A history of the Fukuoka International Marathon Championships
The second part of a detailed series of historical reports on the Fukuoka International Marathon by K. Ken Nakamura….
It was a historic race. Derek Clayton of Australia became the first marathon runner in history to break the magical 2 hours and 10 minutes barrier. Years later, Clayton recalling the day said, "The Fukuoka International marathon on December 3, 1967 was the most memorable event of my life. This fact most probably will remain true for the rest of my life. It was a very special day for me, and the emotional high I experienced on the day cannot be described in words."
The 1966 edition of the race recorded the second and third fastest times of the year. In 1967, not only were the top three performances of the year recorded in the race, but the all-time performance list was re-written. The top two and three of the top five performances were recorded in this historic race.
As with the previous years, many world class runners were invited. Heading the list were the 1966 British Commonwealth Games Champion Jim Alder of Great Britain and the defending champion Mike Ryan of New Zealand. Hidekuni Hiroshima who was second in 1966 was also back. One of the rising Japanese stars in the race was 22 year old Sei-ichiro Sasaki, who recorded a personal best of 2:13:38.6 at the 1967 Beppu-Oita marathon in February. Going into the race, he was the fourth fastest marathon runner in history. With so many elite runners with such impressive credentials competing, who would have thought that Derek Clayton whose marathon best was only 2:18:28 was going to be a hero of the day? This race was Clayton’s fifth marathon and the first run outside of Australia.
The race started very fast under ideal conditions of 130C and partly cloudy sky. In fact, the initial pace surpassed anybody's imagination.
In the 1964 Olympic Games marathon, the legendary Ron Clarke of Australia, 10,000m world record holder at the time, led the race with an unimaginable pace. Clarke passed 5km in 15:06, which translates to a 2:07:26 marathon pace, more than six minutes under the world best at the time (2:13:55). He kept on going with what appeared to be a suicidal pace; amazingly Abebe Bikila and Jim Hogan matched their stride with Clarke. They passed 10km in 30:14, less than two minutes slower than Clarke’s 10,000m World Record (28:15.6) at the time.
In the 1967 Fukuoka marathon, defending champion Mike Ryan along with Australian Derek Clayton ran even faster splits. But apparently, for Mike Ryan, it was the pace he had planned to run all along.
After the race he said, "I was always planning to run with such a pace. It may have been fast compared to the conventional marathon pace, but I didn't think it was fast. I was confident that I was able to continue with the pace." But for others, it was definitely too fast. Jim Alder who finished fifth said, "It was so fast, I thought I was going to die. I wanted to stay with the leader, but it was impossible because the pace was so fast."
For the 5km split, they matched Clarke's pace (15:06) at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The chase pack led by Sei-ichiro Sasaki was 50m behind and was losing ground. Although Clayton was already showing signs of distress by 3km, he along with Ryan, incredibly picked up the pace after 5km and passed 10km in 29:57. At 8km, sensing that Clayton and Ryan were getting away from him, Sasaki left the pack behind and started to chase the two front runners. Yet because of this incredible pace Clayton and Ryan were setting, Sasaki was still losing ground. Clayton and Ryan kept on going. Their 15km split was 44:57. Sasaki was now 200m behind (39 seconds), and the main chase pack was even further back. As the runners enter the road within the narrow peninsula named "Umi no Nakamichi," the wind was turning against them and a light rain started to fall. Clayton was all alone at the front as Mike Ryan fell behind. In running 59:59 for the 20km split, Clayton became the first runner in the history of the marathon to record the 20km split of less than one hour.
At this point, Ryan was more than 100m behind (23 seconds). But Sei-ichiro Sasaki running from 15km to 20km in 14:59, was gaining on the leaders and now less than 100m behind (13 seconds) Ryan. Clayton passed the half marathon mark in 1:03:22, more that a minute faster than the pace Bikila set in the 1964 Olympic Games (1:04:26). Both Ryan (1:03:51) and Sasaki (1:03:56) were also ahead of Bikila's pace at the Olympics.
During the Olympic race, Bikila slowed down and required 1:07: 45 for the last half of the marathon. Because Clayton who was 1.88m tall did not have a typical body type of a marathon runner, most of the observers expected Clayton to slow down even more than Bikila did in the last half. Some even expected him to drop out of the race.
Soon after the turn around point, Sasaki passed Ryan. By 25km, Sasaki who ran a second consecutive sub 15:00 5km split (14:56), was in the second place just 20 seconds behind Clayton who recorded the 25km split of 1:15:11. Sasaki was slowly gaining on Clayton; one hour 27 minutes into the race, just before the 29km mark, Sasaki finally caught up with Clayton. For the next 5km, they ran side by side. They passed 30km together in 1:30:32. Seeing 1.88m tall Clayton running alongside 1.64m tall Sasaki, most of the Japanese observers thought that it was a just a matter of time before Sasaki pulled ahead; Clayton did not have a typical body type of a marathon runner, whereas Sasaki did. They both tested each other out by exchanging minor surges. Unfortunately for Sasaki, a sudden attack of side stitch slowed him down at 34km. Clayton, seizing the opportunity made his move, and the gap opened immediately to more than 50m. As Sasaki fell more than 12 seconds behind Clayton (1:45:11 for Clayton and 1:45:23 for Sasaki) by 35km, the main interest of the race shifted to whether or not Clayton could hold on for the world best. Clayton started to slow down, and his split from 35km to 40km was above 16 minutes (16:05) for the first time in the race. But recording 2:02:16 at the 40km mark, the first sub 2:10 marathon was still a possibility. Even after starting the race with a suicidal pace, Clayton only required seven minutes and 20 seconds to cover the last 2.195km. He shattered the world best time (2:12:00 by Morio Shigematsu at the 1965 Polytechnical Harriers marathon) with 2:09:36.4. Sasaki was second in 2:11:17, the second fastest performance in history. Dave McKenzie of New Zealand was third in 2:12:25.8, which was the fifth fastest performance in history. The race added three performances in the top five of the all-time performance list.
Clayton did not realise the significance of his performance immediately after the race. He did not even realise that he had just broken the world best for the marathon until he was handed a paper with 2:09:36.4 written on it. After the race, he said, "I was hoping to improve my personal best, but I never thought of a possibility of setting the world marathon best. In fact, I did not even think about a possibility of winning until after half way."
Although Clayton set another world marathon best, 2:08:33.6, in Antwerp in May of 1969, his Championships record was disappointing. He was seventh in the 1968 Olympics and thirteenth in the 1972 Olympic Games. He did not fare well in the British Commonwealth Games either; he dropped out of the race at both the 1970 and 1974 Games. The second place finisher, Sei-ichiro Sasaki did not fare well in the Olympics either. He dropped out of the race at the 1968 Mexico City Games. He is currently coaching a team of elite women marathon runners. His latest protégéé is Eri Yamaguchi, who ran 2:22:12 in the 1999 Tokyo Ladies marathon to clinch a berth on the 2000 Olympic marathon team.
Results 1967 Dec 3 Fukuoka 13.4C 69% (JPN unless otherwise indicated)
1) Derek Clayton (AUS) 2:09:36.4
2) Sei-ichiro Sasaki 2:11:17.0
3) Dave McKenzie (NZL) 2:12:25.8
4) Masatsugu Futsuhara 2:14:40.0
5) Jim Alder (GBR) 2:14:44.8
6) Yoshiaki Unetani 2:14:49.6
7) Hidekuni Hiroshima 2:15:16.0
8) Kazuo Ito 2:15:19.0
9) Mike Ryan (NZL) 2:15:41.0
10) Kazuo Matsubara 2:15:42.0
11) Toru Terasawa 2:17:00
Splits for Clayton:
10Km 29:57 (14:51)
15Km 44:57 (15:00)
20Km 59:59 (15:02)
Half marathon: 1:03:22
25Km 1:15:11 (15:12)
30Km 1:30:32 (15:21)
35Km 1:46:11 (15:39)
40Km 2:02:16 (16:05)
42.195Km 2:09:36.4 (7:20.4)
All-time marathon performance list after the 1967 Fukuoka marathon
Derek Clayton 2:09:36.4 1st Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Sei-ichiro Sasaki 2:11:17.0 2nd Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Morio Shigematsu 2:12:00 1st Chiswick 12 Jun 1965
Abebe Bikila 2:12:11.2 1st Tokyo 21 Oct 1964
David McKenzie 2:12:25.8 3rd Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Kenji Kimihara 2:13:33.4 1st Beppu 5 Feb 1967
S Sasaki 2:13:38.6 2nd Beppu 5 Feb 1967
Toru Terasawa 2:13:41 2nd Chiswick 12 Jun 1965
Alastair Wood 2:13:45 1st Inverness-Forres 9Jul 1966
Basil Heatley 2:13:55 1st Chiswick 13 Jun 1964
Mike Ryan 2:14:04.6 1st Fukuoka 27 Nov 1966
Hidekuni Hiroshima 2:14:05.2 2nd Fukuoka 27 Nov 1966