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Sprint queen Fukushima looking forward to challenge at worlds

by Ed Odeven

How quickly things can change.

A year ago, sprinter Chisato Fukushima was a relatively unknown figure on the international stage. She now has the valuable experience of Olympic competition to draw lessons from and a renewed desire for success against the world’s best.

Representing Japan in the women’s 100- and 200-meter races and the 4×100-meter relay, Fukushima brings her speed and athleticism to Berlin for the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Championships. Her first event, the 100, begins on Sunday.

From Fukushima’s perspective, Sunday will be a unique anniversary she’s eagerly anticipating.

“My first race was on the 16th in last year’s Olympics,” the 21-year-old said, “so it’ll have been exactly a year since then. I hope that I will be able to show what I’ve done in this past year.”

And this is what the Hokkaido Prefecture native has shown in the past year: She’s the nation’s elite female sprinter, as evidenced by her record-breaking times in the 100 (11.24 seconds) and the 200 (23.0 seconds) at the national championships in June in Hiroshima.

“I was able to accelerate right out of the blocks. (But) I think I can go a little faster,” Fukushima told reporters after her triumph in the 200.

Victories provide tangible evidence for athletes, reminding them that their training routines have produced quality results. The memory of competition serves another purpose: It enables them to see the big picture and analyze their successes and failures.

Just ask Fukushima.

“Technically, I’ve not changed much, but I’ve earned so much experience and grown up,” said the Hokkaido High-Tech Athletic Club member.

Some things remain the same, though. Fukushima’s flair — a small reminder of flamboyant sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner’s sense of style at the 1988 Seoul Summer Games — will be exhibited in Berlin. Eleven days before the start of the world championships, Fukushima cheerfully spoke about her colorful, new press-on nails.

“I made them in the color of Germany (national flags),” she said. “I asked my sensei’s daughter to do this.”

Are the nails a symbol of a festive mood Fukushima will carry into worlds?

“I don’t know (if I’m excited) until I actually get over there,” Fukushima admitted. “(But) I’m going to perform my best with confidence and show what I’ve done in the nation.”

Fukushima isn’t the first athlete to offer an honest dose of uncertainty during a conversation before a major international competition. Furthermore, she’s not the first to remind reporters that a teammate’s presence can have a calming effect on them.

Asked if she’ll be nervous in Berlin, Fukushima responded by saying, “No, because this time I’ll be with my teammate (Asuka Terada).”

Terada, 19, also competes for the Hokkaido club and is one of Japan’s young top-level sprinters. She ran Japan’s third-fastest ever time (23.05) in the 200 at nationals.

Fukushima is now in the prime of her athletic career. With one Olympic experience in the books — she placed fifth in the second heat in the 100 in China — she sums up her current goals with a clear, concise message.

“I would like to do my best,” she said, before adding that the 2009 IAAF World Championships is a springboard to her future goals.

“I’ve been training for this, looking ahead to London (the 2012 Olympics).

“My objective is to run as many races as I can and break my personal records. So it’s pretty simple — run as many races and as (quickly) as I can.”

Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.