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Unable to Achieve Olympic Dream, Track Star Mitsuya Finds New Life as Paralympic Pacer

translated and edited by Brett Larner

A former Japanese national representative at the World Championships is getting ready to take on his second marathon.  Injuries having forced him into retirement at just age 30, this time he will be running in a new role.  With two World Championships appearances on the track behind him, Yu Mitsuya will run the Nov. 8 Fukuoka Marathon as a guide runner for blind marathoner Misato Michishita, 38, already named as a member of the women's marathon team for next year's Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.  "I want to be a source of strength that will help Michishita on her road to Rio," Mitsuya said.

A native of Kagawa prefecture, Mitsuya emerged as a star in high school before joining the Toyota Kyushu corporate team after graduating in 2003.  At Toyota Kyushu he was coached by Barcelona Olympics marathon silver medalist Koichi Morishita and trained alongside future Beijing Olympics marathon gold medalist Samuel Wanjiru, with whom he became close friends.  In 2005, paced by Wanjiru, he ran the then-fastest-ever 10000 m on Japanese soil by a Japanese man, 27:41.10, before running at the Helsinki World Championships.  Two years later he ran 13:18.32 for 5000 m, still the fastest-ever time by a Japanese man inside Japan, before his second national team appearance at the Osaka World Championships.

But in his debut marathon at the 2010 Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon, aiming to win, Mitsuya faded late in the race and fell to 9th place in 2:12:59.  "It wasn't so easy," he said.  Achilles tendon pain he experienced from overuse increased year by year and, unable to achieve his dream of making this Olympics, he retired in February this year just after his 30th birthday.

Mitsuya's involvement with with Michishita as a pacer came about in late March when a member of the Toyota Kyushu booster club asked him to run with her.  Having worked with blind children during his career to share the joy of running with them, he didn't hesitate to say yes.  His first meeting with Michishita came a month later.  "I want to go to Rio," she told him bluntly, her straightforwardness about her dreams resonating with Mitsuya and stirring within him memories of his old self.

The pair began training for the Fukuoka Marathon together in October in Fukuoka's Ohori Park, united by a 45 cm loop of red rope.  Mitsuya found the job full of unexpected challenges and questions.  "Is my arm swing getting in her way?  Am I properly communicating with her?"  With an offer to run Fukuoka as a special guest Michishita chose to use it as a stepping stone in her preparations for Rio, and Mitsuya fully dedicated himself to making sure she would be able to give it her utmost.  "He's a perfect guide runner," said Michishita.  "I don't sense his presence at all and it feels like I am running alone.  When I'm getting tired and my form is breaking down he gives me accurate advice.  I trust him completely."

Mitsuya hasn't neglected the training he himself needs to do to finish the 42.195 km distance.  "This is my guide runner debut," he said.  "I want to do an impeccable job."  The Olympic dreams of a champion still burning inside him, he is looking forward to next weekend's starting gun.


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