On Oct. 4, Tokyo Olympics marathon 6th-placer Suguru Osako, 31, announced that he has signed with the GMO corporate team. Osako will continue his relationship with sponsor Nike but will run January's New Year Ekiden as part of the GMO team. It is an unusual move for an independently-sponsored runner to join the corporate leagues.
GMO held a press conference in Tokyo to announce the news. Taking part remotely from his training base in the U.S., Osako looked excited. He talked about the move in broad strokes. "When I run, everyone will pay attention to the New Year Ekiden," he said. "Winning is a given, but I want to a game-changer in the running world. I want to create some kind of new added value on top of just going for the win."
After quitting the Nissin Shokuhin corporate team in March, 2015, Osako moved to the U.S. to join the now-defunct Nike Oregon Project team led by the now-suspended coach Alberto Salazar. Since then he has trained in the U.S. and elsewhere as a pro athlete. As a member of GMO, he is now targeting the Jan. 1, 2023 New Year Ekiden. If the team qualifies it will be his first ekiden in 8 years. Osako will work in collaboration with GMO's coaching staff to help guide and strengthen the team.
Osako has a reason for the unusual move. When athletes graduate from university they currently have two options, joining a corporate league team or going the pro route with individual sponsors. "By doing this, I want to establish that people have a third option to go out into the world," he said. "Expanding the range of activity makes it easier for people to spread their wings and fly overseas. I think it'd be great to have that kind of environment."
GMO ekiden director Susumu Hara, head coach of 2022 Hakone Ekiden winner Aoyama Gakuin University, also appeared at the press conference. "In its current form the New Year Ekiden is a corporate athletics competition," he said. "We have to make it something more. Powerful, fast running invites spectator excitement. The Hakone Ekiden broadcast on Jan. 2 and 3 has over 30% TV viewership. The New Year Ekiden on Jan. 1 is only around 10%. What is the reason for this difference? Together we'll work hard."
Just before last year's Tokyo Olympics Osako announced that he would retire after running the Olympic marathon. In February on the last day of a 6-month period following the Olympic marathon he announced that he would return to competition. He is scheduled to run the Nov. 6 New York City Marathon, after which he plans to return to Japan. His presence will illuminate the Japanese athletics world.
translated and edited by Brett Larner