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Takao Watanabe Resigns From Coaching Sendai Ikuei to Train Kinukawa Full-time in Leadup to London Olympics

http://www.kahoku.co.jp/news/2008/10/20081016t14028.htm
http://www.nikkansports.com/sports/news/p-sp-tp0-20081014-418874.html

translated and edited by Brett Larner

A day after his prodigy Megumi Kinukawa (19, Team Mizuno) returned from prolonged illness to set a new women's junior national record of 31:23.21 in the 10000 m at the Oct. 13 Niigata Big Festa meet, Sendai Ikuei High School head coach Takao Watanabe (61) announced that he was resigning his position after 9 years with the school in order to focus on Kinukawa's development full-time over the next 4 years leading up to the 2012 London Olympics marathon and thanked the school warmly. "I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to coach from my heart."

After taking over as head coach in 1999, Watanabe led the boy's ekiden team to 6 national title victories in the National High School Ekiden Championships, making Sendai Ikuei the top running high school in Japan. He also brought half marathon world record holder and Olympic marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya to Sendai Ikuei and was Wanjiru's first coach in Japan. Asked for his favorite memories from his tenure as coach, Watanabe cited his first season in 1999, the 2004 "God's Country" season when the team set the ekiden high school world record of 2:01:32, and last year when Sendai Ikuei edged out the 2nd place team to win despite both schools clocking the same time.
Watanabe's successor as head coach at Sendai Ikuei, Junichi Seino (24), paid tribute to the retiring leader, saying, "The legacy that Coach Watanabe leaves behind is profound and invaluable. It's a heavy weight to carry, but I will do everything I can to continue the leadership he personified."
Kinukawa attended Sendai Ikuei High School, where she set the previous women's 10000 m junior national record as a senior, qualifying her for the 2007 World Track and Field Championships where she finished 14th. A serious viral infection in the late fall kept her out of competition, including the Beijing Olympics, and reduced her training to just an hour of walking per day. On Sept. 20 she ran her first race in nearly a year, beginning a swift comeback which led quickly to her new junior national record and signalled that she was ready to pick up where she left off a year ago.
Watanabe began coaching Kinukawa when she was a student at Sendai Ikuei and is now devoting himself to cultivating this very special athlete. "More than running in the World Championships last year," Watanabe said of Kinukawa, "setting the new junior record yesterday was a transformative experience. She's not ready to think about challenging [Mizuki] Noguchi yet, but this result showed her that she's good enough to run at the world level."
Kinukawa's mark ranks her at 9th on the all-time Japanese women's 10000 m record list and clears the A-standard for next summer's World Championships in Berlin. "World-class level is coming closer one step at a time," said Kinukawa after her performance in Niigata, a great start on the road to the 42.195 km race 4 years distant.

This month, Kinukawa begins training full-time at the National Training Center in Tokyo. Watanabe chose to move from Sendai to Tokyo in order to dedicate himself to guiding her training as her private coach. "Japan's marathoning in the Beijing Olympics was like a blunt sword. I want to make sure this doesn't happen again in London," Watanabe told listeners, confirming that Kinukawa intends to make the marathon the focus of her career. "Kinukawa will run the marathon in the London Olympics."

At next summer's World Championships Kinukawa plans to race the 10000 m on the track, then in 2010 she will run her marathon debut. Still recovering from the illness which kept her out of competition for most of the year, her longest training run leading up to Niigata was only 16 km, but her training menu for the near future includes runs over 20 km. The next step is, according to Coach Watanabe, "Sub-31 minutes [for 10000 m] next year." Looking over Watanabe's training menus in his plan for a progressive buildup to the marathon, Kinukawa agreed and lightheartedly shrugged, "Yeah, I plan to do my best." After a miraculous comeback, Megumi Kinukawa has the potential to be the great redeemer of Japanese women's marathoning.

Translator's note: Watanabe's move, leaving the six-time national champion high school to focus on one athlete, sets up a relationship like that between Japan's two most revered marathoners, Takahashi and Seko, and their coaches, Koide and Nakamura. In four years today's story may prove to be historic.

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