translated by Brett Larner
A major talent looks set to finally bloom. Having set a new Japanese national half-marathon record of 1:00:25 in October, Atsushi Sato (Team Chugoku Denryoku) of Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, says, "Doing something like that gives me a lot of confidence, but at the same time it puts a lot of expectation on me. If I don`t do well [in Fukuoka] a lot of people are going to criticize me. I have to do well." With this delicate balance of confidence and pressure, Sato heads into the Fukuoka International Marathon on Dec. 2.
During his days at Waseda University Sato set the then Japanese student marathon record of 2:09:50 in his debut marathon. Since that time he has made a name as a star corporate ekiden runner but has not lived up to the same potential in the marathon, finishing only 10th in the 2003 Paris World Championships.
Sato trained for last year`s Biwako Marathon at a high-altitude training camp in Kunming, China. He had felt that altitude was the one thing missing from his training but was disappointed with the results, having to drop out of Biwako. "I was pretty depressed. I felt like no matter what I did I couldn`t improve, that I was finished."
Sato`s coach Yasushi Sakaguchi found the light while Sato was struggling. "Sato has very high standards for himself, higher ideals than other runners. He didn`t race well because he punished himself so hard in training. His body just couldn`t match the level he was trying for. It wasn`t until right around Biwako that it finally started to catch up to his mind. Now he is ready."
In the Beppu-Oita Marathon this year Sato finished 2nd. Afterward he said, "I want to break through the wall." His training after Beppu-Oita focused on running flat out from the very start. In July`s Sapporo International Marathon Sato ran well against the foreign runners, finishing 3rd. "When I went out hard from the start my body responded well. In fact it was easier than before. I`ve found a way through the wall."
Sato is famous for the intensity of his personality and, in his words, for thinking too much. In July Sato married Japanese 800m record holder Miho Sugimori (Team Natureal), an event which has changed his outlook. "Being together, we can relax more," says Sato. And together they can prepare for the Beijing Olympics.
Translator`s note: Sato was scheduled to run in this year`s London Marathon but withdrew shortly before the race with a minor injury.