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Aoyama Gakuin marches to 7th overall title / Speeds to record win in annual Hakone ekiden (Update 1)

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunya Udagawa of Aoyama Gakuin University crosses the finish line in Otemachi, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, during the 100th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden on Wednesday.

Aoyama Gakuin University took some huge steps in winning the 100th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden on Wednesday.

Aoyama Gakuin finished in an event-record 10 hours 41 minutes 25 seconds for its seventh title overall and its first in two years. The school put on a strong display of determined running as the team won the return trip of the annual two-day race and broke the overall record time it set in 2022 by more than 2 minutes.

Defending champion Komazawa University was unable to repeat and capture titles at all three major college ekidens for a second consecutive year.

But before it could reach its goal, Aoyama Gakuin had to overcome a bout of December illness that hit the team, particularly first-day runners Asahi Kuroda, who was set to handle section two, and Aoi Ota, who was scheduled for section three. Both students apparently had to battle influenza.

“The team was in pretty dire circumstances, to the point that I was wondering if we’d even be able to earn a seed [for next year]” Aoyama Gakuin coach Susumu Hara said.

“But these students just came together for about three weeks and seriously prepared for the Hakone ekiden. They ran this race with a ‘We want to win it’ attitude that was beyond what I was thinking.”

The Day 2 return trip began at the parking area at Ashinoko lake in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, and covered 109.6 kilometers to the finish line in Tokyo’s Otemachi district in front of The Yomiuri Shimbun.

The runners began at staggered times, according to their first-day finishes. The 16 schools below eighth-placed Daito Bunka University all started together, 10 minutes after the race leader.

The Aoyama Gakuin team saw third-year runner Akimu Nomura post the second-fastest time over the sixth leg of the race, while senior Kento Yamauchi was third in the seventh section. Second-year runner Shota Shiode and senior Genta Kuramoto each earned section victories for the winning team.

Anchor Shunya Udagawa, a second-year runner, carried the sash — and seemingly the glee his entire team was feeling — across the finish line.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Shunya Udagawa of Aoyama Gakuin University runs in 10 leg during the 100th Tokyo-Hakone Intercollegiate Ekiden on Wednesday.

The runners all gathered together and gave Hara a hero’s toss into the air to celebrate the triumph.

Komazawa finished 6:35 behind Aoyama Gakuin for second, while Josai University was third. That was good enough for Josai to hold its third-place position from the first day and establish a school record for its highest finish.

Toyo University finished fourth, and Kokugakuin University, Hosei University, Waseda University, Soka University, Teikyo University and Daito Bunka University — just barely — all earned seeds to next year’s event with top-10 finishes.