|400 Metres Hurdles||48.62||Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico)||15 AUG 2016|
|2017||50.00||Osaka (Nagai Stadium)||23 SEP|
|2016||48.62||Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico)||15 AUG|
|The XXXI Olympic Games||6sf1||49.20||Rio de Janeiro (Estádio Olímpico)||16 AUG 2016|
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Compiled 15 July 2016
Keisuke NOZAWA, Japan (400 m Hurdles)
Born: 07 June 1991, Yamanashi Pref.
1.75m / 62kg
Coach: Shigeo ISO
In the 1990’s the competitions among talented 400m hurdlers in Japan have improved the level of their performances to a higher level. The event also became more popular among the athletes. The process eventually led to seventh place finish at the 1995 IAAF World Championships in Göteborg by Kazuhiko Yamazaki, and then to a bronze medal in both the 2001 and 2005 IAAF World Championships by Dai Tamesue. The event’s progress has stagnated in the early part of this decade but with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics looming over the horizon, a new star was born. With Keisuke Nozawa, the event may move up yet to another level.
Nozawa was born in 1991 in Yamanashi-prefecture, a mountainous area with beautiful nature in central Japan. It is surrounded by Mt Fuji as well as Akaishi Mountain Range (a.k.a. Southern Alps in Japan) which consists of range of mountains over 2000m in height. However, it is not far from Tokyo.
Nozawa started to participate in the sports of track and field in 2004, when he entered Kosai Junior High School. In those days he competed in 110mH (hurdle height 91.4cm) but his personal best was over 16 seconds. Although he qualified for district championships through his performance in the prefectural championships, Nozawa was relatively unknown at the national level.
Nozawa entered Koma High School in 2007, but in his early days in high school, Nozawa’s main focus was still in 110mH. However, in 2008 his second year in high school, Nozawa started to compete in the 400mH, which turned out to be a turning point of his athletics career. Recalling those days Nozawa said, “My first 400mH was in the fall of my high school freshman year. Time, I think, was 58 second something. After this race, before the beginning of winter base training, my coach told me, ‘Let’s give 400mH a shot.’ Because I was also interested in the event, I started to train for the intermediate hurdles. Looking back, it was the biggest turning point of my career.”
He opened the 2008 season with 55.51 and then improved his performances with each successive race. In the fall, Nozawa competed in his first national level championships, the Japanese National Junior Championships. He recorded a personal best of 51.87 in the heat and then finished second in the final with 52.08.
In 2009, his last year of high school, Nozawa failed to advance to the final of the Japanese Inter-High School Championships (national level championships for high school athletes, in which preliminary qualifying meets at prefecture level start in May. Top finishers in the prefecture championships advance to district championships and then the best among them advance to the final in August) his main goal for the season, in August. However, in fall, Nozawa improved his personal best to 51.35 to finish third in the division A (for high school junior and senior athletes) of the National Sports Festival.
In the spring of 2010, Nozawa entered Waseda University. He immediately joined its track team and Shigeo Iso started to coach him. Waseda track team has a long history, for the team was inaugurated in 1914. Its alumni include Mikio Oda, the first Olympic gold medalist (1928 Olympic champion at Men’s TJ) in Japan. The team historically has produced many outstanding athletes and is considered to be a very distinguished team and has been very influential in the development of Japanese track and field over the years.
“When I joined the Waseda Track team, I set my goal for each successive year as: ‘Get used to the new environment in my first year; Set a personal best in my second year; Move up to a higher level in my third year and then stay at the higher plateau in my fourth year.’” Up until his third year at the University, Nozawa kept the pace with his goal each year. He was third in the national junior championships in his freshman year of 2010. However, his season best was only 51.64.
The following year, in 2011, starting around the beginning of the summer Nozawa was on a roll. He improved his personal bests three times, culminating with 50.32 when he finished third in the National Sports Festival in October.
In his third year of the university, in 2012, Nozawa improved his personal best twice in a row in the early spring season. Then in May, at the final of the Kanto district Inter-Collegiate Championships, Nozawa cracked the 50 seconds barrier for the first time with 49.84. Next, in his first National Championships in June, Nozawa improved his best to 49.64 in the heat, further improved the personal best to 49.53 in the semi-final and then finished sixth in the final with 49.96.
Later in the same month, Nozawa won the National Collegiate Individual Championships with 49.70. It was his first national level championships. In September, Nozawa won the National Inter-Collegiate Championships with 49.59 (after recording a personal best of 49.49 in the semi).
Later in mid-October, at the Corporate Team versus College Team meet, Nozawa cleared the 2013 IAAF World Championships ‘A’ standard (49.40) with 49.15. Nozawa thus became a candidate for the World Championships team. On one hand Nozawa was improving his personal best in succession at 400mH, but he was also a member of the 4x400m for his college team. Furthermore, Nozawa competed abroad and also competed at 800m setting a personal best of 1:49.41 at the distance. His third year of college was the year of improving the base as well as gaining valuable experience.
He started the 2013 season, his last year of college, with the hope of making the IAAF World Championships team. However, when Nozawa was starting his winter base training, he came down with a tendinitis of the left ankle and was unable to run around the curve. Because he trained through the pain, his injury got worse. Soon, Nozawa was unable to run even on the straight. When Nozawa finally recovered from his ankle injury, he came down with another injury, this time lower back pain. “Because of a pain in the sciatic nerve, my buttock felt tight and thus I was unable to bend forward. I could not do any volume work out.” His lower back pain did not go away and thus in the national championships, Nozawa was only fourth with 49.86, and failed to make the IAAF World Championships team. Although Nozawa was selected to run in the World University Games, his first national team, he was only sixth in Kazan. In the fall, Nozawa successfully defended the title of the National Inter-Collegiate Championships. However, overall the year was far from a satisfactory one.
In the spring of 2014, after graduating from Waseda University, Nozawa joined Mizuno, where Olympic gold medalist Koji Murofushi is one of the team members. “As a member of Mizuno Track team, I felt the need to focus on producing good results, much more so than when I was in college,” said Nozawa. However, he continued to struggle with lower back pain and thus his season best was only 50.26. Nozawa recalls that “After the 2014 season I was finally able to train without pain.”
Nozawa was very slow in regaining his fitness and thus at the 2015 National Championships in June, he was only fifth with 50.72. However, in all Japan Corporate Team Track and Field Championships in September, Nozawa recorded a personal best for the first time in three years. In his heat, Nozawa recorded a new PB of 49.08 and then won the final with 49.28. He thus cleared Rio de Janeiro Olympics standard (49.40) in two consecutive races.
Nozawa started the 2016 season early, because his peak usually came late in fall in the last few years. In order to make the Rio de Janeiro Olympic team Nozawa needed to peak earlier, at the National Championships in June. In order to attain higher performances in the early part of the season, after the end of the 2015 season, Nozawa focused his training on keeping his speed level throughout the winter. “Because of unseasonable warm winter, I was able to do higher quality training until the early part of December.” Furthermore by February, one month earlier than previous seasons, Nozawa started to train with spikes.
His plan paid off, for in his first race of the season in March, Nozawa cleared the Olympic standard with 49.26. It was his best start ever to a competition season. In April Nozawa competed in the Australian National championships, where he won the third heat with 49.27 and then won the final with 49.43. After returning to Japan, Nozawa started to compete domestically.
Now Nozawa was on a roll in the domestic competitions. On May 3, at the Shizuoka International Meet, Nozawa ran the fourth heat and overwhelmed his competition. Although he slowed near the end of the race, Nozawa won with 49.07, personal best. Although it was only 0.01 second improvement of his PB, more importantly Nozawa completely changed his racing pattern. He ran 13 steps between the hurdles in the first part of the race.
It is customary for the intermediate hurdlers to wait until they have attained a certain performance level before adopting 13 steps between the hurdles. Nozawa was different, however. Starting in his senior year of high school, Nozawa adopted 14 steps between the hurdles. In his college days, his goal was to run the whole race with 14 steps between the hurdles. “Ever since I started hurdling, I practiced hurdling from either leg.” In 2015, when he recorded 49.08, Nozawa took 14 steps between the hurdles until the ninth hurdle and then took 15 steps to the final hurdle. However, with an improvement of personal best, Nozawa found himself adjusting his steps before the hurdles. Thus Nozawa was in search for the way to run 13 steps between the hurdles without destroying his rhythm. He decided to give it a try in 2016. His first attempt at 13 steps was at the 2016 Australian national championships, where he took 13 steps until the third hurdle. He slowed dramatically in the final stage of the race, but after some adjustments Nozawa tried 13 steps again at the Shizuoka International. His assessment of the race was: “The race as a whole was 80% satisfactory, but the interval between the eighth to tenth hurdles was only 50-60% satisfactory. I still need to work on the final 120m of the race.”
Five days later, on May 8, Nozawa competed at the IAAF World Challenge in Kawasaki. “I concentrated on running the early part of the race with a good tempo,” He ran 13 steps to the third hurdle, 14 steps to the eighth hurdle and then 15 steps for the rest of the way. Nozawa won the race with 48.67, clearing the tougher Rio de Janeiro Olympic standard set by the Japan AAF (48.74). It was only the ninth best time by a Japanese in history, but he became the first Japanese to crack 49 second in four years. Since it was the second fastest time of the season in the world, Nozawa was suddenly at the center of attention.
Two weeks later in the East Japan Corporate Team Track and Tield Championships, Nozawa recorded 48.69. Later in the National Championships, which doubled as the Olympic qualifying race, Nozawa recorded 48.82 in his heat, the third sub-49 second clocking of his career. Later in the semi-final he recorded 49.22 and then won the final with 49.14. He thus clinched the Olympic berth.
Although Nozawa was expected to become the third Japanese to crack the 48 seconds barrier at 400mH, after Dai Tamesue in 2001 and Kenji Narisako in 2006, Nozawa said, “I cannot imagine myself running sub-48 seconds yet. Instead my current goal is to consistently run low 48 seconds.” As for his performance being near the top of the World list currently, Nozawa commented: “Each performance was recorded in different locations, with different environment. It could be quite different if all of us run the same race.”
“In the National Championships, I ran 14 steps to the fourth hurdle but I still lacked consistency. My goal before the Olympics is to find that consistency. I know that the expectation is high for an Olympian, but what is important on the big stage is to perform at the best of my ability. At the Olympics what is important is to stay calm, and do my best in each round so I can advance to the next round.”
Nozawa is planning to go to Rio de Janeiro after running abroad in July. He needs to develop a clear image of the perfect race he needs to run at the Olympics and then implement it in Rio de Janeiro. For Nozawa, who has been moving up to a higher level each time he cleared the obstacle just ahead of him, the Olympics will be the perfect showcase.
400mH: 48.67 (2016)
Yearly Progression (400m H)
2008- 51.87; 2009- 51.35; 2010- 51.64; 2011- 50.32; 2012- 49.15; 2013- 49.86; 2014- 50.26; 2015- 49.08; 2016- 48.67
2008 2nd National Junior Championships, Tottori 52.08
2012 6th National Championships, Osaka 49.96
2013 4th National Championships, Chofu 49.86
2013 6th World University Games, Kazan 50.15
2013 5h World University Games, Kazan (4x400m) 3:06.58
2013 3rd East Asian Games, Tianjin 50.61
2013 2nd East Asian Games, Tianjin (4x400m) 3:07.32
2014 7th National Championships, Fukushima 50.41
2015 5th National Championships, Niigata 50.72
2016 1st National Championships, Nagoya 49.14
Prepared by Ikumi Kodama for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © IAAF 2016.