On March 5th, the 2023 Tokyo Marathon took place and Suguru Osako ran 42.195K. 
His trusted coach, Pete Julian was also in Tokyo to support the important race. 

What do you think about today’s race?

It was a good race for sure and I feel very positive about it. Suguru was feeling good during training after the New York City Marathon. He  had no intention not to go to the Tokyo Marathon to run. But, he just felt good. He thought it would be something that he could achieve. And so, we decided to go for it with really not very much time at all. For him to be with the leaders for 40k today in Tokyo city, I think it’s a very good sign for next year.

(These running shot are by Momoko Kaneko)

How did  you see him before the Tokyo Olympics?

It was very tough for him when they looked at the Olympics in 2021. He had to break the record to make the team here. And he finished in 3rd at MGC(Marathon Grand Championship). It was very stressful. Especially being in Tokyo. So emotionally it is very difficult, but he did a fantastic job! He overcame all that and he ran a great race. I think just when he finished, he realized he actually would be able to retire. I think it was just so emotional. There was just so much pressure. He just needed to step away.

What’s the first reaction when Suguru told you about his retirement? 

Pete:I supported it because I know how hard he worked. I knew how much of an emotional toll it took on him and his family. In the pressure that he had to go through. And that’s hard to watch as a coach sometimes when an athlete has all the weight of the world on them. So I supported and knew that he just needed some time to walk away completely.  I was hopeful that maybe he could come back but I wasn’t sure. 

 After 6 months, he came back to the competitive world.  

Pete:I think Suguru realized as he looked around. And for him running actually gave him peace. And so, although he has his business ventures and things like that, it really gives him a sense of peace. It was when he could just go for a run by himself. Once all the pressure and the stress was gone,  I think he started to realize that “ Wait, I’m still here to run.”  When he said  “Hey, Coach I’d maybe like to come back and run again.” and I said  “Yeah、 absolutely!”  He’s my favorite athlete and it’s always a privilege to work with Suguru.

The New York City Marathon was his first month after he came back. What’s your quick review?

Pete: Well. So New York, I thought it would be…for him just to do a race that wasn’t about time and, you know, New York is all about challenge, very hilly–with no pacemakers. It’s all about how do you race? So I thought that would be a good thing for Suguru to do for so many reasons. He had very high pressure before. I didn’t want him to run back in Japan either. At least for the first four, just because I think he needed just to be away from it. We’re in a different style of marathon, not in Japan, not for time. Just re-introduce the marathon again. So as you know, it was a difficult day just for everyone because it was hot and humid. He did fine, fifth or sixth? But I think he felt it was very hard. So today he was just very pleasantly surprised. “Coach, I felt really good the whole way. Honestly, That’s the easiest I’ve ever run. “

I think he is in a very good spot for the marathon now, he’s already made an Olympic team. He’s already represented Japan in such a wonderful way at the Tokyo Olympics. He just thought every step of the way he battled, and I know that’s so very important for this country. It’s not about the medals, it’s about the effort. It’s about how you represent yourself and how you represent your country. He did it so gracefully and perfectly. Now he can go into MGC and he is free. He can just go and train and he can try to make the team again. Or he can go run the world majors if he doesn’t make the team. Continuing to enjoy the way. Either path is a good path. 

What does he need from now?

Pete: For Suguru, he wasn’t quite ready today to do everything here (pointing at head). I think it was such a challenge for him to get Japanese records, to make the Japanese team,  to  compete in the Olympic games, but there’s still peace. He knows that he has to go to that very dark, deep place again. You know, to make the team. To represent his country again. I think for Suguru, at least for New York and this race had to be just more fun and even more relaxed. I think Suguru now knows the next time he races here for MGC, that he’s gonna have to become very tough over the last 5k, because there will be three, four, five, other Japanese runners. And he is going to try and find a way to win because that’s more the head than heart. He needs to make sure that he would be sharper. That’s a good way to put it here today. Right after he finished,  Sugaru said “Coach, I knew I didn’t want to be everything today. I just needed to have a good day.” And it was definitely a good day. 

Last question, what’s Suguru’s unique point? 

It is his independence. I think that’s why Japanese people like Suguru. And I think that’s why young Japanese runners love Suguru,  because he’s an independent athlete. He’s maybe the same as Andre Agassi was in America for tennis. He has independence. He’s going to do things his way and he’s not part of the normal path. And I think that’s inspiring to kids. I think it’s even inspiring to most all Japanese because culturally, that’s a little bit different than what‘s seen as normal in Japan. In some ways, he’s American or he’s very independent. He’s like a cowboy. But he’s still very much Japanese. His heart is tradition. His honor, his pride.

It was very nice meeting you Pete and it was such a good race. Thank you for your time today, have a safe flight Pete. 

Interviewer: Kohei Adachi

Photograph: Shota Matsumoto