Chisato Fukushima holds the national records in the 100 and 200 meters and has won numerous national titles. She has made three trips to the Summer Olympics, starting with the 2008 Beijing Games.
All of these accomplishments have made her one of the greatest Japanese sprinters of all time.
But Fukushima is not content with that anymore. While she certainly wants to rewrite her own records, Fukushima is also aiming to take Japan’s female sprinting to the next level.
To make that happen, the 29-year-old has left her native Hokkaido to live in Tokyo and train with a new team, which includes the country’s top male sprinter, Ryota Yamagata, while becoming an employee of Seiko Holdings Corp.
Seiko doesn’t have an official track team, but has started supporting athletes since Yamagata joined the company in 2015.
Since last summer, Fukushima has practiced with her new team after she was asked by strength and conditioning coach Ken Nakata to join it.
“I had often been training by myself, but now I have my teammates to endure tough training with,” Fukushima said at a news conference at Seiko’s headquarters in Tokyo on Thursday. “And the fact that one of the teammates is Yamagata is such a blessing and I feel so happy as an athlete.”
Fukushima, who had been with the Hokkaido High-Technology College track club until last January, said that the circumstances at her new team are quite different than at her previous club.
For example, she had previously worked on a lot of 30-meter dashes due to a space limitations while practicing at the club’s indoor facility in Hokkaido, where there is a lot of heavy snow in the winter.
Now with her new team, Fukushima said that she runs a lot of longer distances, such as 300 meters, on the 400-meter track. She trains at the Hiyoshi campus of Yamagata’s alma mater Keio University in Yokohama.
“I’m doing a lot of things that I hadn’t done, so it’s hard for me to keep up,” Fukushima said.
And being able to train with male athletes like Yamagata, who set his personal best of 10.00 seconds in the 100 last September, has been the biggest change for Fukushima. She noted that she could feel the speed of the male sprinters up close.
While experiencing this new, inspiring environment, Fukushima hopes to emulate the recent feats achieved by some of Japan’s elite sprinters. The men’s 4×100 relay team captured the silver and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and last summer’s world championships in London, respectively, while the country has also witnessed more competitive 100-meter male sprinters in Yoshihide Kiryu, Yamagata and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown.
“The men’s athletes have won medals and gotten able to gradually compete on par globally,” said Fukushima, who hails from Makubetsu, Hokkaido. “They are role models for us, the female athletes, because we still have a long way to go to match them.”
She added: “Track and field is an individual sport, but hopefully I can send a message to our fellow female Japanese sprinters.”
Last year was a difficult one for Fukushima as an athlete. She coped with a series of injuries and her consecutive gold medals in the 100 at the national championships ended at seven (she placed second), and finished fifth in the 200. Fukushima didn’t qualify for the world championships (Yamagata failed to earn a spot on the Japan team as well).
So she is looking to bounce back this year.
Fukushima has not broken her own national record of 11.21 in the 100 since 2010. But she seems to feel comfortable in her new surroundings and confident of having a good year going into the 2018 track season.
“My goal for this year is to break the national records, win at the national championships (in Yamaguchi Prefecture in June) and gold medals at the Asian Games (in Jakarta in August),” Fukushima said.
Seiko CEO Shinji Hattori announced that Fukushima would receive a custom-made Chisato Fukushima model watch if she breaks one of her national records.
Nakata expressed confidence in her achieving these records, admitting that he’s impressed with her progression since she joined the team.
Fukushima has gotten bigger and stronger by spending more time in the weight room.
Nakata originally told the sprinter to gain 3 kg by March, when the season kicks off. But Fukushima has already completed that task. Nakata added that Fukushima’s muscle strength has improved by 30 percent as well.
“She hadn’t run over 100 meters in Hokkaido,” Nakata said. “Now she’s been running longer distances. And when she’s run 150 (recently), the time would be converted to her personal best for the 200. She can run as fast at this point of the year and it means she’s in good shape. I believe barring injuries, she can break her own records this year.”
Both Fukushima and Yamagata are scheduled to start their season at a meet in Australia in March.