Komazawa University Aims for Fast Start at Hakone Ekiden in Bid for 2nd Straight Triple Crown

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Captain Mebuki Suzuki crosses the finish line to give Komazawa University the victory at the Izumo Ekiden in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, on Oct. 9. The university is aiming for the ekiden Triple Crown for the second consecutive year.

Aiming to win the Triple Crown of major collegiate ekiden titles for the second consecutive year in a historic year for the race, Komazawa University’s strategy will be to take an early lead and hold it through finish of the 100th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden.

Komazawa will have senior and team captain Mebuki Suzuki run the key second leg of the 10-leg run over two days starting Tuesday. The race covers a total of 217.1-kilometers over a down-and-back course from Tokyo to Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture.

On Friday, the 23 participating universities announced their lineups, which can be changed on the day of the race, but presents a glimpse of each team’s strategy.

“Suzuki has had good training, so he’s well-prepared now,” Komazawa head coach Atsushi Fujita said. “I expect him to run a race where he can show his strength as our ace.”

Komazawa sophomore Keita Sato, who represented Japan in the 5,000 meters at the Asian Games, was inserted for the third leg, giving the team an early one-two punch.

Meanwhile, Fujita has kept several top runners in reserve, to be possibly called upon in key stages that could break open the race. These include junior Kotaro Shinohara, the national collegiate half-marathon champion, and the sophomore duo of Aoi Ito and Takuma Yamakawa. Ito was the winner of the sixth leg in the 2023 race, while Yamakawa was fourth in the fifth stage.

Komazawa’s main competition is expected to come from Chuo University, which will has same lineup in the first three legs as it did when it finished second in 2023. Sophomore Itta Tameike will handle the first leg and seniors Yamato Yoshii and Shota Nakano, the second and third legs, respectively.

Pool photo / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shota Nakano of Chuo University runs the fastest time in the third leg of the 2023 race. He will run the third leg again this year.

In the 2023 race, Tameike was fourth in his leg, and Yoshii and Nakano both posted the top times in their legs to put Chuo into a lead that it held until midway through the fourth leg. Yoshii’s younger brother, sophomore Shunsuke, is listed as an alternate and is expected to be called up at a critical moment.

Aoyama Gakuin University, which finished second in the All-Japan University Men’s Ekiden to Komazawa, has inserted its ace, senior Issei Sato, into the fourth leg.

Sophomore Asahi Kuroda, who won the second leg at the Izumo Ekiden and was second in the second leg at the All-Japan, is listed as a reserve but could make his Hakone debut in the second leg. Junior Aoi Ota, who finished second in the fourth leg in 2023, is also an alternate.