By Elaine Lies
TOKYO, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Mingling with more than 30,000 runners at this month's Tokyo Marathon will be a small, elite crew of police runners equipped with cameras capturing real-time footage of the course.
Japan is stepping up security measures after Islamic State militants in the Middle East said they had beheaded two Japanese hostages, sparking fears of Islamist-linked attacks at home.
Security for the annual race had already been tightened after the deadly bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, a police spokesman said.
"If police are there among the runners they may be able to see things more quickly, and runners will be able to take part in the race with a feeling of security," he added.
The 64 police runners will join thousands of law enforcers and security guards posted for protection along the route of the Feb. 22 race, which is set to draw 36,000 racers and more than 100,000 spectators this year.
Signs on marathon bibs will identify the police runners, whose caps will be fitted with small cameras transmitting images of the scene to police headquarters for real-time monitoring.
The new security measures are seen as a run-through for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and also point to heightened surveillance after the alleged beheadings of Japanese citizens last week prompted a vow by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bring the killers to justice.
John Coates, vice president of the International Olympic Committee told a news conference on Thursday he remained confident of Japan's ability to provide security for the Games.
Each police runner at the Tokyo Marathon will cover part of the 42.2-kilometre (26-mile) race and will be chosen from a pool of officers with extensive marathon experience.
"All police officers train as a matter of course, since you never know when you might have to run as part of your daily work," the spokesman said. "But these will be people who run quite a lot." (Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Tony Tharakan and Clarence Fernandez)