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Breaking Down the Best-Ever Japanese Marathon Times By Country

Japanese marathoners these days have the reputation of rarely racing abroad, and of rarely racing well when they do. Back in the day that wasn't true; Japanese marathoners have won all the World Marathon Majors-to-be except New York, and two of the three Japanese men to have run 2:06 and all three women to have run 2:19 did it outside Japan. Whatever the extent to which things did turn inward along the way, the last few years have seen an uptick in Japanese runners going farther afield and running better there than any others before them.

The lists above and below show the fastest times run by Japanese athletes in different countries to 2:20:00 for men and 2:45:00 for women. Japanese men have run sub-2:20 marathons in 37 countries around the world including Japan, with Japanese women having cleared 2:45 in 33 countries including at home. Breaking it down by IAAF label times, more Japanese men have run label standard times abroad, but women have typically performed at a higher label standard:
Gold Label (sub-2:10): 10 countries     
Silver Label (sub-2:12): 15 countries     
Bronze Label (sub-2:16): 31 countries

Gold Label (sub-2:28): 15 countries
Silver Label (sub-2:32): 22 countries
Bronze Label (sub-2:38): 27 countries

Of the 36 countries outside Japan where Japanese men have run under 2:20, Yuki Kawauchi holds the fastest-ever Japanese times in nine of them on three continents. In July he lost a tenth mark on another continent to Takuya Noguchi whose 2:08:59 win on the Gold Coast beat Kawauchi's Australian best by 2 seconds. Shigeru Aburuya is the only other man to hold the fastest Japanese mark in more than one country, France and Greece, impressively having done both while finishing 5th in international championship races.

On the women's side, national record holder and Olympic gold medalist Mizuki Noguchi holds the most top Japanese times at four countries including Japan, with Naoko Takahashi, Reiko Tosa and Kayoko Fukushi, all Olympic or World Championships marathon medalists, holding two each. Despite the large number of twins throughout the history of Japanese men's running, the only set of twins to each hold a top time abroad are sisters Takami and Hiromi Ominami, Takami with the fastest Japanese women's time ever in the Netherlands and Hiromi in India.

Japan will have the home soil at the next Olympics, and you'd better believe that they're going to try to maximize that advantage. Only the 1% will end up on that team. For the rank and file, there's a whole world of meaningful potential achievements and accomplishments waiting for them out there if they only knew about them.

© 2017 Brett Larner, all rights reserved


Anonymous said…
You did not count Takeyuki Nakayama's 2:08:21 run achieved at 1986 Asian Games in Seoul. Why?
Brett Larner said…
Because this is a list of the fastest times run by Japanese athletes in different countries. Nakayama's time is not the fastest by a Japanese athlete in South Korea, so there is no reason it would be included.
yuza said…
Looking at the lists Q-chan's Bangkok run looks the most impressive. I have no idea what the conditions were like, but I am assuming hot and humid. It boggles the mind she ran that fast.

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