At the Dec. 2 Fukuoka International Marathon Yuma Hattori (25, Toyota) ran 2:07:27 to win and become the eighth-fastest Japanese man ever. It was the first time since 2004 that a Japanese man became the Fukuoka champion. Hattori now stands among the leading competitors in the fierce battle to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon team.
Hattori and his younger brother Hazuma Hattori (23, Toenec) were star members of Toyo University's 2014 Hakone Ekiden winning team. They rank among the most famous brothers in Japanese athletics, but neither of them actually wanted to be a runner. "I wanted to play soccer," Hattori said. "Hazuma wanted to play table tennis. We're from the sticks out in Niigata and my junior high school didn't have a soccer team. I thought about joining a club team, but it was too far away."
"My dad had been a decathlete," Hattori continued, "so I started doing track and field as well. My mom was a cross-country skier, so both of them had been involved in sports that require endurance. We also had a table tennis table at home and we used to play all the time. That's why Hazuma really wanted to join the table tennis team, but our parents told him, 'You shouldn't do only table tennis.' He didn't really have any choice but to join the track and field team too. If there had been a soccer team at my junior high I'd definitely be playing soccer now and things would be kind of different. "
Despite the talent they show now, both Hattori brothers started their careers in athletics feeling that they didn't have any other options. Even after joining their school's team that feeling didn't change. "It's still true now," he said. "There's not much about running that feels fun. Maybe it's fun when I have a good performance, but over 90% of the time I don't enjoy the training at all. There are times I ask myself, 'Why are you doing this?' I think that deep down in my heart I just don't like running. If I had the chance I'd still rather be a soccer player."
Although soccer remained his one true love, Hattori joined the Toyota corporate men's team after graduating from Toyo. "I thought that if I joined a corporate team after graduating from university I'd be able to become competitive in the marathon," he explained. "Toyota is one of the biggest companies in Japan and one that represents the nation. I thought that as a person I still lacked life experience, education and knowledge, so more than for its running team I decided to join Toyota in order to broaden those parts of myself."
Since joining Toyota Hattori has grown as both a runner and a person. Fukuoka was his fourth marathon, and he really hit it out of the park. In his first three marathons he fell off pace after 35 km, but this time was different. Hattori split 14:40 from 35 to 40 km in Fukuoka, the same kind of strength Japanese national record holder Suguru Osako showed in negative splitting his race. Behind that strength may have been the power of mental imaging. But not the usual kind.
"I don't want to have the image of when I win or run well in mind," he said. "What I mean is that I keep focused on the hardships and throw away all the feel-good stuff when I'm training." One good thing that came out of Fukuoka was earning a place at the MGC Race, Japan's 2020 Tokyo Olympics marathon trial race. "I can say that I have the desire to run the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics," Hattori said. That clearly articulated desire is one step closer to becoming a reality for him.
translated and edited by Brett Larner