Saturday, July 6, 2013

Grand Tour Kyushu to End With This Year's 62nd Running

translated by Brett Larner

A fixture in local culture with runners from Kyushu, Okinawa and Yamaguchi handing off the tasuki on the late autumn roads of Kyushu, the organizers of the Grand Tour Kyushu ekiden announced that the historic event will come to an end following this year's 62nd running from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3.  Organizing board chairman Hiroshi Okazaki told reporters, "This race has long played an important role for the athletics world in Kyushu and across Japan, but we were forced to make this decision due to a combination of growing traffic and budget problems."

With enthusiastic support from dedicated athletes and fans alike the organizers have tried to make adaptations to keep the race alive.  To cope with increased automobile traffic timing rules for the white sash starts were tightened, the number of lead and accompanying vehicles was reduced and more police were employed along the course, but in recent years it has become increasingly difficult to guarantee the safety of all athletes.  The race's operating expenses have also increased.  Yasuyoshi Kuramoto, director of project planning for principal sponsor Nishi Nippon Newspapers Inc., commented, "We determined that the time had come to draw the curtain on this event with a long history as a constant part of Kyushu's middle and long-distance world."

With one after another runner contributing to covering 1000 km in ten days, the world's longest ekiden began as the Kyushu One-Circuit Ekiden seven years after the end of World War II in 1952 to commemorate the restoration of Japanese sovereignty following the signing of the Treaty of San Francisco peace accord.  From its course through each of Kyushu's major cities sprang most of the greatest names in Japanese men's marathon history, from Kenji Kimihara, Shigeru Soh, Takeshi Soh, Kunimitsu Ito, Hiromi Taniguchi, Koichi Morishita and Toshinari Takaoka to this year's Moscow World Championships team members Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki), Hiroyuki Horibata (Team Asahi Kasei) and Kazuhiro Maeda (Team Kyudenko).  Anniversary years have included all-star select teams from Asia, Hiroshima and the Hakone Ekiden university championships.

For its 60th running in 2011 the race was rebranded as the Grand Tour Kyushu, switching from its historical loop around the island of Kyushu to an eight-day format with non-continuous stages.  Under this format the overall winner was determined by the cumulative time of all eight days.

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