translated and edited by Brett Larner
The #1-ranked Japanese woman in distance running, 21-year-old Megumi Kinukawa (Team Mizuno) is in the best shape of her life. Known as the "Magic Girl" during her days competing at Sendai Ikuei High School Kinukawa received more than her share of attention, but after coming down with a serious, long-lasting illness of unknown origin a few months before graduating in 2008 she fell from grace and all but disappeared. Fast-forward to June 12 this year, when she came from seemingly nowhere to win the 2011 National Track & Field Championships women's 5000 m in a World Championships A-standard time of 15:09.96, picking up a place on the Japanese national team for Worlds next month in Daegu, Korea. She followed up with an even bigger run in her next race, running 31:10.02 for 10000 m and opening up the possibility of a World Championships double.
On July 6 Kinukawa visited Sendai, Miyagi together with her coach since high school, Takao Watanabe, to run as a special guest at Shichigo J.H.S.' sports festival, running 3000 m together with 70 eighth graders. In high school Kinukawa trained in nearby Arahama, and meeting young tsunami survivors from the area had a deep impact on her. Addressing the 500 students at the school, Kinukawa told them, "Seeing all of your shining, hopeful young faces has helped me feel lighter. I know that you have all been through a lot of hardship, and I want to stand there together with you facing the future with optimism."
Following the event Kinukawa met with Sendai mayor Emiko Okuyama at Sendai City Hall to receive the mayor's support in her preparations for the World Championships. We talked to Kinukawa on July 8 about her condition and about her thoughts leading up to her first time back at the World Championships since her senior year of high school in 2007.
You've obviously really been feeling great this month.
The last two or three years there were times when I couldn't even walk and times when I didn't think I'd be able to even think about coming back to competitive running. Maybe at Nationals I was able to put those broken pieces back together. I think that my life truly changed that day.
I think the disasters in March were my biggest motivation. When I first saw videos of the damage to the forest around Arahama in Sendai where I trained for four years in high school and of the city all darkened my own problems seemed pretty trivial. All I can do is run, so for the sake of everyone who had supported me when I was at my best before I wanted to come back and give it my best again. There was one other thing, too. Before me, Coach Watanabe brought up Sam [Wanjiru, the Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist] at Sendai Ikuei, and I have never seen Coach Watanabe as devastated and grief-stricken as he was after Sam died in May. I wanted to do something to help make Coach happy again.
What sustained you when you were at your worst?
Coach never ran out of patience with useless little me. He always believed that someday I was going to run again and helped show me the way back. That was the #1 most important thing. All the love and support I had from my friends and family and the physical trainer and doctor I've had since high school was a really big part of it too. For myself, I also thought that if you took running away from Megumi Kinukawa there'd be nothing left.
When you ran the World Championships as a high school senior you were 14th in the 10000 m. This time it looks like you are going to double in the 5000 m and 10000 m.
Last time I was just running for the experience of being there. This time I'm bringing my best and gunning for the best in the world so that I can send the people in Miyagi and everywhere in Japan something to be proud of. Through my running I want to show the people who need it the most that if you keep fighting and never give up you'll definitely make it back.
Have you thought yet about your plans for taking on the marathon?
If I think about running twice as far as the half [which I ran for the first time on July 3] I have to wonder if I could withdstand it. I'd probably say no thanks since I get bored easily. If Coach tricks me into running or uses some kind of magic spell then maybe I'll run one. Personally I don't think it's time yet.
Born Aug. 7, 1989 in Takasaki, Gunma. 153 cm, 38 kg. 10000 m national junior record holder and this year's 5000 m national champion. Ran the 10000 m at the 2007 World Championships as a high school senior. In the last month she has run the all-time Japanese women's 4th-best for 10000 m (31:10.02), 6th-best for 5000 m (15:09.96), and the best-ever placing by a debuting Japanese woman at the Sendai International Half Marathon where she was 3rd.