Over the last two decades, the Japanese sports world has taken significant steps forward in aspects of athlete development such as nutrition, sports medicine and improved training methods.

Teikyo University is attempting to push the country’s sporting culture to an even higher level by providing athletes with more comprehensive and effective support.

In 2011, the Tokyo-based private school established its own sports science and medicine institute to provide its athletes with comprehensive support tailored to suit their individual needs.

In May, Teikyo upgraded the institute with a state-of-the-art center to improve its services even further.

According to the school, it’s the only private university in Japan offering such support to athletes, following in the footsteps of the Japan Institute of Sports Science, a national institute also located in Tokyo.

With the installation of the new building, Teikyo aims to expand its support structure and help and take the development of Japan’s athletes to the next level. The school also intends to open its doors to athletes from other institutions.

Details regarding operations of the center, including examination fees and criteria for admission, are still in the process of being determined. But the path is set for the center to be fully operational from next April.

“We have medical doctors, athletic trainers, nutritionists and other research staff all in one place,” center director Takashi Matsushita told a news conference at the school’s campus on Wednesday in Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki district. “They communicate closely with each other and provide total support to the athletes.

“We would like to expand our activities and eventually support professional-level athletes from outside our institute. Beyond that, we would like to help further enrich Japanese society in the future.”

Masayuki Iwade, a professor at the school and a member of the center, is one of Japan’s best-known coaches in amateur sports. The 60-year-old has led his Teikyo rugby team to an unprecedented nine straight national college rugby championship titles.

Iwade said that before the start of his team’s run of consecutive titles, injuries had often led to first-round eliminations in the national championship tournament. Iwade cited his lack of experience as a reason, admitting his approach to the development of his athletes was lacking.

“When we lost in the first round, most of my players were banged up,” Iwade said. “So they weren’t able to perform to the level they had reached earlier in the season.”

While the club improved its fitness regimen and captured the first three of its nine straight titles, the players were still physically at their limit after so many close, tense contests.

“After we started working with the center, we began winning by bigger margins against our opponents,” Iwade said. “It’s critical for athletes to be able to perform with all of their energy, and we were able to prevent injuries (thanks to the support of the center).”

Ayumi Uekusa, Japan’s top female karateka, is one of the few non-student athletes already receiving support from the center.

The 26-year-old Teikyo alum said she had only trained to improve her physical condition before she began going to the center. But harsh criticism from a strength coach at the center, who called her “a first-class karateka” but “a second-rate athlete,” inspired her to take a different approach.

“I was upset,” Uekusa, the three-time defending national champion in the over-68 kg kumite, said of the coach’s words. “But he was right. I wasn’t doing the right thing before in terms of nutrition.”

Uekusa, who won a gold medal in August at the Asian Games in Jakarta, added that while she would previously run out of gas during competitions, her stamina has improved thanks to the aerobic exercises she’s done under the guidance of staff at the center.

“I had been just a karateka,” said Uekusa, who regularly goes to the center every weekday, “But now with our sport (karate) involved at the Olympics, I feel I’ve been able to grow more as an athlete.”

Teikyo officials also announced a partnership with soccer star Keisuke Honda and the Cambodian men’s national soccer team, where Honda serves as general manager and de facto head coach. Teikyo will provide sports science and medical support to the Southeast Asian nation.

The center has already dispatched athletic trainers to Honda, who joined Australia’s Melbourne Victory this summer.

The 32-year-old, who set a goal of representing Japan in 2020 after retiring from senior international duty following this summer’s World Cup, declared that he will need to make a “big leap” physically in order to earn a call-up as an overage player.

“I intend to fully take advantage of everything Teikyo University has to offer,” Honda said.

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