An nihongo|Ekiden|駅伝|, usually referred to as a marathon relay in English, is a long-distance relay, road race.
The term originated in
Japan, although the concept of a long distance relay race is probably not original or unique to any country. The first "ekiden" race was sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbunin 1917, and was run over three days between the old Japanese capital of Kyotoand the modern capital of Tokyo, a distance of 508 km, to celebrate the anniversary of the moving of the capital to Tokyo.
The popularity of "ekiden" in Japan is unsurpassed in any other country, and its popularity has spread around the world with races run in
New Zealand, Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, China, Germany, France, the United States, Korea, and elsewhere.
As written in Japanese, "Ekiden" combines the characters for "station" (駅) and "transmit" (伝). This name was coined by the poet
Toki Zemmaro(1885-1980), who was head of the Yomiuri Shimbun's Social Affairs Department at the time. The original concept of the race hearkens back to Japan's old Tōkaidō communication and transportation system in which stations were posted at intervals along the road. In the race, each runner on a team runs the distance from one "station" to the next, and then hands off a cloth sash, or "tasuki", to the next runner.
The lengths of "ekiden" can vary greatly, with some local, amateur races covering 20-30 km with five or six runners on a team, and larger national and international races running a full marathon (42.195 km) or longer, also usually with five or six runners per team. Some races can stretch hundreds of kilometers long.
One of the most popular modern ekiden in Japan is the
Hakone Ekiden, which features teams of students from various Japanese universities. This race from Tokyoto Hakone and back is held over two days at the New Year, and is a popular spectator sport that receives full network television coverage nationwide. Runners in the race compete to set individual records as well as to support their teams, and the race is considered to display many aspects of Japanese cultureand spirit, including individual perseverance, identity within a group, and the importance within the Japanese hierarchy of allegiance to a major university.
Another widely publicized ekiden is the
Prince Takamatsu Cup Nishinippon Round-Kyūshū Ekiden. Held annually, the race follows a thousand-kilometer course in Kyūshū.
Controversy has recently surrounded the Ekiden in Japan as the All Japan High School Athletic Federation has banned non-Japanese high school students from participating in the first leg of their Ekiden Championships (the ban also applies to different degrees to participation in basketball, volleyball and table tennis). The official reason for this is stated by the Federation to be "to make races more interesting for fans". However, it has been widely reported that the principal
motivationfor the ban is to break that succession of victories in the event by high school students of black African descent (and in the case of table tennis, of Chinese and Indonesian descent).
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