Skip to main content

Can Yuka Ando's "Ninja Running" Bring the Gold Medal Back to Japan at the Tokyo Olympics?

http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/column/20170314-OHT1T50078.html

an editorial by Yuji Hosono
translated by Brett Larner



After running 2:21:36 for 2nd at the Mar. 12 Nagoya Women's Marathon to become the all-time 4th-fastest Japanese woman, the name of 22-year-old Cinderella girl Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) is now synonymous with the slightly incongruous term "ninja running."  Her lower arms hanging loosely, barely moving, gaining forward propulsion through the strength of her legs, a unique form on display throughout her duel with Rio Olympics silver medalist Eunice Kirwa (Bahrain).  It just may be enough to bring the Olympic women's marathon gold medal back to Japan for the first time since Mizuki Noguchi in Athens in 2004.

Ando's ninja running first caught my eye about a year ago at the May, 2016 Gifu Seiryu Half Marathon.  I had the impression that it seemed to be between Kayoko Fukushi (Team Wacoal), who was expected to medal in the Rio Olympics and Ando, who two months earlier had been the top Japanese woman at 10th overall at March's Cardiff World Half Marathon Championships. As soon as the race began I was surprised.  No matter how you looked at Ando's form it seemed like she was only using her legs to drive her running, but even so it was a great performance with only a 3-second difference with Fukushi at the end.  Having already seen the diamond shine when it was still in the rough, I felt more satisfaction than surprise at how fast she ran in Nagoya.

Ando was never good at running with coordinated upper and lower body movement.  Her form came about as the result of trial and error.  Former world record holder and 2000 Sydney Olympics gold medalist Naoki Takahashi, 44, gave an analysis of Ando's form, saying, "It's unique, but it is highly specialized for the marathon. There is less vertical movement and better motion efficiency, reducing the likelihood of failure in the second half."

"The marathon starts at 30 km."  As a condition for being able to compete at the world level, the JAAF has emphasized the "negative split," running the second half faster than the first half.  In Nagoya Ando ran the first half in 1:10:21 and the second half somewhat slower in 1:11:15.  JAAF director Mitsugi Ogata evaluated her run by saying, "I would like to interpret it as her way of negative splitting, in the sense that she kept the pace necessary to compete during the second half."  This was equivalent to the holy grail of being lauded for "taking on the world."

Although Ando's form can be called a pitch-based method, it is by no means a mainstream one.  She no doubt must have had it corrected many times ever since she was a student.  After passing through two teams following her graduation from Toyokawa High School, she met coach Masayuki Satouchi, 40, at her third and current team.  At the Suzuki Hamamatsu AC, marathon development is the main priority.  Coach Satouchi embraced Ando's ninja running and set about extending its potential, saying, "Ando is a natural talent.  When she was envisioning the marathon she was conscious of efficient form.  Everybody has their own way of running."  Ando seeks to improve even further, saying, "This is not the finished product. Overall I want to refine my form to maximize the degree to which I can bring out my full potential."  At the London World Championships and on to the Tokyo Olympics, Ando intends to travel the road to the gold medal.

Comments

Most-Read This Week

Tokyo Experiments With Spraying Water Along 2020 Marathon Course to Combat Heat

As part of its measures to deal with the hot conditions expected at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, on Aug. 13 the Tokyo Metropolitan Government conducted an experiment to measure the effects on pavement surface temperature of spraying the road surface with water. Data from the experiments were released to the media.

The experiment was conducted from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. along a 120 m section of sidewalk along Uchibori Street in the Imperial Palace's outer gardens in Chiyoda Ward.  In the experiment, open-ended tubes used in agricultural work eres placed at the edge of the sidewalk  to supply water. Surface temperature readings were taken every 30 minutes for three different experimental scenarios:
spraying water beginning at 4:00 a.m.spraying water beginning at 7:00 a.m.not spraying any water The experiment found that where water had been sprayed, the road surface temperature remained in the 27 to 29˚C range even when the air temperature exceeded 30˚C. Where no wa…

On Broadcast Commentary

It's been 122 days since the 122nd Boston Marathon. Of what the two exceptional people who won that day accomplished, WilliamShakespeare summed it up better than any other commentator in his Sonnet 122:

Beyond all date, even to eternity;
     Or at the least, so long as brain and heart
     Have faculty by nature to subsist;
     Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
     Of thee, thy record never can be miss'd.

What else needs to be said? But the other thing that remains from that day is, of course, this:

Worst punditry ever? #Yukipic.twitter.com/AwjeuZDtOt — Xempo Running (@xempouk) April 16, 2018
In the 122 days since Boston this clip has been on my mind a lot. The commentary here by Larry Rawson and Al Trautwig was exceptionally bad, but it wasn't unique to them and highlighted many of the problems with marathon TV broadcasts and especially their hosts and commentators. I'm fortunate to live in Japan where the announcers for the countless marathon live TV broadcas…

The Asian Games Marathon Course: An Early Morning Start for Loops of the City's Main Roads

Its skyline punctuated by skyscrapers demonstrating Indonesia's economic ascension. A lush plaza holding a famed tower, the symbol of the metropolis. When Jakarta hosts the Asian Games next week its marathon course will loop around the city's main streets, starting and finishing from the Games' main venue, Gelola Bungarno Stadium. In light of the heat and humidity of the races' summertime dates, Aug. 25 for men and 26 for women, the marathons will get off to early starts at 6:00 a.m. local time, 8:00 a.m. Japan time.

Leaving the stadium for the main streets, the Jakarta course turns to the north before turning back. Each of the two loops is about 20 km, both mostly flat and straight with the only hills coming in the gentle climbs onto and off the waterway bridges that dot the route. At a rotary about 5 km from the start, runners are greeted by a statue of a man and woman built in 1962 the last time Jakarta hosted the Asian Games. Running on amid the highrises, around …