Marathon sees late surge of Japanese
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
The day after the Sept. 11 attacks, Japanese entries for the Honolulu Marathon stood at 164, worrying race organizers and threatening the success of the 28-year-old event.
But the latest figures for Sunday's race show Japanese entries at 8,449 50 times more than two-and-a-half months ago.
"We are gratified to see the numbers increase, but I'm a little surprised to see where it's going," said Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal. "We would've been happy with 6,000."
For almost a decade, Japanese runners have accounted for more than half of each year's marathon field. In 1994 and '95, about 21,000 Japanese runners participated in the marathon, which has averaged 30,000 runners since 1992.
Current figures are still down 38 percent from last year, when the association received 14,282 entries from Japan.
"We suspect that, given the circumstances and uncertainty, no one really wants to make the commitment and expenditures to travel until they know what the traveling environment is like and feel comfortable with it," said Joseph Toy, President of Hospitality Advisors LLC.
The Honolulu Marathon Association has had a long-standing relationship with Japan, which may have helped boost confidence in these uncertain times.
"I think it's a combination of people feel safer and our relationship with Japan," Barahal said. "They have confidence in our ability to put on a good event."
The recent surge in entries from Japan also show a renewed confidence in travel and security.
"And the fact that this is a marathon, a specific event, gives people more reason to come than just to vacation in Hawai'i," Barahal said. "It's slightly more serious and less frivolous."
He added that the event is a way for people to make a personal statement after the Sept. 11 attacks that had the nation worried and grieving.
"It's what you can do on a personal level to show that nothing can stop you," he said. "It's one thing for the president to say Americans should live their lives. It's another thing to demonstrate your determination not to be stopped. The marathon is an opportunity to really do something, make a statement to the world and to yourself."
As of yesterday, 21,604 were registered with officials expecting the total to reach 22,000. Only walk-up entries are being accepted. Last year's prerace total was 26,465.
Finish line: Though entries from Japan are down from last year, Mainland entries are up. To date, the association has received about 7,000 entries, an increase from about 4,500 from last year. Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal said interest and participation has been on the upswing since working with large charity groups for leukemia, AIDS and arthritis, which raise funds through participation in the marathon. "It's really an opportunity for people to make a commitment to helping others," Barahal said.
Outspoken author and journalist and ESPN.com columnist Hunter Thompson will cover the Honolulu Marathon again, reportedly to scout locations for filming his book, "The Curse of Lono." Actor-director Sean Penn is here with Thompson, also to scout locations on O'ahu.
This is the second year marathon runners will use the Champion Chip, a microchip tied into the runners' shoelaces that tracks their times. The microchips clock more accurate times, as the clock starts for each runner when the runner crosses the starting line. (Not being in the front of the pack won't hurt the runner, who loses seconds before reaching the starting line.).