The fourth in JRN's series of in-depth, original interviews with the Japanese friends and colleagues of Samuel Wanjiru, this interview with Yasuto Kimura, a popular Tokyo-based coach of amateur runners and a former Hakone Ekiden ace with Chuo University who became close friends with Wanjiru following his departure from the Toyota Kyushu corporate team in 2008, is the most personal of them all. Click here for an introduction to this series of interviews and for links to the previous interviews with Masato Imai, Stephen Mayaka, Yu Mitsuya and Koichi Morishita. Come back tomorrow for the conclusion to the series.
© 2011 Brett Larner
No part of this interview may be reproduced or quoted without express written permission.
photos © 2010 Yasuto Kimura
Yasuto Kimura interviewed by Brett Larner in Kanda, Tokyo, 7/20/11
© 2011 Brett Larner
all rights reserved
No part of this interview may be reproduced or quoted without express written permission.
photos © 2010 Yasuto Kimura
all rights reserved
To start off, could you talk about the nature of your relationship with Samuel Wanjiru?
People are saying that I might have been the one who was coaching Wanjiru after he left the [Toyota Kyushu] team, but it wasn’t like that at all. Wanjiru left the team with [Katsushi] Fuchiwaki, and they were working together. I met Fuchiwaki three years ago at the Chicago Marathon, but Samuel wasn’t there. It was in 2008. He said, “We are going to have a contract with SAVAS [a sports supplement made by the Meiji Seika Corp.] and I would like to ask you to help us with many things, so I am looking forward to working with you.” Soon after we came back from Chicago, Samuel was frequently coming to Tokyo from Fukuoka, almost every week. Fuchiwaki was in Fukuoka at that time, so when they came to Tokyo I booked their hotel, and when Sam did his morning run I ate with him and ran with him. That’s my connection with them.
At that time, I wasn’t doing what I’m doing now. I’m still in the same company, but at that time my job required me to travel a lot in Japan and sometimes to overseas races. Samuel told me, “Let’s do London together,” or “Let’s do Chicago together,” so I told him, “OK, I will run all the overseas races you do.” Thus I went to and ran every overseas race with him after Beijing.
But for four months since the time I first met him, he hadn’t come back to Japan. There were a lot of rumors going on but I tried not to listen to them. For example, what happened when he stopped working with SAVAS, or reasons why he couldn’t come back to Japan. I heard a lot about those things from outside but I didn’t ask him or even his manager [Fuchiwaki] about it. I tried not to get involved in that area. My relationship with Samuel was just personal. He was like my younger brother, he liked being friends with me and I didn’t want to connect this personal relationship to any kind of business. The manager asked me to take him out for dinner, so I took him out. It was like that. I sometimes ran with him, but never really coached or gave him any advice. So I don’t really know the details about what happened. I know him as a person.
Do you see his picture over there? That’s his last Chicago. I never asked him to give me an autograph, but somehow, it’s really strange, at his last race he started to write an autograph and gave it to me. I can’t see any reason why he did it at that time. Whenever he went to overseas races he always ate breakfast with other Kenyan athletes or his agent [Federico] Rosa, but at his last race in Chicago, when he was eating, or did morning runs, even the day before the race, he was with me. It had never happened before, so I was wondering why. The next morning after the race, usually Kenyan athletes never run, but he said “Let’s go for a run,” and we ran together. He even saw me off to the hotel where I was staying. He said, “I’ll come with you to your hotel.” I had my flight soon after that, so I said, “See you,” to him and left. I still wonder why he did that. I couldn’t have known what would happen afterwards, of course, but all of that, his behavior was inexplicable. He was the winner of Chicago Marathon, but he didn’t celebrate with his Kenyan friends or the organizers. He just came to me straight away and not to them. It’s a bit strange.
I might only have been involved with him that far, but I still feel some kind of bond. He always ate pasta before the race day, but that time he said to me “I want to eat eel,” so we went out to eat eel together before the Chicago Marathon. He also asked me if I could get jelly drink packs. In the States they have small gels but you can’t find the Japanese-style jelly packs, so I asked my former college mate who now is a coach for the East Japan Select Team and who happened to be there if he had any. One of his athletes, [Yuko] Machida from Nihon Chemicon, had some and she was kind enough to give some to us. I was running around for him doing things like that.
After the race, I went to his room and we watched the video together in his room. Before then, we had never been that close. We were like that, on the bed watching the video and chatting. “How did you do that?” “I thought I was going to lose,” things like that. In public he said “gaman” [the trait of calm perseverance] or something good, but to me he said, “Honestly, I was really close to losing.”
That’s really interesting. At his post race interview, he said he was confident. But that was his honest feeling…
Yes. And when I finished it was just at the time Samuel and [Liliya] Shobukhova were at the award ceremony, but he turned back and looked at me finishing. Actually, he always saw me finish somehow. I always finish marathons between 2:50 to 3:00, but somehow amid thousands of other people there he was always there when I finished. I don’t know why but it happened all the time. He said, “Well done,” and I asked “What about you?” or maybe I knew who won already because he was in the award ceremony? Not sure. Anyway, when he was interviewed on TV he always made bold remarks.
He was superstitious, too. He never wore shoes other than the ones he wore at Beijing. Nike made a new pair of shoes for him for the London Marathon after Beijing. He didn’t wear them and he used the shoes he wore in Beijing. Fuchiwaki brought shoes from Japan, but he chose his Beijing ones.
I heard that he wore his training shoes in Beijing.
They were his manager’s shoes. He didn’t even go to buy a pair. He borrowed ones from his manager. When he won Chicago, he also forgot to bring shoes and he told me, “Kimura-san, let’s go shopping at the Nike store.” I asked, “What happened?” He said, “I forgot my shoes,” and I told him, “You can’t buy your customized race shoes at a shop!” He came with Rosa, but of course he couldn’t find the shoes there. That was the first time he won with the black and gold-colored shoes that Nike gave him. After that he liked them, and he wore those black and gold shoes all the time even if Fuchiwaki brought his Beijing shoes. He was very superstitious.
Maybe because he won gold, he really liked the color gold. At that time I had a Nike watch that was black and gold. Samuel had the exact same model but his was solid black. He asked me to give him mine. I told him, “When you break the world record, I’ll give it to you.” He won the London Marathon that time, and after the race he asked me again to give it to him, but I said no. I didn’t give him it. At Chicago 2009 he was aiming to set the world record. The weather was too bad and he couldn’t, but he came to me again and asked me to give the watch to him, and I said no to him again. It wasn’t about monetary value. He was just obsessed by the watch. The watch was only about 10,000 yen or so [~$125 USD], but he was persistent and kept asking me to give it to him. He had that sort of aspect. I regret now that I didn’t give it to him. I believed that he would break the world record so I didn’t want to spoil him by giving it to him so easily. It’s really odd, but right after he died the battery on that watch died too. Nike doesn’t make it anymore so I can’t really fix it. When I brought it to a watch shop to change the battery they said they couldn’t change it, so I don’t know what to do with it.
I know some other Kenyan athletes but never met anyone like him. He was very close and dependent on me. In April, Cyrus [Njui] was here. He said he was going to Kenya the next day and was going to see Samuel, so I told him to tell Samuel to call me, but that’s it. That was after the disasters, so I think it was April. Cyrus was evacuating from Hitachi and staying with his former colleague at Nissan. My college teammate was his coach in high school and brought him to my office. He did some training here and then went back to Kenya.
Did you notice any changes in Wanjiru, in his personality, over time from when you first met him?
The moment I thought he had changed was…When he was in Toyota Kyushu, he tried the same training [Koichi] Morishita did when he made the Japanese record, but he couldn’t do it. But, he still won Fukuoka. For Beijing he didn’t do any 40 km runs and he still won. Of course it was a summer marathon so it wasn’t good to do 40 km, environmentally speaking. If you had that experience, naturally you would think you could run a marathon without doing 40 km runs, and his Japanese manager was also saying that he didn’t have to do 40 km, but after [Beijing] he did 40 km runs. I don’t really know who was giving him training menu, though. At the London Marathon last year, when he failed, he did 40 km runs 3 times. I don’t really understand. I don’t mean it’s good or bad, I mean, I am wondering what happened and what made him do that. Usually there are not many foreign runners who do 40 km training runs.
After he left Toyota Kyushu, the relationship between Morishita and Fuchiwaki wasn’t good, but Samuel didn’t dislike Morishita or anything and he got in contact with him from time to time. He followed Fuchiwaki and left the team, but he also wanted to learn from anything, anyone that could bring him good results. His character was not that of a person who would make enemies. On the other hand, no one close to him said anything strict, so for example when he failed at the London Marathon last year he had obviously not trained well and had also kind of lost the balance of his running form. I could feel it when I ran with him the day before and two days before the race. He said to me frankly, “I’m not in shape at all.” Also a year before that, he had said, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready,” but he still had some money in the bank so he could still run well. I don’t think he was conceited, but I would imagine that he had thought, “When it comes to the race, I can manage.” He actually could do a hell of performance when he raced. That forced his body to do too much work, and therefore the balance of his body went wrong, I think.
Did his personality change? Well, if there had been someone watching or coaching him all the time he would have tried harder. He didn’t run when it rained, you know? If he had this merihari [the ability to control oneself and balance the hard and the easy] then maybe, but in Kenya, well, he might have had thoughts like “It’s going to be okay.” It didn’t have to be all the time, but it would have been better if he had come back to Morishita or maybe [Takao] Watanabe, and train under them. Otherwise, well, it’s not only about him, but in general, African athletes are….like, they try really hard to get to the top, but once they get there, it’s hard to maintain unless someone looks after them. It’s not about the training method. It just makes a difference when someone is there. I don’t know if he actually realized that he needed that, but my impression is he became a bit lazy.
Did you know Rosa?
He probably knows me, because I saw him every time. Fuchiwaki and Rosa were enemies of some sort, but he just considered me a friend of Samuel’s, so when he saw my face he would know who I am. It was strange, but prior to Chicago last year Rosa was always right there with Samuel, but at Chicago, he wasn’t. The year before, they were always together, side by side. I suspect that something must have happened between Sam and Rosa by then.
Could you tell me more about Fuchiwaki?
People think that I know him well because I went overseas with Samuel and Fuchiwaki, but actually I don’t know him that much. I kind of tried not to get involved with him too much. To be honest, I always had doubts whether he really telling the truth or not. He said bad things about Morishita. I’m the same age as Morishita and we’re both from Tottori. He might dislike me because I was with Fuchiwaki, but I didn’t have a chance to talk to him after Wanjiru left so we never had anything between us.
Fuchiwaki never explained anything when they were having trouble with SAVAS, but afterwards I met someone from SAVAS and had a chance to talk about it a bit. He didn’t explain the details but I had the impression that they had some kind of money problem, like they got scammed and they never, ever want to work with [Fuchiwaki] again. So I’m pretty sure that there had been some trouble with money and contracts. Fuchiwaki made Samuel sign a paper that said all his domestic activity would go through Fuchiwaki. That’s what I heard from Fuchiwaki, but I never saw the paper.
He sometimes becomes very aggressive all of a sudden. Two years ago, there was a special feature about Samuel in Gekkan Rikujo Magazine, about four pages. I think the name of the writer / photographer guy was Kobayashi, and in his article Samuel said, “I never received any money from SAVAS.” Fuchiwaki was going to protest against SAVAS and in London he asked me to go with him. I had another appointment so I didn’t go, but I never really knew if [SAVAS] paid him or not and I didn’t want to be seen as the same type as Fuchiwaki by going with him, to be honest. If he really had gotten paid and had paid Sam he should have been angry with Samuel for saying the wrong thing in the interview, so it was really incomprehensible. Do you know if he got paid or not?
I don’t know personally.
Well, anyway, there must have been many problems about money, I’m sure. I had worked with Fuchiwaki for other work, nothing to do with Samuel, and he often didn’t pay me the amount he had previously said. It wasn’t only me. One of my colleagues also had the same experience. He didn’t get paid by Fuchiwaki. We went to Fukuoka to see Fuchiwaki and asked, “We did what you asked, but we haven't gotten paid. What’s going on?” and he said, “Oh, there is something wrong with the bank system, so it’ll be delayed.” I called the bank about it, and the bank said, “If you conduct the transaction by 3 o’clock today, it will be transferred to your account today.” But Fuchiwaki said it would take three days due to the bank system. That was when I realized everything.
There must have been some money problems with SAVAS, and probably with Toyota Kyushu, and with Samuel, too. But even after all that Samuel was still good friends with Fuchiwaki. I don’t understand their relationship at all. If Samuel really didn’t get paid by Fuchiwaki he should have been saying, “Don’t come to me anymore,” but he didn’t. He was with Fuchiwaki at the Chicago Marathon, his last race.
Was that in 2010?
The other day I listened to a recording of an interview with Samuel for Running Times magazine just before Chicago 2009, and in the interview he said he no longer had any relationship with Fuchiwaki.
He ended his business relationship with Fuchiwaki in 2009, before Chicago. But as a friend, he continued his relationship with Fuchiwaki. I really don’t understand it at all.
At the London Marathon he didn’t succeed, then there were rumors that he was drinking too much in Kenya, and after Chicago last year there were all the incidents involving him, the gun, the car accident, etc. Masato Imai, Yu Mitsuya and Stephen Mayaka all said it’s hard to believe he did such things.
I agree. He was very gentle and in a way he acted like a spoiled child. He liked cars, so the car accident is believable in Kenya. In terms of drinking…Well, he sometimes made mistakes when he got drunk. For the last three years, he liked having fun. I took him out for dinner once after Fuchiwaki asked me to. He wanted to go for a drink after dinner, so I took Samuel and Mayaka to a girls’ bar, a bar with lots of pretty women to make and pour your drinks for you. Sam loved it, but I was responsible to get him home before midnight because Fuchiwaki had said he had to get up early the next morning, so I said, “Let’s go home.” He asked me to go to another bar, but I refused and we left. The next morning he didn’t get up. I heard that he had gone to Roppongi [Tokyo's party district] afterwards by himself. That kind of thing started happening three years ago. It was right after Beijing and he was only 21. He was a kid who wanted to go out and play, at that age.
It’s really strange, but when I look back, I think he might have been satiated by winning Chicago. I was with him before the race and after the race all the time, and he never gave autographs, but he gave me one, and he saw me off to my hotel, so…..I could possibly come to the conclusion that he felt like, “I have done everything,” or he might have been planning to take some time off. I would rather say that he kind of burned out after Chicago last year than that he became complacent. He hated to lose, so he must have felt humiliated after London, I guess.
In London I had dinner with him the day before the race and he asked me to massage his back, so I did it and I noticed that he was really stiff on one side. I did some sprints with him that morning and he looked like he was running fast, but his form was like this, stiff, side to side, what he had never been like before, and also his hip height wasn’t level from right to left. He normally stuck his chest out when he ran, but he was like this, more side to side. I never tell athletes that they cannot run with something, but I said that to him for the first time. I told him, “Samuel, you can’t run with your body in this condition, can you?” and he said, “I don’t think so either.” Then he stopped at the halfway point at the race. Even he knew before the race that he couldn’t run.
He felt so mortified because he lost to [Tsegaye] Kebede. Six months later, in Chicago, when I did the same massage to him there wasn’t any stiffness in his back and his body balance looked good, so I told him, “You can run well tomorrow.” When we ran together the morning before the race, Kebede happened to come out with his manager. Usually Ethiopians always stay together with a group, but he was alone with his manager. Kenyans also act as a group, but the day before the Chicago Marathon both Kebede and Wanjiru were alone and they never talked to each other. On Thursday at the press conference they looked more friendly, were waving with each other, but the morning before the race, they never talked or even looked at each other. I thought, “Samuel is going to bring it.” So I would guess that he had so much invested in Chicago, and ultimately he won, and that’s why he burned out. That’s my guess.
He was young, so probably he just came undone rather than that some specific incident changed him. I think he was only having a rest from the pressure for a while. I can’t really tell you whether he thought “I can run like I used to if I train,” or “I’ve had enough.” I’m quite sure his focus had loosened a bit, that he had run out of patience, at that time. He might have thought that if he started training in the spring things would go alright at the London Olympics. I don’t think he was thinking that he would pass up London and prepare for the next one. This is info from Fuchiwaki. He told me that Samuel was having a hard time because everyone came to him to get some money, his relatives and such, so he was also stressed about that. That’s what I heard.
I heard from Yusuke Inoue that Samuel was going to run Betsudai [the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon] in Kyushu in 2009 or 2010.
To tell the truth, that was again related to the money issue. People from one of the sponsors came to the London Marathon in 2009 to say hi to Samuel and told him, “We are having a big anniversary year next year, so please remember us.” At the same time they was asking around about Fuchiwaki. I heard that they offered him 15 million yen [~$195,000 USD], but Samuel never knew the actual amount because all the money went to Fuchiwaki first and he never told the details to Sam. So the sponsors asked me to encourage Sam to run Betsudai. By then Sam and Fuchiwaki’s business relationship was over, but Fuchiwaki still insisted that he was in charge of Samuel’s domestic activities.
If Fuchiwaki hadn't been involved they would have talked to Rosa directly and could have negotiated like, “He doesn’t have to go all out, a practice run for London would be fine, so could you get him to run?” I believe that it would have worked out better. I actually told him, “Why don’t you do a practice run there?” But…Of course I couldn’t tell him about the actual money. If I had told him 15 million, I don’t know how much money Fuchiwaki cut and how much Samuel actually got, so I didn’t.
Have you heard about Sapporo [International Half Marathon]? I heard that the show money was about 5 million yen [~$65,000 USD], and Fuchiwaki made Samuel sign a paper to confirm his appearance. But Samuel didn’t show. He broke his promise, but he never got penalized. Any contract or promise meant nothing that time.
At the same time, Fuchiwaki asked me to find [Wanjiru] a sponsor, but his conditions were way cheap, like 15 million yen total [~$195,000 USD] for both Fuchiwaki and Samuel for a year including all the cost for their activities. After SAVAS, he wanted my company, Body Work, with 400 franchise massage salons throughout Japan, to be his sponsor, and he calculated the amount that we could probably afford. But I wondered if it was really OK to sign the Olympic gold medalist for so little money, and I didn’t know how much Samuel actually got out of it. Also, for us, there wasn’t much benefit from being his sponsor because Samuel was not based in Japan anymore and Fuchiwaki didn’t have any binding force on him. That was after Sapporo. If he could commit to run Sapporo and some full marathon, like once a year at Fukuoka or Betsudai or whatever, and to do some guest appearances at amateur marathons while he was here, I would have wanted to talk to my company’s boss about it since we have this facility for runners and they would have been interested, but I didn’t because of Fuchiwaki’s lack of binding force on Sam. I didn’t know if the money really went to Samuel, or if we would just lose money and gain nothing.
At one point there was a rumor that Softbank [a major cell phone company] would become their sponsor. I think Morishita knows about it, too. I know someone at Softbank in Fukuoka and he told me that he had requested and scheduled a meeting with Fuchiwaki, it was after Beijing, but that Fuchiwaki hadn’t shown up. Fuchiwaki was only asking Softbank to become Sam’s sponsor, but some rumors had starting circulating that Sam would join Softbank, so Softbank wanted to know what was going on. They set up the meeting and Fuchiwaki never showed up. Softbank was furious. That’s what I heard from the Softbank guy.
Fuchiwaki was telling me that Calpis [a drink company] wanted to be [Wanjiru's] sponsor, or Emirates, or that JAL was interested, he was always bluffing like that, but I knew it was all lies. He once asked me, “I’m going to see ANA to protest their actions, so please come with me.” There was an article about the Sotokoto Marathon [in Kenya] in their in-flight magazine with Samuel’s picture in it and Fuchiwaki was angry because they used it without his permission. So we went to ANA to protest, but it was a strange situation. I still don’t understand what he wanted to do there. He didn’t ask anything of them, he just wanted to complain. In my opinion, it would have been much better to make friends instead of making enemies, but he always went after getting enemies.
Also, in the same period Fuchiwaki asked me to introduce him to some management companies, so I talked to one of Japan’s top sports management firms and they were quite interested, but they did some research and said, “We heard many bad things about Fuchiwaki’s reputation, so we cannot take Wanjiru.” I think Betsudai was the same; Fuchiwaki was the bottleneck. Samuel himself didn’t mind running anywhere as long as he got money. He had the London obligation, but he would still have been willing to run another one here.
Mayaka said something about the 2008 Kawaguchiko Marathon. Wanjiru was a guest runner but he had some conflict with his schedule.
When Samuel was in Japan, he was often with Mayaka. I was at Tsukuba [an amateur marathon] at that time but we met up afterwards and had dinner together. What I’m guessing is, probably the contract with SAVAS mentioned that he had to show up at some SAVAS events and it was included in his annual contract money, and Mayaka, who was his advisor, got paid per event, I would guess. So it was about money troubles, I think. There was no clarification about that for the Kawaguchiko event, I suspect. I booked a hotel room for Samuel, and Mayaka was staying with him in his single room. No hotel booking for Mayaka and it was very strange. For sure there were many money troubles.
Where is Fuchiwaki now? What does he do now?
It’s funny, but he doesn’t say anything to me. He told me that he was looking for sponsors for Sam, but in truth it was his own job hunting. Now he works for a big company here in Tokyo. He called me up and wanted to meet up with me, and then he tried to sell me some of their products. So I told him, “This is not the way you should deal with me.”
I think Samuel lost many things by being tagged with Fuchiwaki. I assume Mitsuya didn’t say anything bad about Samuel. The reason he had business trouble was because of Fuchiwaki, I think. Like TBS Kanshasai [a TV program; Wanjiru apparently didn’t show up]. Well, Samuel was a bit loose about his promises, but that’s more like a Kenyan habit. He was such an important athlete, so if you really wanted him to come back to Japan at a certain time you had to go to Kenya and bring him back with you. [Fuchiwaki] shouldn’t have been reluctant to spend money that way as it’s totally necessary for an athlete of that class. But Fuchiwaki sometimes called me up and said, “He didn’t seem to be on the airplane that he was supposed to be on.” What can I do about it? Sapporo was like that; he didn’t get on the airplane. TBS was the same. Fuchiwaki should have negotiated with the TV company that if they paid the cost he would take responsibility to bring [Wanjiru] back to Japan from Kenya. It’s far better to make this effort than just ending up with his no-show. I really didn’t understand him. But I wasn’t in a position to tell him what he should do, and I didn’t really want to get involved with all this.
I heard that Sam was going to rejoin Toyota Kyushu.
I heard the rumor, I heard that Samuel wanted to go back. Do you know anything about it? Did Samuel actually talk to them?
Yes, last autumn, there was a plan like that.
It would have been better, if it was possible. When he left Toyota Kyushu he thought he could manage. He was too young to be afraid. He thought he could do well in any kind of environment, and he wanted to do whatever he wanted to do. I have no idea what Fuchiwaki told him, but they were okay for a while. As he got older, he gradually realized that he couldn’t do it under his current circumstances, but it’s hard to change the situation. That’s when he started to talk to Morishita, I suppose. I’m sure Morishita knew that Samuel could train by himself. He could train by himself, but just the presence of Morishita, supervising him made a huge difference. It would have made a difference if he had belonged to Toyota Kyushu, even if the restrictions were looser than before. It would have been better for him.
I was going to go to London for him in April, but the race date conflicted with the Nagano Marathon where I had duties as a pace maker. Samuel said he was going to run Berlin or Chicago so I was going to go with him, then the incident happened.
When I heard that he had died, rather than being shocked I felt like, “I knew it.” I can’t understand why I thought, “I knew it.” Normally if you hear someone close to you dies you feel the blood drain from your face, but it wasn’t like that for me at all. I thought, “I knew it…It’s all connected, the gun incident, the car accident, and this.” It’s really weird but I ‘ve never felt like this before when I heard someone died. When I look back, I remember Chicago, how he may have reached completion there. I got a phone call from Chicago’s coordinator saying, “It appears that Samuel is dead.” I was surprised but I accepted it at the same time.
But I don’t think it was suicide, no way. He escaped and fell down and hit his head on the ground. I don’t think he was murdered. When he drank, often he was like….he once got sick and even threw up, so it’s pretty likely that he was running away from someone and tried to jump off from the 2nd floor and landed wrong or something like that. I think it was an accident, not a murder case or a suicide. If he wanted to die, he wouldn’t jump from the 2nd floor. I heard some news that he had written to one of his Kenyan friends saying that he wanted to die, but I don’t believe it’s true.
The first week after his death there were many different reports about him.
I didn’t want to hear all those things. He was never coming back to life anyway. He ran through his short life at his top speed. I have a strange feeling when I think about it. My only regret was the watch. He bought a car in London, a Range Rover. He spent his money like that, so I don’t understand why this watch mattered for him that much. Well, that was part of his charm, too. He always tried to copy me, tried to get the same thing as mine. I had a Nike bag, and when he saw it he told me “Kimura-san, that’s a nice bag.” The next time I saw him he had the same bag. He said, “I got it because you have it.” He was charming in that way. I wanted to see more races from him.
Do you think he had a chance of breaking the world record?
Definitely. But I think he was under pressure. There were huge times in Boston. They had a strong tailwind, but the way they ran in the second half, or at the London Marathon. When he looked at their runs he would have thought that it wouldn’t be easy to beat them. Even Kebede was beaten. I imagine Samuel felt so much pressure after watching all these. When it comes to winning the race rather than the record Samuel was definitely the one to win, but the world record is a bit of a different story. Both Mutais in London and Boston can reach the 2:03’s if they have good conditions. I doubt Samuel was that good.
Everyone says that Kenyan athletes are all good, but compare Samuel to others and he wasn’t that superior. There are so many good Kenyan runners. At the Chicago Marathon last year I happened to go for a run with Samuel and all the Kenyan athletes there. What I thought then was that Samuel had no chance to win against those runners. They just looked different, running with different form from Samuel. Samuel had more like Japanese form. If he was in Japan alone people would think he ran like a Kenyan, but when he was with other Kenyans he was more like a Japanese athlete. He had the winning instinct. He had gaman, but I’m not sure what he really meant by “gaman.” Maybe something different from what we say is gaman, but he won through gaman.
He never looked easy in the race. He said that it was tough. So when he had an agonized expression during the race it wasn’t fake, it was real. He hated to lose. Before Chicago, when we did some sprints the first one was really fast so I went all out for the second one, but he never let me win. The real race was tomorrow so he should have saved it for that, but he never did because he simply didn’t want to ever lose. Then in the race he went all out at the last hill, just like in the sprint practice the day before. So they do that kind of sprint to whip themselves up before the race, I think, to sharpen up their instinct. It’s not for conditioning. That’s what I felt. After the race when we were watching the video together in his room he was pretty relaxed and neutral, a bit different from Japanese athletes who have won a race. He never acted as if he was the champion. He was very modest.
He was precious. I can’t see many African athletes who would be as persistent, as tenacious as he was. I don’t know if this was the nature he was born with or one he acquired during his stay in Japan. He could race like that anytime. I could sense when he was undertrained, but even so he raced that way. That’s just incredible to me. If it were a Japanese athlete he could not have gaman if he didn’t train well, and foreign athletes give up as soon as they feel something’s wrong. Sam could just cut through a bad situation. I don’t think he had superior talent at all. I think that if Sam could do that, even Japanese people can do better.