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On Osako in Boston

by Brett Larner

U.S.-based for the last few years as part of the Nike Oregon Project, Suguru Osako makes his marathon debut at tomorrow's Boston Marathon.  It's had the Japanese media and other critics clucking that the choice of Boston "goes against the conventional wisdom of Japanese long distance" and that Boston's one-way, net downhill course means that he's more likely to run a fast time but that it "won't count."  The idea that Boston is a waste of time for Japanese runners because it's not record-elligible is a relatively recent one.  There's a pretty good argument to be made that the era of Japan's greatest strength as a marathon power lined up reasonably well with when the best Japanese marathoners were regularly in Boston and winning or placing, that once the powers that be decided Boston was off-limits to the best due to the risk of "wasting" a good one on a record-inelligible course Japanese marathoners stopped being competitive racers internationally as a whole.  Correlation, not causation, but it's hard to deny the history.

Osako being in the U.S. means he has other voices whispering in his ear, one of them a past Boston winner, so it's not that surprising to see him pick the United States' premier marathon for his debut.  He's got a solid cross country background, always a plus on the Boston course, going back all the way to his days at Saku Chosei H.S. under progressive head coach Hayashi Morozumi, and showed potential for longer distances with an Asian junior half marathon area record 1:01:47 win at the Ageo City Half Marathon his first year at Waseda University and some brilliant runs at the Hakone Ekiden in the next few years after that. A 1:01:13 PB at February's Marugame Half Marathon, his first half since his 2010 Ageo win, was encouraging.  How could he do in Boston?  It's tempting to read his last pre-Boston race, a 1:04:12 win at an amateur-level half marathon mid-March, as a marathon pace run, but looking again toward history, this is how the top ten Japanese performances in Boston and top ten Japanese marathon debuts line up:

All-time Japanese Boston Marathon Top Ten
  1. 2:09:27 - Toshihiko Seko, 1st, 1981
  2. 2:10:13 - Toshihiko Seko, 2nd, 1979
  3. 2:11:02 - Hiromi Taniguchi, 4th, 1993
  4. 2:11:32 - Kenjiro Jitsui, 6th, 2006
  5. 2:11:50 - Toshihiko Seko, 1st, 1987
  6. 2:13:15 - Takayuki Inubushi, 10th, 1998
  7. 2:13:40 - Tomoyuki Taniguchi, 5th, 1987
  8. 2:13:49 - Yoshiaki Unetani, 1st, 1969
  9. 2:13:55 - Akinori Kuramata, 11th, 1998
  10. 2:14:10 - Futoshi Shinohara, 9th, 1990

All-time Japanese Debut Marathon Top Ten
  1. 2:08:12 - Masakazu Fujiwara, 3rd, Lake Biwa 2003
  2. 2:08:53 - Koichi Morishita, 1st, Beppu-Oita 1991
  3. 2:09:03 - Yoshinori Oda, 4th, Tokyo 2011
  4. 2:09:12 - Tomoyuki Morita, 5th, Lake Biwa 2012
  5. 2:09:23 - Tomoya Shimizu, 5th, Lake Biwa 2008
  6. 2:09:27 - Yuta Shitara, 11th, Tokyo 2017
  7. 2:09:38 - Noriaki Igarashi, 4th, Fukuoka 1998
  8. 2:09:39 - Fumihiro Maruyama, 6th, Lake Biwa 2016
  9. 2:09:41 - Toshinari Takaoka, 3rd, Fukuoka 2001
  10. 2:09:50 - Atsushi Sato, 4th, Lake Biwa 2000

Historically speaking, anything under 2:14 would be a pretty solid performance in Boston for Osako. Under 2:12 would put him near the top of the ladder.  Only one Japanese man, fellow Waseda grad Toshihiko Seko, has ever gone sub-2:10 in Boston.  No Japanese man has ever debuted sub-2:10 outside Japan, but then again none of the ones who ran that fast the first time out was based in the States.  He's in something of a lose-lose situation; if he fails one contingent back home will say, "You see?"  If he succeeds the same people will say, "It doesn't count."  Let's hope he's got it in him not to care in the slightest either way.

© 2017 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Anonymous said…
I say he goes sub 2:10,here is an expected tailwind,He has solid times at shorter distances 13:08 for 5000 Japanese to do better i the Marathon than 5000 and 10000, his coach was great in he marathon, meaning he knows how to coach the distance, I think 2:07 for 3rd is possible.

This runner is young and talented and could get the 2:06.16 National record in a few years.
Vincent said…
2h10'27"!!! Really strong.

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