translated by Brett Larner
Japan's imperial crown prince met on Mar. 11 with the man who for 30 years has been the bridge between Kenya's distance runners and Japan, sports promoter Shuichi Kobayashi, 67. The meeting came during the prince's visit to Kenya as he spoke to a group of 30 Japanese citizens living in Kenya.
Kobayashi has brought more than 50 Kenyan runners to Japan school and company teams, among them Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru and Erick Wainaina, the bronze medalist in the Atlanta Olympics and silver medalist in the Sydney Olympics. Kobayashi was himself a runner in junior high school and high school. Intrigued by the Kenyan running kingdom, at age 34 he travelled there for the first time. Over time Kobayashi developed a relationship with Rikuren to begin introducing Kenyan runners to Japanese professional and school teams. He currently focuses on discovering young runners aged 15-18, finding them places with Japanese teams where they can focus on their running with worrying about food or security.
Brought to Japan by Kobayashi at age 19, Seoul Olympics silver medalist Douglas Wakiihuri, 46, commented, "Kobayashi was the one who opened the door to the medal. I owe him a tremendous amount." Before travelling to Kenya, the imperial prince told reporters, "Ever since I was young my image of Africa was the marathon." Meeting with Kobayashi for the first time, the prince listened intently to all he had to say.
Translator's note: I recently interviewed Kobayashi's longtime Japan-side associate Tsutomu Akiyama and the first high school runner the pair brought to Japan, Stephen Mayaka, for the April issue of Running Times magazine. The complete interviews, both solid gold, will be published later this spring in JRNPremium.