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Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon, Japan's first World Athletics gold label race will be discontinued after 2021 Race

In an interview with a source involved in the decision, it was learned on Dec. 17 that the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon will be discontinued after next year's 76th edition on Feb. 28, 2021. One of Japan's three major men's marathons, Lake Biwa's position on the calendar as the last chance to qualify for Olympic and World Championships teams meant it has had a long history of being the place where Japan's best marathoners earned to right to compete against the best in the world. But in recent years Lake Biwa has felt increasing pressure from the rise of the Tokyo Marathon, where national records and other fast times have been run almost every year, and Lake Biwa's relevance and value began to come into question. The Osaka Marathon is likely to replace Lake Biwa as a national team selection race in the future.

Having begun in 1946, Lake Biwa is the oldest existing marathon in Japan. Along with the Fukuoka International Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon it is counted as one of Japan's three major men's marathons. But now its long, colorful history is set to come to an end next year when Olympic marathon trials winner Shogo Nakamura (28, Fujitsu) and others stand on its starting line one final time. 

Starting and finishing on the track at Ojiyama Field, Lake Biwa has long been the final selection race for Olympic and World Championships teams. At both the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio de Janeiru Olympics two of the three men's team members earned their places at Lake Biwa. At both the 1964 and 1968 Olympics all three members were chosen there. Its position on the calendar relative to Fukuoka and Tokyo meant the battles were always furious, and those who emerged victorious went on to take on the world.

There's no question that Lake Biwa has been the site of countless classic races and a vital part of Japan's marathon tradition, but in recent years its relevance has faded. One of the major factors in this was the Tokyo Marathon's change to a faster course in 2017. In 2018 Yuta Shitara (29, Honda) broke the Japanese national record in Tokyo, and two years later Suguru Osako (29, Nike) followed Shitara's lead and did the same. With that record of success, Tokyo has become the first choice for Japanese men targeting fast times. 

The outcome of that change for Lake Biwa, an elite-only marathon, was that the athletes who could have provided the fireworks started staying away. With the Tokyo Marathon having moved to Lake Biwa's traditional date the first Sunday in March two years ago, Lake Biwa's shift a week later meant it was now the same day as the Nagoya Women's Marathon, hiding it in the shadows even further. The race's viability, financial and otherwise, came into question.

According to those involved, the Osaka Marathon is the most likely candidate to replace Lake Biwa as a national team selection event. With 35,000 people running on a downtown urban course it is the second-largest marathon in Japan after only Tokyo. With that kind of modern prestige to it, Osaka is highly likely to pick up the selection race label.

Modernity has a way of burying history. The MGC Race, a one-shot selection race for the Tokyo Olympics, was a major success. Those in power are leaning toward using the same kind of single trials race for the 2024 Paris Olympics. With the coronavirus crisis an ongoing issue, this is a period of transition. The Japanese marathon world isn't immune to those transitional forces, and we can only hope that its reorganization and reformation produce even more exciting races.

(12/18/2020) Views: 1,030 ‚ö°AMP
by Brett Larner
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Osaka Marathon

Osaka Marathon

In 2022 the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon and Osaka Marathon were held together. For 2023 the name of the marathon will be Osaka and both men and women can run the race. The original male-only competition was first held in 1946 and, having taken place every year since then, it is Japan's oldest annual marathon race. The early editions of...

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