translated by Brett Larner
This summer a student runner in Kyoto will have the honor of wearing his mother country's national colors in an international competition for the first time. An alumnus of Kyoto Gaidai Nishikoto High School's track and field team, Moroccan Hassan Boumagoul (22) has been chosen for his country's team for the World Student Games, to be held July 4-9 in Serbia. Having resigned from his jitsugyodan team last summer, this spring Hassan was accepted into Kyoto's Ryokoku Junior College. "Japan suits me better than anywhere else," Hassan says.
Hassan came to Japan in 2002, running in the National High School Track and Field Championships 5000 m all three of his years at Gaidai Nishi. After graduation he joined Fukuoka-based Team Toyota Kyushu, where he trained alongside future Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya. In May last year he anchored a Toyota Kyushu 4 x 400m relay team with Wanjiru and Japanese aces Yu Mitsuya and Ryuji Watanabe.
But the strict life necessary for chasing after faster times became too much for Hassan and he decided he wanted something else. Up to that point he had followed the typical path of a talented foreign runner in Japan, going from running as an exchange student at a Japanese school to a position with a top corporate team, but in August last year he quit Toyota Kyushu.* Returning to his 'second home' of Kyushu, he applied to Ryukoku University's foreign student department and was accepted, entering the school's junior college when the new academic year began in April. Hassan now takes classes alongside Japanese students. "I've made a lot of friends, and on the track I can do things my own way," he says with a broad smile.
Hassan is paying for school with the money he earned while running in the jitsugyodan system, and he hopes to continue running all four years that he is a student. It will soon be 8 years since he came to Japan, but he hasn't forgotten his family back home. His father died before Hassan entered Ryokoku, and his mother Altia, 58, wanted him to return home to Morocco. Having chosen to stay in Japan, Hassan feels a constant need to help soothe her peace of mind.
Ryukoku University head coach Katsu Nishide has looked after the young foreign runner's life in Japan since Hassan's high school days. "There are a lot of Moroccan athletes who grow up into becoming the world's best. My hope is that Hassan will also become a world-beater." Looking to the future beyond the World University Games, Hassan speaks of his own dreams. "I owe a lot to Japan and to Kyoto. Sometime soon when I'm stronger I want to repay the debt in the marathon."
*Translator's note: Hassan's resignation from Team Toyota Kyushu came just after Wanjiru resigned from the team and then won the Beijing Olympics marathon.