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Marathon - Part 3 1968

A history of the Fukuoka International Marathon Championships

The third part of a detailed series of historical reports on the Fukuoka International Marathon by K. Ken Nakamura….


In 1968, for the third successive year, a runner from a British Commonwealth nation won the Fukuoka International marathon championships. Bill Adcocks of Great Britain, a member of Coventry Godiva Harriers won the 1968 Fukuoka marathon in 2:10:47.8. It was the fastest performance of the year, as well as the second fastest marathon performance in history. This was also the third successive year that a runner born in Great Britain won this prestigious marathon. Although Mike Ryan and Derek Clayton (1966 and 1967 champions) ran for New Zealand and Australia respectively at the Olympic Games and the British Commonwealth Games, they were both born in Great Britain.

As usual, the organisers were able to assemble an excellent field, led by Ismail Akcay of Turkey and Bill Adcocks, fourth and fifth respectively in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic marathon. Adcocks, silver medallist at the 1966 British Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, was also Europe’s fastest performer with 2:12:16.8 in Karl Marx Stadt (former GDR, currently Chemnitz, Germany) recorded May 19, 1968.

During the pre-race interview he said, "I will make my move after 25km. My only goal here is to win the race."

Implementing their policy of ensuring that the winners of all major marathons of the year took part, naturally, the 1968 Boston Marathon champion, Amby Burfoot was also invited by the organisers.

The top Japanese athlete in the field was Akio Usami, ninth in the 1968 Olympic marathon. Going into the race, Usami was the fastest Japanese performer of the year in this race, having run 2:13:49 at the Lake Biwa marathon in Otsu in April. Stiff competition was expected from Yoshiaki Unetani, a reserve for the 1968 Olympic marathon team, and Morio Shigematsu, one time holder of the world best marathon performance - 2:12:00 which was recorded at the 1965 Polytechnic Harriers marathon.

Compared to the epic marathon race of 1967, the race started conservatively in 1968. While the 5km split was 15:06 in 1967, it was only 15:46 in 1968.

At 5km, Unetani led a large pack of nearly fifty runners by three seconds. This was Unetani’s race of redemption. He had trained hard and this race was his Olympics. As the course widened after 5km, the pace picked up.

Continuing to run aggressively, Unetani together with Hirai led at 10km (31:11), and 15km (46:37). It was turning into the race of attrition. The chase pack, which included twenty-three runners at 10km, was down to eleven by 15km. Demissie Wolde of Ethiopia, tenth in the 1964 Olympics, missed his bottle at the aid station at 16km and became the first casualty.

Soon after passing the half marathon point in 1:05:27, Bill Adcocks, Ismail Akcay, Amby Burfoot, Yoshiaki Unetani, Tadaaki Ueoka, Kazuo Yamashita, and Katsuaki Isohata turned around together and headed back to the Heiwadai stadium. Akio Usami was losing contact with the leaders. As they ran along the road within the narrow peninsula named, "Umi no Nakaminich," the race of attrition continued.

At 25km, as promised before the race, Bill Adcocks (1:17:19) started surging tactics, which brought the lead pack of five runners (Adcocks, Unetani, Ueoka, Akcay and Yamashita) down to three (Adcocks, Unetani and Ueoka) by 28km.

Then at 29km, on the only major uphill of the course, Bill Adcocks made his strongest surge. "Each time I surged, Unetani came back. But each time he was breathing harder. As he joined me on the side I surged again. This was repeated three or four times. Eventually I could sense that he was falling behind," said Bill Adcocks after the race.

As Unetani fell behind, it was Ueoka who went after Adcocks. The pair passed 30km in 1:32:38 (15:19) with Unetani three seconds behind. On the downhill part of the course (30km to 31km), Adcocks pushed hard, and by 31km he was alone in front.

Confirming that the two Japanese were out of contention, Adcocks continued to push the pace. As the Britain covered 30km to 35km in 15:21 (1:47:59), both Unetani and Ueoka lost substantial ground in this 5km segment. By 35km, Unetani was 44 seconds behind Adcocks, and Ueoka was further 15 seconds back.

Even without competition, Bill Adcocks kept up the pace. After covering the last 12.195km of the race in 38:09.8, faster than it took Clayton (39:04.6) in his record run of 1967, William Adcocks finished the race in 2:10:47.8, the fastest performance of the year. It was also the best European performance and the second fastest performance in history.

Although he seemed to be running with confidence after he surged away from Unetani and Ueoka, after the race Adcocks, a former miler, said: "It was a good race. I am happy to set a personal best. My worst moment was at 30km when my left foot started hurting... I was not sure of my victory until the end."

Although he did not improve his personal best in subsequent years, in April of 1969 he ran a very impressive 2:11:07.2 on the historic Marathon to Athens course. Not only it was the third fastest performance in history, but it was contested over one of the toughest marathon courses. This particular course peaked at 32km after nearly 250m elevation gain before descending by 200m during the last 10km.

Both Unetani, who finished second (2:12:40.6) and Ueoka, third (2:13:37.6) set personal records to become the 7th and 10th fastest performers in history respectively. Seeing Akio Usami finish in fifth place, Unetani, with one of his goals fulfilled said, "I am relieved. I really wanted to finish ahead of the Japanese Olympic team member."

In an era of increasing support for marathon runners from corporations, most of the elite runners belonged to corporate track teams. But Unetani was different. He combined training with his job as a high school teacher. He won the 1969 Boston marathon in a course record time of 2:13:49. In the 1970 Fukuoka marathon, he improved his personal best to 2:12:12. Two years later he finished third in the 1972 Lake Biwa marathon, and was selected for the Olympic marathon team. In Munich, Unetani was 36th in 2:25:59.

For Tadaaki Ueoka 2:13:37.6 remained his lifetime best. He now coaches the Noritz track team, where one of the club members is his daughter Masae Ueoka. Her personal marathon record is 2:30:17.

For Ismail Akcay of Turkey, who was fourth in 2:13:43.6, his time was a huge improvement on his previous best (over 8 minutes) and a national record. He moved up to be twelfth fastest performer in history. After the race he said, "Although I could not win the race, I was very happy with the time."

As in the previous editions of the race, the 1968 edition of the race also re-wrote the all-time performance list. After the 1968 edition, six of the top ten performers were from the Fukuoka International marathon. In addition, the first five best-marks-for place belong to the Fukuoka International marathon, the stats, which confirmed the status of the race as the unofficial world championships.

Dec 8, 1968; 15C, sunny, 66%, wind E 1.3m/s
(JPN unless otherwise indicated)

1) Bill Adcocks (GBR) 2:10:47.8
2) Yoshiaki Unetani 2:12:40.6
3) Tadaaki Ueoka 2:13:37.6
4) Ismail Akcay (TUR) 2:13:43.6
5) Akio Usami 2:13:51.8
6) Amby Burfoot (USA) 2:14:28.8
7) Kazuo Yamashita 2:14:44.0
8) Masatsugu Futsuhara 2:16:23.0
9) Hayami Tanimura 2:16:42.0
10) Toru Terasawa 2:17:23.0

Splits for William Adcocks
5km 15:49
10km 31:13 (15:24)
15km 46:43 (15:30)
20km 1:02:03 (15:20)
Half marathon 1:05:27
25km 1:17:19 (15:16)
30km 1:32:38 (15:19)
35km 1:47:59 (15:21)
40km 2:03:47 (15:48)
42.195km 2:10:47.8 (7:00.8) 

All-time marathon performance list after the 1968 Fukuoka marathon

Derek Clayton 2:09:36.4 1st Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Bill Adcocks 2:10:47.8 1st Fukuoka 8 Dec 1968
Sei-ichiro Sasaki 2:11:17.0 2nd Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Morio Shigematsu 2:12:00 1st Chiswick 12 Jun 1965
Abebe Bikila 2:12:11.2 1st Tokyo 21 Oct 1964
B Adcocks 2:12:16.8 1st Karl Marx Stadt 19 May 1968
David McKenzie 2:12:25.8 3rd Fukuoka 3 Dec 1967
Yoshiaki Unetani 2:12:40.6 2nd Fukuoka 8 Dec 1968
S Sasaki 2:13:23.8 1st Beppu 4 Feb 1968
Nicolae Mustata 2:13:26.2 2nd Karl Marx Stadt 19 May 1968
Kenji Kimihara 2:13:33.4 1st Beppu 5 Feb 1967
Tadaaki Ueoka 2:13:37.6 3rd Fukuoka 8 Dec 1968
S Sasaki 2:13:38.6 2nd Beppu 5 Feb 1967
Toru Terasawa 2:13:41 2nd Chiswick 12 Jun 1965
Ismail Akcay 2:13:43.6 4th Fukuoka 8 Dec 1968
Alastair Wood 2:13:45 1st Inverness-Forres 9 Jul 1966
Jurgen Busch 2:13:45.2 3rd Karl Marx Stadt 19 May 1968
Akio Usami 2:13:49.0 1st Otsu 14 Apr 1968
A Usami 2:13:51.8 5th Fukuoka 8 Dec 1968
Basil Heatley 2:13:55 1st Chiswick 13 Jun 1964
Mike Ryan 2:14:04.6 1st Fukuoka 27 Nov 1966
Hidekuni Hiroshima 2:14:05.2 2nd Fukuoka 27 Nov 1966