On March 20, 1967 Japanese runner Shizo Kanakuri crossed the finish line on a marathon he started over 50 years prior with a time of 54 years, 246 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes, and 20.3 seconds. Guinness World Records recognizes this as the longest time to complete a marathon.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In 1912 Japan sent its first team to the Olympics, held that year in Stockholm, Sweden. Japan’s team consisted of only two athletes, a sprinter named Yahiko Mishima and Shizo (this year Japan’s squad has 552 athletes).
Back then, the road from Japan to Sweden took weeks. First on a boat then aboard an arduous weeks-long train trip across the steppes of Siberia. By the time Shizo and his teammate arrived in Sweden, they were not only exhausted but also out of training. The only time they could workout was by running around station buildings during brief stops along the way.
When race day arrived in Stockholm on July 14, 1912 it was an unseasonably warm 32°C (89.6°F). Long distance running as a sport had not evolved to where it is today so the preparations were, shall we say, unorthodox. Nike’s famous waffle sole had not yet been invented. Shizo wore Japanese tabi on his feet and the cloth was all that protected him from the gravel path. And because it was thought that perspiration contributed to fatigue, he refused to drink any water while running.
As you can imagine, Shizo passed out from heatstroke and took refuge at a nearby villa to recover. After spending some time recuperating there, he decided to drop out of the race and caught a train back to his hotel and eventually returned back to Japan.
Because he never informed race officials that he dropped out of the race, Olympic officials marked him down as missing.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, Shizo went on to run in the 1920 and 1924 Olympics, established the famous Tokyo-Hakone-Tokyo College Ekiden race and is known as the father of the Japanese marathon.
Fast-forward to 1962 when a Swedish journalist happened upon Shizo and informed a very surprised Swedish National Olympic Committee that the missing marathoner was very much alive. As a marketing promotion, several Swedish businessmen invited Shizo to Sweden in 1967 to finish his marathon at 76 years of age. That’s the photo above.
Upon Swedish Olympic Committee representatives reading out his official finish time to the gathered press- 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds- Kanakuri was asked if he’d like to say a few words about breaking a world record for slowest marathon ever run. Thinking for a moment, the elderly athlete shuffled to the microphone and said,
“It was a long trip. Along the way, I got married, had six children and 10 grandchildren.”THE CURIOUS CASE OF SHIZO KANAKURI’S 1912 OLYMPIC MARATHON RUN
Hat tip to Tyler Kennedy for the pointer to this wonderful story.