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Chunxiu Zhou's Japanese Coach Shinya Takeuchi Seeks to Make Personal Compensation to China for WWII

originally published in the Nikkei Newspaper

translated and edited by Brett Larner

When Shinya Takeuchi began to coach runners in the Chinese prefecture of Jiangsu 20 years ago, the shoes they wore were made from cheap rubber, just like those worn in Japan right after World War II. "They run marathons in these?" he thought in disbelief. When his runners had good results in international races, people involved in the Chinese running industry asked him almost every day, "What kind of drugs are you using?" He was bewildered by the difference from the Japanese running environment. Now he feels the possibilities present in Chinese runners' power.

Takeuchi, 76, former head coach of the now-defunct UFJ Bank Track and Field Team, became an advisor for the Chinese national marathon team last autumn. He has been helping Chinese runners for a long time but only recently has received an official position from the Chinese athletic federation. At last summer's World Championships marathon, his top runner Chunxiu Zhou won the silver medal, and his other major runner Xiaolin Zhu finished fourth. Since then, China has changed its treatment of Takeuchi.

After Osaka Chinese newspapers had headlines asking, 'Is Takeuchi the next Imura?' Japanese citizen Masayo Imura became the head coach of the Chinese national synchronized swimming team before the Athens Olympics and Takeuchi has often been compared to this famous former Japanese national team coach, a comparison which makes him laugh over the implied expectation of comparable results. "Getting an Olympic medal is ten times more difficult than a World Championships. There's a lot of pressure on me."

Takeuchi first encountered China in the 1980's when his hometown of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture was making a bid for the 1988 Olympics. Aichi believed it needed China's support for the bid to be successful. To help toward this aim it organized a friendship track meet together with the Chinese prefecture of Jiangsu. Takeuchi, who at that time was teaching at a university in Aichi, was a former 110 m hurdler and since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had been coaching elite athletes. He was part of the negotiations with China to make the friendship meet happen; although Aichi's bid for the Olympics failed, the meet took place in 1982. During the event Takeuchi hosted Chinese runner Youfeng Zhao, who went on to place 5th at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, at his home. China was impressed with Takeuchi's coaching and asked him to coach for them. He agreed, and began coaching them during his vacations.

Takeuchi's coaching for the Chinese began simply, with walking. Within three months his athletes all broke their personal bests, surprising all. In 1986 he began inviting high-potential athletes to Japan. Zhao described Takeuchi, saying, "He always treated me like his own daughter. He told us why we had to do each type of training, and his coaching is very logical."

Takeuchi has an excellent reputation for his method, which puts heavy emphasis on the basics, and for his judgment of runners' adequacy. Once Zhou, who Takeuchi began to coach two years ago, started to develop into a top-level runner, many Chinese coaches came to his training camp to learn his methods. What those coaches are looking toward is not only the Beijing Olympics but also next year's National Championships, which Chinese nationals watch with devotion when they take place every four years.

Takeuchi still teaches in Japan, and when an important event is approaching he travels to China. Since he experienced the World War II era firsthand while he was a junior high school student, he feels "This is all I as an individual can do for China." Despite receiving little salary and even having to pay his travel costs himself, Takeuchi has passionately put himself into this work, in his own way giving a form of compensation to China for the war.

Takeuchi plans his runners' schedules by precisely calculating back from the target race to have them in peak shape at the right time. At the Osaka World Championships, the marathon started at 7:00 in the morning. Takeuchi made his runners wake up at 4 a.m. to eat a breakfast of rice porridge every day for twenty days before the race. On race day he had them eat bananas two hours before the race to charge them full of energy. This kind of detail is normal in Japan, but Chinese athletes tend to ask with surprise, "Do we really have to go that far?" What touched Chinese people most at the World Championships, where temperatures reached 32 degrees, was the sight of Zhou and Zhu sharing their water while running, something Takeuchi told them to do beforehand. "In China there is no concept of sharing like that."

Two years ago Zhou broke 2:20, and since then she won the Asian Games marathon and the London Marathon. At last summer's World Championships she was 2nd, making the Chinese Olympic team. "She has incredibly strong abdominal muscles and core strength, and she can eat an amazing amount." Top Japanese runners always run in custom-made shoes measured precisely to their feet. Takeuchi gives Japanese shoes to Zhou, but only store-bought ones rather than custom-made. Nevertheless Zhou cherishes them and still says, "What comfortable, wonderful shoes these are!"

In Zhou Takeuchi has found a runner with strength and ability comparable to Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi and Naoko Takahashi. "I want winning the Olympics to be my last work," says Takeuchi. It would be the fulfillment of over a quarter century's cultural exchange with China.

Shinya Takeuchi
Born Dec. 13, 1931. Professor Emeritus at Aichi Educational Univ. and Professor of Human Health Studies at Meio Univ. in Okinawa Prefecture. While head coach of Team UFJ Bank he coached the Ominami twins Takami and Hiromi, now of Team Toyota Shatai. In Sept. 2007 he was named an advisor to the Chinese women's marathon team for the Beijing Olympics.


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