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Miki Imai's national High Jump record at the Super Meet

Miki Imai's national High Jump record at the Super Meet
K. Ken Nakamura for the IAAF
19 September 2001 - On September 15 in Yokohama at the Super Meet, the meet that was advertised as the Michael Johnson farewell race, Miki Imai set a Japanese women’s high jump record with 1.96m. The record had stood at 1.95m since 1987.  Megumi Sato who was seventh at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games set the national record on May 17, 1987 in Fukuoka.  Sato tied her record twice in 1990, but could not improve it any further. 

The task was left to the dynamic duo of Miki Imai and Yoko Ohta.  Between them, they won all the national championships at high jump since 1995.  In 1997, both Miki Imai and Yoko Ohta jumped 1.93m; for Imai it was the first year she had jumped over 1.90m.  Together they competed in the 1997 World University Games (Imai was eleventh while Ohta was twelfth), the 1998 Asian Games (Ohta won while Imai was fourth), the 1999 World Championships, and the 2000 Olympic Games (Ohta was eleventh, while Imai did not make the final).  In 1998, Imai improved her personal best to 1.94m, while Ohta matched Imai’s personal best in 1999.  It seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the national record would be broken in the women’s high jump.  However, 1.95m stood as the psychological barrier for both. They attempted the height many times, but failed on each occasion. 

Although Imai did not improve her personal best in 1999 or 2000, unlike 1998, by 2000 she had made subtle progress.  In 2000, Imai told the track and field magazine of Japan, “In 1998 I had no idea why I was able to jump 1.94m.  But unlike 1998, I can now tell the reason for my success as well as my failure.”  

The 2001 season started auspiciously for Miki Imai.  On February 15 in Stockholm, Imai tied the indoor national record of 1.91m, which was also held by Megumi Sato.  It was the second time Imai tied the indoor national record, having jumped 1.91m in 1998.  Moving to outdoor, in the Mito meet, after winning with 1.92m, Imai unsuccessfully attempted 1.96m.  She followed it up with another win at the East Asian Games in Osaka.  After winning the competition with 1.92m, Imai attempted 1.95m, but narrowly failed again.  The same pattern continued in the national championships.  Imai won the fourth national championships with 1.92m.  But she again failed to clear 1.95m.   Each time she failed at 1.95m or 1.96m, Imai apologized to reporters who were anxiously waiting to write about the national record. 

Because for the 2001 World Championships, the “A” standard for the women’s high jump was raised to 1.95m, only Miki Imai the winner at the national championships was able to compete in Edmonton.  Unfortunately, although Imai was reported to be in the best shape of her life, at Edmonton, she failed to jump 1.88m in the qualifying round and thus failed to advance to the final.

After Imai returned to Japan, she did not feel like training until early September.  “I did not want to train, so I did nothing for ten days,” Imai told Tatsuo Terada at the Super Meet.  Imai competes for Mizuno track club who conducted a training camp from the end of August to the beginning of September.  Imai said: “It was only in early September, I felt like training again, but only because I did not want to lose the race to the national record.”  In Yokohama, Imai started with 1.80m.  She cleared 1.80m and 1.85m at her first attempt.  She made 1.90m on her second attempt and 1.93m at her third attempt.  It was again time to try for the national record, 1.96m.  On her third attempt at 1.96m, Imai went over the bar, but the bar was shaking.   Fortunately it was a lucky day for Imai, for the bar stayed.  Imai was in overwhelmed with joy, but Inga Babakova, the eventual winner of the competition, told Imai: “You still have the next height to jump.”  None of her attempts at 1.99m were close, but Imai said, “I usually feel hesitant when attempting a new height, but today I felt different. I think I am also moving up to the next level psychologically.” 

“I honestly think that 2m is no longer a dream height for me.  In the last few years, I was start thinking that 2m may be an elusive dream, but I might be able to clear it,” concluded Imai.  

Michael Johnson was not the only athlete running his final race in Yokohama on Saturday.  In the men’s 400mH, the event in which all three medallists from Edmonton - Felix Sanchez, Fabrizio Mori and Dai Tamesue - competed, Kazuhiko Yamazaki who was seventh in the 1995 World Championships in Göteborg ran the final race of his career. Tamesue, a bronze medallist from Edmonton, led after the tenth hurdle, but was passed by both Sanchez and Mori in the final meters.  While three Edmonton medallists finished in the top three spots, Yamazaki, a former Japanese national record holder at the 400mH finished distant eighth.  Yamazaki was a pioneer at the 400mH, who along with Shunji Karube and Yoshihiko Saito contributed to excellence at the 400mH in Japan.  It was an end of an era.   

The men’s hammer throw was an exciting competition between the gold and silver medallists from Edmonton.  Coming into the sixth and the final round Koji Murofushi, the silver medallist from Edmonton trailed Szymon Ziolkowski, the reigning World and Olympic Champion by three cm, 81.82m to 81.79m.  But in his final throw of the day, Murofushi was able to deliver the winning throw of 82.08m.   Ziolkowski and Murofushi met five times in 2001.  Murofushi won four of them - Osaka, Rome, Brisbane (Goodwill Games) and Yokohama - but lost the biggest one of them all, the World Championships in Edmonton.  It will be interesting to see how Track and Field News will rank them at the end of the year.