ST. GEORGE — The city welcomed a delegation of about 20 people from Ibigawa, Japan, to St. George Thursday in a formal welcoming ceremony at City Hall.
Saturday marks the 30th year of the St. George-Ibigawa partnership for the St. George Marathon.
“So many friendships have been made over those 30 years since Mayor Carl Brooks started this relationship,” Mayor Jon Pike said. “It’s just become a wonderful tradition.”
The mayor reminisced about his own experience as part of a delegation to Ibigawa’s marathon 14 years ago, explaining how gracious his host family was when he visited.
“Keiko and Yoko Nohara are sitting right there,” Pike said, excitedly pointing out two women from the audience as members of that same host family he stayed with in 2004.
“Yoko was 10 years old,” Pike said. “She is now 24. She’s graduated from college, and she’s teaching English in Ibigawa.”
The mayor said he and his wife will now in turn be hosting the Noharas during their stay in St. George.
Pike and the Noharas are just a few of the hundreds of people who have had the opportunity to visit their respective sister city during marathon season. Since it started, the program has evolved to include a handful of exchange students to come from either country and represent their schools.
This year, 12 ninth-graders selected from an essay-writing competition will go to Japan in early November to represent Pine View Middle School, Desert Hills Middle School, Dixie Middle School and Snow Canyon Middle School.
The exchange students will be joined by several other people making up the St. George delegation, including Pike for a return trip. The honored guests will be the winners of Saturday’s marathon, whose unique prize includes an all-expense paid trip to participate in the Ibigawa marathon.
St. George sends the overall male and female winners, masters division winners and a local runner to Ibigawa for a weeklong stay with Japanese host families.
“New people are brought into that family every year,” Pike said.
Lots of new faces joined this year’s Japanese delegation, as well as some familiar sister-city friends, including Ibigawa Mayor Kazuhiro Tomida.
Tomida spoke through a translator during Thursday’s meeting, thanking the St. George community for the warm welcome his delegation received when they arrived Wednesday. The group includes four runners who will participate in the marathon.
The Japanese runners aren’t the only international visitors to participate in the marathon; this year’s registered entrants come from 17 foreign countries.
Of the more than 4,700 runners, approximately 55 percent are male and 45 percent are female, with runners ranging in age from under 14 years old to over 80.
The St. George Marathon has been ranked in the top 20 marathons in the U.S. by Runner’s World, a globally circulated magazine. The 26-mile route begins in Central and proceeds south on state Route 18, ending at the finish line in Vernon Worthen park.
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