Japanese runner completes marathon relay race with fractured leg

A teenage runner in a relay marathon in Japan is being applauded for her never-say-die spirit for insisting on crawling the last 700 feet of her section of the race after falling and fracturing her right leg. 

Rei Iida, a university student who was competing for the Iwatani Sangyo corporate “ekiden” relay marathon team in Sunday’s race in Fukuoka Prefecture, tripped and fell towards the end of her 2.2-mile stretch of the 26-mile race. 

Footage aired on Japanese television shows the 19-year-old Ms Iida being shepherded by a race marshal as she crawled along the tarmac, leaving streaks of blood from her hands and knees on the white road markings. 

“She has a strong sense of responsibility”, a spectator at the event told the Asahi newspaper. “I admire her and want to applaud her”.

In a message sent to Iwatani Sangyo, another member of the public said: “We are moved by her perseverance.”

Tetsuhiko Kin, a sports commentator who was previously an “ekiden” competitor, said runners are under enormous mental pressure as they are part of a corporate team and need to pass the sash over to the next runner. 

“She seemed driven to somehow arrive at the relay point, which she could see [when she fell]”, he said. 

Race organisers have been criticised, however, for failing to stop Ms Iida continuing, even though she reportedly insisted on finishing. 

Immediately after hearing that Ms Iida had fallen and been injured, the manager of her team decided to pull the team out of the competition. Officials were not immediately able to contact the head judge of the event and by the time the decision had been conveyed to the organisers, Ms Iida was close to handing over the sash to the next runner. 

“I struggled to decide whether I should stop her, but I felt she could do it as she was almost at her goal”, the head judge was quoted as saying. 

Ms Iida also declined to stop when approached and only asked the judge, “How many metres are left until my goal?”

Ms Iida was taken to a hospital immediately after completing her section of the race and was diagnosed with a fracture of her leg that is expected to take four months to heal. She apologised to the team manager for her performance. 

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