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Record Medal Haul for Japan at World Athletics Meet (October 8, 2003)

Suetsugu Shingo
Suetsugu shows off his bronze medal. (Jiji)
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.

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 sprinter.

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.

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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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