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Canadian ekiden: dreaming extramural

6 February, 2010

Maybe this won’t happen before my all-time personal bests are set and I start to slow down, but one day I would like to see running in Canada become as popular as it is in places such as Japan. Admittedly I haven’t actually been to Japan, but I’ve watched an ekiden or two online, and it seems that distance running is big there, that the top runners are household names, and that it’s more about runners pushing the envelope than it is about legions of the middle-aged fighting the flab. Of course, that could just be an outsider’s perspective, but how many Canadian events are broadcast online, let alone on tv networks internationally? We have provincial athletic organizations as well as Athletics Canada, and I’m sure these organizations are staffed by dedicated people. But is it enough?

What if there were to be a grass-roots Canadian Ekiden, between cities, or possibly regions? Vancouver meets Victoria meets Ottawa etc. There might have to be some coordination of, or cooperation between, existing clubs, but, as far as I know, that wouldn’t be an obstacle.

Would this inspire people more than the existing provincial competitions? More runners would be able to take part, certainly. Part of the problem with the status quo, in my opinion, is that the coherence of most teams revolve around corporate sponsorship. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se, except that it elicits pretty well zero response among people who aren’t directly involved. I may wear Mizuno shoes, but frankly I couldn’t care less about how the Mizuno team fares. This is not premier league football with tens of millions of broadcast dollars at stake. What I’m envisioning here would not replace provincial competitions, they would enhance them by effectively casting a wider net and ultimately nurturing more talent going forth at the national and international levels. As I see it, the running community would do well by looking back to a time when soccer was a competition between towns. That could be the start of something great.

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