Skip to main content

The Gap Between Japan and the Rest of the World

by Brett Larner

I was asked to give a speech at the welcoming reception the night before this year’s Ageo City Half Marathon about the JRN-arranged invite for the top two Japanese university finishers in Ageo to run March’s NYC Half Marathon. Guests in the audience included Ageo mayor Minoru Shimamura, KGRR chairman and Hakone Ekiden race director Yoshiyuki Aoba, Waseda University head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe and other Hakone university teams’ head coaches, and 1999 World Championships marathon silver medalist Ari Ichihashi. I decided not to prepare anything and just freestyle it. This is a translation of what I can remember saying.

Good evening everybody. If you ever have to give a speech in a foreign language I would advise against drinking sake beforehand. The words don’t come out right. I’m not that strong with honorific language, so if I say things in a rude way I apologize in advance. That is not my intention. To begin with, congratulations to Mayor Shimamura and everyone on the Ageo City Half Marathon executive committee on tomorrow’s 27th running.

“The gap between Japan and the rest of the world.” You hear those words a lot, but what do they really mean? As a foreigner I often wonder about that. A month and a half ago we entered the 2:02 marathon era. 2:02. Needless to say there’s a gap there. How are we non-Africans supposed to deal with that? I don’t know the answer.

But if you look at the history of athletics, the only ones really trying to answer are Japan and the U.S.A. What kind of gap is there between Japan and the U.S.? If you compare them, right now there are 15-20 Japanese men who can break 2:10 for the marathon. In the U.S. there are only two. If you look at the 61-62 minute half marathon range there are more athletes at that level in Japan than in the U.S.A. Many years more Japanese men run 27 for 10000 m than Americans. Among university runners, especially here in the Kanto region, there are far more running 13 minutes for 5000 m than in the United States. There’s no question that there’s a gap there, in a positive meaning. But at the same time, at the Olympics, the World Championships, the World Half Marathon and World XC, Americans are winning medals. For the most part Japanese athletes aren’t, present company excluded, Ms. Ichihashi. So in another sense there is a gap there as well.

This is the fourth year that the NYC Half Marathon is inviting the top two Japanese collegiate runners from the Ageo City Half Marathon, and in the first three years of the two races’ relationship those collegiate runners have delivered results. Every year one of them has beaten an American world-level medalist. In 2012 Toyo University’s Yuta Shitara beat America’s Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritzenhein has run 12 minutes for 5000 m and has won two world-level medals, a bronze at the World Half Marathon and a bronze at World XC. In 2013 Komazawa University’s Kenta Murayama beat 8-time Olympic and World Championships American medalist Bernard Lagat. This year, picked up as an alternate a month before the race, Komazawa’s Ikuto Yufu beat American Meb Keflezighi, the Athens Olympics marathon silver medalist and 4th in the London Olympics marathon. In his next race Keflezighi became the first American Boston Marathon winner in 32 years.

If a young collegiate runner like Yufu can come into a race unprepared and beat a World Marathon Major winner like Keflezighi then what kind of gap is there between them? What kind of gap between the world and Japan, between Japan and the world? I don’t think there is one. When your young athletes are going from here at the Ageo City Half Marathon to New York and beating world-level medalists and seeing that truth for themselves, then five and a half, six years from now at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics their chances of winning a medal are going to be that much higher. I look forward to a great race tomorrow and to seeing the best two collegiates beat world-level medalists, American medalists, again next March at the NYC Half Marathon. Thank you.

(c) 2014 Brett Larner
all rights reserved

Comments

TokyoRacer said…
Well done! An off-the-cuff speech in Japanese is impressive. My Japanese is fairly good, but I would not be so bold as to try that.
And I think your remarks suited the occasion very well. Praise for Japanese runners, but a strong hint that racing overseas is very important - which it is, but many older japanese coaches don't seem to realize that.
I hope it was well received.
Desert Dirt said…
This is awesome. Glad you posted it. It immediately kindled memories of the duel up-front in Barcelona to close the '92 Games. What a battle. Would love to see the Japanese contingent shine as the host team in 2020.

Most-Read This Week

Kawauchi Named Captain of Japanese National Team for London World Championships

At a JAAF event at the British Embassy in Tokyo on July 21, marathoner Yuki Kawauchi (30, Saitama Pref. Gov't) was named men's captain of the Japanese national team for next month's London World Championships. Javelin throw national record holder Yuki Ebihara (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) was chosen as women's captain.

In a wide-ranging and impassioned speech 4 minutes and 20 seconds long, Kawauchi stoked the team's morale as he told attendees, "I think that there are athletes here today who look at London as just a checkpoint along the way to the Tokyo Olympics. But as a representative of Japan it is not enough just to be there competing. I feel it strongly. You must produce results at this event, the London World Championships. This is the task assigned to each and every one of us. It is critical that we work seriously to achieve our goals. The Japanese people want nothing less. What can we as athletes do for them? More than just wearing the uniform, each of us mus…

'$500,000 USD Prized Asian Premier Marathon Series 2017-18 Launched in Beijing'

http://athleticsasia.org/index.php/k2-component/143-500-000-usd-prized-asian-premier-marathon-series-2017-18-launched-in-beijing

A very interesting World Marathon Majors-style development with prize money only for Asian athletes. Equally interesting is the absence of a Japanese race in the series. Japanese marathoners would dominate the series if they ran its three component races, their only real current competition in Asia coming from East African-born Bahraini athletes.

Hayakawa and Ichiyama Win Shibetsu Half

2nd in 2015 and 3rd last year, Tsubasa Hayakawa (Toyota) finally succeeded in scoring 1st at the Shibetsu Half Marathon, outrunning 2013-14 winner Masato Imai (Toyota Kyushu) by 6 seconds to win in 1:03:38. Hayakawa pushed it from the early stages of the race, Imai the only one to try to stay with him but ultimately losing touch. 2016 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon winner Melaku Abera (Kurosaki Harima) was 3rd in 1:03:51.

士別ハーフマラソン
日差しが強くなってきました…💦 pic.twitter.com/qRfUei3aRt — はたのまき (@machakin77) July 23, 2017
The women's field was split between two distances, 10 km and half marathon. Kanako Takemoto (Daihatsu) won the 10 km in 34:27 by a margin of almost 10 seconds over an Otsuka Seiyaku trio led by Ayaka Inoue. 2017 National Cross-Country champion and last year's 10 km runner-up Mao Ichiyama (Wacoal) took the top spot in the half marathon, outrunning teammate and national record holder Kayoko Fukushi and others to win in 1:14:01. Fukushi finished 4th in 1:15:41 behind last ye…