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Aoyama Gakuin on track for 6th Hakone title

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Aoyama Gakuin University’s Hiroki Wakabayashi crosses the finish line of the fifth and final leg of the first day of the Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden road relay in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

Freshman Aoi Ota put Aoyama Gakuin University into the lead in the third stage and the Tokyo school kept it through the finish on the opening day of the two-day Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden road relay on Sunday, covering the 107.5 kilometers in 5 hours 22 minutes 6 seconds.

Aoyama Gakuin, which had none of its runners win any of the five stages, will take a 2-minute 37-second lead over second-place Teikyo University into the return trip on Monday from Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, to the front of The Yomiuri Shimbun building in Tokyo.

Aoyama Gakuin is aiming for its sixth title overall and first in two years in the 98th edition of the tradition New Year’s race.

Defending champion Komazawa University finished third in 5:25:34, followed by Kokugakuin University (5:25:49), Juntendo University (5:26:10) and Chuo University (5:26:25).

Soka University, which finished in the lead on the opening day in last year’s race, was in eighth place, more than five minutes behind the leader.

Starting out on a crisp, clear day, Aoyama Gakuin’s Hayato Shiki ran among the leaders and finished the first leg in fifth place, 45 seconds behind stage-winner Yamato Yoshii of Chuo University. In the second leg, Ren Tazawa posted the fastest time in putting Komazawa into the lead, with Aoyama’s Kotaro Kondo just over a minute back in second place.

Ota had the second-best time of the third leg, and passed off the sash with a 12-second lead, which Takayuki Iida extended to 1:37 in the fourth leg. Freshman Hiroki Wakabayashi ended the grueling mountainous fifth leg with a 2:37 lead.

The other stage-winners were: Ken Tansho of Tokyo International University in the third leg, Yudai Shimazu of Soka in the fourth, and Shoma Hosoya of Teikyo in the fifth.