Asahi Kasei's Track Team Brings a Community Together Through a Passion for Sports
October 31, 2023
Once a year, Nobeoka City, Miyazaki Prefecture, the cradle of Asahi Kasei, heats up with excitement for the Golden Games in Nobeoka (GGN), a long-distance track competition that attracts around 25,000 spectators from all around Japan. Having begun as a small competition by Asahi Kasei's Track Team, GGN has grown year-by-year with the enthusiasm and cooperation of the local community. GGN has now become a fixture of Nobeoka as a unique track competition that brings world-class athletes together with students. What does GGN mean to Asahi Kasei and the local community? Let's take a closer look at the 34th competition, held in May 2023, and see what those involved have to say.
A small competition becomes a major annual event
“Looks like it’s almost time for the games.” Anticipation builds as GGN flags and posters appear at the train station and other public places around the city. The games have become such a part of Nobeoka that they feel like a local festival.
The event was launched by the So brothers, Shigeru and Takeshi, legendary marathoners on Asahi Kasei's Track Team. After Nobeoka's athletic stadium was renovated in 1990, they decided to celebrate by inviting top athletes from Western Japan for a competition. Over half of the entrants set new personal records at the inaugural event. The participating coaches and athletes suggested making it a regular event, and local community members were also keen to see top runners compete again. Now the General Manager of Asahi Kasei's Track Team, Takeshi So reflects on the first competition, “We aimed to create the atmosphere of a European track competition, where the audience is close to the athletes. Many people from the local community gathered around the track at the stadium, and the air was filled with their enthusiastic cheers. I believe that excitement helped many runners set new records.”
Based on such encouragement, the event was held the following year, and then each subsequent year ever since. The name Golden Games in Nobeoka was adopted in the fourth year, and to give the event an even greater European feel, tin signboards were adopted for the audience to bang on as they cheer. Businesses and shops throughout Nobeoka City were invited to sponsor the event with the signboards, some 100 of them covering the perimeter of the track, and attendance rose to over 5,000. Since the eighth year, the event has been held at the Nobeoka Nishishina Athletic Field, which had been remodeled as Kyushu’s first all-weather stadium with a blue track, and the audience has now grown to 25,000 people. The 34th competition was held in May 2023, for the first time in four years with no pandemic restrictions. “The audience cheers. The athletes give their all. New records are set. Then the audience cheers even more,” adds Takeshi So. “I believe it is this positive cycle that has made GGN an event loved by athletics fans around Japan and by the people of Nobeoka.”
The company and the community joined together
On the day of the event, many staff members arrive early to start setting up the stadium and preparing for the competition. The event’s main organizers, the Miyazaki Association of Athletics Federations and the Competition Organizing Committee, were joined by over 100 students volunteering as ushers, while members of Asahi Kasei’s Track Team handled reception. Operation of the event truly showcased the company and the local community joined together. As spectators arrive, they are given colorful paper tubes to use for banging on the tin signboards while they cheer. Originally the core of yarn spools used at a nearby fiber plant, the tubes were collected to be reused for this purpose.
Another central figure of GGN is Mitsuyo Kusu, Administrative Assistant of Asahi Kasei’s Track Team, who leads the overall management of the event. Working with the local community, she is most passionate for the event’s success. “Originally, I had no connection to athletics, but I happened to become Administrative Assistant of the Track Team nearly 40 years ago after a personnel change. I have been involved with this event since the beginning. At first, I was making the number bibs and signboards myself by hand, but my colleagues saw how late I was working and began to offer various kinds of help. Eventually, people from not only within the company but also from the local community came to support the event, making it the GGN we have today. Over the years, I have really felt the compassion and kindness of the people of Nobeoka as well as my colleagues in Asahi Kasei.”
A special day for children
GGN starts in the afternoon and continues until the evening. The first half consists of races for elementary and junior high school students. It's unusual for them to compete before such a large audience. The roar of the crowd inspires the children run flat out until the finish line. There are very few competitions which include both top-level athletes and children. The loud cheers and the sound of the banging on the signboards not only spur the children to run faster, they also provide a valuable growth experience.
The Nobeoka Athletics Association, which is involved with training young track & field athletes in Nobeoka, talks about how GGN is a venue for children to grow and gain valuable experience, “To children, GGN is an opportunity to give their all and grow as athletes and as people while being cheered on by many spectators up close. Additionally, as an event peculiar to Nobeoka, at which businesses, government agencies, residents, and the Nobeoka Athletics Association come together to show their enthusiasm, GGN strengthens community bonds. We want to continue making it an exciting event for everyone.”
The crowd’s cheers encourage the athletes
From the middle of the event onward are the main competitions, including entries among high school and college students as well as top-level athletes from business organizations. Shigeru So, Advisor of Asahi Kasei's Track Team, takes the microphone as GGN’s familiar commentator, further electrifying the audience. “Keep it up!” “You’ve got this!” “Don’t give up!” His motivational cheering not only encourages the competitors, but also excites the entire stadium.
The sound of the crowd banging on the signboards and cheering on the athletes rises to another level. Encouraged by the cheers of the audience, the runners sprint the final stretch with all their might. At GGN, you can witness the exact point at which the athletes get inspired by the audience. And whenever a new record is set—national, competition, or personal —the crowd erupts. For more than 30 years, GGN has nurtured a respect for, and celebration of, taking on challenges and overcoming one’s limitations.
The athletes from Asahi Kasei’s Track Team who compete in GGN also see it as a special event. Tetsuya Yoroizaka mentioned, “GGN is truly a home race as I get to run while hearing my name being shouted by a large number of people. It is also an event that gives me a renewed sense of support from everyone of Asahi Kasei and Nobeoka. I will always be grateful and give my all for the cheering fans.”
What GGN means to Asahi Kasei
Over the years, Asahi Kasei has fostered many world-class athletes, and has actively contributed to local communities and nurturing the next-generation through sports. GGN is symbolic of these efforts. While GGN is a track competition, it is also an annual festival that is eagerly anticipated by the people of the company and the community of Nobeoka. In addition, the competition allows young athletes to grow and have a memorable experience. It is also a venue for interactions that nurture future athletes in connection with the community. We at Asahi Kasei want GGN to continue to be an event loved by athletes and the local community, and will keep contributing to society through sports, considering the future of the community and its children.