1978 – Shigeru So

Source: http://idatenrunner.blog52.fc2.com/blog-entry-483.html

5-Feb-1978 – Beppu-Ōita Marathon – 2:09:05.6 – ASICS Marup
Date of birth: 9-Jan-1953
Nationality: Japanese
World Record Duration: 2 years, 2 months, 21 days

The athlete:                
Shigeru So made his presence felt in his debut marathon in 1973, winning with a time of 2:17:28. His identical twin brother Takeshi So would finish less than 20 seconds behind him to take the runner-up spot. More strong performances would guarantee the first of his trips to the Olympics, qualifying for the 1976 event in Montreal. Although he would not win, he still finished first of his countrymen. He would quickly remind the world of his credentials when he took the start of the 1978 Beppu-Ōita Marathon.

Taking the lead from the outset, his pace only kept building and by the halfway mark was ahead of the world record set by Derek Clayton in 1969. As for So, he was faced with strong winds during the second half of the race which slowed him down such that his pace dropped and his finishing time was just above 2:09.It should be noted however that the marathon course Clayton ran that year was likely shorter than the full marathon distance. Given the controversy around Clayton’s run, the Association of Road Racing Statisticians states that So was actually the new world record holder. You can read more about that here.

His second chance at Olympic glory in 1980 was scuppered when Japan joined the boycott of the games being held in Moscow. He would not let up in his training, however he struggled to match the pace from his world record run in 1978. It was not until the Fukuoka International Marathon in December 1983 that he would again get below 2:10, which secured him selection for his third Olympic games in Los Angeles.

He could not repeat the form that got him selected, and although he won the Tokyo International Marathon in 1985 he would retire in 1987 before selections were made for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. For the record, Shigeru So also managed to pip his twin brother 12-10 in the 22 marathons they ran together over their athletics careers, the pair finishing 1-2 on five separate occasions.

The shoes:                   

We have one reasonably clear photo of So from the day he set the world record, where he is wearing white shoes with distinct red Tiger Stripes with the outsole one minimalist line of green. Although this image isn’t terribly clear, it looks very much like the latest evolution of the Onitsuka Tiger Marup that has first launched twenty years earlier, and was known in some markets as the marathon. Since 1977 however the company had renamed itself to what it is known as today, ASICS.

What makes this clearer for me are images of the shoes that fellow Japanese distance running legend Toshihiko Seko wore during the same period. In one clear picture we have of his shoes from 1983, the same colourway and silhouette can be clearly seen. To read more about the history of the Marup and how it proved to arguably be the most iconic distance running shoe of all time, read the entry about Toru Terasawa and how he set the marathon world record in 1963.

Interestingly, the bright red shoes Takeshi So wore during the same race were actually prototypes that would eventually become the ASICS Sortie that was publicly launched in 1981. There was also an updated version of the Marup released during the mid-seventies that previewed the Sortie in its additional midsole cushioning. Both So brothers would switch to the prototype Sortie by 1979, the bright red shoes easily visible in photos of them competing, often against Seko in the older style Marup racing flats that were still being sold by ASICS until the mid-eighties.

Onitsuka Tiger, relaunched by ASICS in 2002, brought back the Super Marup for the 2004 Olympics, mimicking many elements of the series over the years. This included overlays from the 1959 Super Marup, Tiger Stripes as first introduced in 1966, and the nylon upper that first appeared in 1967.