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Deki Announces Retirement at 25: "The Hakone Ekiden Meant the Most"

translated by Brett Larner

With a record of achievement at Aoyama Gakuin University and Team Chugoku Denryoku that made him Nagasaki's star long distance runner, Takehiro Deki, 25, announced on Mar. 8 that last month's Tokyo Marathon was his final race and that he is retiring.

Deki started running during the winter of his first year at Hokuyodai H.S. and grew to become the star runner at Aoyama Gakuin, leading the team to new heights.  His third year at AGU he won the 2012 Hakone Ekiden's most competitive stage, the 23.2 km Second Stage, following up just over a month later with a marathon debut at the Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon where he ran 2:10:02, the third-best ever by a Japanese university runner.  Aiming for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics at the Tokyo Marathon last month he finished 26th.

Deki commented, "After entering the corporate leagues I gave my absolute best every single day, but I found that the Olympics just didn't mean that much to me.  The Hakone Ekiden meant the most.  That's what I came to feel.  I want to sincerely thank everybody, especially the people of Nagasaki, who supported me.  I'm truly grateful.  I have no regrets."

Translator's note: Sad news.  Four days before his marathon debut in 2012 JRN interviewed Deki and AGU head coach Susumu HaraRead the interview here.  Deki gets a great deal of credit from fans and fellow runners alike for being the key catalyst in helping Hara transform AGU from nothing to the best in the country.  The other runner who helped Deki lead AGU to the top, Ryotaro Otani, 25, was fired from the Toyota Boshoku corporate team last month after asking about the possibility of relocating his training base to Tokyo.  Today Otani tweeted about Deki's retirement.  His comments:

I never thought Deki and I'd be leaving the sport at the same time, no way.  It seems like these days the public is going crazy over the Aoyama Gakuin University team's two-straight Hakone Ekiden wins.  I really respect how hard the guys who have come after us have worked, and what they've done is really, truly incredible.  It's definitely the result of everything they put into it.

This is kind of talking about old times, but when Deki and I decided to enroll in AGU it was a team that wasn't at a level where it could make the Hakone Ekiden.  We said to each other, "Let's try to win the Hakone Ekiden together!"  Saying that when we were just a couple of cheeky first-years gave us the drive to work hard for four years.  We couldn't pull off the Hakone Ekiden win, and we ended up unloading that on the younger guys.

But even so, what Deki accomplished was amazing.  His junior year he won the Second Stage at the National University Ekiden Championships, won the Second Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and ran the all-time university #3 2:10:02 at the Lake Biwa Marathon.  He really was the best runner on the university scene.  We were all just talentless baggage riding on his back, and he carried us all in a truly amazing way.

I wanted to become a runner like Deki.  A colleague, a close friend, a rival, what I dreamed of becoming.  It really was my dream.

For the two of us, our lives as runners end here.  They were lives that had helping hands from a lot of people.


Metts said…
Perhaps they will join the new corporate team later?
Metts said…
Two more thoughts: I was under the impression that Hara was trying to make sure the Aoyama runners didn't think Hakone was the only running event in their lives and two: Hara's idea of the corporate system, in past interviews seems to play out with these two athletes. Maybe they might join the group or team he is advising if they regain their desire to compete again.
Brett Larner said…
When I talked to Deki at the Gold Coast Marathon last year where he won the half marathon I asked how things were going at Chugoku Denryoku. He said that it wasn't really a team environment like at AGU, that everyone pretty much worked and trained alone and that he didn't really know anybody in Hiroshima. He seemed pretty lonely.

A lot of people will use Deki's retirement to say, "See? Hakone is too big, it's taking away our future Olympic marathoners." I don't think the problem is that Hakone is too big, though. I think what this shows is that the corporate leagues and especially their mindset are too small. There's the day-to-day routine of corporate life, and there's the Olympic marathon. Nothing in between except the New Year Ekiden. If they can't keep the fires burning inside their best athletes whose fault is that?

And why shouldn't 200 kids get the chance to chase a dream and find out what they can really do, to get a piece of glory in front of millions of fans? It's great that three guys get to do that once every four years, but why shouldn't the other ~200, most of whom will never make an Olympic team, get their moment in the sun before life intervenes? Hakone is a beautiful thing that way. Maybe you lose the odd high-potential guy like Deki, but who's to say he wouldn't have been equally bored by corporate runner life without it? At least he got his day, and he gave a lot of people something they won't forget.

I don't think we'll be seeing Deki again, but I wouldn't count Otani out yet.
Metts said…
I agree, I don't think Hakone, in itself is bad. Its a once in a lifetime opportunity. I think its up to the coach and athletes to decide if there is more after Hakone. Go for it, if you have the chance, see what you can do. How many teams never make it to Hakone? Quite a few from the trial race in the fall season.

The corporate system, seems to be broken. But then again, athletes come and go in any pro/corporate system. Seems like there needs to be an in between so that mentally or physically burned out athletes can have a second chance to keep it going a chance to find more balance without having to give up competitive running, if they want. If not, that's fine too. There is life after competitive running.

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