The Olympics are a chance to honor the strongest and fastest athletes in the world, but we rarely hear about the weakest or the slowest. Shizo Kanakuri is the exception. He holds the world record for the slowest time in the Olympic marathon. He finished the race after 54 years, eight months, six days, 5 hours and 32 minutes.
Kanakuri was not a slow runner. On the contrary, before going to the 1912 Olympics, he had set a world record marathon time of just 2 hours, 32 minutes and 45 seconds. He was the favorite to win the marathon at the Stockholm Olympics.
It was the first time for Japan or any Asian nation to participate in the Olympics. Kanakuri was one of just two athletes sent to represent his country.
Despite being the favorite, the odds were stacked against Kanakuri from the very beginning. He was fast, but an inexperienced athlete of just 20 years of age. On top of that, to get to Stockholm, he had an 18-day ship and train journey to deal with. Kanakuri ran around the ship and around each train station at every stop to get in some training time during the exhausting trip. When he finally arrived, both he and his teammate had trouble dealing with the local food. His teammate became ill, and Kanakuri had to take care of him, further cutting into his training time.
The day of the marathon was a scorcher. Twenty-seven kilometers into the race, Kanakuri collapsed from overheat and was taken care of by some local farmers. Kanakuri was not alone. Runners were dropping like flies that day, and fellow runner Francisco Lázaro even died. Sixty-eight runners from around the world entered the race, but only half crossed the finish line.
Unlike the other runners who dropped out, Kanakuri never reported his failure to finish to the race officials. He was listed as missing.
Kanakuri returned to Japan, continued his training and ran in two other Olympics in Belgium and France. In his home country, he was known as the Father of Japanese Marathons, but in Sweden, he was known as the missing marathoner.
After 50 years, the Swedish authorities discovered he was alive and well in Japan. In 1967, they invited him back to finish the race. At 75 years of age, he finally crossed the finish line. He said, “It was a long trip. Along the way, I got married, had six children and ten grandchildren.”