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Speed Skater Kato Joji Gears Up for Torino (December 26, 2005)

Kato Joji (Jiji)
Twenty-year-old Kato Joji is a focus of Japanese hopes for the upcoming Winter Olympics, which will take place in the Italian city of Torino in February 2006. In November 2005 the young speed skater set a new world record of 34.30 seconds in the men's 500-meter event at the World Cup in the United States, a feat that instantly propelled him into the ranks of the world's best. Kato's dazzling performance made him the fastest skater in the world, a title that had been held by Nagano Olympics gold medalist Shimizu Hiroyasu for nearly five years. There are high hopes that, spearheaded by Kato, Japanese speed skating is entering a new golden era.

A Succession of Victories
When asked about his record, Kato nonchalantly explains, "Shimizu's record was old, and I knew we shouldn't stop there. We've finally moved into a new era, I think." During the race, Kato began accelerating at the 100-meter mark and negotiated the final curve without swerving outward, even though he was skating at full speed. His movements were smooth, with no signs of the pain he had been suffering around his right hip joint. The performance surprised even Suzuki Keiichi, a Japan Skating Federation official who himself set two world records during his career. Suzuki predicted, "It's just a matter of time before Kato goes below the 34-second mark."

Kato was born in Yamagata Prefecture and took up skating in elementary school, following in the footsteps of his older brothers. Later, while at Yamagata Chuo High School, he came first in the national high school championships three years in a row. In his last year of high school he was chosen to represent Japan in the speed skating World Cup, becoming the first Japanese high school student ever to appear in the event. Though this was his first international competition, he placed third, to many people's surprise. After graduation Kato joined Nidec Sankyo Corporation and further perfected his skating skills. He placed second in the 2004 World Cup overall rankings. And in March 2005 he won the 500-meters at the World Single Distances Championships in Germany, a success that made him the first athlete to book a place in Japan's team for the Torino (Turin) Olympics. His victory in Germany was resounding, with second-placed Shimizu trailing 0.44 seconds behind.

Kato is a diminutive figure, 164 centimeters tall and weighing just 60 kilograms. His thighs measure 55 centimeters in circumference, about the same as a female skater, but Kato is strong and muscular, and he is known for the speed at which he can negotiate corners. In contrast to Shimizu, who is known for his rocket-like starts, Kato's strength lies in his corner work, which is said to be second to none in the world. Unlike Shimizu, Kato has always used clap skates (skates with the blade attached to the boot by a hinge at the front), which let him maximize his natural speed by skating with less extraneous motion. Kato is 11 years younger than Shimizu, and his potential for further improvement is vast.

Support Team
Kato says that he will concentrate on the 500-meter race in Torino. He is determined to get the result he desires: "I'm going for the gold medal. I'm definitely going to win it." These are the words of a young, confident skater. Hopes are now growing that Kato and Shimizu might even share gold and silver between them.

At the Athens Olympics in 2004, Kitajima Kosuke won two gold medals in swimming with vital logistical support from "Team Kitajima." The Kato camp is following this example and has formed a "Team Kato" centering on the skater's manager, Imamura Toshiaki, and including a coach-cum-trainer, a fitness coach, a mental coach, and a nutritionist. Kato has already succeeded in improving his basic fitness through a regimen centered on barbell work and other exercises for developing muscles. He maintains his condition at an optimum level by eating meals whose nutritional content has been carefully calculated.

Kato will continue training for the Olympics with the support of this impeccable backup team. Though he has many formidable rivals, including Jeremy Wotherspoon of Canada, he is undoubtedly one of Japan's best medal hopes in Torino.

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Copyright (c) 2005 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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