By Jonathan Gault
October 7, 2018
CHICAGO — In a race billed as a showdown between former Nike Oregon Project teammates Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, the biggest surprise of the 2018 Chicago Marathon belonged not to the big names but to the least-heralded member of the Portland-based training group: Japan’s Suguru Osako ran 2:05:50 to finish third (two spots ahead of Rupp) and, more importantly, break Yuta Shitara’s 2:06:11 national record to pick up a 100 million yen payday (roughly $879,000 at the current exchange rate).
In 2015, the National Corporate Federation of Japan launched Project Exceed, in order to incentivize the development of Japanese marathon talent in the buildup to the 2020 Olympics. The project offered a set of bonuses to Japanese marathoners who hit certain time cutoffs, with the big one an offer of 100 million yen to anyone who could break Toshinari Takaoka’s 2:06:16 national record from the 2002 Chicago Marathon.
That record stood for over 15 years until Shitara claimed the bonus with his 2:06:11 in Tokyo in February. But Shitara’s record didn’t even last eight months as Osako bettered it today.
During the post-race press conference Osako announced that he would give a share of that bonus to his coach Pete Julian. How much?
“Maybe $100,000,” said Osako.
“That was a very nice gesture,” Julian said. “We’ll see. I might talk him out of it.”
While Rupp and Osako are both in the NOP, Osako’s primary coach is Julian and Rupp’s primary coach Alberto Salazar. Julian said Osako and Rupp rarely train together as Rupp likes to stay at home in Portland while Osako enjoys training in Boulder. They did run a few workouts together in Portland at the start of this buildup.
Both Julian and Osako were aware of the bonus — Osako said it helped motivate him in the final miles — but that was not a focus during Osako’s buildup.
“Important thing for him was to compete well,” Julian said. “We never really talked about the bonus or the record. He just wanted to get out there and race with Mo and Galen. That was his goal all along.”
Osako certainly achieved that. Third matches Osako’s highest finish in a major (he was also third in Boston last year) and 2:05:50 makes him just the third man born outside of Africa to break 2:06 in the marathon:
All-time non-African-born list, men’s marathon
2:04:58, Ryan Hall, USA 2011 Boston*
2:05:48 Sondre Nordtsad Moen, Norway 2017 Fukuoka
2:05:50 Suguru Osako, Japan 2018 Chicago
As crazy as it sounds, Osako is still not a lock to make the Japanese Olympic team in 2020 — nine Japanese men have broken 2:09 in 2018 alone (including another in Chicago as Taku Fujimoto ran 2:07:58). Osako is obviously in a good position, but Julian admitted that the Japanese selection process is “confusing” even with the institution of a trials race known as the Marathon Grand Championship, in September 2019.
The winner of that race will qualify automatically for Tokyo 2020. The second and third placers will also qualify automatically as long as they hit a certain standard, but the men’s standard is 2:05:30 — 20 seconds faster than the national record Osako ran today.
“We won’t take anything for granted,” Julian said. “The competition is just amazing. It’s a really tough team to make. He’s going to have to be better than he was today to make that team.”