An 18-year-old high school sprinter gearing up for the upcoming university entrance exams won the annual "Lucky Man" footrace early Wednesday morning at a major Shinto shrine in western Japan.

Kurosu Sato, a third-year student from Ashiya in Hyogo Prefecture, beat 107 other runners in the first group selected in a lottery to reach the main hall of Nishinomiya Shrine after bolting from the shrine gate some 230 meters away. Altogether, some 5,000 people took part in the race.

He said he was studying for the exams even as he waited for the gate to open at 6 a.m.

"I was able to run as I envisioned," said Sato, a 200-meter sprinter at his school, after winning in his fifth attempt. "I want to study hard this year and hope I can brighten up Japan by sharing my luck with others."

The shrine, dedicated to the Ebisu god of business prosperity, has been holding the race for centuries and names the first three runners arriving at the main hall as the lucky men of the year.

This year's second-place lucky man was Koki Takeuchi, an 18-year-old high school student from Akashi, and third was Ryo Watabe, a 25-year-old firefighter from Kawanishi, who came second the year before.

The prize for the first lucky man includes a bale of rice and a wooden sculpture of the god, commonly referred to by locals as Ebessan.