Japan Running News’ Brett Larner has an incredible stat for you. Only once in US history has there been a year where all of the men in American have produced five sub-2:10s in a year:
“In all of American marathoning history only two years have equaled Kawauchi’s 2013, 1983 with four sub-2:10s by American men and 2012 with five. Kawauchi is exceptionally tough, but one self-coached athlete working a full-time job being able to beat an entire country capable of producing world-level distance medalists on the track surely points to serious systemic problems.”
Congrats to Kawauchi.
We do disagree with the harshness of the last part of Larner’s statement about “systemic problems.”
The Japanese Still Suck at the 1500
Let’s turn Brett Larner’s marathon quote about the US around a bit. We could just as easily write:
How can it be that an entire country as advanced and developed as Japan, a country capable of producing seven sub 2:10 performers (including 4 sub 2:09) in 2013, can only produce a 1500 best time of 3:42.79 for the whole country? They should be ashamed.
Should the US have more than one sub-2:10 performer in 2013? Yes.
Should the Japanese have more than one sub four-minute miler? Yes.
We however understand why they don’t, the Japanese comparative advantage (culturally and genetically) may be in the marathon.
We greatly admire the Japanese marathon system and how many post-collegians train almost exclusively for that event.
The Japanese runners also likely have more slow-twitch fibers (http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=5535050#5535092) which make them relatively better at the marathon. The same thing that makes them horrible at the 1500, makes the relatively better at the marathon. In the US, you’ve probably got a little bit of the reverse.
Plus the Japanese relative lack of height is a huge advantage in the marathon. Wikipedia lists the average Japanese men’s height at 5’7″ and American at 5’10. As we talked about in the Fall: Being over 6′ is a huge disadvantage: Fastest Marathoners over six feet tall (http://www.letsrun.com/forum/flat_read.php?thread=5434685). Elite sport, however, isn’t about the average person. Maybe we should host a podcast with our friend David Epstein, author of Sports Gene (interesting read if you’re still looking for a Christmas gift) , to get his insight on Japanese marathon prowess.
For the record, tilastapaja.com lists 80 Americans who have run faster than Japan’s fastest 1500 of the year – 3:42.79.
Well Brett Larner has responded:
Brett Larner wrote:
"In their rush to claim race as the answer Letsrun ignores the very simple reason for the weakness of current Japanese middle distance running.
It doesn't exist.
There is virtually no serious middle distance running in Japan. Nobody cares about it. No history, no prestige, no infrastructure, no kids lining up to become milers. If you are fast enough, you become a sprinter. If you have stamina, you become a long distance runner."
I would think that it doesn't exist because the Japanese know they won't be world beaters at it so they focus more on the prestigious marathon. Kids in track gravitate to the events where they have the most success sort of naturally.
Yes, if they focused on it, Japan could have a slew of 3:34 types but what does that get you? Nothing.
I don't think they'd have a ot of 3:33 types.
What's the national record in Japan?