I first learned about this when soundsandfuries commented on my other post Stockholm Calling and introduced me to the story of Shiso Kanaguri. Having found it interesting, I did further research online and found his life fascinating. The most interesting story of his life is the fact he went ‘missing’ during the 1912 Olympic marathon competition. He was one of the favorites to win the competition; however, the running condition of the day – sunny at 40C – took a big toll on him and he could not finish the race. Without reporting to the Swedish Olympic Committee of DNF, he just went home, to Japan! His status with the Olympics, therefore, remained DNF and ‘missing’ until the Swedish Olympic Committee invited him back and finish the marathon in 1967 for the 55th anniversary of the Stockholm Olympics. When he finally finished the marathon (he just ran one lap around the Stockholm Olympic Stadium at the age of 75), it was announced “Kanaguri of Japan finishing in time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds. This concludes all the scheduled events of the Stockholm Games of the 5th Olympiad.”*1 This is the slowest and longest marathon time in history! If this sounds interesting to you, read on.
Not only a three-time Olympian representing Japan, Kanaguri was a great runner, teacher and pioneer, often regarded as ‘father of marathon’ in Japan for his performance and his contribution to running community back then. Before the Stockholm Olympics, he broke world record in marathon three times. In Stockholm, he was one of the two competitors (the other was Yahiko Mishima, competing in 100m, 200m and 400m) who participated and represented Japan for the first time in the Olympic Games. On the day of marathon competition, there were 68 runners, out of which 34 runners went DNF due to the scorching heat. Another one of those who did not finish was Portugal’s Francisco Lázaro who died the following day from heat exhaustion and dehydration. Till today, Lázaro is the only athlete who died during the modern Olympics event since 1896.*2
Back to Kanaguri. He must not have been in his perfect form when he started to run. It had taken him 20 days to get to Stockholm from Japan. Once getting there, he had trouble sleeping due to the long sun light in July. There was no rice to eat. And then the heat. At a 26.7km point in Sollentuna, he could no longer run and passed out. This is where the story gets strange. His story is that he passed out and did not wake up until the next morning. A Swedish family cared him over night, and he was able to go home next day to Japan. The other story is that he was too tired to run and joined the family for a tea and snack in their garden. After the friendly hospitality, he decided not to finish the marathon and went home. How bizarre is that? Anyway, that’s how his first Olympic went. By the way, the photo on the left is a pair of shoes he wore in the 1912 Olympics. They look so minimalist! He was way ahead of his time.
After he returned from Stockholm, he competed in 1920 Antwerp and 1924 Paris Olympics (1916 Berlin Olympics was cancelled due to the World War I) but never performed to his full potential. However, he was pioneer in Japan, introducing high altitude training and promoting women’s participation in athletics. He was also passionate in coaching the next generation of athletes and was instrumental in founding Hakone Ekiden, which is now a very popular annual collegiate relay over 217.9km with 10 runners (used to be 8 runners). While busy with all this pioneering work and as an educator, he kept running. He ran from the northern tip to the southern tip of Japan, and by the time he retired, he had run 250,000km. If that distance is hard to digest, it translates to six and a quarter times around the globe.*3
He died in 1983 at the age of 93. He regretted that he had not finished the marathon in Stockholm. But he joked when he was asked how he felt about finally finishing the marathon in Stockholm – “It’s been a long journey. Since then, I’ve had five grandchildren!”*4
In this 100th anniversary year of 1912 Stockholm Olympics, you might hear his great story again somewhere. Ah, what a life of a runner!
*2 – Wikipedia article