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Hitomi Niiya to Make Comeback After Four Years Away From the Sport



On June 3 it was revealed that 2013 Moscow World Championships women's 10000 m 5th-placer Hitomi Niiya, 30, will run the women's 3000 m at the June 9 Nittai University Time Trials as part of the Nike Tokyo Track Club. Her first race in over four years, the race represents her first step on the road to a comeback in time for the 2020 Tokyo Oympic Games. According to a club spokesperson, Niiya began running again last summer. Her goal at Nittai to clear the 9:50 qualifying time for July's Hokuren Distance Challenge series in Hokkaido, where she will run the 5000 m in order to secure the 15:40.00 standard for the 2019 National Championships.

A native of Soja, Okayama, while at Kojokan H.S. Niiya won the 6.0 km First Stage at the National High School Ekiden three years in a row. Two of those runs broke the course record, with her time of 18:52 still standing as the course record. No other runner has ever broken 19 minutes. Together with her future London Olympics teammate Risa Shigetomo, as a third-year in 2005 Niiya helped lead Kojokan to its first national title. After graduating she joined Yoshio Koide's training group, wining her marathon debut at age 19 at the 2007 Tokyo Marathon and finishing 9th in the 10000 m at the 2012 London Olympics. With a high-pitch stride that generated almost no up and down motion her efficiency lent her the kind of speed that put her at the very top of Japanese women's distance running.

Thinking, "If it comes down to a last sprint I can't compete," at the 2013 Moscow World Championships Niiya went to the front of the women's 10000 m at 3550 meters and led until just before the final lap. The sheer aggressiveness of her running dropped one after another of her top-level competitors, but with around 500 m to go Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia) led a pack of four Africans past Niiya, who finished 5th in 30:56.70, the third-fastest time ever by a Japanese woman. That race showed what it really took to be at the top of the sport. After the race Niiya cried openly as she told the media, "I wanted to produce results here. Without a medal it has no value." 

Niiya had fully committed her entire self to her running, lowering her body fat percentage to 5%, exceptionally low for a woman. With persistent plantar fasciitis problems in her right foot she declined to have surgery after Moscow, declaring her retirement in January, 2014. "I couldn't win a medal in a race that took absolutely everything I had," she said at the time. "That disqualifies me from being a professional."

source articles:
http://www.hochi.co.jp/sports/etc/20180602-OHT1T50178.html
http://www.sanyonews.jp/article/725972/1/
translated and edited by Brett Larner

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