04 April 2017, 7am
Osaka Women’s Marathon
Sun 29 January 2017
Most of the new mass marathons use public roads and open spaces for the start and finish area. It’s an efficient way to pump up the event and increase the value of a road race. But as a traditional event the Osaka Women’s Marathon has stuck to a start and finish set-up in the athletics stadium. The Yanmar Stadium has a capacity of 50,000 and is one of the largest in Japan. It enhances the appeal of competitive racing because it’s a place where ordinary runners long to run.
As an elite race the qualifying criteria for Japanese women are to have run 3:10 or faster in an official IAAF-AIMS certified race in the past two years and be aged over 19 on the day of the race. Debutante runners must have met the standard of sub-37 for 10,000m. About 500 runners qualify under these criteria every year, and 400 of them finish.
Among all races at which Japanese runners can qualify for the Olympics and the World Championships Osaka Women’s Marathon is the oldest. Many of Japan’s top women runners have qualified in this race and gone on to win Olympic medals — such as Naoko Takahashi (gold in Sydney 2000) and Mizuki Noguchi (gold in Athens 2004).
The course is flat and fast; the variation in height is just 7m. Last year Kayoko Fukushi won in a record of 2:22:17 to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Invitations are given to up-and-coming runners in their early 20s who are yet to run their first marathon with a view to discovering the “Next Heroine”.
Osaka Women’s Marathon also emphasises regional competition among neighbouring countries like China, Korea, Taiwan, Mongolia and Hong Kong and invites aspiring runners from those countries. Osaka has long had close links to nearby countries and is adept at cross-cultural communication. We hope to energise Asian runners to compete with the best in the world, including those from Kenya and Ethiopia.
Osaka has a distinct tradition of passionate encouragement for runners. The city of Osaka is second to Tokyo but it is more vibrant and generates a powerful momentum. About 350,000 people cheered from the sidelines during the 2017 race. This continuous rousing cheering lifts the runners and becomes an important force in propelling them forward. One top Japanese top runner heard a bystander shout “Not too fast — are you alright?” from the sidelines because this person knew that she always slows down in the second half of the race and cared about her performance enough to approach her in a friendly way. People in Osaka develop great familiarity with runners and support them as if they are part of their family.
The Osaka Women’s Marathon is held on the very last weekend of the [Japanese] year and becomes a breath of life to the public. It also shows how the marathon has taken root in people in Osaka as their culture.
Osaka hosts both an elite full marathon and a half marathon which start at the same time on race day. Every year about 6000 male and female, elite and mass runners participate in the half marathon. They start from Osaka Castle Park, the main symbol of Osaka, and run through the downtown area to finish at Nagai Stadium Park — normally a place where people enjoy time in a more leisurely way.
There is a mini marathon event for about 1000 runners on race day which follows the outer perimeter of the stadium. The Olympic gold medalist Naoko Takahashi and other major sports personalities and marathon aficionados participated this year, surrounded by crowds of kids. The purpose of staging the event is to provide an opportunity for children to interact with major stars from baseball, football, basketball and other sports.
In 2020 — only three years from now — the next Olympic and Paralympic Games will be held in Japan. We believe that not only Tokyo but everywhere in Japan will greet athletes and people from all over the world with great enthusiasm. The Marathon used to be Japan’s strongest event and we are fully confident that Japanese runners will bring it back to public attention by performing outstandingly once again.
Osaka Women’s Marathon aspires to be being an ideal race for runners both from Japan and from all parts of the world.