News & Releases >> July 7 2010

Team JAPAN announced for International Team Challenge at Scotia Toronto Waterfront, Sept. 26th

Minoru Okuda

TORONTO. July 7th. For the first time, the International Team Challenge at the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon will see a team from Japan. They are also the first to announce their team for this year's Challenge. It is a strong one. Not only have they established themselves as the team to beat. against Team CANADA, Team MEXICO and Team ENGLAND, but it will be intriguing to see Japanese marathoners in a city-marathon outside their country.

For decades, Japan has been one of the most-prestigious and most fanatical homes of "the marathon"; yet the marathon in Japan has traditionally been something only for elite participation, and a major spectator sport for the masses. Japan established global prestige with such races as the Fukuoka Marathon [where Jerome Drayton set the Canadian National Men's Record of 2:10:09 in 1975], and the Tokyo and Osaka Ladies Marathons. These "Invitational", elite-only events enjoyed huge television audiences to watch perhaps 150 athletes toe the start lines as Japan's best took on some of the world's stars — on home soil. For the most part, the top Japanese runners only ventured abroad for championship events like the Olympic Games and IAAF World Championships. Most Japanese elite distance runners belonged [and still do belong] to a relatively-isolated world of corporate teams that compete in leagues, much like professional sports in North America.

Takashi Horiguchi (#26)

Until recently, marathoning in Japan was something only for the elites, and a major spectator sport for the masses. Then four years ago [2007], the Tokyo Marathon was created. It was the first mass marathon in Japan. Instantly, it made the marathon accessible to everyone and it became an overnight success. This year, Tokyo Marathon received an astounding 310,000 applications for 35,000 places — almost 3 times the number of applications that New York or London receive. Next year, there are 4 new mass marathons planned to start in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. The "marathon boom" is hitting Japan like a tsunami. At the same time, Japanese marathoners are starting to compare Tokyo with London, New York, Berlin, Boston or Chicago — the Marathon Majors — to look outside their country for competition.

And Canada is a significant part of this. In a dramatic move this Spring, Arata Fujiwara resigned from his corporate team, Japan Railways Higashi Nihon, and walked away from his salary as a professional runner, his sponsorship, all of his supporting infrastructure, to be less-bound by the corporate league structure and to be able to compete more internationally. He had placed 2nd in this February's Tokyo Marathon. He resigned from Team JR Higashi Nihon in late March. He then came to Canada, to race the Ottawa Marathon in May for his first big test as an "individual", with enormous pressure. Could a Japanese marathoner walk away from the system and succeed? The result — victory in Ottawa, in a course record of 2:09:34!

As Brett Larner's announcement on Team JAPAN for STWM (below) notes, the athletes coming to Toronto are from corporate teams that are allowing their athletes more freedom and opportunity to race internationally. The 2 men are from the Honda Team — one of Japan's best — and they are clubmates of Masakazu Fujiwara, the runner who won this year's Tokyo Marathon.

THANKS to Brett Larner of Japan Running News for the Team JAPAN announcement:

Japanese Elites to Debut at Toronto Waterfront Marathon

by Brett Larner

Team Japan at STWM 2010

One month to the day from Arata Fujiwara's course-record win at the Ottawa Marathon, the organizers of the Sept. 26 Toronto Waterfront Marathon have announced that they will invite four Japanese athletes to this year's race as part of their International Team Challenge team competition. The Japanese contingent, the first in the history of the event, will consist of Yamada Denki women's team runners Ayumi Nakayama and Maki Suzawa and Honda men's team athletes Takashi Horiguchi and Minoru Okuda. Race director Alan Brookes commented, "This is the first time we'll have had elite Japanese athletes on our flat, fast course. We're delighted to welcome Team Japan, a strong team from one of the great marathon-running nations, to Toronto Waterfront for the first time, and expect them to do very well against teams from around the world."

Ayumi Nakayama and Maki Suzawa
Ayumi Nakayama and Maki Suzawa
photo: Brett Larner

Nakayama holds a PB of 2:28:50 from the 2008 Osaka International Ladies Marathon. Freezing rain at this year's Osaka prevented her from improving on this mark but since then she has clocked her best half marathon since before beginning to run marathons. Her teammate Suzawa is an outstanding half marathoner (1:10:23) who will be making her marathon debut at Toronto Waterfront. Both women are expected to be among the race's top competitors.

On the men's side, Horiguchi is a veteran with a history of running well overseas, his marathon best of 2:12:06 coming at the 2003 Los Angeles Marathon. Like Nakayama, he comes to Toronto Waterfront fresh from his best half marathon in five years. His junior teammate Okuda was a star university runner in the prestigious Hakone Ekiden and has made a succesful transition to Japan's corporate team running world. Toronto Waterfront will be his marathon debut.