translated and edited by Brett Larner
In the men's 5000 m first-round heats on the second day of the Hokkaido regional qualifier for the National High School Track and Field Championships, May 23 at Sapporo's Atsubetsu Park Field, the first Kenyan to ever run the meet, Sapporo Yamanote H.S. first-year Charles Ndungu made history with the meet's first-ever sub-14 clocking as he won his heat in 13:58.83. Both a personal best and the Hokkaido international student high school record, Ndungu's shocking debut took him to the final as the top seed.
His performance marked the beginning of a new era in Hokkaido high school boys' distance running. In only the first-round heats of the 5000 m Ndungu surged hard over the last lap, battling a strong headwind as he came down the home straight in first place. When the digital clock showed his time of 13:58.83 a huge roar of cheering and applause came from the grandstand.
Temperatures at the time of the race were 18 degrees. "The wind was strong and felt cold but I was dead set on breaking 14 minutes because I knew I would get a present if I did," said Ndungu with a smile. Knowing that Ndungu, who arrived in Japan earlier this year, was feeling homesick and wanted to listen to Kenyan music, Sapporo Yamanote head coach Kazuki Kajiyama, 40, promised him, "If you break 14 minutes I'll give you a portable music player as a reward."
Ndungu ran the entire race alone. Taking off right from the gun and clocking 66-67 seconds per 400 m, Ndungu lapped the entire field multiple times [2nd place in Ndungu's heat ran 16:32.28]. He was unable to sustain his light and nimble form all the way to the end but succeeded in breaking the PB of 14:00.07 he set May 6 at the Nittai University Time Trials meet. Coach Kajiyama gave his approval, saying, "Despite the windy conditions he ran a calm and stable pace, an ideal performance." In the final on May 24 rather than going for time Ndungu will act as pacer for his teammates [Ndungu won the final in 15:22.03 by just over a second].
In April Ndungu had health problems after discovering he is allergic to buckwheat, but through through the assistance of a mediator it was arranged for him to have the chance to train with Kenyan pro Micah Njeru (23, Team Toyota Boshoku), who did a great deal to encourage Ndungu and get him back into good spirits. He has been very enthusiastic in his studies and can already give greetings in Japanese and read hiragana. In practice as well, he has become part of the group.
The three fastest times nationally among this year's high school class are held by Kenyans, 13:40.64 by Jeremiah Karemi (3rd yr., Toyokawa H.S.), 13:50.21 by John Maina (3rd yr., Aomori Yamada H.S.) and 13:51.89 by John Gathaiya (2nd yr., Sera H.S.). Looking toward July's National High School Championships, Ndungu said, "If my body responds well to the heat then I'll be able to run even faster. I want to beat all the older Kenyans." Set to become the first-ever first year from Hokkaido to make it to Nationals, Ndungu is gearing up to represent the North.
The Men's 5000 m
The world record is 12:37.35, set by Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia) in 2004. The Japanese national record is 13:13.20, set by Takayuki Matsumiya (Team Konica Minolta) in 2007. The Japanese student national high school record is 13:39.87 by Hidekazu Sato (Sendai Ikuei H.S.) in 2004, with the international student high record of 13:15.44 set last year by Charles Ndirangu (Sera H.S.). The Hokkaido record is 13:49.06 by Masato Kikuchi (Meiji Univ.), with the Hokkaido Japanese student high school record of 14:03.96 set last year by Yusuke Ogura (Sapporo Yamanote H.S.). The winning times at the last two years' National High School Championships were Ndirangu's 13:40.99 in 2011 and 13:59.86 by Michael Getange (Aomori Yamada H.S.) in 2010.
Born: Feb. 20, 1996. 16 years old
Height: 163 cm Weight: 52 kg
Hometown: Okarau, Kenya, 150 km from Nairobi at more than 2000 m elevation
Family: Eight people including Ndungu, his parents, one older brother, three older sisters and one younger brother. His family are farmers, growing cabbage, carrots and other vegetables as well as raising sheep and cattle.
Favorite Athlete: Beijing Olympian and 2007 Osaka World Championships 10000 m bronze medalist Martin Mathathi (26, Kenya, Suzuki Hamamatsu AC)
Favorite Japanese food: Ramen and fried rice.