Goal: “Gyakkiri in Hakone Ekiden” Ambition of Weed Rookie at Kokugakuin Univ.
On March 13, he won the Japan Student Half Marathon, and was unofficially selected to represent Japan in the FISU World University Games. The story of Kiyosumi Hirabayashi, a first-year student, who was delighted to beat out athletes from Aoyama Gakuin University and Toyo University, who were not invited to join the team.
The Japan Student Half Marathon Championships were held on March 13 in Tachikawa, Tokyo, and Kiyosumi Hirabayashi, a freshman at Kokugakuin University, took his first win in 1:01:50. The 19-year-old, who has been selected to represent Japan at the FISU World University Games (formerly known as Universiade), which will decide the world’s top university runners starting on June 26, was running his first World He is eager to “aim for a medal” in the competition. Although the term “super rookie” is now more aptly used to describe him, he was a near unknown figure in Japan until his high school days, when he ran the Hakone Ekiden in January this year, coming in second in the 9th section.
As he crossed the finishing tape, Hirabayashi raised his left index finger to the sky to show that he had won the race, and looked back on the finishing scene with a bashful smile.
I posed for the finish line for the first time,” he said, “and I hope it went well. I have only taken the top spot once or twice in Fukui Prefecture. This is the first time I have placed first in a national competition. It’s a big growth for me to be able to leave my mark on the form.”
The driving force behind the runner’s transformation from a non-elite to a big-time competitor is, and always has been, a rebellious spirit.
I’ve always wanted to improve and have continued to run track and field with a strong desire to improve. This feeling has been a positive force in my athletic career. It is something I cherish.”
The starting point was the Fukui Prefecture High School Ekiden, which I ran for the first time four years ago. When he was entered in the first section, where aces from various schools gathered, he heard people making fun of unproven first-year runners. Mikata High School has made an order that they are prepared to lose. At the age of 15, he was around 160 centimeters tall and weighed just shy of 40 kilograms. He was still smaller than his current height of 168 centimeters and weight of 43 kilograms. His body was that of a junior high school student, but his core was just as strong as it is today.
I told him to keep a close eye on me. I knew I had to win this one.
From the beginning of the race, he was able to catch up to the leaders and after 5 kilometers, he moved into the lead. He ran out of breath in the last kilometer and finished second, a result that defied most expectations, and the unmarked man, feeling the buzz around him and feeling the disappointment of not being able to link his tasuki with the first place finisher, smiled.
I think I was able to make up for it a little bit,” he said.
He began competing in track and field in earnest in high school. In the Hakusan area of Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture, where he was born and raised, he ran around in the great outdoors every day. His playground was exclusively in the mountain forest. The standard game of tag was a cross-country practice, running through the mountains. The most difficult game was hide-and-seek. It was hard to find his friends. The local elementary and junior high schools were about 5 km away. For six years, he rode his bicycle to school, wearing a helmet from the fourth grade, along a course that crossed a mountain.
It only takes about 20 minutes, but the ups and downs really strengthened my legs and back,” he said. It doesn’t matter if it rains. Even on a sleet day, I would say, ‘Ouch, ouch,’ as I rode my ‘mama-chari,’ a bicycle with three gears.
At the time, the only club activities at Takefu Fifth Middle School in Echizen City, which had a total of 33 students, were table tennis and badminton clubs. Both of his parents were experienced track and field athletes who had competed in the Inter-High School Championships and had run the citizens’ marathon since elementary school, but he could not choose to join the track and field club. He built up his physical strength by tenaciously picking up the shuttlecock with his racket. It was in the third year of junior high school that he began to participate in track and field competitions. Hirabayashi, who genuinely liked running, entered the 3000m event of the Fukui Prefecture Junior High School Record Meet for the first time, while also playing for the badminton club. When he learned that other junior high school runners of the same generation, who were rumored to be very strong, would be running with him, his fighting spirit began to grow.
It was my first 3000m race, and I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t know what my pace was, and I just kept up with them until about 2,000 meters, but it was no good. I realized that I couldn’t beat this athlete, but I also felt that I wanted to win someday.
At that time, Tanaka Yuto’s name was clearly etched in Hirabayashi’s mind. He went on to Tsuruga Kehi High School, also in Fukui Prefecture, known as a strong private school, and has always had a rivalry with Tanaka, who is on an elite path. Even after moving on to the evergreen Aoyama Gakuin University, he is still one of the players he is aware of.
I have always liked the term “giant-killing. I like to challenge and defeat those around me who don’t seem to have much chance of winning.”
When he went on to university to compete in the Hakone Ekiden, Hirabayashi did not dare to choose a powerhouse university with a winning record. Combined with his desire to look back on a prestigious school that had not been scouted, he sympathized with Kokugakuin’s challenge to change history. He was impressed by the race in which he turned the tables in the final 6 sections of the Izumo Ekiden to win the race for the first time, and admired Hidekazu Hijikata (Honda), the anchor of the race. The passionate solicitation by coach Yasuhiro Maeda, an alumnus of Komazawa University, tugged at his heartstrings.
I want to win against Mr. Oyagi (coach Hiroaki). Let’s aim for the first Hakone championship together at Kokugakuin.
It was not a mistake to choose to believe the words of a passionate man. He grew up fast in college and quickly became one of the top student runners. He has not only made an impact at the Hakone Ekiden, but has also achieved more consistent results in ekiden races than any other high-profile rookie at other universities, finishing fifth in the final six sections of the Izumo Ekiden and third in the seventh section of the All-Japan University Ekiden in his first year. Even so, he is rarely praised by Coach Maeda with open arms. He has only given him a few words of encouragement from the man who trained Hijikata, Yuhei Urano (Fujitsu), and others who were far from the top of the nation in high school to become top runners at the university level. This is the flip side of his expectations.
You haven’t done anything yet. It’s your first year, so people are making a fuss about you. Don’t be just another athlete that people can lift up. Go show your strength and win at the student half.”
And this time, he responded to the commander’s strict order with a perfect score without any complaints. He was delighted to hug Kokugakuin University’s captain, Daisho Nakanishi (junior), who jumped into the race in second place.
Even though it was a one-two finish, I wasn’t going to give up the lead,” said Nakanishi.
A man with burning ambition is a man of greed. He plans to increase his training for longer distances in order to qualify for the Grand Championship (MGC), the marathon preliminary round for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Coach Maeda has high expectations for him.
He has been working hard all along, and we have yet to see the bottom. They are doing too well, so I think they will hit a wall somewhere, but it is up to them to overcome it. I want to get the right to compete in the MGC, which no student has ever taken before, and make him an absolute force to be reckoned with.”
He is not only making great strides as an individual, but he is also running toward his goal of winning Hakone for the first time, which he vowed to do before entering the school. With his weedy spirit, he will climb to the top of the mountain, a place he has never seen before.
Interview, text, and photos： Masayuki Sugizono
Born in 1977. After working as an editor and reporter for a soccer magazine and as a sports reporter for a news agency, he became a freelance journalist. He currently covers many sports, focusing on soccer, boxing, and track and field.