translated and edited by Brett Larner
At the Yamanashi Prefectural Track and Field Championships on Sept. 11, Kofu North Municipal J.H.S. third-year Kenta Ueda, 15, son of Hakone Ekiden powerhouse Yamanashi Gakuin University's head coach Masahito Ueda, 51, ran 5:34.41 to break the junior high school 2000 m national record 30 years after the previous mark of 5:40.02 was set in 1980 by Hiro Takeuchi (Hiroshima Takamiya J.H.S.). The younger Ueda's time also broke the best time his father ran in junior high school. "I'm happy, but I think this was just a checkpoint along the way," he said afterwards. "I'm already looking toward the next step. I want to run the Hakone Ekiden someday." His father commented, "Kenta still has a long way to go ahead of him, but more than anything else I want him to enjoy his years as an athlete."
Ueda previously won the 1500 m at August's National Junior High School Track and Field Championships in Tottori prefecture. With these two marks under his belt in just over a month Ueda looks set to become a star like his father, but the older Ueda says with a laugh, "It probably looks like this is just a situation where a famous athlete is trying to push his child into following in his footsteps, but it's not like that at all." His son agrees, saying, "Dad gives me advice on my form and whatnot, but whether we're at home or practice nothing changes. We're just a normal father and son."
Kenta began junior high school on the basketball team, but, he says, "When I saw Kensuke Takezawa (Waseda Univ. grad, now Team S&B) run the Hakone Ekiden it had a big impact on me and I wanted to run too. He was really great." Coach Ueda trains his son twice a week at the Yamanashi Gakuin University track. The focus of the sessions is on 400 m intervals because, Coach Ueda explains, "When runners are in their mid-teens the body and especially the nervous system are still growing, and it is important to teach the body how it feels to run fast at that stage. Otherwise they won't be able to race hard once they are fully grown. I'm always thinking about how to adjust workouts to be suitable for an athlete's age. There's no point in them burning out while still young."
Last year Kenta Ueda had a brush with exactly this kind of problem. Between August and May he grew rapidly and experienced severe anemia as a result of trying to continue to train hard. He was unable to keep up his workouts and did not get back into form until early this past summer. His 1500 m national title and 2000 m national record show that he and has father now have their training fine-tuned to match his physical maturity level.
Looking toward high school, with the same passion and zeal characteristic of his father Kenta says, "I'm prioritizing track and field over academics. I want to go somewhere with a lot of strong guys that I can test myself against. I want to be national high school champion, and I want to go to a school where I can run Hakone. After that I want a long, successful career as a pro athlete."
Although many athletes from Yamanashi prefecture go elsewhere for their university and professional ekiden careers, the chance that the younger Ueda will attend Yamanashi Gakuin University is very high. The possibility that this native son will continue to run locally gives Yamanashi residents something to look forward to in distance running in coming years.