Komadai’s third-year captain’s “complicated feelings” as he aims to win back-to-back Hakone Ekiden championships after being arrested | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Komadai’s third-year captain’s “complicated feelings” as he aims to win back-to-back Hakone Ekiden championships after being arrested

The change and determination of the absolute ace, Nori Tazawa, who led the team to an upset victory in the preliminaries

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Komazawa Ren of Komazawa University takes the lead from Tokyo International University’s Nozawa Takumi (back right) in the 7th section of the All Japan University Ekiden (photo: Kyodo News)

The All Japan University Ekiden, also known as the prelude to the Hakone Ekiden, was contested over eight sections of 106.8 km from Atsuta Jingu Shrine in Nagoya City to Ise Jingu Shrine in Ise City, Mie Prefecture, on July 7.

While the team was struggling due to a number of injuries and not having the best lineup, the team was saved by third-year captain Ren Tazawa, who won the section prize in the 7th section. He demonstrated his ability as the number one student without any regrets. The contribution of his running ability is immeasurable, but that’s not all. He is also the captain of the team, who has put in a lot of unseen effort to tighten the team and raise the level of the middle class.

In May of this year, a tremor shook the prestigious team that has won the Hakone Ekiden seven times, including four consecutive victories. The anchor player, who had played a key role in the team’s come-from-behind victory in the last Hakone relay race, was arrested on suspicion of violating Kanagawa Prefecture’s Youth Protection and Fostering Ordinance.

It was a scandal involving a fourth-year player who was supposed to be a mainstay of the team this season. Some of the club members were mentally damaged. It is not hard to imagine the impact it had on the club. This year, the team was so strong that it set a goal of winning the “Triple Crown of University Ekiden”, but it was forced to face an unexpected challenge. In the Izumo Ekiden in October, which they entered as one of the favorites to win, they ended up in 5th place, partly due to the absence of their mainstay Mebuki Suzuki (2nd year). After winning the Ise Road, Tazawa, the ace of the team, revealed the heartache of being a third-year captain.

“I’ve been through a lot, and it’s been hard at times, but I’ve had the support of the seniors who have graduated. I was in a position to lead the team in practice, and it was tough. At Izumo, we finished 5th, and I wondered if my policy was right. However, I realized that if I believe in each and every one of my athletes and work hard, the results will come. There are also fourth-year seniors who think a lot about the whole team. I think that’s why this team is still standing.

Kohei Tsukuda, who was the only senior member of the All-Japan University Ekiden team and ran the third section, frequently communicates with Tazawa and acts as a sounding board for the younger members who are under a lot of pressure. He understands that Tazawa is not the type of person who would take on the role of captain; until his sophomore year, he had focused on his own running and hadn’t actively asked others to join him. However, this has changed since he became the captain, and he has begun to pay attention to the B team, which is second only to the main team. His attitude toward athletics has become more serious, and he has started to write a practice journal, which he used to find troublesome. He became a role model for the team members in his daily life, and even when a scandal was discovered, Tazawa stood firm in front of his peers.

Even when the scandal was discovered, Tazawa remained resolute in front of his teammates, saying, “We never wavered and talked about achieving the goal of the Triple Crown. No matter what the situation, Tazawa is the one who leads the team. As a fourth-year player, I support the underclassmen by giving them advice on daily life and creating an environment where they can talk easily.

Shizuya Higashiyama, a third-year student who got a chance to run in the 5th section of the All-Japan University Ekiden due to an injury of the main runner, has been greatly inspired by his classmate who became the captain. He says he has learned a lot from his classmates who have become captains. His passion for track and field is palpable. His relationship with them has changed, and it is not unusual for him to be pointed out to them during practice. “On the other hand, Tazawa’s approval and encouragement are very important to him. On the other hand, he is motivated when he is recognized by Tazawa. Under the leadership of a leader who takes the lead, the incident in May is a chance to go back to the basics.

“We have to go into this race with a sense of gratitude to the people who organized it. By running, I want to repay the people who support us.

This season, he has made it a rule to always bow to the course when he finishes a race. Yuto Akahoshi, a sophomore who ran in the 4th section of the Ise Road, did not lose his humble attitude even though he ran well in his first Ekiden, finishing 4th in the section.

“Mr. Tazawa always tells me to keep my awareness high, and he often reminds me of that in practice. He often reminds me in practice that we are aiming for the victory. My feelings toward the race have changed. I have to be thankful that I am able to run in the race. We have to regain the trust we lost one by one.

Tazawa is no longer just a strong runner in the race, as he has brought together a prestigious team that was once in a tight spot. Although he often speaks in an easy-going tone in front of the press, he shows a different face in the team. The captain’s words carry weight. He has a lot of trust in his teammates who have overcome hardships together.

“He has a lot of faith in his teammates, who have overcome hardships together. They believed in me. Last year’s victory was completely different from this year’s. It was great that we were able to win without our best members. We know that Hakone is not that easy, but even if not many of our main members can come back, it should have given us confidence that we can do it. I think we can go to Hakone with a good flow.”

Under the leadership of their third-year captain, Komazawa University’s unity seems to have grown stronger as they prepare for their second consecutive Hakone Ekiden victory in the new spring.

  • Reporting and writing Masayuki Sugizono

    Born in 1977. After working as an editor and reporter for a soccer magazine and an athletic reporter for a news agency, he became a freelance journalist. Currently covers many sports, mainly soccer, boxing, and track and field.

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