translated and edited by Brett Larner
In a Dec. 25 interview about the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, Waseda University junior Suguru Osako, Japan's #1 collegiate runner and one of the brightest hopes of Japanese men's distance running, revealed that he will join the 2012 national champion Nissin Shokuhin team following his graduation in 2014. Osako's long list of achievements includes the 2011 National University Championships 1500 m title, the 2011 World University Games 10000 m gold medal, and the Asian junior half marathon record. He chose the Nissin team, he said, "because they are going to give me the freedom to do what I want to do." According to Waseda head coach Yasuyuki Watanabe, Osako plans to move to Portland, Oregon to be coached by one of marathon legend Toshihiko Seko's great rivals, American Alberto Salazar.
Coach Watanabe revealed, "Starting next year Osako is going to be based in the U.S.A. for his training." His destination is the Nike Oregon Project in Portland, Oregon. The pride of Waseda, Osako has been accepted into a special program for advanced students. Beginning in 2013, while continuing on as a member of the Waseda long distance team and as a student he will go to Oregon on a short-term foreign study program. Following his graduation in 2014 he will join the Nissin Shokuhin team for competitions but plans to relocate to Oregon on a more permanent basis for training.
The Nike Oregon Project has the reputation of being one of the world's leading training environments, coached by the ruthlessly competitive Seko-era Salazar. The group includes London Olympics double gold medalist Mo Farah (GBR) and London 10000 m silver medalist Galen Rupp (U.S.A.), one of only two non-African runners to have broken 27 minutes.
At this year's National Championships 10000 m Osako lost out to future Nissin teammate and fellow Saku Chosei H.S. graduate Yuki Sato by 0.38 seconds, missing a place on the Olympic team as a result. Looking toward the 2013 Moscow World Championships and 2016 Rio Olympics teams, Osako was emphatic about his intentions, saying, "To be able to compete with the best in the world I have to train with a group that's strong on the track."
When Seko was unable to pass Waseda's entrance exams he spent time at America's University of Southern California before matriculating, but it is a truly exceptional case for a long-distance athlete to relocate abroad while still an active student. It's a mark of how high Osako's hopes are. Asked whether he thinks Osako has the ability to break the Japanese national records for 5000 m and 10000 m, 13:13.20 and 27:35.09, coach Watanabe said, "He is an athlete who is trying with all his heart to become one of the best in the world. This will give him the chance to do the training that will let him target 26 minutes." Maintaining his supervision of Osako during this time, Watanabe himself hopes to absorb some of the long-distance knowhow to improve his own coaching.
Before he sets off to pursue his dreams Osako will spend the New Year taking on Hakone. As a sophomore last year he won the First Stage. All of his competitors from rival schools will no doubt be keying off him. Coach Watanabe said, "He'll run either the First or Second Stage," but Osako himself said, "If I can, I want to be put on the Second or Third Stage. Whichever one I run I want to set a new course record. The team atmosphere is as good as when we set all three university ekiden course records [2010-11], so I want to give us the momentum we'll need." For Japan's #1 university runner Hakone's roads look set to lead on to the wide world beyond.
Suguru Osako - 3rd year, Waseda University. Born 5/23/91 in Machida, Tokyo.
1500 m: 3:42.68 5000 m: 13:31.27 10000 m: 27:56.94 half-marathon: 1:01:47
Translator's note: Osako was to have joined the Seko-led S&B team, which late in the summer abruptly announced its dissolution this coming March. The second article linked above erroneously states that Rupp was the first non-African to have broken 27 minutes. I have corrected the mistake in my translation.