The 2012 track and field season witnessed so many fresh-faced youngsters come into the spotlight, especially at the London Summer Olympics.
But after the fall, it was a well-known, household name that represented in the year’s end.
Veteran hammer thrower Koji Murofushi was selected the Athlete of the Year for the second straight time at the 2012 JAAF Athletic Awards on Thursday.
Murofushi earned the bronze medal — Japan’s only track and field medal in London — with a 78.71 meter mark, his second Olympic medal after he triumphed in Athens in 2004.
“As I’ve earned this award again, I’m extremely honored,” Murofushi, 38, said after the award ceremony for which 46 notable athletes and track executives assembled at a Tokyo hotel.
The men’s 4×100 relay team (Ryota Yamagata, Masashi Eriguchi, Shinji Takahira and Shota Iizuka) and marathoner Kentaro Nakamoto, who was sixth at the men’s marathon in August in Britain, were given the outstanding awards.
Yamagata, rapid-rising javelin thrower Genki Dean and high school female sensation Anna Doi were named the Newcomers of the Year.
Japan’s men’s 4×100 relay team shocked its citizens by winning a bronze medal in the Beijing Games four years ago, and it successfully made a fifth-place finish in London despite having lost the core runners for the 2008 Games.
The team’s time of 38.07 seconds, clocked in the preliminaries in London, was the second-fastest time for the nation.
“I’m happy to be standing on this podium with different members,” said Takahira, who’s the only remaining active man for the relay team from Beijing. “I’m so proud of our team that was able to compete with the rest of the world again.”
Meanwhile, even though he came up short finishing 10th in the London Olympics, maybe Dean’s name was the one that we heard most often this year.
The half-British Dean, who put up 84.28 meters, which was the second-best mark in Japanese history, quickly became a track star in Japan before the Olympics.
“I competed in London and finished 10th, which was regrettable,” Dean, 20, said. “But this year was the year I got to know international competitions, so hopefully, I’ll come through there, starting at the world championships (in Moscow) next year.
“Also, I’d like to have the national record (87.60, which Kazuhiro Mizoguchi notched in 1989), which hasn’t been broken for a long time.”
Yet, despite the rise of those youngsters, Murofushi was still the man on Japan track scene, following the 2011 season, when he grabbed a gold medal at worlds in Daegu, South Korea.
But, while young athletes enthusiastically proclaimed that they would aim for the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Murofushi was careful and couldn’t be so sure whether he could still do it again in four years.
“If this was five years ago, 10 years ago, I would be able to say that I’d go for Rio,” Murofushi said. “But considering my age, there’s no guarantees. So I have to go by a short period such as half a year or a year to see if I can still compete.”
At the same time, Murofushi said that he wanted to compete as long as he could, which he believed was possible by proper training, and most importantly, enjoying the sport.
Murofushi, who gained a doctorate in physical education from Chukyo University, said that he knew how to recover from fatigue and peak himself from his experience. But he also looked forward to gaining new knowledge, including for his training.
“I looked at the videos of the short-distance runners today (during the ceremony), and noticed that their body shapes were way different from, say, 20 years ago,” he said. “I can see their training have changed a lot. Those current athletes just develop muscles that are needed for running. It’s not just about training your big muscles.
“So they look thinner, but can run fast and have time right away although they are young and inexperienced.”
Murofushi, who’s won at the national championships for 18 consecutive years, is known for his unique ways of training. Asked if he has come up with another method, he nodded.
“I’ve just begun an interesting way of training,” he said. “But like I said, I’ve just started it, so I’m not going to reveal it right now…”
The annual Athletic Awards began in 2007.