Profile of Atsushi Fujita
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
27 July 2001 - Unlike their womens counterpart, the Japanese mens marathon team have not performed well at the global championships during the mid to late 1990s. After Hiromi Taniguchi won the 1991 World Championships, and his Asahi Kasei teammate Koichi Morishita won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics, Japanese men marathon runners hit the draught.
Although Nobuyuki Sato won a bronze medal in Sevilla in 1999, and Takayuki Inubushi ran 2:06:57 to improve the 13 years old marathon national best in the 1999 Berlin marathon, it was Atsushi Fujita who really ignited the restoration of Japanese mens marathon running. Fujitas run in the 2000 Fukuoka marathon where he ran away from the reigning Olympic Champion Gezehenge Abera sparked resurgence in Japanese mens marathoning.
Takayuki Nishida, who was a Fujitas younger teammate at the Komazawa University, won the 2001 Beppu-Oita Mainichi marathon in February. Shigeru Aburaya, who is few month younger than Fujita ran 2:07:52 in the 2001 Lake Biwa Mainichi Marathon in March.
"Fujita will not do anything detrimental to his running," say many of his friends. His love for running as well as his commitment to the sports is well known. However, it was not always the case.
Atsushi Fujita was born on 6 November, 1976 near Sukagawa, in Fukushima prefecture, the hometown of the 1964 Olympic marathon bronze medallist Kokichi Tsuburaya. Although his father was never involved in sports, his mother was quite a good middle distance runner in her high school days. Because his junior high school did not have a track team, Fujita started as a tennis player; however, he was not an avid player. Like most of the runners in Japan, his initial involvement with track and field was with ekiden (road relay). When he recorded the fastest stage in his first ekiden race, when he was in ninth grade, he was hooked. Naturally, he joined the track team in high school. Fujita choose to attend Seiryo high school, which specialized in computer science, a subject Fujita was interested; it was also a local track powerhouse.
Near the end of his freshman year in high school, Fujita finished close to the best runner in the district at the 3000m race, which gave him the confidence he needed. Triggered by this event, he started to train seriously. However, in high school, partly because he was suffering from anemia, he was far from the top high school runner, even in the district. In fact, he failed to advance beyond the prefecture championships to the district championships. He never ran in the national high school ekiden championships either. In short, his high school running career was undistinguished at the national level.
In his junior year in high school, Fujita ran the fastest ekiden stage in the Fukushima prefecture high school ekiden championships, which caught the attention of Hiroaki Oyagi soon to be a coach of Komazawa University. A year later, Oyagi recruited Fujita to his track team at the Komazawa University. Because Fujita preferred road races over the track, with an eye on running the fabled Hakone Ekiden, he chose to attend Komazawa University. For most of the collegiate distance runners in the Tokyo area, their running career centres around the Hakone Ekiden, a ten men road relay run from Tokyo to Hakone (approximately 100 km) and back which is contested annually on January 2nd and 3rd. Although Fujita won the inter-collegiate half marathon championships in his junior and senior year, he too was concentrating on Hakone Ekiden. However, his coach Oyagi had different perspectives. For talented runners like Fujita, Oyagi insisted that the Hakone ekiden should not be their goal. It should merely be a reference point of their progress. Oyagi who taught Fujita that discipline is important for top runners, had a grand plan for Fujita - to run the marathon when he was a college senior.
Influenced by Oyagi, Fujita started to think about running a marathon in his junior year in college and he started to train with that in mind. With Oyagis influence, Fujita made a commitment to running. First in February of 1998, his junior year, Fujita ran the 30 km road race and set a collegiate best - 1:30:21, which was exactly the time Oyagi had in mind for Fujita to start serious marathon training. A year later, Fujita made his marathon debut at the 1999 Lake Biwa marathon just a few weeks before his graduation from Komazawa University. With his eye on the collegiate record, Fujita ran with his hero, Martin Fiz of Spain until 30 km. Even after being left behind by Fiz in the final 10 km, Fujita showed unparalleled tenacity and finished second in 2:10:07, which broke the legendary Toshihiko Sekos collegiate record. With this performance, Fujita was selected for the marathon team for the World Championships in Sevilla.
In Sevilla, Fujita (despite injury) showed his tenacity once again and finished sixth with 2:15:45. Suddenly, he was in a position to shoot for an Olympic marathon team berth. Unfortunately injury prevented him from starting the 2000 Lake Biwa marathon, and his Olympic dream had to wait for another four years. Once he given up hope of running the Lake Biwa marathon, he channeled all his energy to prepare for the prestigious Fukuoka marathon in December.
To prepare for Fukuoka, Fujita covered 4400 km during the four months leading up to the race. Not only had he covered unprecedented mileage in preparation for the race, he was able to stay injury free. At Fukuoka, on 3 December, 2000, by running 14:44 for the 5 km segment from 35 km to 40 km, Fujita broke away from the reigning Olympic Champion, Gezehange Abera. He went on to win with a national (and Asian) record time of 2:06:51, which automatically qualified him for the 2001 World Championships marathon team.
Fujita has been preparing for the World Championships near mount Fuji, at an altitude of 900m. For his preparations for Edmonton, Fujita has covered 1200 km in month of June. Although he finished sixth in the World Championships marathon two years ago, Fujita feels that he was not participated in the competition, because he lost contact with the lead pack around the half way point.
"I want to be part of the race this time around. I will cover all the important moves," says Fujita who understands that unlike invitational race, in the championships race, the pace changes often. "I think the ability to change gear is very important (in the championships). I want to be ready for that, and I am training for it," Fujita told the Monthly Track & Field (of Japan). Like other Japanese team members, Fujita has also run over the marathon course in Edmonton. "I did not think it is a very hard course," was his assessment.
Picture by Tatsuo Terada (c)2000