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Yutaka Taketomi, Olympian Maker

translated by Mika Tokairin and Brett Larner

Tenmaya is a department store chain based in Okayama and Hiroshima Prefectures. Entering through the front door of the Okayama main store, one is greeted by a gleaming, fashionable boutique full of Chanel and Tiffany. Wandering through the displays, there is little to indicate that one of the shrewdest, most talented leaders of the Japanese marathon world is based here in simple quarters.

This is Tenmaya Women's Track and Field Team head coach Yutaka Taketomi. A small man, he looks like some sort of artisan with short, sporty hair and brown skin caused by long hours in the sun. Tenmaya team member Yurika Nakamura won her first marathon, the Nagoya International Women's Marathon, in March to qualify for the Beijing Olympic marathon team. The Olympic marathon team alternate, Tomo Morimoto, also belongs to Team Tenmaya.

With Nakamura's selection to the Beijing team, Taketomi has sent his runners to three consecutive Olympic Games. The Tenmaya runners in the last two Olympics both finished in the top 7 in their races. One exceptional runner might make the Olympics several times in a row, but it's very rare that multiple runners under the same coach are selected consecutively, especially in the marathon where competition is harsh.

Moreover, those runners were not particularly skilled before they entered Team Tenmaya. In other words, they were anonymous runners. Taketomi frequently went to local high schools in central Japan and found them, then built them into elite athletes. Because of this process, he has a high reputation for his coaching ability.

Taketomi himself is quite understated about all of this. "I don't want to do anything showy. I don't usually excite or flatter my runners too much. I just do what I have to do every day." However, when we look into his method of coaching there are many ideas for producing Olympians.

"Everybody on the team is going to experience the Olympics"

Since June, Taketomi has been conducting altitude training with Nakamura and Morimoto in the U.S. In mid-July he flew to Hokkaido where the rest of the team was at a training camp, then returned to Okayama. Once again, he returned to the States to coach Nakamura on how to adjust to the conditions she will face at the Olympics. They are scheduled to travel to Beijing just before race day.

In truth, it is not only Nakamura who will travel to Beijing. Every runner on Team Tenmaya will go to get experience of the Olympics. This is not only to support and cheer for Nakamura, but Taketomi also hopes his athletes will learn something about the atmosphere of a major event.

Nakamura did the same in her turn, accompanying Tenmaya team member Naoko Sakamoto to the Athens Olympics. She was inspired by Sakamoto, who ran on that major stage, and it became the fuel for her daily training thereafter. Likewise, everyone on the team accompanied Eri Yamaguchi to Sydney when she ran in the Olympic marathon there. Tenmaya runners pass on the unique energy of the Olympics to their successor runners, a manifestation of Taketomi's beliefs.

"It costs a lot to do this, but I have told the company that it is a necessary expense."

Part II will follow soon.


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