Kitajima, Ueno get glitzy awards

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Kosuke Kitajima and Yukiko Ueno have each added another shining item to their prized collections.

On Tuesday, the Beijing Olympic gold medalists received trophies — crystal ornaments named Perseus made by French manufacturer Baccarat — for their brilliant athletic feats at the 2008 Baccarat Athletes of the Year Award reception at a Tokyo hotel.

“While the calendar turned to a new year and the heat for the Olympics cooled down, I was still able to accept such a great award like this and feel pleased about it,” said Kitajima, the repeat Olympic winner in the men’s 100- and 200-meter breaststroke races.

While Kitajima stood on the podium wearing a smart-looking black suit and a stylish purple shirt, Ueno’s appearance commanded the audience’s attention.

The 26-year-old pitcher from Fukuoka Prefecture, who led the Japan national softball team to its first-ever Olympic gold medal with a spectacular 413-pitch effort in the final three games during the last two days of the Beijing tournament, walked into the room wearing a vivid red dress and with her hair gorgeously set.

“This is my first time to dress like this, so I’m pretty nervous,” she said with a bashful smile. “Everything is unusual to me and I’m strained.”

As they achieved such glorious feats, both Kitajima and Ueno said that they’ve realized it is important to have a dream, and to pursue it. In addition, as national sports icons, they feel that it is one of their obligations to convey this message to the children.

“It was my third time to go to an Olympics and to me the excitement is important and made me stronger,” Kitajima said. “I think that as I was chasing a dream when I was a child, now I could give a dream to the children.”

Said Ueno: “I just accomplished the big dream. I’d like to continue softball, and also participate in activities so I can give others a dream.”

The Olympians both received Baccarat-made chandeliers as supplementary prizes as well.

Tuesday’s event was Baccarat’s third annual athletic awards ceremony. Mountain climber Annabelle Bond, figure skater Shizuka Arakawa and tennis player Roger Federer were the 2006 winners. Wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda, figure skater Miki Ando and hammer thrower Koji Murofushi were the 2007 recipients.