translated by Brett Larner
Smiling after winning his marathon debut, 21-year-old Ethiopian Melaku Abera (Kurosaki Harima) told reporters, "I love Japan! Thanks to this I can stay here a bit longer." Running in a lead pack of Kenyans, Ethiopians and other invited international athletes, Abera threw in a surge at 35 km that put him out front alone. While frontrunning he blew kisses at the TV cameras and talked to them in Japanese. "I was saying thank you to my coach and teammates," he said, a sign of how much he likes the Kitakyushu-based Kurosaki Harima ekiden team.
Abera came to Japan four years ago to join Kurosaki Harima where he was expected to serve as the ekiden team's ringer, but in the New Year Ekiden and other important races he didn't produce the hoped-for results. His contract was not renewed, meaning he was scheduled to return to his home in Ethiopia at the end of the fiscal year in March. But winning his marathon debut brought a quick change in his fortune in the form of a one-year contract extension from Kurosaki Harima. "I'm really happy to be able to keep running on the team," Abera said. "I'm overjoyed to be able to stay where I love here in Japan." He vowed to run his best for the team in the year to come.