translated and edited by Brett Larner
Their ultimate goal is the stuff of dreams: a medal. With their current sponsorship set to expire at the end of March, all twelve athletes and staff members on the S&B Foods team appeared at a Tokyo-area press conference on Jan. 10 to formally announce their new contract with cell phone video game maker DeNA. Team DeNA supervising head coach Toshihiko Seko, who made the Japanese men's Olympic marathon team for Moscow in 1980, Los Angeles in 1984 and Seoul in 1988, was clear about his grand ambitions for the new project: "We are going to produce athletes who can win a medal in the marathon at the Olympics. With the Olympics coming to Tokyo in 2020 we're not interested in anything else. I hope others will share in this dream."
As a starting point, the team's first goal is to win the New Year Ekiden national championships within three years. At the moment there are only six athletes on the team, led by 2008 Beijing Olympian Kensuke Takezawa and 2012 London Olympian Bitan Karoki. With seven stages at the New Year Ekiden the current team lineup is insufficient. "I want to add three or four people," said Seko. "If there are athletes around from teams that are closing down or whose contracts have not been renewed, I'd like to talk to them. Tomorrow I'm already going to be talking to some people." The very same day as the DeNA press conference, the Shikoku Denryoku company announced the termination of its team including 27-minute 10000 m runner Terukazu Omori and a slew of 28-minute athletes. The chance that some of them appear next in the DeNA uniform seems high.
"Without a doubt, not putting out the results will mean the axe, and that is just going to be the way it is. I want us to go forward carrying that kind of pressure and tension in mind," said Seko, himself looking revitalized as he prepares to lead the team in relaunching itself on new ground.