a 3-minute, 4-second lead over Toyo’s first runner of the day and added 70 seconds to that margin. Senior Yusuke Ogura won the seventh stage and sophomore Yuta Shimoda triumphed in the eighth to send the defending champions into the final 46.1 km with an imposing 7-minute lead.