Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Her Way to Being the One and Only Number One: Meg Hemphill


translated and edited by Brett Larner
photos by Kazuyuki Sugimatsu

There's a new candidate for the heroine of Tokyo 2020.  At this past weekend's National High School Track and Field Championships at Kofu's Kose Sports Park Field, the daughter of an American father Meg Hemphill (18, Kyoto Bunkyo H.S.) set a women's heptathlon junior national record of 5519 points to win her second-straight title.  Between the heptathlon's sixth and seventh events, the javelin throw and 800 m, the "Iron Girl" Hemphill also anchored her school's 4x400 m relay team, showing exactly how tough she was and setting her well on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

At this year's National High School Championships Hemphill competed in the 100 m hurdles, heptathlon, 4x100 m relay and 4x400 m relay, racing on all five days of the meet from July 30 to Aug. 3.  Challenging the limits of her own mortality, her amazing breakthrough in the heptathlon opened up a new world.  30 minutes after the end of the heptathlon's javelin throw competition Hemphill hurried to join her team for the 4x400 m relay, where she helped them win their heat to go on to the semi-finals.  2 1/2 hours later she was on the starting line of the heptathlon's final event, the 800 m.

When it was over all the rival athletes she had just beaten came running over to congratulate her.  With a new 800 m PB of 2:17.87 she scored 5519 points to break the Japanese junior national record.  At the center of the wheel of enthusiasm, the smiling 18-year-old gushed with the enthusiasm of youth, "I was shooting for 5500 points.  I'm really happy to have crushed the record.  I was tired, but not as tired as at practice so I was feeling confident.  I work harder than everyone else.  That's just the way I do.  I try to like it when it hurts."

A day after her heptathlon triumph, on Aug. 3 she competed in the 100 m hurdles and 4x400 m, running five races from the 100 mH heats at 10:00 a.m. to the 4x400 m relay final at 4:35 p.m.  Like when she played handball in elementary school, Hemphill had the whole court covered.  "I've been running nonstop all the way.  I hope I've got a little something left," she laughed mischievously.  After being disqualified in the 100 mH final last year for false-starting, this time Hemphill won in 13.72 in a show of her amazing stamina and strength.  Despite some pain in her right thigh that left her feeling, "a little bit limited," kicking into top gear at 50 m she opened a gap of nearly 2 m on the other athletes by the time she hit the finish line.  "I told myself that if I'd come this far then I had to go all the way.  I'm the kind of athlete who can push it in the second half, so around the fifth hurdle I told myself, 'It's showtime,' and got to work," she said in the distinctively direct Kyoto style.  In the 4x400 m final Kyoto Bunkyo H.S. finished 3rd.  "I'm so happy," Hemphill said.  "I totally lost myself in my running."

Hemphill credits her superb stamina to her mother's home cooking and optimistic personality.  "I owe my stamina to my mommy's meals," she said.  "She has been frantically studying nutrition and makes all my lunches for me.  I especially love her tofu hamburgers."  Another of her secrets: excited for her family's plans to go to Tokyo Disneyland after the meet, right before each race she chanted, "Disneyland!  DISNEYLAND!!!" to shake off her fatigue.  Hemphill was born to an American father, Scott, and a Japanese mother, Chie.  "She's always overdoing it, so we're always right on the edge of a heart attack," said Scott of the daughter whose kanji, normally read as "Megumi," they read as "Megu" and, in her passport and elsewhere, officially spell as "Meg."  It's a name that will be familiar both overseas and in Japan, all the cooler now that the world-level big stage has come into sight.

To start with, she will be targeting the 2015 Beijing World Championships, followed by the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.  Calling herself an old fogey, the beautiful young Hemphill said, "I don't know about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.  If you can't enjoy yourself in the here and now then you're losing."  Only Yuki Nakata in Athens in 2004 has ever made a Japanese Olympic team in the heptathlon.  There is still a big gap between her and the quality of the rest of the world, but, she says defiantly, "I'm the kind of person who does what other athletes can't."  Running, jumping and throwing.  Hemphill is on her way to being the one and only number one.  Immersed in the feeling of freedom her newly-expanded horizons have brought her, she is clear at least on her immediate goal: "I'm going to go to Disneyland!"

Meg Hemphill - born May 23, 1996 in Tanabe, Kyoto.  18 years old.  167 cm, 57 kg.  Daughter of an American father and a Japanese mother.  Belonged to the handball club in elementary school.  Took up track and field while at Kyoto Bunkyo J.H.S., winning the quadrathlon at the National Junior High School Championships in 9th grade.  Won the heptathlon at last year's National High School Championships and made the final in the 100 m hurdles but was disqualified after false starting.  Likes the singer Ayaka and going to see movies.  Favorite word is thanks.

photos (c) 2014 Kazuyuki Sugimatsu
all rights reserved 

No comments: