News01 Jul 2002

Marathon - A history of the Fukuoka International Marathon Championships by K. Ken Nakamura - Part 1 1947-1966


A history of the Fukuoka International Marathon Championships

The first part of a detailed series of historical reports on the Fukuoka International Marathon by K. Ken Nakamura….

In 1947, soon after the end of the war, the first Asahi marathon, predecessor of the Fukuoka International marathon was held. The inaugural race took place in Kumomoto, hometown of Shizo Kanaguri, the godfather of marathon running in Japan. The race, which was an all-Japanese affair, was won by Toshikazu Wada in 2:45:45. For the first seven years of its existence, only Japanese runners participated in the marathon and the venue changed every year. The race began to evolve and in 1954, foreign athletes were invited to participate, a first in the history of Japanese marathon running.

In that year this historic race was won by Reinaldo Gorno of Argentina, the 1952 Olympic marathon silver medallist, in 2:24:55. The European Champion Veikko Karvonen of Finland was second in 2:26:10.

The race entered its second phase in 1955 and changed its name to Asahi International marathon. With the exception of 1956, when the race was held only eight days after the Olympic marathon in Melbourne, foreign runners were invited every year onwards from 1955. Then starting in 1959 (except for the 1963 edition which was run over the 1964 Olympic course in Tokyo) it was held in Fukuoka. Many world class runners were invited to the Asahi International marathon.

In the 1955 edition, the 1954 European Champion Veikko Karvonen of Finland won in 2:23.16. Kurao Hirohsima was second in a new Japanese best performance time of 2:23.51.

In 1957, the course which starts and finishes at the Heiwadai stadium with a turn around point at Gannosu made its debut. This famous course was used from 1959 to 1984 with the exception of 1963 when the Tokyo Olympic course was used. The winner Kurao Hiroshima in 2:21.40 recorded a new Japanese best performance.

In the 1958 edition of the race, Franjo Mihalic, the 1956 Olympic silver medallist, and Veikko Karvonen, Olympic bronze medallist, were invited, but it was with another athlete that the Finn battled for victory in a duel of epic proportions. Karvonen and Nobuyoshi Sadanaga exchanged surges several times, right up until they entered the stadium when Sadanaga prevailed and outsprinted Karvonen in the last lap to win in 2:24.01 with Karnoven three seconds behind in 2:24.04.

In 1959, Kurao Hiroshima won the race in 2:29.34 to became the first second time winner of the race.

In 1960, it was Barry Magee of New Zealand, Olympic marathon bronze medallist, who won in 2:19.04. He became the first runner in the race history to break 2 hours and 20 minutes.

In 1961, Pavel Kantorek of Czechoslovakia ran in the Asahi International marathon for the fifth time, finally winning; he placed fourth in 1957 and 1958, second in 1959, and third in 1960.

In 1962, Abebe Bikila, the defending Olympic champion, and Mamo Wolde, a future Olympic champion were invited, but illness prevented Bikila from starting the race. So it was Mamo Wolde who led at the half way point (1:09), but the cold drizzle and low temperature (10 oC) were not kind to Mamo, and the chase pack caught up with him at the 26km point. Toru Terasawa took the lead to victory and a new Japanese national record of 2:16:18.4. Kenji Kimihara, a future Olympic silver medallist (in 1968) made an auspicious marathon debut by finishing third in 2:18:01.8.

In 1963, the race was held on the Tokyo Olympic course on October 15 as part of a Pre-Olympic meet. Jeff Julian of New Zealand won the race, which was held outside of Fukuoka for the last time, in 2:18:00.6. Kimihara caught Aurele Vandendriessche of Belgium with 150m to go on the track to finish second in 2:20:25.2.

In 1964, Toru Terasawa, a national record holder who could only finish 15th in the Olympic marathon 46 days before, ran his race of redemption. He improved his national record to 2:14:48.2.

In 1965, Ron Clarke who had only just broken the 10,000m world record of 27:39.6, established a fast pace as expected. At the turn around point he led the chase pack by 2 minutes 20 seconds, but suffering from heat (21oc), he slowed to a walk by 32.5km. Although Clarke resumed running, he was caught by a chase pack at 35km and dropped out soon after. At the 37km point two runners fought it out to the end: Takayuki Nakao and Hidekuni Hiroshima. Once on the track it was Hiroshima who made the first move, but Nakao had enough strength to stay with him. Then Hiroshima kicked again with 150m to go and won with a seven-metre margin.

Finally in 1966, the race entered its third phase. In September of that year, the JAAF proposed holding the world marathon championships in even years between the Olympic Games. Although the original proposal was not accepted, the marathon race in Fukuoka was sanctioned by the IAAF and changed its name to International marathon Championships. The underlining idea being to invite the winners of all major marathons world wide to a race at the end of the year to crown the best marathon runner of the year.

The 1966 edition of the race invited nine elite runners from eight countries, including a newly crowned European marathon Champion Jim Hogan. The race, which started at 1:00pm on November 27, with 58 runners, began relatively slowly. The leading pack passed the 5km point in 16.16, and soon after Norman Higgins of the USA moved into the lead; he lasted in front until the 10km point, where he was replaced by Japan’s Masaru Nishihama. Then just before the half way, disaster struck the two favourites, Jim Hogan, 1966 European marathon Champion and Toru Terasawa, a 2:13:41 marathon runner. They collided and hit the pavement hard, causing Jim Hogan to drop out of the race.

Nishihama, who led from 10km, had 40 seconds lead on the chase pack at the turn around point. After 20km the pack started to picked up the pace (20km to 25km in 15:25) and caught Nishihama by 25km. Then it turned into the race of attrition. By 30km all the pretenders were gone. Katsuaki Hirai led the race followed by Hidekuni Hiroshima, Mike Ryan, Toru Terasawa and Hirokazu Okabe. Terasawa, one of the pre-race favourites fell behind at 33km, perhaps feeling the effects of his collision with Jim Hogan earlier. After the race, Terasawa, who fell during the race for two years in a row, was very sorry that Jim Hogan had had to drop out of the race soon after the fall.

"I was pushed from behind which caused me to tangle with Jim Hogan. I am very sorry that he had to drop out, especially because he was in excellent shape," said Teraswa during a post-race interview.

At 34km, Mike Ryan moved to the front to force the pace and 1km later he made a decisive move that only Hiroshima was able to counter. As the pair entered the Heiwadai stadium together many fans recalled that Hiroshima outkicked Takayuki Nakao in the 1965 edition of the race. It was Hiroshima who made the first move. After the race Ryan said "I was in good shape, so I thought I could win the race. But when Hiroshima made his move on the track I was surprised." He covered the move easily and measuring Hiroshima's effort as they run around the track and outkicked him at the end. Their times, 2:14:04.6 for Ryan and 2:14:05.2 for Hiroshima, were best performances for both runners, and were the second and the third fastest times of the year, behind Alastair Wood’s 2:13:45 recorded at the Inverness marathon in July of 1966. Mike Ryan, coached by John Davies (1964 1500m Olympic medallist), became the third New Zealander to win the Fukuoka International marathon (counting Asahi International marathon). This was his fifth marathon, and his second victory.

Hiroshima later went into coaching like many top runners in Japan. In this capacity with the Asahi Kasei track team he coached the Soh brothers through the ‘70s and early ‘80s; he is currently coaching the women's track team which includes Yuko Kawakami at the Oki Electric Miyazaki track team.

Mike Ryan of New Zealand, running his fifth marathon, was third at the 1966 British Commonwealth games in Kingston, Jamaica with 2:27:59. Two years later in Mexico City, Ryan won an Olympic bronze medal.

The duel between Ryan and Hiroshima was carried through to track racing. But this particular race was remembered fondly by both years later at the fiftieth anniversary festival for the Fukuoka International marathon when all the past champions were invited. In the Heiwadai stadium, where the champions were gathered, both Ryan and Hiroshima were still talking about their duel. They must have cherished their memory of the race for thirty years.

1966 Results (Japanese unless otherwise indicated)

Weather: Sunny 11C, 56% humidity, Wind NW 0.6m/s

1) Mike Ryan (NZL) 2:14:04.6
2) Hidekuni Hiroshima 2:14:05.2
3) Hirokazu Okabe 2:15:09.2
4) Masatsugu Futsuhara 2:15:36.2
5) Toru Terasawa 2:15:51.2
6) Gyula Toth (HUN) 2:16:36.2
7) Isamu Sugihara 2:16:53.0
8) Yutaka Aoki 2:17:06.0
9) Tadaaki Ueoka 2:17:13.0
10) Akio Usami 2:17:16.0

Splits for Mike Ryan
Distance             Time
5Km                    16:16
10Km                  32:33 (16:17)
15Km                  48:19 (15:46)
20Km                  1:04:27 (16:08)
Half Marathon     1:07:57
25Km                  1:19:53 (15:26)
30Km                  1:35:31 (15:38)
35Km                  1:50:54 (15:23)
40Km                  2:06:48 (15:54)
Finish                  2:14:04.6 (7:16.6)

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