Thursday, October 23, 2014

Yokohama International Women's Marathon to be Discontinued After November's Sixth Running

http://www.sanspo.com/sports/news/20141022/ath14102221220003-n1.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

On Oct. 22 the organizers of the Nov. 16 Yokohama International Women's Marathon revealed that the event, jointly operated by the JAAF and the Asahi Newspaper group, will be discontinued after this year's sixth running due to ongoing financial difficulties with the race.  As a continuation of the former Tokyo International Women's Marathon it played an important role in establishing the prosperity of Japanese women's distance running over its 36-year history, a history on which the curtain is now set to fall after this year's race.

Established in 1979 to encourage the participation and development of female athletes, the Tokyo International Women's Marathon was the first women-only marathon in the world to be officially certified by the IAAF and led directly to the introduction of a women's marathon to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  It laid the foundations for Japanese women to win marathon medals at four straight Olympics from Barcelona in 1992 through Athens in 2004.  In 2009 the event was relocated from Tokyo to Yokohama.

In recent years the JAAF has changed its direction, focusing on supporting the launch of new marathons in cities across the country.  As mass-participation marathons like the Tokyo Marathon continue to gain popularity they have sought to continue to support elite women-only races, but the weakening performances of Japanese women in recent years has led to declining interest from sponsors.

Translator's note: Sad but unsurprising news.  The Yokohama International Women's Marathon's move from Tokyo to Yokohama was a direct result of the expansion of the Tokyo Marathon from an elite men's race to a mass-participation format and was due in large part to issues with obtaining road closure permits from the Tokyo police.  The move to Yokohama itself killed off the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden, another long-standing event, in favor of the marathon.  

This article does not mention that Yokohama will also begin to host a mass-participation marathon, the Yokohama Marathon, in March 2015, but that is surely also related to the discontinuation of Yokohama International.  With Fukuoka launching a mass-participation marathon next month there have to be concerns about the future of the Asahi Newspaper-organized Fukuoka International Marathon, an historic elite men's race just four weeks later which has struggled in recent years to attract top Japanese men due to the increasing importance of the New Year Ekiden corporate men's national championships and has already examined moving from its traditional date at the beginning of December to February.

3 comments:

Anna said...

Sad but as you said in the translator's note, not surprising.
One hopes that as mass participant races grow, they will make room for "sub-elite" runners to have preferential entry. For women, I'd say sub-3:15 or if they want to be really strict, sub 3:00 or even 2:55. I acknowledge that I'm conflating my personal interest of entering races with my interest of seeing a stronger arsenal of Japanese elite runners. But it's a shame that there are fewer "cut throat" races with QT and more "mass participation" races popping up that are more about the "experience of running a marathon" than "racing a marathon." There seem to be a lot of Japanese women runners who are already doing well and could improve a lot if they get the experience and motivation of racing each other and the "big gals" (elites). In any event, I guess I'll be looking for a fall marathon for 2015.

-Anna

CK said...

About 25 years ago I used to know a school teacher (shimin runner, mid 30s with marathon pb about 2:22) whose primary athletic focus was to maintain his annual acceptance into Fukuoka (entry limit about 2:26 or so plus a few "recommended" entries ?) for another year, and peak for Fukuoka too. Did he have about 10 years consecutive ? His whole year appeared to be geared towards being able to compete amongst the elite for one more year. Full time job in school of course and he had to travel across from Chiba each time.

Then about 15 years ago I met a woman from Hokkaido, pb about 2:53 with a similar story - had to do/maintain qualification for at least one of Tokyo or Osaka (maybe qualification level was about 3:10 at the time) to feel she was still a runner. Pregnant at the time that I met her, but wasn't going to let that stop her (18 month qualification period ? - her series continued for another 2 or 3 years).

I doubt that any other country has maintained an elite marathon comparable to the big Japanese ones. And pretty certain that no other country has so many runners with the mindset of those and similar athletes. It would be a travesty if Fukuoka as it exists and the other elite races became lost forever. Yes, the sport needs the mass participation marathons too. But there's always something special about unique established tradition.

Metts said...

I agree comnpletely. What makes Japan running interesting/unique,has been it focus on elite even sub-elite races. The environment seems suited for an elite/subelite mindset. Was in Yokohama from 22 to 25 and saw it every morning as I did my morning run.