Japan’s track and field icon is back.
Koji Murofushi, a two-time Olympic medalist in the men’s hammer throw, has been more of a scholar and sports administrator in the last couple of years.
But now the time has come to take off his suit, remove his tie and once again grab the hammer.
The 41-year-old, who last competed at the national championships in June 2014, declared late last month that he would return to competition at nationals, which will also serve as the Olympic trials, from June 24-26 at Paloma Mizuho Stadium in Nagoya.
At his training session at the National Training Center on Friday, Murofushi said that he was excited to return to the field.
“It’ll be my first competition in a while,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of result I’ll come up with, but I’ll do my best.”
No other Japanese has yet achieved the Olympic qualifying mark of 77.0 meters set by the International Association of Athletics Federations, so if Murofushi wins and exceeds the mark at nationals, he’s going to Brazil. And even if he doesn’t reach the qualifying mark, he still has a chance to receive an invitation to the Olympics, which would be his fifth consecutive Summer Games.
But Murofushi flatly said that his chances of making the Japanese delegation for the Olympics are small, considering his many responsibilities outside of competition.
He’s had a tough time just finding time to practice recently as he has been kept busy by his non-athletic obligations. He currently works as a professor at Tokyo Medical and Dental University in Tokyo and also serves as a board member and sports director for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee.
Murofushi, the gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics, won his 20th straight national title with a lukewarm 73.93-meter mark two years ago. So it’s not easy to predict how he will do at the coming national championships, which will celebrate the event’s 100th anniversary.
“When I announced that I would compete at nationals last month, it was reported as if I would try to go to the Olympics,” said Murofushi, whose personal best is 84.86 meters, which he notched in 2003. “But I’m not thinking that far ahead. What I’m focused on is competing in the best way I can at nationals.”
Murofushi is thinking realistically. He acknowledges that age has taken a toll and that he isn’t the same athlete as before.
But he considers those adversities as new challenges, which have given him the motivation to keep throwing the iron.
“In the last two years (even while I didn’t compete), I’ve come up with a lot of different training ideas, and I’ve tried to practice them in the limited time I’ve had,” Murofushi said with a smile.
While Murofushi took the circle and threw for about an hour on Friday, he also showed off some of his unique, unconventional training exercises.
“I can’t train holding heavier stuff any more,” he said. “Instead I’m training thinking what part of my muscles I should use now.”
Maybe, or perhaps he doesn’t compete just for himself anymore. Maybe he’s trying to send a message to other athletes, especially the younger ones, that they can develop into better athletes and increase their longevity if they come up with better ideas and methods.
“I used to just focus on athletics, but now I’m putting myself in sports administration and academics. So my situation has changed a whole lot since the last time I competed,” said Murofushi, who has appeared in just three competitions since the London Olympics.
“But we, the administrators, always urge younger people to play sports and tell people that they can enjoy sports even when they get older, so it’s not convincing if I don’t lead by example.”
That said, retirement isn’t something that Murofushi is currently dwelling on, no matter how he performs at nationals in Nagoya and whether or not he goes to the Rio Olympics.
“I don’t know what to say,” Murofushi said with a bitter smile, asked if he could hang up his hammer if he doesn’t qualify for the Olympics.
“I’m hoping that I’ll continue to do this as long as possible. Maybe it’s difficult to compete at the highest level, but you can still continue to compete at a certain level if you work hard.”
Murofushi also said that another reason for his return was that he wanted to encourage those who suffered in April’s massive earthquakes in Kumamoto Prefecture.