translated and edited by Brett Larner
In preparation for August's London World Championships, the members of the men's and women's marathon teams attended a team meeting in Tokyo on Mar. 20. Having announced that this year's World Championships would be his last time contending for a national team, Yuki Kawauchi (30, Saitama Pref. Gov't) displayed extraordinary resolve as he said, "As a representative of Japan in London I fully intend to burn it all."
JAAF Long Distance and Marathon Development Project Leader Toshihiko Seko, 60, gave a 30-minute speech in front of the athletes and their coaches, bemoaning a sense of crisis as he said, "If things keep going this way marathoning is going to die out." Quoting the words of his legendary mentor, the late Kiyoshi Nakamura, Seko told them, "Do not be like scissors or a razor, easily chipped and blunted. I wish for you to become an athlete strong like a katana. The athlete burns white hot and brilliant red like steel, and the coach beats and tempers the steel like a swordsmith. In this way an athlete can become like the finest Japanese katana."
Women's team member Yuka Ando (Suzuki Hamamatsu AC) and the others listened intently and busily took notes, but Kawauchi, who is self-coached, frowned and said, "To be honest, that'd be pretty tricky. Since I'd have to be hitting myself and all." Seko frowned back and said to the others, "Yes, well, in his case he can play both roles."
From start to finish, the two strong personalities of Japanese athletics were on different wavelengths. Believing heat to be his weak point Kawauchi has decided to stop running on national teams because of the expected temperatures beyond 30 degrees at the 2019 Doha World Championships and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Seko commented bluntly, "You think too much about being weak in heat. You're going to summon the god of weakness. I'd like you to continue until the Tokyo Olympics."
On the way out of the press conference Seko called out, "Kawauchi, you shouldn't say that you're not good in heat!" Kawauchi replied coolly, "The heat in London won't be a problem." Seko said, "Not London, Tokyo. I'm talking about Tokyo," making clear his hopes of seeing Kawauchi in the Olympics. Frustration flashed across Kawauchi's face, and emphasizing his words with strong hand gestures he answered, "Not everyone is aiming for Tokyo. London is everything!" Backing off under the force of Kawauchi's reply, Seko bowed and said quietly, "I'm sorry. You have taught me well." The almost surreal exchange drew laughs of amazement throughout the venue.