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Save the Marathon First

Posted August. 26, 2005 03:06,   


Japan provides an excellent example of promoting track and field sports. It is achieving huge success with its system of fostering the marathon, a globally competitive and domestically popular sport in Japan, and investing the revenues in track and field events.

Unlike Korea, Japan’s star runners all participate in domestic marathons that hold qualifications for the Olympics and World Championships. This enables Japan to rake in a huge amount of money through TV broadcasting fees and various sponsorships to invest in less popular events. In short, the marathon is the driving force of Japan’s track and field sports.

Their achievements have been amazing.

For starters, Japan recently won its second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the women’s marathon, a true feat. Naoko Takahashi finished first in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and later set a world record with 2 hours 19 minutes and 46 seconds in Berlin in 2001. Last year in Athens, Noguchi Mizuki, a rookie, won the Athens Olympic gold in 2004.

Japan also has a strong Men’s marathon team with three runners who finish the race under two hours and seven minutes, and many more who finish under two hours and nine minutes. Japan recently won its second consecutive gold in the men’s team marathon in the World Championships in Helsinki.

Japan also has great sprinters. Koji Ito set an Asian record in the men’s 100 meters with a time of 10 seconds, and Dai Tamesue finished third in men’s 400 meter hurdles with a time of 48.10 seconds in Helsinki’s World Championships.

Japanese prefectures hold somewhere between five and scores of athletics events a year. Long distance relays and long and short distance races for records are open to citizen participation. Japan has a total of 43 prefectures, which means that even with just five games per prefecture, the nation holds a total of at least 215 games annually. Based on such a strong foundation, registered runners number more than 200,000, including over 6,000 marathoners. Unregistered runners, those in primary or secondary schools, number some 270,000. The Japan Association for Athletics Federation, a foundation, earns 10 billion won a year (by 2003 basis) with its various projects.

Korea already has more than four million marathoners participating in the Masters event. By benchmarking Japan, Korea can tap into a variety of moneymaking projects.

Analysts point out that some of the most urgent tasks for the federation include introducing a rewards system by raising the prize money for record-setters, creating jobs for runners, sending aspiring young athletes overseas for training, and educating trainers.

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com