On Jan. 17 it was learned that the Jan. 31 Osaka International Women's Marathon will be run on a multi-lap loop course inside Nagai Park. Some of the athletes scheduled to run were notified last week of the likelihood of the change from Osaka's traditional road course, a change made as a result of the continued spread of the coronavirus. It is the first time the race will be run on a circuit course in the years since its first running in 1982.
Tokyo Olympics women's marathon team members Mao Ichiyama (23, Wacoal) and Honami Maeda (24, Tenmaya) had planned to try to break the 2:19:12 national record in Osaka, but the impact of the change on times run there remains unclear at this point. Osaka organizers have recruited male pacers, a first for a domestic women's marathon, to help chase the record, but with the government's declaration of a state of emergency last week they had no choice but to make the last-minute course change.
Most road races over the last year have been canceled or postponed. In the midst of those circumstances it was all but impossible for Osaka organizers to go ahead with their race as usual, and the field was cut back to just 99 athletes, about a fifth the usual number. Despite calls for the public to stay home and watch the race on TV, it was inevitable that some fans would turn up along the course, and the logistics of the race's usual format meant the need for a large number of operations personnel for duties like traffic control and drink stations. Many of those tend to be elderly people. The change to a circuit course helped to significantly reduce the number of people needed, mitigating the risk of spreading the virus.
Over the last few months a number of other races have been held inside parks instead of on public roads. October's Hakone Ekiden Yosenkai half marathon was held on an officially-certified 2.6 km circuit course around the runway at Tokyo's Tachikawa SDF Airbase, with 46 university teams taking part. November's East Japan Corporate Men's Ekiden likewise took place inside a park in Kumagaya, Saitama, with 24 teams covering a total of 76.4 km on a 4.2 km loop. Amateur races have been held using loop courses along riverbanks. Overseas, October's London Marathon was held on a 2.15 km loop.
Osaka's traditional course was certified by both the JAAF and World Athletics, but it remains to be seen what the status of the new course will be. Consisting of 15 laps of a flat 2.8 km loop followed by a track finish inside Yanmar Stadium Nagai, the possibility of running a fast time looks considerable, but first the new course must be officially certified. With just half a year left until the Tokyo Olympics this will all but definitely by the last pre-Olympic marathon for both Ichiyama and Maeda, but it's hard to see this as a good simulation of racing in Sapporo. Following the forced relocation of the Olympic marathon from Tokyo to Sapporo and the postponement of the Olympics, Osaka's course change is the latest hurdle for both women to clear in their quest to compete with the best in the world.
Translator's note: Although not a women-only marathon, the Tokyo Marathon regularly employs male pacers for its women's race.
translated by Brett Larner