translated by Brett Larner
The JAAF has decided to take measures against the widespread use of iron injections by long distance athletes to combat anemia, saying that they undermine the athletes' bodies. Beginning this spring it is sending documents to high school, university and corporate teams under the governance of the various local prefectural athletics associations to warn of the risks posed by iron injections, following up with a survey to help understand the scale of the actual situation. The JAAF considers this problem central to the stagnation of distance running and marathoning, particularly with regard to women's performances.
Iron injections were already conventionally known to have deleterious effects upon athletes, but because there are situations in which the injections are a legitimate medical practice they have continued to be allowed. However, amid a sense of crisis the JAAF has opted to take a strong stance. "If we do not face the iron problem head-on we will never be able to rebuild our women's marathoning," commented JAAF senior managing director Mitsugi Ogata.
In the background of the issue is the wildfire popularity of the ekiden. Recognizing that "light makes fast," some junior high school and high school coaches, particularly of girls' teams, have their runners diet while doing extremely high-volume training. As a consequence the iron levels needed to produce the hemoglobin that transports oxygen to the body drop, leading to anemia. Iron injections offer a quicker-fix remedy than taking iron tablets orally.
Injections are only used correctly if the athlete is not already taking iron tablets. A large amount of iron in the bloodstream can lead to "iron overload," excessive concentrations accumulating in internal organs such as the heart and liver and raising the risk of organ dysfunction. At an April 10 seminar on anemia for coaches and trainers JAAF officials told them, "Do not give iron just because an athlete says they don't feel right or are not producing the desired results."
Daiichi Seimei women's corporate team head coach Sachiko Yamashita lamented the situation, saying, "I want to be able to help develop athletes to become stronger, but when they arrive at our team their bodies already can't handle the training." The JAAF plans to help assemble local medical committees in various locations as necessary to explain the harmful effects of iron injections. Additionally, the JAAF is exploring the possibility of introducing blood testing at high school-level races.
Translator's note: Also in the background of this story is Kaori Yoshida's 2013 suspension for a positive test for EPO after receiving treatment for anemia. Amid international scandals such as the current one involving meldonium, the JAAF's sudden move against a longstanding practice gives pause for thought about what, if anything, might be being left unsaid.