translated by Brett Larner
The 30th anniversary National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden takes place Dec. 19 in Gifu. In its first-ever appearance in the national championships, Team Sysmex features one prominent member on its entry list: 2004 Athens Olympics marathon gold medalist and marathon national record holder Mizuki Noguchi (32). It has been more than 2 years since Noguchi "fell from grace," an injury causing her to withdraw just before the Beijing Olympics. Not even appearing at the press conference to announce her withdrawal, it has been a long and dark road back, but on the eve of her return to the national stage Noguchi spoke to the Mainichi Newspaper about her joy at overcoming her setbacks and her still-burning drive for the 2012 London Olympics.
After the West Japan Jitsugyodan Ekiden you said, "I want to keep running until my legs break down for good."
Those were the same words I used when I had my first interview to join a jitsugyodan team. I hated saying the same crap everybody else says about wanting to be an Olympian or winning an Olympic medal, so I said something that would have more impact. It's true though, because I'm the kind of person who follows through all the way when I'm going after something I want.
What's the status of your left leg that was injured for so long?
I don't know how many times I went through rehabilitation, got to the point where I could run a little again, and then got re-injured. It was really hard to deal with. It never got to the point, though, were the doctors said I wouldn't be able to run again, so I was always hopeful of being completely resurrected. So, when I was able to face racing again at West Japan so much joy welled up in me that I don't even know what I could say about it. I had a lot of different, complex feelings happening inside me. Tears and joy.
What's going to be different now that you're coming back?
I think my stride might be shorter, but I'm fine with just running the way I do naturally. I haven't really gotten to the point of thinking about it too carefully yet, but I feel like I'll probably spend some time making small adjustments one at a time to my form and balance.
What was the hardest part of the Beijing Olympics for you?
It was pretty hard to take, but I watched the race on TV. At that time I felt a lot of guilt about letting down the unbelievable number of people who had supported me. As a result, I want to focus on what's coming next. I'm the kind of person who doesn't run in a way that's going to leave me with any regrets. Even more than before, that's the most important thing now. To be honest I'd say I like racing a lot more than training, so I'm training now in a way that helps me cultivate that feeling.
What lies ahead on the road to London?
It's not crystal-clear like it used to be. It's more like a path through thorny bushes, but I'm excited about it. When I ran my first marathon I said I didn't really plan on becoming a marathoner, but I fought with it internally and followed through. A disadvantage can be turned into something good. I think the next step in my comeback being a marathon or a half would be good, but it's really important that I let my body come back the way it wants to. The ekiden this weekend will be a great start towards London.
It has been a long and twisted path over the 9 years since you ran the National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden with Team Globally in 2001.
I ran the Third Stage (10 km) that time. The strong headwind was really tough, and (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo's Yoko) Shibui passed me. That's still a bitter memory. This time I'd like to move us up in the field or at least run a defensive race. Thanks to my teammates at West Japan I feel like I'm part of the team again. I want to borrow some of their strength when I run.
Mizuki Noguchi -- Born in Ise, Mie prefecture. Attended Uji Yamada H.S. before joining the Wacoal jitsugyodan team. Afterwards transferred to Team Globally and made her marathon debut at the 2002 Nagoya International Women's Marathon, where she won. Won the silver medal at the 2003 World Championships marathon and the next year the gold medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics marathon. At the 2005 Berlin Marathon she set the current Japanese national record of 2:19:12 to become the all-time third-fastest woman in the world. In 2005 she changed teams again, moving to Sysmex. She appeared to be on track for a defense of her Olympic gold medal in Beijing but withdrew shortly before the race with an injury to her left leg. Her run at October's West Japan nationals qualifier was her first race in 2 years, 5 months and helped Sysmex to make the national championships for the first time.
Translator's note: Hell yeah. Watch TBS' broadcast of the National Jitsugyodan Women's Ekiden Championships live online beginning at 11:50 a.m. Japan time on Dec. 19 by clicking here.