Frank Shorter making the break at Fukuoka Marathon, 1971, photo by Fukuoka Marathon /Asahi Shimbun
Bill Rodgers running Fukuoka Marathon, photo by Fukuoka Marathon /Asahi Shimbun
Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter are two of the finest distance runners in American history. Both Frank and Bill made running a cultural happening. From 1971-1974, Frank Shorter won 4 straight Fukuoka Marathons, and one Olympic gold medal (1972) , and one Olympic silver medal (1976). Bill Rodgers won 4 NYC Marathons and 4 Boston Marathons, between 1975 and 1980. Rodgers also competed in Fukuoka Marathon 3 times, (third in 1975, first in 1977, sixth in 1978).
Fukuoka Marathon was the true world championships in the marathon from the mid 1960s to the early 2000s. The rise of professional marathons and big money has lessened the effect of the Fukuoka Marathon, which held its last race in December 2021.
Jeff Benjamin spoke with both Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers on their experiences at the Fukuoka Marathon.
Frank Shorter & Bill Rodgers Remember The Fukuoka Marathon
By Jeff Benjamin
With the end of 2021 comes the end to one of the Sport’s legendary Marathon events.
After 75 years, Japan’s vaunted Fukuoka Marathon will no longer be held. Known to longtime runners and fans as one of the pinnacle races, Fukuoka served as the de facto “Annual Marathon World Championships” for decades as the world’s best distance runners would come to compete head-to head before knowledgeable and passionate Japanese fans.
This writer asked America’s only 2 Fukuoka Champions to comment on what the race meant to them.
Frank Shorter – 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 Champion!
The unmatched 4 victories of Frank Shorter, photo courtesy of Fukuoka Marathon / Asahi Shimbun
“Appreciation and acceptance come to mind when I think of how much the Fukuoka Marathon meant to me both in 1971 and now over the past 50 years.
It was understood to be the world championship race in every non Olympic year long before an official race existed. When you arrived in early December you knew the world’s best were going to be there.
The Japanese people love he marathon. There is no other way to describe it.”
Every invited runner from overseas would be greeted as if they were an athlete who might live there. You immediately got the feeling that all the organizers wanted you to do was run your best race.You were accepted and would be incorporated equally into the race field. Fukuoka was not about bragging rights. It was about seeing how good you could be on that day on a truly “level” marathon course.”
Bill Rodgers Taking Fukuoka in 1977, courtesy of Fukuoka Marathon/ Asahi Shimbun
Bill Rodgers – 1975 (3rd), 1977 Champion, 1978 (6th)
“Being invited to the Fukuoka International Marathon was quite an honor. When that happened you knew you were being invited to the number one marathon in the world and for the world-class runners who would meet and compete to win a medal there or to win the race itself!
It was hard to get an invite and hard to win there too!
For Frank Shorter – an Olympic Gold Medalist! – and myself it did feel like you won the Olympic gold there!
Also the way you were treated was first class first rate and for years they were the leaders at International Marathons for the World Marathon majors!
For 75 years to me Fukuoka was the “Boston Marathon of Japan!” And I’m very proud to be, along with Frank Shorter, the only Americans to ever win there and Frank and won it 4 times!”
Bill Rodgers, the 1977 Fukuoka Marathon, photo courtesy of Fukuoka Marathon, Asahi Shimbun
And now the Fukuoka curtain closes.
Frank Shorter, Jeff Benjamin, Bill Rodgers, photo from the Jeff Benjamin collection