The after shocks of last week’s 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan have left a trail of devastation that is hard to comprehend, and not just in the direct path of the physical destruction. While none of the professional corporate running teams or their athletes was injured, the Nagoya International Women’s Marathon scheduled for last Sunday was cancelled. Nagoya was to have been the third of three qualifying marathons selecting the Japanese World Championships team for Daegu, Korea this summer. And with Japan a traditional powerhouse in Women’s World Championships Marathons, federation officials are now searching for alternatives.
“There was no physical damage done in Nagoya,” explained Brendan Reilly, head of Boulder Wave, which represents many Japanese runners internationally. “But with so much public attention focused on helping those affected, officials in Nagoya decided it was better to lessen the burden on public resources.”
Since 1991 Japanese women have won two gold, five silver, and three bronze medals at the World Championships, by far the best national showing. In Paris 2003 Japanese women captured places two through four. Yoshimi Ozaki took the latest silver in Berlin 2009.
“There was a meeting last weekend in which they chose to cancel Nagoya,” explained Reilly. “Then a few days later they met again and tentatively chose Nagano (Olympic Commemorative Marathon April 17th) as the replacement race. But nobody is 100% certain other factors like transportation, electricity, winds blowing off the nuclear reactors, might not make it necessary to cancel Nagano as well.”
In the best spirit of the running community, officials in Boston, London, Los Angeles, Vienna, New York, and Rotterdam have stepped forward offering to assist in what ever way they can. For many of the athletes who had planned to race Nagoya, the decision had to be made quickly, do I wait five weeks for Nagano hoping to hold my peak, or do I go find another race now?
Defending 2010 Nagoya champion Yuri Kano has chosen to come race the New York Half-Marathon this weekend, hoping to burn off her taper, before traveling to Albuquerque for several weeks as she recalibrates toward Nagano.
Eri Okubo, sixth in Honolulu 2010, has chosen instead to run Sunday’s Honda Los Angeles Marathon believing, ‘I’m already tapered. Let’s go’. Another Nagoya contender, Albina Mayorova of Russia, who has a personal best of 2:25:35 from Chicago 2003, will also race in L.A.
“They didn’t cancel Nagoya until Saturday afternoon at 12:30,” reports Mayorova’s manager Andrej Baranov. “Mentally there was a lot of stress getting out of Japan. We had tickets for Tokyo on Monday, but when they closed the Tokyo airport we bought new tickets which took us through China to New York City. Fortunately, Albina ran Boston last year, so she still had a current U.S. visa. And Bill Orr (elite athlete coordinator) and the people in L.A. were so nice. They reached out within 24 hours to say they would take Albina.”
While there are many invitations outstanding from marathons around the world pending what happens in Japan in the coming weeks, Japan Running News reports Federation officials as saying, “We are going to choose athletes from that (selection) race. The criteria of being the top Japanese finisher and sub-2:26 remain unchanged.”
Beyond the need to find a replacement World Championships qualifier, another consequence of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactors calamity has been the change in the Japanese attitudes toward charity. Brendan Reilly lived in Japan over five years, and speaks the language fluently.
“In my 5 ½ years in Japan I don’t know if 20 times I saw anyone on the street asking people to sign a petition or give to a charity. The whole charity thing has not been nearly as big in Japan as it is here in the U.S. People assume the government will take care of it. But now athletes are lining up to help any way they can. Yuki Arimori (two-time Olympic marathon medallist) goes to races every weekend as a celebrity, and she says everything wholesale has now been turned into a charity event.”
Two Japanese track athletes, Dai Tameseu and Minori Hayakari, have started an athlete’s relief fund that Brendan is helping translate to spread the word. https://www.justgiving.com/teams/teamjapan/ Their goal is to raise 100,000 British pounds.
On May 8th, the New York Road Runners will stage their annual Mother’s Day Japan Day 4 Mile Race.
“We are developing plans around our Mother’s Day race with the Japanese consulate to support the relief effort,” said NYRR president Mary Wittenberg. “We hope to share those plans with the New York Half Marathon runners on Sunday.”
For now, anyone can go to crowdrise.com to make contributions.