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Hitomi Niiya at Retirement Press Conference: "Nothing But Good Memories"

translated and edited by Brett Larner

A 2012 London Olympian and 5th in last year's Moscow World Championships 10000 m, Hitomi Niiya (25), announced her retirement Jan. 31 at a press conference at her sponsor Universal Entertainment's head office in Ariake, Tokyo.  With regard to her early retirement at just age 25, Niiya gave the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis in her right foot in November, 2012 as her main reason.  "When I found out the situation with my foot I was so relieved," she said.  "At that moment I thought, 'Now I can get down off this stage and finally quit this sport.'  When they asked if I wanted to keep running to the point of needing surgery my answer came out immediately."  At that point she made the decision that the following year's World Championships would be her final world-level competition.

At those World Championships Niiya led the Africans to the very end and ran her PB of 30:56.70, but, she said, "I took them all on and gave it all at the World Championships and didn't medal.  If you can't medal it disqualifies you as a professional.  I thought there was no choice but to put a period at the end of that sentence."  She also revealed that at the World Championships, "After I finished running the pain was like nothing I'd gone through up until then, really beyond the threshold." Combined with her injury that race seemed to be what pulled the trigger on her career.

Looking at her life as an athlete until now Niiya said, "Once I'm a granny I might think, 'Man that was hard,' but right now I have nothing but good memories."  Her favorite race memory was of winning the National High School Ekiden Championships while at Kojokan H.S.  Asked about her future plans she said, "It's a complete blank.  I can't imagine what I'll be doing.  I can't do anything useful for society, but I will completely cut off connection with the world of athletics." At one point she cried with her mother, but until the end of the press conference she remained true to the Niiya style as the curtain came down.  To young athletes who dream of taking on the world she said, "Always do what you think is the right thing no matter what anybody tells you."

Translator's note: Niiya never raced again after Moscow.


Metts said…
I understand the injury frustrations. I guess for many its all of nothing. Maybe after a few years away, and healthy, she can be another Chihiro Tanaka, and enjoy the sport on another level.
Anna Novick said…
:( She sounds so broken. It sounds like her struggle had been ongoing for a while, especially since she says getting injured gave her relief that she could finally quit. I wonder if it would have made any difference if someone had encouraged her to take a break from running.
yuza said…
Good luck to her! I always liked her, and watching her run was fun, because she gave it her all. I am sad to see her retire, but it looks like the right decision given her "love/hate" relationship with athletics and the injuries she has suffered.

I do not doubt that plantar fasciitis was the main reason for her retirement, but I can not help but think that given how much her body transmogrified over the years that maybe she also just wanted to eat cake without feeling guilty.

Brett, did anybody ask her if there was a connection between the injury and her choice to not run marathons? It just seems odd to me that she never went back to the marathon. But then again she was a little kooky and I do not mean that in a bad way.
Brett Larner said…
Yuza--Not sure, but I think she just didn't want to run marathons after her first round with them. Terada of Rikujoweb tweeted some things yesterday that suggested Koide was constantly looking for her to go back to the marathon and that they were no longer on speaking terms as a result.

Anna--We were talking this week about how much access she and other top-level Japanese athletes have to sports psychologists. I don't know the answer in this case although the likely answer seems pretty clear.

TM--This isn't the first time she has left, although it was the first time that sounded final. It would be great to see her back in a few years but it doesn't seem likely.

Knowing now that she was already planning for the World Champs to be the end, the footage of her before the race takes on new depth. All the best to her.
Metts said…
I agree, this seems like a real love-hate relationship with running, competition, pressure for medals etc. Examining the connection between all of it, its probable, her mental state, whenever it started, increased her her body to breakdown; to the point of finding an escape a way to get out, get away from it all. Its sad, but I wonder how many athletes feel the same way in HS, Univ., Pro?

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