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Yuri Kano and Mary Wittenberg Discuss Kano's New York Debut

translated and edited by Brett Larner

The New York Road Runners held a press conference at Tokyo's Conrad Hotel on Sept. 28 to formally announce the ING New York City Marathon debut of World Championships women's marathon 7th place finisher Yuri Kano (Second Wind AC). Kano, her coach Manabu Kawagoe and, via conference call, NYRR CEO and NYCM race director Mary Wittenberg took part in the press conference with JRN editors Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin serving as the interpreters between Wittenberg and Kano, Kawagoe, and the Japanese media. Below is a transcript of comments and responses.

For clarification of the questions regarding Second Wind AC, most Japanese teams are corporate-sponsored and exist largely removed from and invisible to the everyday world of amateur runners and running fans. Second Wind is trying to operate on a new model in which amateurs can run in the same club with elite athletes such as Kano and 2009 Hokkaido Marathon 1-2 finishers Kiyoko Shimahara and Akemi Ozaki, training with them and receiving coaching tips and advice while at the same time helping to support the elites who lack the funding provided by the corporate team structure. The Sept. 28 press conference took place just before a party to celebrate Kano, Shimahara and Ozaki's successes last month. Among those in attendance alongside the club's supporter members were other elite athletes and top Rikuren officials.

Wittenberg: I'm so glad to join you and to announce today that we are pleased to welcome to New York City for the 40th running of the ING New York City Marathon our best Japanese contender to win or stand on our podium in years. No Japanese man or woman has ever won the New York City Marathon. Today we announce a woman who is no stranger to the streets of New York City, having run three of our last four New York City Half Marathons and having run our New York Mini. She'll be celebrating her 31st birthday here in New York City during race week on October 27th. Today we welcome Yuri Kano back to New York City and to the ING New York City Marathon for the first time. We're so pleased to welcome Yuri back and we hope it's the beginning of a new generation of Japanese runners running in New York.

Q: Would you be able to tell us some of the competition Kano will be facing in New York this year?

Wittenberg: I sure can. We will have the top two finishers from Boston this year in their closest finish ever, Salina Kosgei and Dire Tune. We will have Lyudmila Petrova, a former champion of course, Tatiana Petrova, the winner of Los Angeles, and Christelle Daunay from France. It's a long list, but of course the athlete not yet announced who we're very hopeful will join is Paula Radcliffe. She is not signed yet but we are hopeful to say that soon.

Q: Ms. Kano, why did you decide to run the New York City Marathon and what is your target in the race?

Kano: The decision to do it had been made before I ran the World Championships. There wasn't really a special reason. People usually say it's hard to do another major race two months after a serious effort, but last year most of the top international women from the Beijing Olympics ran in New York, so I wanted to be in that circle too. I know the course is hard and it's not one where you can really focus on time, so instead of setting a time goal I'm looking to be at least in the top three.

Q: When you hear that there's a good chance Paula Radcliffe will run how does it affect your thinking about the race, and what kind of impression do you have of her?

Kano: I just want to see what it's like to run with her more than actually competing with her. When I think of Radcliffe I remember watching her at last year's New York. She looked like someone from another world. She went through the hills in the second half like they were nothing. I don't know how she can do that. It was amazing. To run like that every moment of her life must be dedicated to the marathon.

Q: In terms other than just her overall placing, Ms. Wittenberg, what kind of race would you like Kano to show to the people of New York City?

Wittenberg: In New York City we're famous for our fabulous finishes. In New York it's all about the race much more so than the time. We would like to see a great race to the finish among some of the top stars of the sport.

Q: When you invite overseas athletes do you usually do an international teleconference like this?

Wittenberg: We do it where we have a top athlete and where it's a country of great importance to us, and certainly that is the case in Japan. We have a great commitment to bring Japanese athletes here and as I said hopefully this is the beginning of doing that. I'd be very happy to get up very early or go to sleep very late to turn out the Japanese athletes. They'll appreciate that I'm going out for my morning run right after this [appr. 5:00 a.m. New York time - general laughter].

Q: It's been a month since the Berlin World Championships. What have you been doing since then, Ms. Kano?

Kano: I took two weeks easy after Berlin, then I've been getting my body used to training again over the last three weeks. If you let your body go too long it's hard to come back, so having the next goal already in sight helps you focus, make the best recovery and get back into training after a big race. Things are going really well right now.

Q: Coach Kawagoe, after the World Championships do you have a different view of Kano as an athlete than you did before?

Kawagoe: During the qualification period it wasn't clear until the very end whether Kano would be on the team, so she was feeling unstable and insecure the whole time. There was also some uncertainty because her physical condition wasn't very good and we weren't sure whether she'd be ready in time for the World Championships. We had some blood tests done and found that she had problems with anemia. That was the lowest point, but we did our best to work from there and she ended up 7th. I would say that's pretty good. There wasn't really enough time when she was in a condition to do the kind of training we wanted, so I can't help wonder what would have happened if she had been in the shape she was in at the Tokyo International Women's Marathon last year, for example. I'm sure she can be competitive against a top international field if she does the right training. World-level races these days are tricky. Sometimes they are strategic but often it's about pure speed like a track race. The quality of the field worldwide is getting higher and we want to be ready for Kano to perform in that kind of high-level race.

Q: New York will be just over two months after the World Championships. Back in the 70's doing that kind of thing was common, but these days it's unusual to race twice in such a short span. How is it going to be possible?

Kawagoe: Well, there are a lot more pro runners around these days, so from a business standpoint it makes sense to do it. At Second Wind we are following this worldwide trend, but we think about quality, not just quantity. For example, where many top athletes train up to 1200 km in a month, we barely do half of that. We pay attention to speedwork all the time and try to train in a way that doesn't damage the body. We do marathon training all year round, but we don't break the year up and say, "OK, this is when we are focusing on base mileage and this in when we are working on speed." Our athletes are ready to race at any time and we're constantly trying to raise the level at which this is possible. Since we're dealing with the human body it can't always take everything that's on the training plan, but doing it this way we can avoid major injuries and keep consistency. That's why two months isn't impossible.

Q: Where and what kind of training will Kano be doing to get ready for New York?

Kawagoe: As Kano said, she took about a week or two off after the World Championships and then built back up, so after just four or five weeks she's back to the point where she can train seriously again. On October 1st she's leaving for a month at our training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico to get ready. From there we plan to go straight to New York and race.

Q: What was the reaction among the Second Wind club supporters when you came back from the World Championships?

Kano: I came back on August 25th and there was a Second Wind practice session with all the supporter members that night, so I went there right after I arrived. I was a bit nervous about meeting everyone. Even though I felt good about things, at the same time inside I was feeling kind of disappointed with my performance so I wasn't sure how I should act. When I saw all the supporters, though, they were really happy and proud. I didn't feel as good about my race as they did, but seeing everyone around me so pleased and warm it made me feel like I can still compete at the world level.

Q: I heard that you raised quite a bit of money from your club supporters to help pay for your World Championships training. How do you feel about that?

Kano: When I heard about that I wasn't really expecting very much, and I actually doubted whether we'd be able to raise any money at all. Actually, though, there were a lot of people who weren't relatives of mine or anything who just said, "Good luck!" and sent some money. Way more than I expected, so again I feel like a lot of people helped me. Because of all this money I had the kind of feeling I think soccer or baseball players feel, where they're supported by fans and their supporter clubs. That's how I felt this time. Second Wind is not exactly like a soccer or baseball team, but it's getting more team spirit and dedicated fans supporting it, and I hope it keeps growing that way.

Q: With the World Championships behind you now, what do you see for yourself looking ahead over the long term to the London Olympics and beyond?

Kano: In terms of the selection process for the Olympic team, the best thing would be to get a medal at the next World Championships. Next year there's the Asian Games too. I want to run more races like that where the emphasis is on winning instead of just concentrating on fast times, and also the high-level races like New York where I can go against the best. Doing these kinds of races will give me the kind of career experience I want before London.

(c) 2009 Brett Larner
all rights reserved


Simon said…
Cheers for this Brett.

Interesting to read about Yuri's ambitions to race against the best in the world as sometimes it appears as though Japanese runners suffer from something of an 'island mentality' other than when they compete at championship events. I can only see it as beneficial that they get out there and compete with global rivals.

Are all of the Second Wind runners coached by Kawagoe? Does the club emphasise group training amongst its elites? particularly interested in what you can tell me about Mara Yamauchi...
Brett Larner said…
Second Wind seems to race overseas more often than other teams, partly because it isn't in the corporate ekiden circuit and partly because an American agent handles its athletes.

Kawagoe coaches all the SWAC people, and yes, Kano, Ozaki and Shimahara often train together.

As far as I know Mara doesn't actually train with them, though. I think her affiliation with the club is more of a business nature. She usually trains out along the Tama River with her husband rather than in Yoyogi Park with the Japanese runners.

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