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Toyo in lead after opening leg of Hakone ekiden

Kyodo

Toyo University took the lead in the Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden road relay on Wednesday after winning the race’s first leg for the second year in a row.

Five runners from Toyo University, the 2014 champion and overall runner-up for the past three years, finished the front leg from Tokyo to Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 5 hours, 26 minutes, 31 seconds.

The first-day leaders, who ran the entire 107.5-km leg in second or better, go into Thursday’s second and final leg 1 minute, 14 seconds ahead of Tokai University. Kokugakuin University placed third.

“I’m glad we were able to win the first leg for the second straight year,” said Toyo University manager Toshiyuki Sakai. “Last year, we were only 36 seconds ahead (of the second-place team) but we have 74 seconds this time.”

“The runners competing in the first five sections pulled off their best performance,” he added.

Aoyama Gakuin University, which is aiming to become the third school in history to pull off a five-peat, held the lead after the third leg but finished sixth. The private Tokyo university has registered seven runners from last year’s championship squad to their 16-member team this year.

Kazuya Nishiyama gave Toyo University an early one-second lead after finishing the first section in front for the second straight year.

Aoyama Gakuin captain Homare Morita filled in for the school’s third scheduled runner and rewrote the section’s record to bring the university from behind in eighth place into first.

But the defending champions fell back again when Toyo’s Akira Aizawa broke the fourth section’s record to reclaim the lead, and Ryusei Tanaka closed out the first leg on top and put his team in prime position for its first championship in five years.