Joan Samuelson's Excellent Japanese Adventure, The All-Star Thanks Festival 2009, by Brendan Reilly, comments by Larry Eder


Joan Benoit Samuelson is truly a patient women. Nothing proves that like Joan's most excellent recent weekend in Tokyo, Japan, commemorating the 25th anniversary of her 1984 Olympic victory. She became a major figure in a bi-annual Japanese television extravaganza, produced by TBS, translated at The All-Star Thanks Festival.

The only way to understand what you will read next is to a) read the story by Brendan Reilly and b) look at the pictures and read Brendan's commentary on the photos as well.

All I can say is that even Sofia Coppola could not have dreamed up this actual TBS show! The only thing missing from this was Bill Murry, reprising his role in Lost in Translation...


Pre-race with two singers from one of Japan's popular girl groups.

Photo courtesy of Brendan Reilly, Boulder Wave.

1984 Los Angeles Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Joan Samuelson visited Japan this past weekend as the guest of IAAF sponsor Tokyo Broadcasting System to appear on the network's autumn "All-Star Thanks Festival 2009" variety show. This year is the 25th anniversary of Samuelson's run that won her the gold medal in the first-ever women's Olympic marathon, a race that marked a new era for women's long-distance running. Samuelson has continued to run and compete hard throughout her life, and is an advocate for life-time running and fitness. Last year at age 50, Samuelson competed in the US Olympic Trials marathon for her fourth time, setting a new US 50+ age group record of 2:49:08.

As part of Saturday night's five-hour long live TBS show, Samuelson joined a number of Japanese celebrities and several elite runners in various contests and quizzes at the network's main studios in Akasaka, Tokyo. During the festive show, 200 of Japan's top actors, comedians, singers and other celebrities compete in an ongoing quizzes and events. The show has been broadcast live by TBS twice a year since 1991, and is one of Japan's most popular TV programs.

Joining in the fun, Samuelson took part in two running races on an 850m course in the neighborhood around the Aakasaka studios. Teamed with two-time IAAF World Championships bronze medalist Masako Chiba (1997 Athens 10,000m and 2003 Paris marathon) and former Japanese ace Mari Tanigawa (winner of the 1991 Tokyo International Womens' Marathon and 1994 Paris Marathon), Samuelson first took part in a relay race against four teams of Japanese women celebrities. A few hours later, that trio of women returned to run 2.5 kilometers individually in a three-lap time-handicapped race against a field of 35 men and women that included additional celebrities and athletes, and also two-time Olympic men's marathon medalist Eric Wainaina of Kenya. Wainaina, who won bronze in Atlanta in 1996 and silver in Sydney in 2000, is a long-time Japan resident who used to compete for the Japan's Konica-sponsored team. For each of the races, the 200 celebrities in the studio had to try to correct predict which team or individual was going to win the race.

"It was the craziest, wildest race I've done in my entire life," said Samuelson. "We ran up and down the hills outside the stadium, ran into the studio and out again, back onto the hilly loop, again into the studio...lots of spectators crowding the course even at 9:00 at night. They had us start with handicaps according to our talents, so we spent the entire race trying to catch up to runners who had started ahead of us. Wild. But it was a lot of fun. "

"TBS could not have been nicer to us this whole visit. Toshihisa Eto, the program's producer was great in setting my invitation. And Satoko Kako, the young assistant director who took care of us from the time I arrived until I departed, was wonderful. I made some nice runs around the Imperial Palace every day and met some long-time friends Chris and Lynn O'Donnell and their children. Chris works for in Tokyo for Nike Japan, and it was nice to catch up. It will be a long flight back home, but I'm glad I came over for this. It just goes to show, you're never too old to try a new form of running!"


Joan's start of the time-handicapped 2.5 km run.


Joan Samuelson with (l to r) the governor of Miyazaki Prefecture, Masako Chiba, and Mari Tanigawa.


Pre-race with two singers from one of Japan's popular girl groups.


Just before the relay race with Japan's celebrity runners.


...and the course goes INTO the TV studios.


Joan Samuelson with fans Carly, Cole, and Tyler O'Donnell; TBS' Satoko Kako; and a statue of the TBS mascot, Boo Boo, at TBS Tokyo headquarters.

Photography courtesy of Brendan Reilly, Boulder Wave.

For more on the sport, please click on

Leave a comment

Wake up to RunBlogRun's news in your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter and we'll keep you informed about the Sport you love.

Subscribe to RunBlogRun's Global News Feed

* indicates required