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Chicago Shimpo
Elite Athletes Stories in the Chicago Marathon

Three elite athletes and seven wheelchair elite athletes from Japan participated in the 40th Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 8. The 10 Japanese elites were among 44,000 participants from 140 countries.

The wheelchair athletes started at 7:20 a.m., then marathon elites started at 7:30 a.m. A little after all runners started, wheelchair athletes began to cross the finish line.
The top athlete in the wheelchair race was Hug Marcel of Switzerland with the time of 1:29:23. Japanese elite athlete Sho Watanabe came into the finish line as the fourth with the time of 1:30:26. Japanese record holder Kota Hokinoue finished in the 16th place this year.

About 50 minutes after most wheelchair athletes finished the race, American marathon runner Galen Rupp first crossed the finish line with the time of 2:09:20. An American runner won the race for the first time in 15 years.
Japanese elite runner Kohei Matsumura crossed the line as 6th place with the time of 2:11:46. Chihiro Miyawaki finished in the 11th place with the time of 2:13:23. Ryoichi Matsuo came into the finish line as the 18th place with the time of 2:15:50.
Japanese regular participant Yosuke Maeda finished in 77th place with the time of 2:31:50. Akira Nishimura was 195th place with the time of 2:42:41.

Athlete Interviews

Kohei Matsumura

Kohei Matsumura (30) finished in eighth place in 2014 Tokyo marathon with the time of 2:08:09. He was expected to have the potential to compete with the best athletes in Chicago. “I was in the lead group, and the race pace was slow at first, so I was ready to speed up,” he said.
When the group came near the 20-kilometer point, an unfortunate incident happened to him. When he came to a turn, his foot was caught by the bottom of a fence, which was lifted from the ground. He tripped over it and got severe bruises. He regained his feet quickly, but lagged behind the lead group. He had to use extra energy to catch up with it.

When Matsumura came near the 30-kilometer point, Miyawaki came up behind him, so the two could run together for a while. “The lead group didn’t increase speed, so I ran with Miyawaki. It was a good relief for me,” he said.

Matsumura expected to finish the race around 2 hours and 10-something minutes. If he didn’t trip over, he might have been able to clear his goal. He said, “Although Chicago’s course had many turns and rough surface, I have to have more room to breathe. Chicago’s experience will help me at the next race.”

Chihiro Miyawaki

Chihiro Miyawaki (26) had his best record of 2:11:50 at 2014 Tokyo marathon. Chicago was his third challenge to participate in full marathon. “At first, the race speed was slow, so my body got accustomed to the slow pace. When the lead group increased its speed later, I couldn’t follow them. I wish the race speed could be faster from the beginning,” he said. “If I make a race pace, I need a regular record of 2 hours and seven or eight minutes; otherwise, it is impossible to do that,” he added.

Ryoichi Matsuo

Participating in Chicago Marathon for the second time is Ryoichi Matsu (26). Although he was 18th place, which was four points behind last year’s, he ran 3 minutes faster than a year ago.
Last June, he had shin splints in his left leg and couldn’t run for one and a half months at all. He returned to his normal training in September, but he wondered if he could make Chicago Marathon. “I really wanted to come back to Chicago and worked very hard. I set my goal as 2 hours and 15 something minutes, so I think that I cleared it,” he said.

The three Japanese elites belong to different teams in Japan. Matsuo said, “It’s a rare opportunity to talk with other athletes from different teams, and I heard that Mr. Matsumura trained himself very hard and always repeated basics. I was inspired by him and was going to run more and train myself to win the next race.”

Interview with Wheelchair Athletes

Sho Watanabe participated in Chicago Marathon for the first time and grabbed the fourth place.

Q: How was the race today?

Watanabe: My condition was not perfect, I couldn’t be aggressive enough, and ran for the goal with patience. At last I used my weapon of sprint, so I was the third place in the second group. Marcel was way ahead of us.

Q: Is it difficult to compete when you are in a group?

Watanabe: There is a difficulty, but air resistance greatly affects us. So if you put yourself at the end of the group, you can take advantage of it.

Q: How was the course of Chicago?
Watanabe: Road surface was rough, and I’ve never seen the course like this. Chicago is flat, so we were running in a big group.

Q: Did you have strategies to win?

Watanabe: Everybody uses strategies in a race. After we start, we usually form a horizontal group. When someone speeds up, we line up in a row. In this occasion, everybody is resting, then someone speeds up, and others compete in a row.

Q: How did you start to wheelchair race?

Watanabe: Mr. Hokinoue recommended it me five years ago.
Every wheelchair athlete has different handicaps, so we have to use all parts of the body where we can move. I can move my legs a little. After all, an athlete, who does maximum use of his body, is the strongest racer.

Q: What did happen to your legs?

Watanabe: Car accident. It happened in January, 2011.

Q: How did you overcome your situation? It must have been a great shock to you.

Watanabe: I believed that my legs would be cured, so I didn’t worry about it, but I was informed that my legs couldn’t be cured. Yes, I felt a great shock at that time.
While I was in a hospital, I happened to see Mr. Hokinoue. He came to pick up his medicine, so I was lucky. We live in the same Prefecture, Fukuoka.

Kota Hokinoue

Q: How was today’s race?

Hokinoue: I was the worst place among Japanese athletes. Before Chicago, I competed in a race in Berlin, then participated in training at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and joined a 10-kirometer road race in Ottawa on October 5, three days before Chicago Marathon. I think that I’ve been exhausted from those races.

Q: What does training at Champaign look like?

Hokinoue: Wheelchair athletic sports such as basketball are very active there. There are many strong athletes, and we can practice with them.

Q: How did you start to wheelchair race?

Hokinoue: I was in a hospital for long time after a motorbike accident. I wanted to do exercise, so I played tennis and basketball at first. One day, my friend invited me to a wheelchair race, then I was attracted to it. Speed, strategies, power, everything was attractive to me.

Q: How long have you been doing wheelchair races?

Hokinoue: 15 years. I had accident in 2000 and started racing in 2002.

Q: How did you overcome your life changing accident?

Hokinoue: Well… I was working hard on my job, but I had to quit it. It was a hard time for me, but I encountered this race, and it gave me a dream and goal. I think that my life has become more meaningful than before I had the accident. So I greatly appreciate this race.
There are people, who have to live with a wheelchair or who were born with disabilities, so I want to tell them that they can spend a good life and enjoy it with dreams and goals like me. Watanabe is one of them. I’m wishing more people will join us.

Q: Thank you very much.


from right: Kohei Matsumura, Chihiro Miyawaki, and Ryoichi Matsuo


A Wheelchair Athlete Team from Japan