The Story Of 'The Missing Marathoner' From The 1912 Stockholm Olympics
I've never been a good runner but I always insisted on signing myself up for every sports day event at school. Even though I'd always come last. It's the taking part that counts, innit, eh, mum?
Last time I did a cross-country I got to the finish line last. I got there in the end, like. Granted, it was with the help of Mr Fielding and a St John's paramedic, but I managed to finish before it got dark. Just about. And, to be honest, I consider that a huge achievement after reading about this guy.
54 years, eight months, six days, five hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds was how long it took Shiso Kanakuri to finish his marathon race at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. I shit you not.
The Japanese athlete was selected to represent his country after reportedly setting a marathon world record of two hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds at his trial. Apparently, he was just one of two athletes that Japan could afford to send to the event.
The poor lad had to endure a grim 18-day-long trip to reach Stockholm, mind, and had to travel first by ship and then by train. Not exactly ideal for someone who needs to train their arse off before an event as huge as the Olympics, is it?
His race was held in Sollentuna Municipality, in Sweden on July 14,1912. However, when he arrived there, over half of the runners ended up suffering from hyperthermia, which when your body is above average temperature. Oddly, Stockholm was exceptionally hot that July.
According to reports, it was somewhere around the 27-km area when Kanakuri collapsed and it's believed he lost consciousness. He was then discovered by some local residents who took him back to their home to help sort him out.
However, because of the heat, only 68 starters ended up finishing the race so nobody batted an eye lid at Kanakuri's withdrawal or thought it was particularly unusual.
What was unusual, though, was that he didn't notify the event officials so they ended up listing him as 'missing'. Nobody was sure exactly what had gone on but many people assumed he was too ashamed that he hadn't managed to finish the race and that's why he kept quiet.
However, this was all unknown to Kanakuri and he returned to Japan after he recovered and immediately began preparing for the 1916 Berlin Olympics. Sadly, the Games were eventually cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I and he never got to compete. Four years later, though, he was in the marathon at the Antwerp Olympics in Belgium and finished 16th, which was a huge achievement. What a legend.
Over 50 years later, when the athlete was 75 years old, he received an invitation in the post from The Swedish National Olympic Committee. They wanted him to return to Stockholm to participate in the 55th anniversary celebrations of the 1912 Olympics.
He decided to accept the invite and go along. However, it wasn't until he arrived there that he was informed he had become known as the man who had vanished back in 1912 and dubbed 'the missing marathoner'. It was then, in 1967, that he finally finished the race.
According to historian Kazuo Sayama, Kanakuri responded: "It was a long trip. Along the way, I got married, had six children and 10 grandchildren."
You can say that again, lad.
Words by Sian Broderick