Ekiden: A closer look at the Japanese way - ESPNHS Track and XC

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Dec 25th 2011, 4:12am | 2492 views

Ekiden: A closer look at the Japanese way
December, 24, 2011
By Bruce Carrick

It is Sunday morning, Dec. 25, and all across Japan TV sets are tuned in to the spectacle of high school distance running championships held in the streets of Kyoto. Thousands of spectators line the streets to see 47 girls teams and 47 boys teams compete in the national ekiden championships. 

Ekiden is the culmination of Japan’s massively popular year-round high school running scene and it is the crown jewel of a system that is entirely different from the way things operate in the U.S. This weekend’s championships are the 63rd annual for boys, the 22nd for girls. 

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1 comment(s)
I think there is a natural tendency to compare Japanese Ekiden results to the U.S. competitions. Using high schools as an example; there are over 2 dozen Japanese high schools with 5 kids who can average sub-15 in a 5k, while is the U.S. there is perhaps 1 or 2 capable of this. As amazing as the Japanese kids appear, the fact is, the Japanese system is optimized for the 5k distance, for peaking in just a few events and running fast time in distance events.

It is just not the same in the U.S.; kids are focused on XC, indoor and outdoor track, competing weekly and in multiple events. Also, in the U.S., there is a much greater focus on sprints and field events and there is almost no focus on long distance, the longest regularly contested event in U.S. high schools is the 2-mile, with the greatest focus being on the mile. While the Japanese depth among high schools athletes able to run sub-15 is amazing and while sub-15 is a very meaningful reference point; however, the U.S. had over 200 athletes who ran either a (4:15) mile and/or a (9:10) 2-mile, all of whom could probably run a sub-15 5k, but only a handful ever contested the event. Also, about 1/3 of the U.S. t&f athletes compete in other sports and activities.

This is not meant to take away from the Japanese Ekiden system and results, because it is incredible not matter you look at it, but it is helpful have some perspective when comparing it to the U.S. kids.
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