Skip to main content

"My Goal is to Make the National Team in the Marathon" - Kansai Region University Distance Star Kentaro Hirai

http://www.kobe-np.co.jp/news/sports/201407/0007125999.shtml

translated by Brett Larner

The biggest attraction in Kansai university athletics long distance these days is without a doubt Kyoto University junior Kentaro Hirai.  A graduate of Hotoku Gakuen H.S., Hirai won this spring's Kansai University Track and Field Championships 10000 m and finished 2nd in both the 5000 m and half marathon.  Running as Kyoto's best runner at last month's National University Ekiden Championships Kansai Region Qualifier, he finished 1st overall to lead Kyoto University to qualify for Nationals for the first time in 41 years, showing the strong and inspiring impact he is having on his teammates.  Hirai envisions a place for himself on a Japanese national team in the marathon.  We talked to this 21-year-old about his current situation and about his vision for the future.

You had a very strong first half of this season.

The Kansai Regionals meet lists people who score 20 or more points as individuals.  I scored 27.  At the National University Ekiden Qualifier we got a place and I personally opened a gap of 30 or 40 seconds to achieve my goal of the individual win.  At the National University Individual Track and Field Championships I met my target of a podium finish.  Everything I envisioned last winter came true.

You always run out front in Kansai Region races.

That's a natural result of having the mindset of aiming to win at the national level [against the power of Kanto Region university athletes].  People have this self-imposed restraint that "the level in Kansai is low" that makes their times slower and I want to change that.  We have to raise our game in Kansai.  I think the guys at [top Kansai universities] Ritsumeikan and Kyoto Sangyo are starting to think, "We're losing out to Kyoto University" and to respond to that.  If we can keep the wind blowing that way then we'll be able to get rid of this idea that Kansai is Kansai and Kanto is Kanto.

It's tough to frontrun, but doing that makes it feel easier and takes off the pressure when you follow people at the national level.  But if you follow someone, especially in Kansai these days, the pace slows down.  It becomes the kind of race where you just pick up [the pace] at the end.  It's more comfortable, so maybe it's inevitable.

What did you learn at Hotoku Gakuin H.S.?
 
My mother is the head of our family, and what I learned from Mr. [Seiji] Hirayama [at Hotoku] fit well with the way my mother brought me up and influenced how I live my life.  What springs to mind immediately is the importance of putting your mind into the task in front of you, how to conduct yourself so that the situation at hand can lead you to achieve your goals, whether at home or at school.

People tell me that I'm doing a good job of doubling as a scholar-athlete, but I've come not to think of it that way at all.  Ultimately, when it's time to study I study, and when it's time to run I run, that's it.  Another thing is that life mostly does not go the way you thought it was going to.  In high school I had a lot of injuries and failures, but Mr. Hirayama's words gave me encouragement.  The fact that things have being going well this spring is irregular whichever way you look at it, and I want to be as humble about it as I can.

With no head coach at Kyoto University, what does your practice schedule look like?

I'm the type of guy who will do 70 minutes when he's supposed to jog 60.  Because of that I was always injured [in high school], so now I try not to be too stubborn and set in my ways.  I'm just doing this by myself, so in a good way I can't overdo it, and part of me is just lazy and good at avoiding things I have to do.  I don't care too much about distance or pace but put more importance on things like how much perceived effort it took.  I constantly make little changes to my training schedule and get advice from coaches at other universities.  The people around me give me strength too.

What are your goals for the future?

My immediate goals are to win the First Stage at the National University Ekiden two years in a row and to be the top Japanese man in next year's National University Track and Field Championships 10000 m.  After I graduate my goal is to make the Japanese national team in the marathon.  I'm pretty sure I can be competitive in summertime championship races.  The winning times are usually fairly slow, and even the Kenyans and Ethiopians suffer in the heat and don't run that fast.  There's a time frame for it.  In terms of the Olympics, I think 2024 will be my best chance, but of course I'll be aiming for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics too.

Kentaro Hirai - born May 1, 1993 in Takarazuka, Hyogo.  Played on the soccer team while at Hobai J.H.S.  As a junior at Hotoku Gakuen H.S. he won the Hyogo Youth Championships 5000 m, and finished 4th on the First Stage at the Hyogo Prefecture High School Ekiden and 5th on the First Stage at the Kinki Region High School Ekiden.  As a senior he won the Third Stage at the same ekidens.  Currently studying in Kyoto University's Faculty of Agriculture, he finished 2nd in the 5000 m at this spring's National Individual Track and Field Championships, bringing him to the forefront at the national level.  He holds PBs of 14:00.92 for 5000 m and 28:57.20 for 10000 m.  170 cm, 55 kg.

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Nakamura and Maeda Win Japanese 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials

After an almost two-year qualification period that made it the most difficult marathon in history to get into, Japan's Marathon Grand Championship 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trials went off perfectly Sunday in warm and sunny conditions. Shogo Nakamura (Fujitsu), 4th in Berlin last year, and 2018 Fukuoka winner Yuma Hattori (Toyota) went 1-2 in a 3-way sprint finish against national record holder Suguru Osako (Nike Oregon Project) to score places on the Olympic team, with 2017 Hokkaido Marathon winner Honami Maeda (Tenmaya) taking the women's race and 2018 Hokkaido winner Ayuko Suzuki (Japan Post) holding off Rei Ohara (Tenmaya) to join Maeda in the Tokyo lineup.

It was a sign of the level of commitment that this generation brought, of what next summer's Olympics are going to be like, that both the women's and men's races went out at national record pace, but the two couldn't have been more different. In the women's race, 9 of the 10 starters went out fas…

Asian Decathlon Champion Ushiro Cut From Doha Team After JAAF Guaranteed Him Spot Three Months Ago

On Sept. 17 it was learned that men's decathlon national champion Keisuke Ushiro (33, Kokushikan Club) has had his guaranteed spot on the Japanese national team for the Doha World Championships later this month eliminated. Ushiro won the gold medal at April's Doha Asian Championships, then won June's National Championships.

Under their published regulations for national representation in Doha, the JAAF guaranteed him a spot on the World Championships team for these accomplishments. But according to an involved party, IAAF regulations stipulate that the participation of area champions in certain events is dependent upon approval of the relevant technical delegate, and this appears to be the case in this instance. Ushiro has not cleared the World Championships qualification standard.

Ushiro did not attend the official Doha national team sendoff event held the same day in Tokyo. No explanation of the cancellation of his place on the team was offered to attendees at the event…

Ushiro Allowed to Compete at World Championships

At one point "misselected" by the JAAF to represent Japan at the World Championships beginning Sept. 27 in Doha, Qatar, Asian decathlon champion Keisuke Ushiro (33, Kokushikan Club) has been allowed to compete. The JAAF made the announcement on Sept. 20 that Ushiro was one of five athletes being added to Japan's roster. On his Twitter account Ushiro wrote, "I'm sorry to have made so many people worry about this, but I'm happy to say that today I got word that I'll be able to go to the World Championships. I'll do everything I can to be ready so I can get as close as I can to realizing my dream of medaling. Thank you all for your support."

As the 2019 Asian Championships gold medalist and 2019 national champion, the JAAF announced Ushiro as a member of the Doha team in June. But on Sept. 17 the IAAF informed the JAAF that Ushiro would not be allowed to compete due to not having cleared the qualification standard. The situation forced JAAF execut…