What to Do When the Dream Comes True? Federation Officials Push Management Role as Kawauchi Fever Sweeps Japan
translated and edited by Brett Larner
Yuki Kawauchi at work a day after the Tokyo Marathon as media look on. Click here to enlarge.
Rikuren director Keisuke Sawaki, 67, Long Distance and Road Racing Special Committee chief Toshio Kiuchi and other executive members of the Japanese athletics federation traveled to Kasukabe, Saitama on Mar. 2 to pay a formal visit to Yuki Kawauchi, 23, the amateur runner who qualified for August's World Championships marathon team by placing 3rd overall and top Japanese at the Feb. 27 Tokyo Marathon. "Since he is not affiliated with a corporate team, we had to talk about what the future holds," said Kiuchi. The federation dignitaries asked administration officials at Kasukabe High School, where Kawauchi is employed as an administrative assistant, for their help and support in getting Kawauchi to the World Championships.
In order to minimize the strain caused by the sudden rush of media attention upon Kawauchi, one of the main topics under discussion was the hiring of a personal manager. Rikuren officials feel the move is necessary in order to protect the Cinderella Boy. In conversation with Kawauchi and school administration officials, the Rikuren executives voiced concern, saying, "Since the morning after the race Mr. Kawauchi has been working at his job and doing interviews virutally continuously and has taken absolutely no rest. Of course we believe that he should continue to train the way he always has, but he is in need of someone to handle his daily schedule and training arrangements." The group strongly stressed the absolute necessity of a full-time manager and suggested that the federation would be the best party to fulfill this role.
With his 2:08:37 result from the Tokyo Marathon Kawauchi is now classified as a federation-sanctioned B-class athlete. Considering that this is only one rank below A-class half marathon national record holder and Berlin World Championships 6th placer Atsushi Sato (32, Team Chugoku Denryoku), the ranking is a mark of how important an athlete Kawauchi is to the federation. As a B-class athlete he will receive an annual stipend of 1,500,000 yen [~$18,000] to support his training along with a World Championships preparation supplement of 1,000,000 yen [~$12,000] pending confirmation of the results of post-race blood testing and ratification at the Rikuren general meeting on Mar. 15. In that respect, Rikuren executives' biggest fear is Kawauchi not having anyone to look after his interests.
With no team and no coach to support him on race day, Kawauchi's younger brother Koki, 18, wore the credentials for Kawauchi's coach and was in charge of his baggage. The morning after the race, Kawauchi went for a 30 minute jog at 5:30 a.m. before catching the train to begin work at 8:30, four hours earlier than usual due to the extra paperwork from incoming school entry applications. During breaks in his workday Kawauchi dealt with media interviews in his office and met with the Governor and other prefectural officials, a dizzying schedule. With no one in place to handle the media, phones at the school and Kawauchi's own cell phone have been overloaded with calls ever since the race. Kiuchi commented, "For the first two days Kawauchi received so many calls that he had to set his phone to accept them only from numbers he registered. He didn't know Rikuren's number, so he didn't register us and we had no way to contact him. I came here to present him with my business card. Since he is completely on his own it's important that he be able to answer calls, and this is something we at the (Rikuren) office can do for him."
To deal with the unworkably hectic situation in which Kawauchi now finds himself, Rikuren representatives strongly urged school administration officials to allow them to take care of all media requests. If Kawauchi indicates that he wants to run a race or take part in a training camp, Rikuren will assist with preparations. "We will do everything possible to help him be ready for the World Championships," said the federation officials. To protect the newfound treasure of the men's marathoning world, Rikuren's executives said their main goal is to help preserve an environment in which Kawauchi can maintain his focus upon his training.
With an apparent green light from the very top of the federation to continue training as he always has, Kawauchi is now looking toward the World Championships. "If I can be tougher over the second half than I was in Tokyo," he said, "I think at least top eight is realistic. I want to go for top six." He indicated that he plans to use the drink designed for him by Kasukabe High School cafeteria head Koji Nakayama, a mixture of orange juice, honey and lemon juice, at the World Championships. Vice principal Akio Hayashi commented, "Cutting back on his work hours to make time for training would be against Kawauchi's principles. We want to respect his wishes in every way."