Have you heard the one about the Japanese runner who took 54 years to finish the Olympic marathon?

To be precise, 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 5 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds was how long it took Shiso Kanakuri to finish the race — not that the time, which was only ever recorded as a joke, matters. It's Kanakuri himself who is important, because when he set off on that infamous run, precisely 100 years ago in Stockholm, he was one of just two athletes representing Japan at its very first Olympic Games.

Sport had not been a particularly popular pastime in early 20th-century Japan. Fledgling clubs catering to various physical activities had popped up at schools and universities, but, as the historian Kazuo Sayama has written, "there had been martial arts in Japan, but they were very different to the French idea of sport. (In the early 1900s) few Japanese had awoken to sport's real meaning."