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Aoyama Gakuin wins fourth straight ekiden

Kyodo

Aoyama Gakuin University came from behind to win the annual Tokyo-Hakone collegiate men’s two-day ekiden road relay for the fourth straight year on Wednesday.

Aoyama Gakuin’s first runner, Yuji Onoda, turned a 36-second deficit into a 52-second lead in the sixth stage and the Tokyo school never looked back, claiming victory with a total time of 10 hours, 57 minutes, 39 seconds.

First-leg winner Toyo University finished second, almost five minutes behind, and Waseda University took third in the race featuring 21 teams from the Kanto region. Both days of the race comprise five legs, with the first day totaling 107.5 km and the second 109.6 km.

It was the third straight runner-up finish for Toyo University, leaving the school without an overall title since it last won in 2014.

“I would like to express my gratitude to all my runners and their parents who believed in me and our school,” Aoyama Gakuin head coach Susumu Hara said.

“I had absolute trust in Onoda and (seventh-stage runner Keisuke) Hayashi, but Hayashi, particularly, surprised me. The sixth, seventh and eighth stages were key.”

Hakone race debutant and third-year student Hayashi took over the tasuki sash, which replaces the baton in the ekiden, from downhill specialist Onoda and set a 1:02:16 stage record over his 21.3-km leg to widen the gap over the chasers.

“Onoda gave us a comfortable lead and that allowed me to race my own race. I’m simply happy. A four-peat is a confidence boost. The seniors worked hard for this to happen and I’d like to repay them by completing a five-peat (next year),” Hayashi said.

The top 10 schools automatically qualify for next year’s race.

The Hakone Ekiden, one of the most prominent university relay races of the year, is held annually on Jan. 2 and 3 and broadcast live on national television.

Aoyama Gakuin is the sixth school in the history of the two-day race to win the championship in four consecutive years. The race covers 217.1 km, from Tokyo’s business district of Otemachi to the hot spring resort of Hakone and back the next day.

Chuo University won six straight titles between 1959 and 1964 and Nippon Sport Science University won five straight between 1969 and 1973. Nihon University (1935-1938), Juntendo University (1986-1989) and Komazawa University (2002-2005) are the other three schools with four-peats.