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Profile of Yuko Arimori, two time Olympic marathon medallist

Profile of Yuko Arimori, two time Olympic marathon medallist
K.Ken Nakamura

2 November 2000 - Yuko Arimori who will be running the New York City marathon this coming Sunday is the first truly professional runner in Japan. Although almost all elite distance runners in Japan run for corporate sponsored track team and all of their training is done on company time and all their training expenses are paid by the corporation, they are not truly professional runners in western sense of words. For example, they don’t have total freedom to appear in the advertisement and commercials. However, after the Atlanta Olympics Yuko Arimori negotiated with the JOC (Japanese Olympic Committee) for the special status as a truly professional runner.

Yuko Arimori was born on December 17, 1966 in Okayama, Japan, also the home for Kinue Hitomi, the 1928 Olympic silver medallist at the 800m. Although she never trained for the event, she did run some 800m races in junior high school and her best was 2:36. In Shujitsu high school, a track and field powerhouse in Okayama, Arimori joined the track team and she improved her 800m best to 2:19. However, in retrospect, the 800m, which was the longest distance for high school girls at the time, was too short for her.

After graduation in 1985, she entered Nippon University of Physical education, an alma mater of Hiromi Taniguchi, a 1991 World marathon champion. She did not distinguish herself in college either. Her best at the 3000m was only 9:57.2. The highlights of her college career were second place finish at the 3000m in the district college championships, and the fastest second stage (3Km in 9:48) in the 1988 Japanese collegiate ekiden championships.

Arimori made an impressive marathon debut at the 1990 Osaka Ladies’ marathon; she was sixth in 2:32:51, a Japanese debut record. A year later in her second marathon, also in Osaka, she set a national record of 2:28:01 and was selected for the 1991 World Championships’ marathon team. In those days Japanese men were much better at the marathon than their female counterparts and nobody expected a medal from women.

But Yuko Arimori said, "I will go for a medal."

Although her training before the championships was far from perfect, she stayed with the leaders until 36Km, and finished respectable fourth in 2:31:08. Arimori was selected for the Olympic team, and she trained in Colorado for the games under the guidance of Yoshio Koide. Coach Koide explains that Arimori’s training mileage exceeded 1000Km a month, and she has done long runs of more than 50Km. Before the Olympics, the pressure must have been enormous for Arimori who had to show that she deserved to be on the team. It was vindicated, however, for after an epic duel with Valentina Yegorova, Arimori won a silver medal.

The medal brought her a national celebrity status.

When all the hoopla was over, early in 1993, she visited her brother who was living in New Zealand at the time. She tried to train during her stay in New Zealand, but motivation was not there. And when she finally started training in the fall of 1993, she injured her right heel. Ignoring the pain, she continued to train, which led to an injury to her left heel. Eventually, she had to stop training completely and in November of 1994, she opted for an operation, which was successfully performed by Dr. Koyama who once operated on Hwang Young-Jo, the 1992 Olympic marathon Champion. After a period of rehabilitation, she was able to resume her training for a marathon in the spring of 1995, and in August of 1995 she won the Hokkaido marathon - her first marathon victory - with the course record of 2:29:17. Again, after much controversy Arimori was selected for the Olympic team and she was back in training in Colorado. In Atlanta, she joined an exclusive club of two time Olympic Marathon medallist, and her celebrity status in Japan hit the stratosphere.

After Atlanta, she bought a house in Boulder, Colorado and was married in January of 1998. Since all of her marathons since the 1991 World Championships were summer marathons, her PR stood at 2:28:01 from the 1991 Osaka Ladies marathon. In 1999, with a new personal record in mind she started to train for the Boston marathon.

In spite of missing two weeks of training in March, she improved her PR to 2:26:39 in the 1999 Boston marathon, which gave her a confidence to prepare for third Olympic qualifying race. Unfortunately, the initial pace (16:41 for the first 5Km) in the 2000 Osaka Ladies marathon was too fast for Arimori who had missed too much training. She lost contact with the leaders at 15Km and finished a disappointing 9th in 2:31:22. Undaunted she immediately declared that she would run New York City marathon.

Complete marathon record of Yuko Arimori

2:32:51 6th Osaka Jan 28, 1990 Japanese Debut record
2:28:01 2nd Osaka Jan 27, 1991 Japanese National record
2:31:08 4th Tokyo Aug 28, 1991 World Championships
2:32:49 2nd Barcelona Aug 1, 1992 Olympic Games
2:29:17 1st Sapporo Aug 27, 1995
2:28:38 3rd Atlanta July 28, 1996 Olympic Games
2:26:39 3rd Boston Apr 19, 1999
2:31:22 9th Osaka Jan 30, 2000