SPRINTING TO GLORY
Record Medal Haul for Japan at World Athletics Meet (October 8, 2003)
At the 9th World Championships in Athletics, held in Paris
from August 23 to 31, Japan won four medals (one silver, three bronze), its highest
total ever in the competition. In addition, with seven of its athletes, including
the medalists, placing eighth or better in their events, matching the number at
the previous championships in Edmonton in 2001, Japan looks to be in great form
heading into the 2004 Olympics in Athens. The championships were broadcast daily
in Japan, where fans celebrated the accomplishments of their countrymen.
|Suetsugu shows off his bronze medal. (Jiji)
Japanese Sprinter Makes History
No Japanese athlete garnered more attention than Suetsugu Shingo, who earned a
bronze medal in the men's 200 meters. Suetsugu displayed his power by easily winning
his first and second heats. In the finals, he needed to play catch-up after a
slow start but was able to edge ahead of the fourth-placed athlete by a mere ten
centimeters and one hundredth of a second to claim third place. In doing so, he
became the first Asian sprinter to win a medal in any world championship or Olympic
competition. Suetsugu, who at 68 kilos and 178 centimeters is considerably smaller
than the other top sprinters against whom he competes, surprised the athletics
world with his medal-winning effort. "He possesses power that makes it hard
to believe he's only 23. In another two or three years he's going to be incredible,"
said winning US sprinter John Capel, dishing out praise to the young Japanese
Suetsugu's power is derived from his distinctive running technique, which he developed
through trial and error with Takano Susumu, his coach from his Tokai University
days. Suetsugu's style involves coordinating the movement of his upper body with
that of his lower body to minimize upper-body twisting, which places stress on
his muscles. He says his technique is the same as that employed by a samurai walking
so as to prevent the sword at his side from swaying. Suetsugu also credits an
intensive training regimen that includes 2,000 sit-ups per day.
Few Japanese sprinters have made it to the world-class level. After a sixth-place
finish by Yoshioka Takanori in the final of the men's 100-meter event at the 1932
Los Angeles Olympics, a long barren spell ensued until Suetsugu's coach, Takano,
reached the finals of the men's 400 meters at both the 1991 World Championships
in Tokyo and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Subsequently, Ito Koji, who preceded
Suetsugu at Tokai University, came within a hair of breaking into the elite nine-second
range when he set an Asian record of 10.00 seconds in the men's 100 meters. Suetsugu's
running has benefited from the knowledge and experience passed down by elite runners
like Takano and Ito.
Takano praised Suetsugu as a "a talent that comes around only once every
several decades. He's mastered in one or two years what took me 10. His is a monumental
achievement that will change people's concept of the Japanese body." Further
expectations for Suetsugu include becoming the first Asian to break 10 seconds
in the 100 meters and 20 seconds in the 200 meters, and reproducing his medal-winning
form at the Athens Olympics.
Women's Marathoners Keep Pace
In the women's marathon, traditionally a strong event for Japan, Japanese athletes
shone brightly despite the absence of Sydney Olympics gold medalist Takahashi
Naoko. Noguchi Mizuki, competing in just her third marathon, earned the silver
medal, and Chiba Masako, who finished third in the 10,000-meter event at the 1997
world championships in Athens, took home the bronze. Finishing just a step behind
Chiba in fourth place was Sakamoto Naoko. Noguchi, 25, stands 150-centimeters
tall, while Chiba, 27, measures 156 centimeters. Back home, Japanese fans were
impressed by the powerful running of these diminutive athletes, and the TV viewer
rating for the marathon climbed to 30.1%.
In the men's hammer throw, Murofushi Koji, ranked number one in the world in the event
and heavily favored to win, earned a bronze medal despite injuring his right elbow
just prior to the championships. Murofushi climbed the victory podium as the first
Japanese athlete to win medals in consecutive World Athletics Championships, following
his silver medal in Edmonton in 2001.
Other young up-and-coming Japanese competitors who made it to the finals of their
events include Iwamizu Yoshitaka in the men's 3,000-meters steeplechase and Sawano
Daichi in the men's pole vault. With Athens on the horizon and Japan preparing
to host the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka, the performance of the
country's athletes in Paris bodes well for the future.
Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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