3 April 2001 TokyoSydney Olympic women's marathon gold medallist Naoko Takahashi on Monday became the first amateur track athlete in Japan allowed to engage in business activities while belonging to a corporate athletic club.
"I'm so happy to be given a new opportunity,'' Takahashi said at a press conference. Among a variety of options, she showed an interest in appearing in TV commercials which bring out "the runner in me.''
Takahashi will become the first athlete to take advantage of a revision last month in rules to allow athletes affiliated with companies to engage in commercial activities as long as they have approval from the company and the Japan Amateur Athletic Federation.
That means Takahashi can appear in TV commercials, give lectures and endorse products.
Takahashi will still run for Sekisui Chemical's team and remain on the company's payroll, and as such, will not be considered a professional, said Koji Sakurai, senior managing director of the Japan Amateur Athletic Federation.
Officials said Takahashi will continue to cooperate with the Japan Olympic Committee to promote sports and contribute to improving Japan's performance.
Takahashi said she was disturbed by a lack of interest among children in marathon running compared to the popularity of soccer and baseball. There is no incentive to become a marathon runner if not allowed to turn professional and earn an income much higher than that paid by a corporate salary.
"I want kids and their parents to see marathon as a sport as rewarding and high-profiled as soccer and baseball,'' she said.
Takahashi won the women's marathon with an Olympic best time and became the first Olympic gold medal-winner in track ever by a Japanese woman.
Yuko Arimori won a silver in the 1996 marathon and bronze in 1992. She turned professional two years ago, but had to leave her company and set up an independent organisation in order to engage in commercial activities.