National

Hiroshima hibakusha and a father of 3/11 tsunami victim among Tokyo Olympic torchbearers

Kyodo, JIJI

A father who lost his 12-year-old daughter in the 2011 tsunami, a centenarian A-bomb survivor and a group of people who missed their chance to participate in the last Tokyo Olympics torch relay due to a typhoon are among those tapped to carry the Olympic flame ahead of next year’s Summer Games.

Noriyuki Suzuki, whose daughter, Mai, was a sixth-grader at Okawa Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, said he received an email from the local municipality saying his application to be one of the torchbearers had been successful.

“I want to run for a cause and share with the world lessons learned from the Okawa Elementary School incident,” Suzuki, 54, said.

Suzuki’s daughter was one of 74 pupils of the city-run school who, along with 10 teachers and officials, have either been confirmed dead or remain missing after the tsunami that followed the magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011.

The victims remained on school grounds for about 50 minutes after the major earthquake struck and were swept away while they were starting to evacuate.

“I’m really glad (to be selected). I was worried that I might not be chosen,” said Suzuki, who plans to wear Mai’s school badge on his chest during his leg of the relay.

“I’m hoping the spirits of all the children who died, not just Mai’s, will join me when I run.”

For the portion of the torch relay in Hiroshima Prefecture, 102-year-old hibakusha Shoji Tomihisa, who holds the Japanese record for the 100-to-104-year-old category of the 60-meter sprint in the World Masters Athletics competition, was among those chosen.

“As time passes since the atomic bombing, my conviction to live and work hard, whatever it takes, grows stronger,” Tomihisa said at a news conference. “I hope my run will be a lesson to everyone, to say, ‘my life is just beginning.'”

He was a national railway staffer at Bingo-Tokaichi Station, now Miyoshi Station, in Hiroshima Prefecture on Aug. 6, 1945, the day of the U.S. atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima. He was scheduled to go to Hiroshima Station on a train arriving there at 8:15 a.m. on the day, the exact time the bomb was dropped on the city. However, he got off the train just before it departed due to a change in plans.

Tomihisa later went to the city as a member of a rescue team to search for survivors. “The city was a boundless expanse (due to the destruction by the bombing), and I could not think about reconstruction at all,” he said. “All I had was a wish to save even one life.”

He was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb during the search and rescue activity, and was recognized as a hibakusha.

Tomihisa got his start in track and field at the ripe old age of 97. He set the Japanese record for the 60-meter sprint for his age group when he was 100, clocking in at 16.98 seconds.

The centenarian does his own cooking, laundry and cleaning. He also works out every day on his bicycle and trains at an athletics park in Miyoshi once a week. He recently started doing shot put.

Tomihisa said he will prepare for the Olympic torch relay by building up his muscle strength, as his doctor said his muscles have shrunk. “I hope to stay positive and concentrate on running,” he said. “I want to fulfill my calling.”

In Hyogo Prefecture, meanwhile, a group of 10 men and women age between 69 and 73 have been named Olympic torch relay runners, five decades after missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because of a typhoon.

One of the runners, Junya Mori, 73, was set to run in Nishinomiya in September 1964 as a torch relay member for the previous Tokyo Games. He was captain of the track and field team at Koyo Gakuin High School in the city.

But the relay leg between Kobe and Osaka, including Mori’s, was canceled the night before because of an approaching typhoon. After the typhoon passed, Mori visited the section where he was supposed to run and saw a car transporting the Olympic flame under a clear sky.

“I’m surprised that we’ve been given an opportunity to run. I’ll run as hard as I can, and I’ll also enjoy it,” Mori said.

About 10,000 torchbearers, over half of whom will be selected from the general public, will wind their way through all 47 prefectures.

Each leg of the relay is roughly 200 meters.

The Japan portion of the relay will begin on March 26 in Fukushima Prefecture, one of the northeastern areas devastated in the 2011 disaster, and will last 121 days.

The Tokyo Organising Committee said in September that it has received more than 535,000 applications from the public in collaboration with the prefectural governments and four corporate sponsors.

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