translated and edited by Brett Larner
"I'm in better shape than I was four years ago. I'm ready to run 2:30." So says Yuichi Takahashi, the Athens Paralympics men's marathon gold medalist who will look to defend his title at the Beijing Paralympics marathon on Sept. 17.
Takahashi is completely blind. He and other blind marathoners are allowed to employ two guide runners, one in the first half of the race and one in the second. Guides' left hands are tied to blind runners' right hands, communicating directions through subtle movements of the lead rope as they traverse the 42.195 km course. Takahashi managed to secure exceptional guide runners this time, capable athletes he trusts completely.* His daily training has gone well and he is full of confidence.
Takahashi was born June 12, 1965 in Yokote, Akita Prefecture. Born sighted, he carries the burden of memories of the visual world. As a student at Yokote Nishi Junior High School he ran on the track and field team, but in his second year at Omagari Nogyo High School he was afflicted with a degenerative condition which caused his eyesight to rapidly deteriorate. After graduating from high school, he entered the National Blind People's Rehabilition Center in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture at age 19. At the center he learned how to use a white cane and received training to receive skills which would allow him to find work. He studied massage, eventually receiving his license.
After leaving the center Takahashi moved frequently, spending time in Sendai, Tokyo, Okinawa and elsewhere over the years. As his eyesight continued to deteriorate he found himself often thinking back to his days on his school track team and made the decision to start running again. Following the dim outline of light that was all that was left to him, he ran 100 m on his first day. The next day he ran 200 m, and the following day 1 km. It was a long, slow buildup to his first marathon at age 31, a race which took him 5 hours to complete but which was itself just a prelude to his gold medal at the Athens Paralympics.
By the time he was 34 he was completely blind. He settled in Tokyo, opening a massage clinic and marrying his wife Yoshiko, who was also a runner. In Athens at age 39 he ran 2:44:24 to win the gold medal. He expects to break this mark by a wide margin in Beijing despite being 43 with the aid and support of his guides, Yoshiko, and his parents. "I'm running for Japan and for the Rising Sun. I want the Rising Sun to fly from the center pole once more," said Takahashi. "After Beijing there is also London. I want to show that it's possible to keep succeeding even if you're getting old. People with a dream are the ones who shine the most brilliantly."
*Translator's note: Takahashi's PB is 2:37:43. One of his guides in the Beijing Paralympics marathon will be Sydney Olympics men's marathon competitor and Toyo University head coach Shinji Kawashima. An earlier article about Kawashima's decision to run as Takahashi's guide can be found here.