Under the leadership of former men's 800 m national record holder Masato Yokota, 32, on June 22 the Virtual Distance Challenge - A Summer to Leave a Record of Your New Record, a new online competition in which junior high school and high school athletes from across the country can compete for free, was announced.
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, both this summer's National Junior High School Championships and National High School Championships were canceled. "I wanted to make sure that our athletes who will carry on our sport in the future still have something to keep their fires burning today," said Yokota of his motivation to undertake a virtual event.
Registration for the event opens July 20. Between Aug. 14 and 23 participants must upload times and videos of their performances, which will be ranked geographically and by other criteria. The videos are planned to be made available on Youtube.
Along with Yokota, the event's staff include half marathon national record holder Hitomi Niiya, 32, double national champion Ran Urabe, 25, marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi, 41, Beijing Olympics silver medalist Shinji Takahira, 35, Hakone Ekiden uphill star Ryuji Kashiwabara, 30, and Beijing Olympian Kensuke Takezawa, 33.
The current plan calls for the Virtual Distance Challenge to focus on middle and long-distance events, but if enough currently active elite athletes in other disciplines get involved then it may be possible to add other events too. Takezawa, who will direct the long distance component, commented, "Races have been canceling one after another as a result of the coronavirus, and I think a lot of student athletes all across the country have been asking themselves, 'What are we training for?' and struggling with a loss of motivation. We'd like to give them something to target and a place to show the fruit of their hard work. We hope that all of them will do their best in pursuit of their own individual goals. We hope that this competition and the process of preparing for it will be an unforgettable experience for everyone."
Yokota, who is in charge of middle distance, said, "Some people will be aiming to be the best athletes in the country. Others will be looking to have fun competing against their friends. Different goals, day-to-day life, training, regional competitions, national competition. Bonds with advisors and teachers, coaches, parents, teammates. I've come to realize that in junior high school and high school, the word "Nationals" is loaded with all of those things. Through the Virtual Distance Challenge experience I hope that people will create their own unique competitions. Trying to become #1 in the country, enjoying the process of training for a big race, making lasting summer memories, it's all good. I hope that everyone who takes part will bring their own idea of track and field to it and help make it a rich and unforgettable experience."
translated and edited by Brett Larner