translated and edited by Brett Larner
The civil servant runner has roared. After finishing 3rd at the July 6 Gold Coast Airport Marathon in Australia, 2014 Incheon Asian Games marathon team member Yuki Kawauchi (27, Saitama Pref. Gov't) returned to Narita Airport early on the morning of July 7. Kawauchi fell badly early in the race but still finished 3rd as the top Japanese man in 2:11:27. Speaking animatedly and at length as he was interviewed in the arrival lobby at 6:30 a.m., more than his own result Kawauchi struggled to understand how Hirokatsu Kurosaki, 28, a member of the two-time defending New Year Ekiden national champion Konica Minolta corporate team and named to the Japanese marathon National Team in April alongside Kawauchi after running 2:09:07 at February's Tokyo Marathon, could have sunk as low as his 10th-place 2:19:12 finish behind two Japanese runners not on the National Team, one an amateur club runner.
"A National Team member got torn to shreds," Kawauchi said. "Is that really acceptable for a member of a team representing his country? When you become a National Team member and a
representative of your country there are a lot of expectations, aren't
there? If I ran around 2:20 people would tear me apart. 'What the hell
are you doing, taking time off work for that?!' and the like. It's not enough to just show up when you have the privilege of being invited to compete in a race. You need to meet expectations. The National Team carries the reputation of our country, and if you can't live up to that then you should be replaced with someone else."
Every time he has been named to a national team Kawauchi has received truly heartless hate mail from members of the general public when he has underperformed. From this he knows the weight of responsibility that comes from representing one's country, and because of that he holds performing badly as a National Team member to be unforgivable. The National Team gives members an advantage in selection for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics along with benefits including advanced medical science support. Despite members being named and subject to replacement on an annual basis, the criteria for nomination are not clear. Kawauchi believes that members should be at risk of more frequent replacement in order to keep membership more competitive. "For example," he said, "if you blow two races in a row you should be replaced. I think we'd start seeing guys gunning to beat Kawauchi and replace him on the team."
Kawauchi has roughly three months left until the Asian Games, where he intends to remove himself from consideration for future national teams if he does not win the gold medal. His only planned race this month is the July 27 Kushiro Shitsugen 30 km, but even in training he burns with the motivation to "surpass the corporate runners in quality." With a greater spirit of professionalism than anyone, the civil servant runner headed straight out into the rain after the interview for his pre-work run.
Translator's note: For clarity, in this article National Team, capitalized, refers to the Federation's new elite marathoner development program, while national team, uncapitalized, refers more generally to Olympic, World Championships, World Half Marathon and other Japanese teams.