translated by Brett Larner
Turning 48 this year, Yasushi Sakaguchi (Team Chugoku Denryoku) faces great change as he enters his fifth Zodiac cycle in 2009. In December he was named director of the men's division of Rikuren's new Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee. "I fully understand how weighty this is for Japan," he says. A widely-respected coach with three Olympic marathoners to his name, Sakaguchi has been entrusted with rebuilding the wreckage from the Beijing Olympics.
Japanese men's distance running has up until now been focused only on team running. This, says Sakaguchi, has been a mistake. From now on, "The priority is going to be on representing Japan." Team Chugoku Denryoku finished 7th at this year's New Year Ekiden, its worst placing since 2001. The team is in a rebuilding phase with a crop of young runners, but with his naming to the national position Sakaguchi's attention is elsewhere. "When an opportunity like this comes along you have to take it. That's life," he shrugs.
Concrete changes have yet to be made, but in his mind an image of what Sakaguchi would like to see is congealing. First and foremost is the development of a thick stratum of sub-2:10 runners. Top Japanese women marathoners have recently begun to train together as a group, but for the men Sakaguchi does not intend to follow suit. "Everyone has to do different things," he says, acknowledging and respecting the different training methods and obligations of each jitsugyodan corporate team.
Sakaguchi believes the answer is to make representing the country on 'Team Japan' the specific focus of runners' aspirations. "I want them to take pride in making the national team. I think Japanese people have a deep sense of responsibility and that is what makes them strong." He is fully prepared to resign if his ideas do not produce the desired improvement in runners' performances.
Yasushi Sakaguchi - born 1961, Hiroshima Prefecture. Ran for Sera High School, Waseda Univ. and Team S&B. Became head coach of Team Chugoku Denryoku in 1992 and has led the team to two New Year Ekiden wins. He has had marathoners on every Olympic and World Championships team since 2001.