translated by Brett Larner
Sunday's Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon will be the final run for one of the country's best, 1999 Seville World Championships marathoner Tadayuki Ojima (33, Team Asahi Kasei). For 15 years he has been a force in the Japanese marathon and ekiden circuit, ranked all-time #3 in the Kyushu Isshu Ekiden with a lifetime total of 38 stage best titles, running in the World Championships and narrowly missing out on the Athens Olympics but always remaining quietly focused on challenging his own limits. Now, his strength spent, he prepares for retirement with a deep feeling of gratitude toward the people of Kyushu. His final 42.195 km will be his way of saying thank you. "I've given it everything I have for 15 years," Ojima says. "Really, I just don't have anything left to give."
"He doesn't waste words on excuses," says Team Asahi Kasei head coach Takeshi Soh. "He just does the training and then races. Even when I tell him to stop he doesn't give up. That's why I call him Asahi Kasei's Last Samurai." In an era of soft modern marathoners who are quick to sit out a workout if it hurts or to make excuses when they are beaten, it is the highest praise Soh can give of Ojima and the discipline with which he approached his running.
Ojima joined Asahi Kasei in 1995 after graduating from Hyogo's Nishiwaki Kogyo H.S., following his older brother Muneyuki, who retired two years ago. Together the Ojima brothers formed the team's solid backbone. In practice and in races Tadayuki Ojima devoted his entire mental and physical self to his running. Never afraid to seize an opportunity to attack, he set an example for the entire team.
In the 10-day Kyushu Isshu Ekiden Ojima took a total of 38 stage bests over his career, the third-most in history. Looking back at this achievement he says, "You have to race four times in 10 days. I think this helped me gain inner strength and toughness." Although a native of Hyogo prefecture, Ojima views the Kyushu Isshu Ekiden as instrumental to his success and chose to run his final marathon there to show his gratitude.
But Ojima's strongest memory is of the 2004 Biwako Mainichi Marathon, the final selection race for the Athens Olympic team. In that race Ojima ran 2:08:18, finishing 2nd overall as the top Japanese. Everyone at the time said, "This was an Olympic run," but a week later at the press conference announcing the Athens team Ojima's name was not on the list. In Beppu-Oita on Sunday he will face one of the runners who beat him out for a place on the Olympic team, Toshinari Suwa (Team Nissin Shokuhin). "Is it fate? I don't think so," he says. "Regardless, I want to go out with a last marathon I can be proud of. I'm going to give it what I have." For fans along the 42.195 km course, they can ask no more than for Ojima to show them his best one last time.