translated by Brett Larner
At a Tokyo-area press conference late last week, Olympian Hitomi Niiya (24, Team Universal Entertainment) announced that she plans to double in the 5000 m and 10000 m. Niiya had initially considered running only the 5000 m, but wanting to get the greatest mileage out of her Olympic debut she has chosen to run both events. He coach Yoshio Koide (73), who has developed many top athletes including Sydney Olympic women's marathon gold medalist Naoko Takahashi (40), believes that the one-of-a-kind athlete he is sending to London is capable of overtaking the Africans and advancing into the upper end of the field.
Well-known for a career which has moved in 'mysterious ways,' Niiya will make a two-pronged attack in London. "I'm going to run to 10000 m too," she said. "London isn't somewhere that just anybody can run, and there's no reason not to double," confirming that in addition to the 5000 m she will enter the 10000 m.
At last month's Olympic Trials Niiya won the 5000 m to pick up her ticket to London. But she also has the credentials for the 10000 m. At April's Hyogo Relay Carnival she won the 10000 m in a PB of 31:28.26, clearing the Olympic A-standard of 31:45.00 to make herself eligible to be one of the three A-standard athletes permitted per country. The Japanese federation Rikuren asked Niiya to join the top two finishers in the Olympic Trials 10000 m, Mika Yoshikawa (27, Team Panasonic) and Kayoko Fukushi (30, Team Wacoal) to complete the 10000 m team [Translator's note: Niiya was named to the 10000 m over Trials 3rd-place finisher Megumi Kinukawa (Mizuno) despite Kinukawa holding the 10000 m A-standard and Niiya not running the 10000 m.]
In February, 2007, Niiya won the first edition of the Tokyo Marathon while only 18, running 2:31:01. Her win seemed to signal her talent for the longer distances, but right now she is not interested in the marathon and has even generally avoided the 10000 m. Her intention was to compete against the world's best in just the 5000 m, but after pressure from Rikuren she signed her name on the line for the 10000 m as well. "If some really cute guy ever says, 'I'll go out with you if you run the 10000 m,' I'll do it," she laughed, showing the relaxed approach with which she is handling her success.
Niiya trains independently, separate from the rest of the Koide-led team. To prepare herself to compete in a fast race against the Africans her training plan has her running with male pacers to force her to increase her speed. Of her Olympic goals Niiya said, "I'm targeting a PB, which should get me at least into the top eight. With a long push even Japanese athletes can be competitive."
Coach Koide has witnessed Niiya's growth firsthand. Having trained two-time Olympic marathon medalist Yuko Arimori (45) and Sydney gold medalist Takahashi, this connoisseur gave the highest estimate of her competitive abilities, saying, "Niiya's ability to concentrate and focus is different from regular girls. She always brings her best to her target races without fail. Among all the athletes I've worked with until now I've never seen her kind before."
Two years ago Niiya abruptly quit to return home to Okayama and escape the stress of her career, but after deep reflection she overcame the typical "Running is my job" line of thinking and was able to resume her training with all her heart. "I came to understand that running is what helps me understand whatever it is that this self of mine is," she said. "Now I want to write the highlight of the story." In London she will brave the stormy seas of competition in search of the glory that awaits those who cross the celebrated finish line.
Hitomi Niiya - Born Feb. 26, 1988 in Soja, Okayama. 24 years old. 164 cm, 45 kg. Runs for Team Universal Entertainment. Began running at Soja Higashi J.H.S. and won the National High School Ekiden Championships First Stage all three years while at Kojokan H.S. Won her marathon debut at age 18 at the 2007 Tokyo Marathon. Finished 13th in the 5000 m final at last summer's Daegu World Championships. PBs: 5000 m: 31:28.26 10000 m: 31:28.26 half-marathon: 1:11:41 marathon: 2:30:58