translated by Brett Larner
A former marathon great is working hard in her position as head coach. International Pacific University in Okayama has named 2000 Sydney Olympics marathon 7th-placer Eri Yamaguchi, 42, to lead its new women's ekiden team. Returning to the field of competition for the first time in four years, Yamaguchi was full of a sense of mission as she said, "I want to pass to them everything that I learned and accomplished."
In March, 2011 Yamaguchi left her job as assistant coach at the Tenmaya women's corporate team to get married, afterward focusing on developing juniors. When the knock on the door came from IPU she was conflicted, asking herself, "Can you go back to the competitive world? You won't be able to take care of your family any more." But after talking with IPU president Hiroshi Ohashi, she said, "I got a strong desire to help develop a strong ekiden team." "She is one of the people who helped shape Japan's long distance world," President Ohashi commented. "We have been considering this move for the last three years," he added, smiling at seeing his plans come to realization.
At the moment the team includes just four students, all first and second-years, but plans do not call for them to enter the ekiden circuit until after next season. As the ability levels of their incoming first-years will shape the team's development, Yamaguchi is busy with doing her first-ever recruiting. "First we have to build the team," she said, calmly assessing the team's prospects. "If we get off on the right track then we will be able to think about winning." She has already begun planting the seeds of competitiveness and development in the minds of inexperienced athletes in what is now a "friendly club." With morning practice at 6:00 a.m. and another session in the evening there is little free time. "I'm like a substitute mom for all the athletes," she said. With a busy day-to-day schedule she added, "When I go home all I can do is sleep." But her smile betrayed the sense of fulfillment her new work brings her.