Japanese-Brazilian hurdler aiming high for Rio Olympics



Japanese-Brazilian 400-meter hurdler Mahau Sugimachi has been training hard in the run-up to Rio’s 2016 Olympics, in the hope of securing a place in the final. It would not only be a personal achievement — he says it would give a boost to fellow Japanese living there.

Although the 31-year-old Brazilian national will represent his country in Rio, he says he will aim to demonstrate his gratitude to Japan, where he has lived for 23 years.

Sugimachi reached the quarterfinal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing but failed to win a ticket to the 2012 Games in London.

He came to Japan because of his father’s work when he was 8 years old, and was a high-jumper at junior high and high school before becoming a hurdler after graduation.

As hurdling is more widely practiced in Japan than in Brazil, he clocked an outstanding time by Brazilian standards when he ran in a 400-meter race in his home country in 2007 for the first time. Many people there regarded him as a new Brazilian star that had suddenly appeared from Japan.

Despite his long stay in Japan, Sugimachi maintains his Brazilian nationality. “I’m a Brazilian in all senses,” he said.

He once declined an invitation to join a corporate track and field team in Japan because he was asked to change his nationality. He wondered why the team attached greater weight to his nationality than his potential.

To improve his performance, Sugimachi asked a Japanese-Brazilian coach in Brazil to work out a training program for him because — given his large physique and height of 185 cm — he considered Japanese programs to be more suitable for smaller athletes.

Sugimachi now belongs to a team established by a vocational school he graduated from and coaches younger athletes.

Combining the new training program with the skills he has learned in Japan, Sugimachi hopes to run in the final at the Rio Olympics.

“I want to show my gratitude to Japan, which has generously taught me skills, and to encourage fellow emigrants,” he said, pledging to do well.