Koichiro MORIOKA, Japan (20km/50km Race Walk)
Born: 02 April 1985, Nagasaki Prefecture
1.83m / 65kg
Coach: Fumio Imamura
As with many of the race walkers in Japan, Koichiro Morioka was a former distance runner. He started competing in track and field in Isahaya West Junior High school in Nagasaki Prefecture. When he was a senior in junior high school, Morioka was selected to be a member of Nagasaki prefecture team for the Inter-Prefecture men’s ekiden championships. He ran the 3km sixth stage, the stage reserved for junior high school runners.
Morioka enrolled in Isahaya high school, a track powerhouse, and started to compete in race walking in his second year in high school. It should be noted that Yoshiko Fujinaga and Arata Fujiwara, who competed at the marathon in the World Championships in Berlin, are both graduates of Isahaya high school. Morioka turned to race walking in 2002, with the goal of winning the 2003 national inter-high school championships, which was scheduled to be held in his home town of Nagasaki.
Although Morioka finished first at 5000m Walk in the 2003 national inter-high school championships, while taking a victory lap Morioka was told that he has been disqualified. Eighteen years old Morioka was devastated.
The incident triggered Morioka to realise the importance of walking technique, so from then on he started to give full attention to this aspect of walking during training. The 5000m Walk in the national sports festival was the race of redemption for Morioka, which he won without a single warning. Since then, he has never been disqualified. Apparently, his bitter experience as a high school walker made him a walker with very stable technique.
A year later, after high school graduation in 2004, Morioka enrolled in Juntento University, alma mater of his high school coach Toshihiro Matsumoto. At Juntendo University, a renowned track powerhouse, Morioka came under the tutelage of IAAF Race Walking Committee member Fumio Imamura. Incidentally, Yuki Yamazaki, seventh at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at 50km Walk, was two years ahead of him at Juntendo University. Morioka started to make steady progress in the best possible environment for race walkers. He was sixth at the 2004 World Junior Championships and fourth at the 2004 Asian Junior Championships, both at 10,000m Walk, before recording 1:28:22 in his debut at 20km Walk in Takahata.
The following year at the national championships in January 2005, Morioka finished fourth (third Japanese) with 1:23:08. Three month later, Morioka won 20km Walk in Wajima with 1:22:51 and was thus selected to represent Japan in both the World University Games in Izmir and the World Championships in Helsinki.
After finishing 29th in Helsinki, Morioka flew directly to Izmir and won a bronze medal at the World University Games. A year later Morioka won a bronze medal in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
In 2007, his final year of college, Morioka improved his personal best to 1:21:30, at the Asian Race Walking Championships in Neagari, and was selected for the team for both the World University Games in Bangkok and the World Championships in Osaka. In Bangkok, he won another bronze medal. Then in Osaka, Morioka was contending for seventh or eighth place, but after suffering cramps in the right leg in the closing stages of the race, Morioka finished 11th.
In April 2008, after graduating from Juntendo University, Morioka joined Fujitsu track team. As it turned out, since coach Imamura, who had been coaching Morioka in Juntendo University, is a member of Fujitsu, Morioka continued to be guided by Imamura in Fujitsu.
Fumio Imamura is a premier race walker of previous the generation in Japan. He competed at 50km Walk in seven consecutive World Championships since 1991, and finished in the top eight twice, in 1991 and 1997. During his competitive years, Imamura trained in Mexico and Spain, both renowned race walking powerhouses. By training with them Imamura learned the know-how of race walking. Furthermore, after he started coaching, Imamura visited the Italian race walking training center in Saluzzo and learned coaching from Sandro Damilano, race walking guru and older brother of 1980 Olympic 20km walk champion Maurizio Damilano.
During the four years with Juntendo University, Morioka learned the basics from coach Imamura, and also steadily increased training intensity. Then after graduation from Juntendo, Morioka also started to increase training volume.
At the Beijing Olympics, Morioka was 16th at 20km Walk, five positions behind Yuki Yamazaki, who also finished seventh at 50km Walk. In Beijing Morioka realised the difference in his speed compared to the world class race walkers. In November 2008, at Takahata, Morioka made his debut at 50km walk and finished third with 3:55:40. The following year in April 2009, at the national 50km walk championships in Wajima, Morioka finished second to Yamazaki with a personal best of 3:49:12. He thus made the World Championships team at both 20km and 50km.
In Berlin, the 20km event was held on the first day of the championships, and Morioka was 11th with 1:21:48, third fastest time of his career at the time (currently fourth fastest) and his fastest time outside Japan as well as his fastest time in a major international championships. Although he could not achieve his goal of a top eight placing, Morioka raced well. Instead of losing steam in the final stages of the race, Morioka moved up in place during the race finale. Six days later, at 50km, he placed 18th in 3:56:21. “In the domestic races, I usually can walk at my own pace, but in international championships races various outside factors easily disturb my pace. I need more experience, but first of all, I need to improve my personal best,” reflected Morioka. However, after that race, he saw the possibility of eventually contending for a medal at 50km walk also.
“By focusing on both races last year, I was able to do higher level training. I am now stronger both physically and mentally, and my training now has wider variations,” recallsMorioka, who set his goal of walking at 4 minutes/km pace at the national championships in January 2010. So Morioka pushed the pace from the start. Although at the end, Morioka could not stay with Kim Hyun-Sub of Korea, he was second with a personal best of 1:20:43. “In the past, I never really tried to push the pace from the start. But in order to aim higher, I need to experiment with such tactics. It will be nice if this experience eventually leads to a sub 1:20 clocking.”
At the national 50km Walk championships in April, Morioka was second to Yamazaki with 3:49:29. So for his experience, in the Asian Games in November, Morioka plans to focus on the 50km Walk. “Because this is a non-Olympic and non-World Championships year, I can be adventurous,” explains Morioka, who will be aiming even higher and thus may be able to achieve greater things in the upcoming World Race Walking Cup.
20km Walk/50km Walk: 2004-1:28:22/-; 2005-1:22:51/-; 2006-1:22:46/-; 2007-1:21:30/-; 2008-1:21:55/3:55:40; 2009-1:21:16/3:49:12; 2010-1:20:43/3:49:29
2004 6th World Junior Championships (Grosseto) (10,000mW)
2004 4th Asian Junior Championships (Ipoh) (10,000mW)
2005 29th World Championships (Helsinki) (20kmW)
2005 3rd World University Games (Izmir) (20kmW)
2005 5th East Asian Games (Macao) (20kmW)
2006 31st World Race Walking Cup (La Coruña) (20kmW)
2006 3rd Asian Games (Doha) (20kmW)
2007 2nd Asian Race Walking Championships (Neagari) (20kmW)
2007 3rd World University Games (Bangkok) (20kmW)
2007 11th World Championships (Osaka) (20kmW)
2008 1st Asian Race Walking Championships (20kmW)
2008 16th Olympic Games (Beijing) (20kmW)
2009 11th /18th World Championships (Berlin) (20kmW/50kmW)
2009 2nd East Asian Games (20kmW)
Prepared by Ikumi Kodama for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2010.