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Discarding Hakone Dreams in a Straight Shot for the Olympics, the Next Generation's Next Big Thing Chihiro Miyawaki Ready for Marathon Debut

translated and edited by Brett Larner

Running from City Hall to Tokyo Big Sight, the Tokyo Marathon takes place on Feb. 23.  A part of the world's ultimate series, the World Marathon Majors, and the biggest marathon in Asia, Tokyo attracts the best from around the world.  Highly anticipated to be the "golden boy" of the buildup to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, 22-year-old Chihiro Miyawaki (Team Toyota), already all-time Japanese #4 for the half marathon and #7 for 10000 m, will make his marathon debut in Tokyo.  Having gone straight into the jitsugyodan corporate team world after graduating from high school without passing through the Hakone Ekiden he is something of a secret weapon, but on the streets of the Japanese capital he is now ready to throw off the veil.

Miyawaki's gentle, meek smile conceals the tenacity of an underdog's soul.  He is a runner with a modern, multifaceted way of thinking.  He joined the Toyota corporate team in 2010 after graduating from Chukyo H.S. in Gifu, never getting to run the hallowed Hakone Ekiden.  Or rather, he chose not to.  "Hakone be honest, I never had any interest in it," he says with a laugh.  "Ever since I was little, I never even wanted to watch it on TV."  Even now, his eyes shine when Miyawaki says, "More than, 'Let's do Hakone,' the words 'world class' have a lot more appeal to me."

Before graduating from high school he had recruitment offers from countless Kanto-region universities that focus on Hakone, but Miyawaki chose the road of the corporate runner.  The reason?  The words of Toyota head coach Toshinobu Sato resonated deeply within Miyawaki: "Let's go after the best in the world together."  In high school he was nothing special, eliminated in the heats when he made the National meet, but even so he was picked up by Toyota.  That opened up new possibilities within Miyawaki of going "where I hadn't even considered."

Once he made up his mind and charted his path, Miyawaki's talent immediately began to blossom, developing rapidly after joining the Toyota team.  His first year he ran a solid 4th on the New Year Ekiden's First Stage, helping Toyota to win its first-ever team title.  His second year he went right to the cusp of becoming world-class.

At the 2012 National Track and Field Championships he placed 3rd in the 10000 m, a razor-thin two seconds from grabbing the London Olympics ticket snatched away by winner Yuki Sato (Team Nissin Shokuhin).  At this year's New Year Ekiden he ran the Fourth Stage against the corporate league's best Japanese men, beating Sato and Moscow World Championships marathon 5th-placer Kentaro Nakamoto (Team Yasukawa Denki) to win the stage.  The same age as current university seniors, Miyawaki has climbed to the same level as the nation's best, laying the foundations for his marathon debut.

"I'm as surprised as anybody," he says.  "Right on track the times and distances I can handle have progressed, and next is the marathon.  In Rio I want to run the marathon, not track.  I don't think I can compete with the best on the track, and if I go there it won't be just to be there."

The "Golden Generation" of Suguru Osako (Waseda University), twins Keita and Yuta Shitara (Toyo University), Shinobu Kubota (Komazawa University) and others are all graduating simultaneously this spring.  They will all be 29 years old the season of the 2020 Olympics, their generation's ultimate heyday.  The road he walks is different from theirs, but Miyawaki's focus point as he looks ahead is the same.  "I don't want to lose to other guys my age.  I want to compete with them to run in the Rio Olympics, then win a medal in the Tokyo Olympics."  With an ultimate goal of winning a medal on the same capital city streets six years distant, Miyawaki starts his journey on Sunday.

Chihiro Miyawaki
Born Aug. 28, 1991 in Komagane, Nagano.  22 years old, 175 cm, 55 kg.  He began running seriously in junior high school, attending Chukyo H.S. in Gifu before joining the Toyota corporate team.  His hobby is driving.

5000 m: 13:35.74     10000 m: 27:41.57 (all-time Japanese #7)
half-marathon: 1:00:53 (all-time Japanese #4)     30 km: 1:29:51


Anna Novick said…
The theme of successful runners I'm seeing in Japan seems to be less about running Hakone or not, and more about whether the athlete has the self-awareness to know what they want and initiative to figure out how best to reach their goal. For many Japanese runners, Hakone makes sense, or at least, is what they want, and some do see it, and are successful at using it, as a stepping stone to becoming a world class athlete. I'm sure there are other young runners who don't even know that there are options other than Hakone to become a world class runner, even if the new way doesn't include the supported transition from scholar athlete to elite/professional athlete that is the collegiate-jitugyodan system. This reminds me of Mary Cain going pro instead of running NCAA, and Galen Rupp not immediately running in the NCAAs. Good to see young athletes on both US and Japanese turfs feel empowered to make a choice that suits what they want.

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