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Murofushi continues to roll back years

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

In his fifth attempt, Koji Murofushi had his best mark of the day at 76.42 meters. And after the competition was over, he left the field with a satisfied smile, waving to the fans in the stands at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium.

The figure seems far from spectacular for the Olympic and world championship gold medalist, whose personal best is 84.86 meters.

But as much as achieving a big feat like winning a gold medal at a world championships or setting a new personal best, Murofushi wants to prove that anyone can compete at the highest level for many years with the right training and motivation.

“My goal for this tournament was to have a 75-meter throw. I set it to win it,” Murofushi said after his unprecedented 19th consecutive victory in the Japan National Championships on Sunday. “I had it in my first attempt (75.41) and I could consistently achieve that distance, so it feels great.”

Yet at the same time, Murofushi is 38, and can’t think too far ahead about his future career any more.

“I can’t even think of one year later,” Murofushi said, referring to how much longer he would continue to throw the hammer. “So now I think of it by half-year periods.”

But that doesn’t mean his motivation has dropped after a career spanning over two decades. Although he admits it’s getting harder for him to continue physically, he remains as driven as ever.

“My biggest motivation is to show you can still keep challenging even if you get old,” he said. “I’d be happy if someone is inspired by me doing so.”

Murofushi, whose father Shigenobu was a former Asian champion in hammer also and renewed his own national record when he was 39, thinks that staying healthy is one of the biggest keys to being a long-lasting athlete.

As a matter of a fact, Murofushi can’t train as hard or long as he used to any more. He instead looks for more quality and effectiveness, focusing on avoiding injuries as much as he can by training with elaborate plans and methods, which have constantly changed as he has grown older.

And Murofushi, who has a Ph.D in sports science, is an exceptional athlete with an inquiring mind. He has frequently adopted new methods that at a glance don’t appear to benefit throwing the hammer.

He said that he’s recently trained with “meels,” wooden clubs that were used in ancient Persian Zurkhaneh training.

“If I had done the same training as 19 years ago, I would’ve gotten hurt and retired by now,” Murofushi said, when asked to compare his 19th national title with his first in 1995. “So how I approach (the sport) is completely different.”

Murofushi, meanwhile, hopes younger athletes can prevent injuries while training. He warned that they have to be aware of what they need to do first.

“Nowadays, they tend to focus on getting more muscle,” he said. “But what you have to have first are skills. You have to learn skills before you swing your bat hard (in baseball). You get skills first, and then you won’t get hurt.”

Now Murofushi is supposed to enter August’s world championship in Moscow as the reigning champ — if he decides to compete. Although the previous gold medalist has an automatic berth to compete in the next one, Murofushi has yet to make up his mind.

He said that he would come to a decision after talking with his coaches and staff carefully.

“As I was the oldest (male) winner ever in the last world championship, the athlete who I have to do battle with is myself,” he said, meaning he would have to commit to tense training to be ready for the competition. “Let’s see if I can do that.”