translated and edited by Brett Larner
It's the first step toward the rebirth of a strong new Team Asahi Kasei. As he gets deep into the heart of his training for August's World Championships marathon, Masaya Shimizu (28) has in the back of his mind the fact that the once all-powerful Asahi Kasei's runners missed making the Beijing Olympics team for the first time in 9 Olympics. Alongside fellow Kagoshima natives Satoshi Irifune (33, Team Kanebo) and Kazuhiro Maeda (28, Team Kyudenko), Shimizu is training toward a near-inevitable high-speed race in Berlin.
His humble, self-effacing exterior hides Shimizu's pride at representing Japan and Asahi Kasei on the national team. "My goal is to make the Olympics, so I want this run to be something that will help lead toward that," he says. "I don't want to disgrace the Asahi Kasei name." Last year no runner from the team made the Beijing Olympics marathon squad, ending Asahi Kasei's Olympic streak at 8.* Shimizu admits that he carries on his shoulders the burden of "reviving the kingdom."
In a world in which the marathon has become like incredibly fast, Shimizu has little natural speed. At the May 30 Golden Games in Nobeoka 5000 m, his World Championships marathon teammates Irifune and Maeda both ran times in the 13 minute range. Shimizu ran 14:30.36. "People who are far away from me in the track world are a different story in the marathon. In the marathon your disadvantages and poor race conditions become part of the strategy, and the results can be almost random."
Shimizu qualified for the World Championships at March's Biwako Mainichi Marathon. Running into a strong headwind, Shimizu broke away from the lead pack including his identical twin brother Tomoya (Team Sagawa Express) and ran as the top Japanese athlete ahead of powerful foreign runners Paul Tergat (Kenya), Jose Rios (Spain) and Yared Asmerom (Eritrea). Running far beyond his expected limits, Shimizu showed his true strength in that race. Asahi Kasei head coach Takeshi Soh was surprised. "Honestly, based on Shimizu's track times I didn't expect I'd ever see him wearing the national uniform. The marathon has a magical way of bringing out people's hidden talents, doesn't it?" he smiles.
"Tradition" is the word Shimizu carries inside. He chose to join Team Asahi Kasei partly because as an identical twin he carries on the legacy of the Soh brothers and partly because of its reputation as a place with a practice ethic which challenges one's natural abilities. "Asahi Kasei is where the Soh twins wrote the book on the value of hard work in training," Shimizu believes. Barring any major breakdowns in the next 2 years, the value of his own hard work is bound to become clear when the results start coming. The Asahi Kasei name and reputation are a heavy load for him to carry, but Shimizu is up to the challenge. "I'm proud to run but I don't feel any pressure," he says. "I've got the desire, so if I can run like I did in Biwako the results will follow."
Two of Shimizu's World Championships teammates also ran in the Golden Games and discussed their marathon training. Kazuhiro Maeda is burning for vindication of his last World Championships performance. Running on home ground, Maeda was lapped twice by the leaders and finished a humiliating 17th in the 10000 m at the 2007 Osaka World Championships. "I really don't want to have a race that makes me hate myself again. My legs will be ready this time," he promises.
Satoshi Irifune will be making his second appearance at the World Championships, having run the marathon in the 2005 Helsinki games. Following the advice of his former teammate and current coach, marathon national record holder Toshinari Takaoka, Irifune is focusing on the track in his preparations for Berlin. Speaking with the composure of a veteran, Irifune comments, "It's important to develop track speed but to be careful about injuries as you increase the mileage. That's how I want to do it. The gap to the top has gotten smaller, and I think I can get a top eight finish in Berlin. Whatever speed they go out at I'm going to be there hanging on."
*Translator's note: Among Team Asahi Kasei's greatest marathoners were the Soh twins Shigeru and Takeshi, Hiromi Taniguchi, and Koichi Morishita, whose silver in Barcelona was Japan's last Olympic men's marathon medal and who coached Kenya's Samuel Wanjiru to gold in Beijing. In April this year another talented runner with an identical twin, Toyo University's Tomoya Onishi, joined Asahi Kasei.