Komazawa hits stride to seal Triple Crown

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Hibiki Aogaki of Komazawa University crosses the finish line to win the 99th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Komazawa University runners were in perfect stride at the Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden.

The team stayed steady in the return trip from Hakone to Tokyo on Tuesday, keeping its first-day lead and holding off the field with relative ease to win the 99th edition of the race.

Komazawa clocked 10 hours 47 minutes 11 seconds over the two-day, 10-leg road relay that covers 217.1 kilometers.

“I felt under pressure the entire way because I knew my performance would determine how we finish,” said Hibiki Aogaki, who broke the tape as the anchor. “I want to thank my teammates, who got the sash to me the way they did.”

When asked about raising three fingers on each hand as he crossed the finish line, Aogaki said: “I did it because the Hakone Ekiden was [our] third victory, giving us the Triple Crown.”

Komazawa became the fifth school to earn the Triple Crown, having also won the Izumo Invitational in October and the All-Japan Collegiate Championship in November. It was the school’s eighth victory in the prestigious road relay, its first in two years.

“I’m so happy that I was given the gift of a Triple Crown by my boys,” said Komazawa coach Hiroaki Oyagi, who said the team’s goal this season was to win the three major races.

Oyagi said later in the day he plans to step down from coaching the team in the spring.

Komazawa on Tuesday clocked 5:24:01, the fastest time on both days.

Chuo University placed second, 1:42 behind Komazawa. Chuo finished second on the first day, and second overall for its first top-three finish since it was third in 2001.

Hosei University, which finished seventh, came in third on the second day, clocking 5:26:35.

Last year’s champion Aoyama Gakuin University missed out on back-to-back wins.

Aoyama coach Susumu Hara said performances in the fifth leg from Odawara to Hakone and back were key issues as he had to make a last minute lineup change due to the illness of one of his runners.

“We were unable to perform the way we wanted to on the uphill and downhill portions,” Hara said. “But I take full responsibility for that.”

Aoyama dropped to seventh at the end of the sixth leg but eventually recovered and moved up to third in the ninth leg.

“My students and I are not the kind of team that is satisfied with third,” Hara said.

The top-10 schools earned automatic entry to next year’s race.

Tokyo International University, which moved up to fourth after the fourth leg with a superb run by Kenyan Yegon Vincent, ended 11th overall to miss out.