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H.S. 5000 m NR Holder Hiroto Yoshioka Recovering From World XC Collapse

13:22.99 high school boys' 5000 m national record holder Hiroto Yoshioka, a 3rd-year at Nagano's Saku Chosei H.S., talked to the media for the first time after returning from the Feb. 18 World Cross Country Championships in Bathurst, Australia. "I can't say everything is back to normal, but I'm getting better bit by bit," he said.

In high temperatures at World XC Yoshioka ran an aggressive race against the international field, only to collapse right before the finish. "I was really flying, a lot more than usual, and I could feel it was really physically demanding," he said. "I thought I had crossed the finish line, but the line where I collapsed was actually the start line. People around me were shouting, 'You're not done!'" Unable to move his legs, he used his arms to inch forward feet-first.

He instinctively felt he had reached the finish line and collapsed again, this time for good. But, he admitted, "Since I was going feet-first I don't have any memory of seeing the finish line." The next thing he did remember was being in an indoor ice bath. His finish was ruled a DNF, his feet having touched the leading edge of the finish line mat but short of the actual timing line.

Yoshioka's body temperature was very high, and he was diagnosed to have suffered heat stroke. He flew back to Japan two days later and was taken straight to the hospital for further examination. The diagnosis was that his condition was mild, and with a smile he said, "I took the next day off, walked on the 22nd, and starting jogging again on the 23rd."

Yoshioka is a product of Saku Chosei H.S., famous for producing top domestic talent like Yuki Sato and Suguru Osako. As a 1st-year he ran 13:50.27, then 13:38.96 as a 2nd-year, before setting his 13:22.99 high school record his final year. Along with his athletic achievements, Yoshioka excels as a student and character. "There are no cracks in his armor," said Saku Chosei head coach Masaru Takamizawa.

Yoshioka has already moved out of the Saku Chosei dorm and started training at Juntendo University, where he will start his collegiate career in April. "The training plan is totally different from what I did in high school, and it's taking time to get used to," he said. "I'm sore every day." Along with the high-level workouts, he is already learning a lot from talking to Juntendo's world-class 3000 m steeplechase specialist Ryuji Miura, who starts his final year in April. "He's told me a lot about what it's like at big international competitions, and said that if anything every comes up I can always go to him," Yoshioka said. Their college careers will only overlap for one year, but it will be a time of intense learning.

Yoshioka's main goal for the year is making this summer's Budapest World Championships. The qualifying time is 13:07.00, faster than Osako's 13:08.40 NR. But Yoshioka's ambitions are even higher. "Some day I want to break the NR and run 12 minutes." He knows his first year of college will be a tough transition, but, Yoshioka said, "There are world-level competitions next year and beyond too, so I want to prioritize focusing on the process of making national teams."

If he recovers from World XC in time Yoshioka plans to run a 3000 m at the end of March. If he makes it, it will be his last race wearing Saku Chosei's famous orange uniform. Up til now he has mostly raced other high schoolers, but from now on his competition will be top-class seniors. "I hope that these high-level races will help me understand how I can improve my own performance, and that that will lead to better things," he said. Having already rewritten the high school record books, Yoshioka will take the next step on that road at Juntendo come April.

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translated by Brett Larner

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