translated and edited by Brett Larner
Marathoner Yuki Kawauchi at the pre-Daegu press conference. Click photo to enlarge.
37 members of the Japanese national team for this month's World Track and Field Championships in Daegu, Korea assembled at a Tokyo hotel over the weekend for the official sendoff press conference. Among them was the now-famous amateur runner Yuki Kawauchi (24, Saitama Prefecture) who will run the men's marathon on Sept. 4, and team captains Yukifumi Murakami (31, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) from the men's javelin and women's 400 m hurdler Satomi Kubokura (29, Niigata Albirex AC). Kawauchi revealed that he is aiming for a top-eight finish and that after months of limiting his consumption of coffee, his favorite drink, he plans to celebrate post-race with a fresh hot cup.
Wearing the Rising Sun on his chest for the time, Kawauchi's spirits were high as he appeared at the press conference dressed in the national uniform. "The reality of all of this is just bubbling up inside me," he said. "I'm going to race with a powerful sense of the responsibility that's upon me." In his first appearance at the World Championships, Kawauchi has dangled a carrot in front of himself as extra motivation toward his goal of top-eight. "I love coffee," he told the media, "but at the moment I'm abstaining. If I make top eight I'll reward myself by celebrating with a cup."
Training through last year's hot summer his condition broke down due to the effects of the heat, and after considering this he stopped drinking coffee late last year as he built toward this year's Tokyo Marathon. "I drank it without fail, morning, noon and night after every meal," he said of his love of coffee. Since he does not drink alcohol, Kawauchi viewed each cup as a reward, a personal stimulus and a thing of beauty.
Takushoku University head coach Masahiro Okada explained, "Coffee contains caffeine, a natural stimulant. For sprinters and other athletes in sports requiring explosive force drinking small amounts of coffee can have positive effects, but for marathoners and other long-distance athletes there is no positive effect at all. In fact, drinking it later in the day can make it hard to fall asleep at night, so there can actually be negative effects for athletes. It's not a banned substance, but I do not recommend it for athletes. Rather than drinking coffee, milk is much better."
It goes without saying that since Kawauchi's restriction is self-imposed he hasn't broken it. While other members of the national team were doing extended training camps overseas and at altitude Kawauchi was going to work at Kasukabe H.S. as usual and training in the mountains at Kawaguchiko and Nikko on the weekends to strengthen his legs. In June he ran the Okinoshima 50 km Ultramarathon and collapsed just before the finish after suffering heat stroke, but finding the positive in the experience he said, "In heat and humidity I ran alone for 49 km. That gives me a lot of confidence." Discussing his race plan for the big day he told reporters, "The most important thing is to be able to keep my rhythm without and breaks."
East Africans from Kenya and Ethiopia dominate the men's marathon, but at the World Championships Japanese men have made the top eight six times in a row starting with Nobuyuki Sato's bronze at the 1999 Seville World Championships. With his 2:08:37 PB ranking him #1 among the five men on the Japanese team the "Government Star" is aiming for a repeat of his shocking run at February's Tokyo Marathon as he says, "To me this all seems like I'm in a dream, but I want to prove to everyone that even an amateur can compete at the world level."