21 January 2021, 11am
Osaka Women’s Marathon
Sun 31 January 2021
Some of the athletes scheduled to run were notified last week of the likely change from Osaka’s traditional road course, due to the continued spread of the coronavirus and the declaration of a state of emergency by the Government. It is the first time the race will be run on a circuit course since the inaugural race in 1982.
The impact of the change on times run there remains unclear. Osaka organisers have recruited male pacers, a first for a domestic women’s marathon, to help chase the record.
Most road races over the last year have been cancelled or postponed. Osaka organisers cut their field back to just 99 athletes, about a fifth the usual number. Despite calls for the people to stay home and watch the race on TV it was inevitable that some would turn up along the course. The logistics of the race’s usual format also required a large number of operations staff for traffic control and drink stations. Many of those tend to be vulnerable elderly people. The change to a circuit course significantly reduces 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 2135m 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 prospects of running a fast time look good but first the new course must be officially certified. With just half a year left until the Tokyo Olympics this will likely be the last pre-Olympic marathon for the top women both the race is not a good simulation of racing conditions in Sapporo.